Nardcore authority and It's Alive Fanzine editor, Fred Hammer, brings us a great interview with long time punk drummer, Greg Cameron. If stories about the Descendents and Black Flag are your thing (which I sure hope they are), this is a damn good read. -Tim DCXX
Can you tell us all the bands you have played in, what type of drums you learned on, what you are playing with now, and what was the 1st punk band you ever saw live?
The bands I've played in are (in order): Bulimia Banquet, October Faction, SWA, Chemical People, Punk Rock Vatos, Jeff Dahl, Marc Spitz Freestyle, Cüddle, and the Nip Drivers. Very technically speaking, I was in the Descendents at age 15 for about 2 weeks. But I wasn't really up to snuff then and the band was pretty much finished for that time when Bill Stevenson left to join Black Flag.
There were attempts to form bands with various other people. Notably, I tried several times to form bands with Tony Lombardo and Ray Cooper from the Descendents over the years, but nothing ever came of it. I also jammed with Greg Ginn for about year after Black Flag & Gone broke up, but he wanted to head in a different direction and we parted ways. London May, ex-drummer of Samhain, had a band project called "Carbonation" which never came to fruition. He wrote and played guitar, his girlfriend Carrie Hale did vocals and Larry Schemel (Patty Schemel's from Hole's brother) played bass. It was actually promising material and Carrie was a great singer. But there was some internal conflict and it didn't work out. I'm sure there's a few other attempts at bands that I'm forgetting...
I'm currently playing on DW drums. It's a 4 piece kit with a 24" kick, 14" rack tom, and an 18" floor tom. I purchased the kit shortly before joining up with Jeff Dahl on a tour back in the late 90s. For cymbals, I'm using a mix of Zildjian A series and Paiste 2002 Rude series. Four crash cymbals consisting of 18" Zildjian Rock crash, 19" Paiste Rude Crash/Ride, 20" Zildjian Ping Ride (yeah I use it for a crash), and another 19" or 20" Rude Crash/Ride. Hi Hats are Zildjian 15" Rock. I need heavy cymbals because my sticks are as big as they make them, 3S's. I usually use Pro Drum's house brand or Vic Firth. I used to play with Pro Mark DC-17's but they became hard to get. My hardware is all Tama Titan, their stuff is by far the most robust of any hardware I've used and I have yet to find something better. My pedal is a Tama Iron Cobra. Once again, very heavy duty and great action.
My kit prior to the DW's were Tama Imperial Star custom sized with a 26" kick, 16" rack tom, and a 20" floor tom. I had the same set up of stands and cymbals. This was to match the kit I played on most often and did a lot of my learning. That was a Slingerland kit of the same dimensions owned by Bill Stevenson. That was his main kit with the Descendents and Black Flag. I practiced at both bands' practice rooms for some time. The other kit I really learned on was Bill's small drums that were at the Decendent's pratice room in Lomita, CA. It was a small Slingerland kit with a 22" kick, 13" rack tom, and 16" floor tom. When Bill joined Black Flag in '83, he let me take the kit to practice on my own. He took the 13" rack tom with him, so I purchased a 14" Slingerland tom to replace it. I took those drums on tour with me for the SST's "The Tour" with my band SWA. The Tama kit went out on the Black Flag '85 "Slip it In" tour with SWA and that was my main kit for a long time.
As far the first punk shows I went to, I believe it was the Ramones in 1981 at the Hollywood Palladium. Great show. That was followed up by the Dickies at "The Barn" at Alpine Village. Then shortly after that, a big BYO show at the Palladium headlined by TSOL with Adolescents, Seven Seconds, Wasted Youth, and a couple of other bands. I saw a drunk punker couple fall off the balcony that night right in front of me and my best friend from high school - Ray Cooper. He later went on to play in the Descendents and SWA for a bit. Then I saw the Descendents at a Circle Jerks show at Alpine Village. It was a life changing show for me in terms of my drumming direction. I'd never seen anyone hit as hard or play as fast and tight as Bill Stevenson. He was maniacal and amazing. That got my attention. My next gig was the Descendents and China White at Dancing Waters in San Pedro. It was a low key gig, but it was early Descendents at their prime. Frank Navetta (RIP Frank) came out wearing pajamas and a beanie. He played his guitar so hard that his pajama pants fell down around his ankles during a song called "Russianage". It was an unforgettable show for me and the Descendents became my favorite band of all time.
How long did you know Greg Ginn and the SST crew before you joined OCTOBER FACTION and can you give us a little history on the band OCTOBER FACTION? You told me you were the opening act for Black Flag on two tours. Let us know some great tour stories please.
