Scared of Chaka is responsible for me cutting off my hippie hair.
Hyperbole perhaps but after years of raising kids and acres of vegetables (and yes-- full disclosure--in my high school years, going to Grateful Dead shows) it was time for a change. I’d pack everyone off to bed and sneak out into the ‘burque night for loud obnoxious music. I was so broke from family expenses that I'd sometimes slip a beer into my coat pocket, a brand that the club served so it wouldn't be noticed when I popped it open (sorry, Joe Anderson! ) . Punk music wasn’t new by then of course but it was to me and I had plenty of catching up to do.
Summer 1995: the Golden West Saloon was the most vital punk venue in town. Two year-old Scared of Chaka opened for Chicago’s Pegboy but stole the show, my first time seeing them. I was so green at the time I thought they were Pegboy. Frontman Dave Hernandez was jumping around, trying to crash into the ceiling heater that hung low over the stage while chopping out barely in-tune riffs as bassist Dameon Waggoner (Lowlights) pulled his signature flying scissor leaps. Frenetic but on the beat drummer Jeffrey Jones (future ex-Gracchi) did his best to keep seated, not always successfully. All I could think of was Saturday morning A.D.D. kids chowing bowl after bowl of Froot Loops with an inch of sugar sludge at the bottom, their Ritalin powerless.
A few weeks later, a wheat-pasted flyer on the campus announced a Chaka show in somebody’s driveway in a Student Ghetto alley. There were maybe eight people there including local figure June Kilz, me, and my thirteen year old stepson. In a way, he was my cover. I looked out of place with hair and beard down to here but bringing him gave the appearance I was there for his sake. I wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all myself. Even with that small crowd a mini mosh pit managed to erupt. Fast and furious retardo punk with good hooks, it just couldn’t get any better.
|original sepia cover bought at Mind Over Matter . never did find out why it was later reissued in color with a new photo|
Next stop: record store Mind Over Matter for the just released 12” vinyl Hutch Brown Sayngwich (702 Records) where I was told by counter girl Tasha Riggins (Nitre Pit, Gary Coleman Hot TubParty), “They’re flying off the shelf ! ”
The shows were rife with, umm, audience participation: Girls trying to pull Hernandez' pants down when he ventured too close to the edge of the stage. Lots of the prerequisite heckling by friends in the crowd ( "Play one you know!" ). Even though I'd barely met these guys, I joined in by pitching ice cubes at the band. Speaking of which, at the Launchpad, I recall offering some cubes from my whiskey glass to the girl next to me who was quite appreciative as she tossed them at Hernandez' head.
|i went to this show after watching my step-daughter in her middle school musical play, Wrangler Ranch. it's a safe bet i was the only person to attend both events.|
Jones left the band soon after the Hutch Brown release, to be replaced by Ron Skrasek (who in 1998 joined The Drags, replacing original drummer Keith Herrera). Waggoner also soon moved on to be replaced by Gwendolyn Stubbs, a name I can never recall and who rarely shows up up in online searches. Sorry, lady! Other members came and went but we saw less of the band.
They were doing well and still touring but the home town shows were fewer. The Emo Glut was upon us and The Shins (in which Hernandez had been playing since they were known as Flake and/or Flakemusic ) were hitting it big. Sleeping in a nasty punk rock van and eating stale pizza or touring with decent Sub Pop support and a chance to make a living? No contest. Soon, he called it quits and Scared of Chaka were no more.
They left a string of records on labels like 702, Science Project, Empty, Hopeless and more, many on split 7" vinyl. Most all of these stand up today as the best of what '90s punk had to offer.
|6pm on a Saturday? that leaves enough time to grab a Frontier Burrito down the street and still make it downtown, probably to see the same bands play the clubs.|
If you’ve never heard Scared of Chaka, some people may say to start with the year 2000 rare vinyl cuts compilation Seven Stories Tall but for puro Chaka, Hutch Brown is the way to go,particularly Horshack on side one. Hearing that most-requested song again at the band’s triumphant 2008 Reno, Nevada reunion (in honor of Pete the Sticker Guy/702 Records 15th anniversary) made me and everyone else in the bar stupidly happy. I felt like a kid of, um, 37 again.
a shorter version originally appeared in Weekly Alibi