In 1979, up in LA, Germs released the legendary GI. A year later, X’s incredible Los Angeles declared itself. In San Francisco: The Avengers happened. It was, we know now, a seminal year for California punk and hardcore. In Huntington Beach, a middle-class suburb in Orange County, CA, this compilation called Beach Blvd. was released in 1979. I found it on the Internet in the early ’00s. The record boasted the best tunes from Orange County bands Rik L Rik (whose singer would later form Negative Trend), F-Word!, Simpletones, and The Crowd. I had to listen to it in secret. I wasn’t allowed, in my mother’s words, “to listen to that stuff your friends listen to.” The Crowd’s “Living in Madrid” nearly broke my ear drums. It clocked in at around 90 seconds. There was no soda advertisement. It hadn’t been played on KROQ in over 20 years. It was one of the first records I listened to start to finish, one of my first obsessions.
Orange County is not only “The OC,” MTV’s “Laguna Beach,” and white pill problems. We have a punk rock history. And you should know about it. The Crowd is still a band, still makes records, and released two discs for Record Store Day. I e-mailed Jim Kaa, guitarist in The Crowd and a financial analyst, about growing up in HB, the OC punk scene, and, of course, Mexican food.
Is everyone in the band from Huntington?
The original line-up – Jim “Trash” Decker [vocals], Jay Decker [bass]. Tracey Porterfield [guitar], Barry Miranda [drums] and myself all grew up in HB and went to Edison High School. Boz and Corey, who play with us now, are both from HB and Edison as well. Dennis is from Arcadia [a suburb in LA] and not from HB originally.
You guys had two releases come out for RSD. The Crowd’s been a band for almost 40 years. What’s kept you guys together?
I think we just love playing. The creative process of writing songs, recording and playing live is actually quite inspiring to us and fun too!
Can you talk a little about growing up in Orange County—namely Huntington Beach, which isn’t nearly as glamorous or well known as Newport or Laguna—and being in a punk band?
Well, the “OC” image did not really exist then the way it does now. It was just the standard suburban beach town and a great place to grow up. Riding your bike to the beach virtually every day of the summer, every year of your life, is not such a bad way to live.
For you guys as individuals, were bands like Ramones, Sex Pistols, et al. a huge turning point? Like, did any of you turn from varsity swimmer to punk? Or were you always rebellious kids?
I think we were all into music before punk. Everything from the Stones, Roxy Music, Bowie, Bob Marley, Sabbath, Queen, etc. So hearing the early punk stuff was just the evolution of rock music at the time, but it certainly did inspire us to get started. Everyone did surf, but we weren’t varsity swimmers. We weren’t so much out to change the world as have a good time and party with our friends.
Posh Boy Records released the “Beach Blvd.” compilation in ’79, and since then it’s become a collector’s item for some [A clean copy sells for around $50 on eBay]. Can you talk a bit about how you came to be on that record?
“Beach Blvd.” was Robbie Fields’ [Posh Boy Records] idea. He had come to a house party at Jim & Jay Decker’s parents’ house, where we’d played that night. He offered us a deal to do a single akin to The Simpletones’ “California” 7-inch. He had already been working with Rik L Rik for a while at the time. Our single became five songs. And Robbie combined them with tracks that Rik L Rik & The Simpletones did for the compilation. Ginger Canzoneri’s [The Go-Go’s Manager] iconic cover art also helped to promote the album. Our song “Modern Machine” began to get significant airplay on [Rodney on the ROQ.] The record just exploded after that.
What venues in the county would you play? Any of them still around?
We started playing house parties in the summer of ’78. We also promoted our own shows at Boys Club, and you could book it again after the first few shows. By the fall, we were playing the infamous Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa and Club 88 in LA. I don’t think any of them exist in OC today, some of the buildings might be there, but the clubs from the day are long gone.
Would LA bands/kids migrate down to play?
Yes, but that happened later. Initially it was all the HB/OC/LB bands and their fans, and they’d go to LA. The Whiskey and the Starwood were very happening then. Then more LA bands came to play in OC. Early on, most of those shows were at the Cuckoo’s Nest.