I had met Greg and company through Bill Stevenson, who I had met through Ray Cooper. Ray and Bill went to El Camino college together. They were introduced by a mutual high school friend of myself and Ray, Christian Matjias. Christian had been asked to manage the Descendents by Bill but it never happened. Bill had asked Ray to sing for the Descendents when Milo went to college. Milo wound up sticking around a bit longer and Ray switched to guitar. He actually only did 2 gigs on vocals before moving to guitar. Bill left the Descendents shortly after that to Join Black Flag full time.
Since I had become friends with Bill as well as being one of his biggest fans, I started going to Black Flag practices and and tagging along to shows. I had tried to fill in with the Descendents for Bill, but I was only 15 at the time and my chops weren't solid. I had only been playing a year at that point. Frank & Tony were upset with Bill. Frank left the band. So Tony, Ray and I jammed for several months. But I could tell Tony was disenchanted with my novice playing. I showed up to practice one evening after not getting a call that we were jamming and they were trying out another drummer. Needless to say I was very bummed. I got ahold of Bill on the road with Flag and asked if I could take his practice kit so I could jam alone at my grandmother's house. He give me the thumbs up. For about a year I practiced almost every day by myself. My playing improved considerably. I was motivated by the "I'll show you" type of anger from being betrayed by my friends including my best friend.
During that time, Black Flag had been engrossed in a lawsuit with Unicorn/MCA records. They were flat broke, living in their offices at SST. All of Bill's drum hardware and cymbals had been broken or stolen out their practice pad in Long Beach. They moved to a new place in Redondo Beach to both practice and run the booking. Bill asked if I could bring over my nice new shiny hardware and cymbals which I had acquired while they were touring so he could borrow it for practice. In exchange, I would be able to practice there when Flag wasn't. That is how I met up with everyone in the SST crew.
Black Flag with Chuck Dukowski
How I got to playing in SST bands is because of Chuck Dukowski. Chuck had left Black Flag and Kira Rosseler had replaced him. He had gone to Germany for a while to visit family. When he returned, he still worked at SST booking Flag tours. He was still doing some writing for Black Flag as well and still had an ownership stake in the label. He also reformed his old band Würm. He would hear me jamming by myself downstairs from his desk and started bringing his bass to jam with me. Those were some fun angry jams. One day he was on the phone chastising one of the Würm members for being flaky about pratice and life in general. He said that he was tired of dragging them along and decided he would jam with his new "young and excited" friend instead. So we jammed just about every day.
He wanted to start a band that would be SWA. We tried out various guitar players including Ted Falconi from Flipper. It didn't work out with Ted, but he was a great guy. By that time the '84 Black Flag tour was ramping up. Chuck really wanted to hit the road, so he came up with the concept of October Faction and got Greg Ginn onboard. It would be a freeform jam band with myself, Greg, Chuck, and Joe Baiza from Saccharin Trust. So that's what we did, we opened the '84 Black Flag tour with a 30 minute set of freeform jamming. People either loved it or hated it. There was no middle ground, haha.
Our first show was at the Metro in Chicago. It was my first time ever playing in front of a real crowd. It was quiet the high for me. That was actually the only tour the "Faction" did, and we played a few sporadic shows around L.A. when the tour was over. Tom Troccoli joined us on the second night for vocals and became a permanent member of the band since he had a lot of energy and was really into it. He had come on the road as a crew member, but then became a band member too. There weren't really clearly defined roles in those days. Everyone in a band was a roadie, and some of the roadies were in bands. We didn't discriminate.
We recorded two albums. The first was at the Stone in San Francisco. It was a week after the end of the '84 Black Flag tour. Bill and Kira had contracted a really virulent stomach flu. The day before the show, I contracted it and became bed ridden for the next several days which meant I missed the show. Chuck didn't want to miss the gig or the recording that was to take place, so he enlisted Bill to fill in for me. Chuck didn't tell me about that and I was a bit upset at the time. But it was a last minute decision and everything was in place. So it was the right thing to do.
The second album was recorded at Mystic Records in Hollywood which was a run down studio with very old gear. It was apparently the place that Led Zepplin recorded the song "Whole Lotta Love" which is some neat history. It's now the DMV building at the corner of Gower and Vine St.
As far as tour stories go, I'd say my first gig playing live in front of a large crowd was quite a high. The was the one at the Metro in Chicago with October Faction on the '84 Black Flag tour. The venue was packed, and they had recently acquired a chunk of AC/DC's tour PA system which was very powerful for the time. We got up there and jammed our asses off. The PA had so much punch that piece of the ceiling started to fall onto the stage when I hit the kick drum. It just made me play even harder and the crowd really fed into it. Even though our music isn't the average crowd's cup of tea, most of them seemed to be really into it and it made for a killer debut performance for both myself and the band.
Another one of my favorites is the time in 1985 when I was drumming with SWA. We had a caravan of vehicles for the tour, three vans and a large Ryder truck. We stopped off at a 7-11 as we were leaving Walla Walla, WA on our way to Portland. One of the problems when traveling in caravans with members of band and crew shifting to different vehicles is keeping track of people when making food and gas stops. A couple of hours after taking off from the stop, we realized we had left Merrill Ward, our singer, back at the 7-11. Back then there were no cell phones so there was no way to communicate with Merrill. We had to finish the trip and try to figure it out from there. When we got to the venue, Merrill had been trying frantically to get ahold of us. He was extremely upset to say the least. He was able to get on a plane from Walla Walla and get to Portland just in the nick of time for the show. He was so angry he didn't want to talk to any of us. But that anger made for one of the best shows of the tour. He put on such a high energy fun show that it really got the crowd going. It was really our night as Flag couldn't match the energy of our set that night. It also cheered Merrill up quite a bit as I recall. How could he stay mad after such a killer show? He got all the groupie attention that night which detracted from the attention of another particular lead singer of the headlining act.
Greg Cameron, Photo: Fred Hammer
How many shows/tours did you play with OCTOBER FACTION and can you go into detail about playing with other SST bands? Was it as crazy as everyone says it was? I saw OCTOBER FACTION a few times and I remember people being very hostile because you were not playing traditional Punk/Hardcore music.
October Faction was a one trick pony for tours. The band was put together for the purpose of opening up just the one tour and wasn't necessarily meant to be around for a long time. After that tour, we did play a bunch of gigs around L.A. though to mixed reactions. In all truth, it was a totally self-indulgent quagmire of noise. How could it not be? It was comprised of two lead guitars of eclectic style along with lead bass of eclectic style. And we were really fucking loud. It was bound to be turn-off to all but the most diehard Ginn/Dukowski/Baiza fans. I was there to try and hold it all together as they jammed insanely, going off on their own tangents. The addition of Tom Troccoli on vocals also helped keep things more cohesive as he formed lyrics. It helped reign in the jams so that there was more structure and some songs actually started to form. The difference is apparent on the two October Faction albums from the first to the second.
Playing in SWA was a lot different than October Faction. We had real songs, it was rock and roll, and it was hard. But there was still some hostility towards us mainly due to our singer, Merrill. He had a flamboyant style along the lines of Iggy and Bowie which turned off a lot of people that didn't appreciate that style or were simply unfamiliar with that style. It's ironic because punk in general was rooted a lot in that style ala New York Dolls and the aforementioned artists. But many of the SST fans weren't hip to it. I think that anyone who might have been in doubt of Merrill's rock abilities needed to check out his vocals on "Triumph of the Will", Overkill's one and only album on SST records. Those are some great vocals. If you never saw Merrill in person but heard that record, you'd think he was as hard as they come. He'd wear pink tights on stage with Overkill which also didn't go over too well. But those guys rocked!
SWA did a few of tours, one with Black Flag in 1985 and also SST's "The Tour" which was a small west cost tour featuring us, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Saccharin Trust, and Hüsker Dü. That was a really fun tour and being an opener, we and Saccharin knew our place and had our egos in check. However, every night was a debate with the other three bands about who was going to close the show. At that point they were all hot on the college circuit and all wanted to headline. It wasn't a big fight or anything, but there was a bit of ego throwing and rivalry. It was still a lot of fun and the atmosphere was very family like. I would say that those days were the highlight of the SST days. The bands were all friends, we did a lot of shows together, and it was a family. We all looked forward to the releases of each other's albums. Of the bands that lived in L.A., we'd get together once in while for impromptu jams and such. It was a good environment and they were my second family.
I know you were involved with the Black Flag reunion. Can you tell us what involvement you had in it. I believe you did the sound for the show.
Yes, I was involved doing sound for the "Benefit for Cats" Flag "reunion", if you want to call it that. Many of the key players were not invited to participate though I know they wanted to. I wound up mixing sound for the show both nights which didn't go all that well, mainly the first night. I had wanted to be at the practices for the shows so I'd have an opportunity to mix at the practices so I knew what to expect.
I didn't get the call to do it until the night before the first show. I showed up to do the mix. A few issues made the sound the first night pretty bad. The first is that the Hollywood Palladium is a difficult room to mix in due to it's shape. There are various reflections and hot and null spots that make it tricky. It was designed to be a big band ballroom and the acoustics don't lend themselves very well to rock music. Then there was an issue with the PA where it needed some more tuning to get rid of some muddiness in the low end. That issue was corrected the second night. The third issue was Ginn's guitar stack. It was pointed right at mix position so literally all I could hear was his guitar even when it was all the way off in the mix. It made it very hard to get a good balance in the PA as I had to constantly walk out from behind the board and listen to make adjustments. So all in all, it wasn't the best mix I had ever done. I got complaints along with some thumbs up. But I'll be the first one to admit it could have been a lot better.
Can you tell us about the most violent show you ever saw in Southern CA?