How intense was the animosity between the LA and OC scenes in the late ’70s? Was The Crowd active in LA shit talk?
We rarely had any animosity with anyone from LA, it was a great time to be part of the LA/OC music scene. We met a ton of great people from all kinds of bands from LA/OC/SF/SD. There are always some jerks along the way, but I am still friends with many of the people I met in ’78-’82 30 years later.
I found this Dutch documentary on YouTube that chronicles the LA surf punk and hardcore scene. HB’s always this sort of seedy memory that it’s full of skinheads, and not the dancehall-listening, suspender-snapping variety. Were these kids around in the late ‘70s, wearing swastikas and shaving their heads and slam-dancing at your shows? You ever run into them now?
That is a yes and no. I would not say it was seedy as such, but there were always some knuckleheads running around. That is not something I see much of anymore, and we try to avoid shows that draw that crowd. I really don’t want to dwell on the violence. What I will say is that the local LA/OC/LB punk scene seemed to get more violent in ’81-’84. People got into the scene to fight and fuck stuff up, not enjoy the bands and music.
Did you ever want to bounce from Orange County and move up to LA?
I really love LA. Always have and still do. But I never really wanted to live there, though Jim & Jay have lived there at different times over the years.
Why did you stay? Besides the weater, beach, and the excellent Mexican food, what’s to love?
It’s where I grew up. My parents, my cousins, and friends I have known since grade school were here. And I still love body surfing and going to the beach. It’s expensive now, but a good place to be.
Who are your favorite bands to play with, then and now? Any new bands you’re into from OC/LA/SD?
There are so many it’s hard to name them all. But a few of my personal favorites from the early days were The Dickies, The Weirdos and X. We have also had long friendships and play many a show with guys in Adolescents, The Stitches and TSOL. The 3-2-1’s are a cool new band from Long Beach that I like.
My favorite misconception about Orange County is that it is a “dead town,” and no art can ever come out of here. Nor is it a subject worthy of art-making, save for TV shows. Do you have a misconception you’re always correcting?
I think the OC music scene (Social Distortion, No Doubt, Thrice and many, many more) and the surf/skate culture have had a huge impact on American pop culture. I do not have to correct anyone about it so much, just expose them to it. It is the truth, and that’s just the way it is. I guess some people never really like the truth.
Why do people hate Orange County?
I think they don’t like the whole “OC” that’s been perpetuated by “Laguna Beach” and “Real Housewives” type shows. And in the scene, it was always HB to blame for violence at shows. And while many times someone from HB may have been to blame, it became a stereotype.
Is punk right for Huntington Beach, for Orange County? What is punk for you?
I don’t know if it’s right, per se. It was an avenue for us to get our band and music and expose it to a lot of people. [Punk] is being true to yourself and what you want to do, not just copying what others are doing. In the early days you would have hardcore bands playing with pop/punks or rockabilly or art/noise bands. It was all about being an individual. Later, it became this is a “hardcore” show or “rockabilly” show. The cross pollination kind of ended.
With that, what’s HB—and Orange County in general—for you now?
It’s where I live and where I’m from. Though it’s a lot different than it what it was in the ‘70s. Way more commercial and hyped. But that has to do a lot with the surf/skate culture too.
Did you guys ever want to make a living from The Crowd? What do you guys do now?
Of course, it’s just very hard to do. Jim “Trash” Decker is a charter boat captain, expert fish guide and competitive fisherman. Dennis Walsh is a postman, Jeff Milucky runs a precision metal foundry, Corey Stretz is a mason and I do financial planning & analysis for restaurant companies.
If any NYCers ever come visit our humble county, where should they get tacos?
I would go to Los Golondrinas in San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano. Their carnitas tacos and machaca burritos are the best. But everyone in OC is going to give you a different answer on this one.
For what it’s worth, hit the 24-hour taqueria at Springdale and Westminster, or get really native and grab a tofu mushroom burger from Taco Loco in Laguna, and eat it on the beach across the street. Thanks to Jim and the rest of the band. Find The Crowd on Facebook.