The first BYO gig I went to at the Hollywood Palladium was one of the most violent. Beside the couple that fell of the balcony, that gig got off to a rough start. I can remember waiting in line to get tickets. They were moving very slowly which started to piss of the more agro fans. They started breaking lighting fixtures on the outside of the building with rocks and bottles. Then they smashed the box office window. That really slowed things down trying to get it. They then opened up another box office and everyone got their tickets. Then the door opened. It was a mad rush. People were charging in yelling and screaming. I was 14 at the time and had longish hair which made me a target for the skin heads. Ray Cooper, my best friend from high school who had driven us to the gig, had relatively short hair and was likely safe. But he was also intimidated by the skins. So we made a dash for the upper level and found a nice dark spot where we wouldn't be harassed.
As we sat there with people still rolling in the doors, a few skinheads up the balcony grabbed chairs and phone books and threw them into the chandeliers. They broke apart and hit the floor. Fortunately nobody was standing below. That would have been pretty ugly.
Then just before the first band went on, a guy with long hair up by the stage was approached by some skinheads who grabbed him by the hair from behind and threw him to the ground. They starting beating the crap out of him until he was bloody and busted up. It reinforced my desire to stay hidden in the balcony. Then the bands started. They were kicking some ass and the energy in the mosh pit was high. Lots of people were getting hurt. Lots of fights were starting. I remember people climbing the PA stacks and swinging from the curtains on the sides of the stage. It was wild. It was scary.
TSOL closed the show. It was during their set that a drunk skinhead dude pickup up his drunk girlfriend and held her over the balcony to scare her. He lost his footing and they both went over and hit the floor below. That's when Ray and I decided it was time to leave.
Greg Cameron destroying the drums, Photo: Fred Hammer
I know you have been involved with sound recordings for a long time. Can you tell us exactly what you do and what advice would you give to a new band recording? What are the most common mistakes you see bands doing when they record or even what mistakes bands make when they play live?
My advice to any new band recording is to practice, practice practice. And have your instruments in good working order. Studio time is expensive. If you don't have your shit together when you walk in, it's going to cost you time, money, and piss people off. It will aggravate whoever is producing and/or engineering. The same goes for live performance. Practice and have your gear in working order. Nobody wants to see a band that's really sloppy and acts like they don't care unless that's what the act is really supposed to be about. Even then, there's a certain order to things.
One of my biggest pet peeves with new bands, and even some old ones, is how they get their gear on and off stage. Drummers: do NOT set up your drums on stage. Set them up when you get to the gig or at least well before your band has to be on stage. It slows down the band change over process immensely. You get in everybody's way. You cause problems. You are rude. And when you're done, get your shit off stage right away and do NOT break your drums down on the stage. Break it down OFF the stage as you cause the same problems stated previously.
Guitar & bass players should have their instruments tuned just before it's time to get their gear on stage so they're ready to plug in and go. Tuning on stage slows everything down. Really nobody wants to see you tune your guitar & it kills momentum for your band. And get your amps off stage right after playing. Don't go grab a beer and chit chat. Once again it slows everything down and screws the next band in line. The gig is not about you. It's disrespectful to the next band, the fans, and the club. It does little to further your reputation with your peers and makes it less likely that you'll be asked back to play again.
Bottom line, treat your set up and tear-down as you would want the band before you to treat it. Egos be damned. If you get on late, cut your set short. Don't screw the other bands down stream. Be the "bigger" band and do the right thing. It will be better for you later down the road.
I can remember a Black Flag show in 1984 at the Ritz in NYC. It was the "New Music Seminar" where new bands get to showcase themselves for "industry" people. It was Sisters of Mercy, General Public, and Black Flag. Talk about an interesting mix eh? It was the first time I had seen the Sisters of Mercy and GP. Sisters of Mercy were a bit boring as they were just getting going then. General Public was also just starting out. I was a fan of the English Beat, but this band just didn't do it for me.
But what really put them on my shit list was the fact that they played almost a half hour longer than they were supposed to which cut right into Flag's set time. Then they left the stage and nobody from the band or crew came to get move their gear. It was a big snub. So Greg Ginn grabbed me and we headed up to the stage. Ginn was so pissed that he started breaking the guitar cords off in the amps by dragging them with the cords and then shoving them over on the side of the stage. Guitars, drums, and stands were literally thrown across the stage. It was the most pissed I'd ever seen Greg. Then we got Flag's gear up fast and they started playing angry. It was a good gig.
Last question...Feel free to say anything you'd like.
I'd just like to say thanks to the SST crew over the years and in particular Ray Cooper for introducing me to "punk rock", Bill Stevenson for being a good friend and mentor, Chuck Dukowski for being a generous friend and mentor, and Greg Ginn for starting SST which made a large part of my life possible. And thanks to Mr. Fred Hammer for asking!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 7:43 PM