The Adolescents - Biography
Southern California’s Adolescents are founders of the suburban Orange County punk scene and the band’s first album is one of the classic albums of West Coast punk and hardcore. The Adolescents’ songs contributed generously to the melodic sensibility and musical style of later SoCal punk bands. Just as a guitarist in a New York punk band will play Johnny Thunders licks, so Southern Californian punk guitarists will often copy the sliding octave melodies of Rikk Agnew’s lead guitar lines.
In 1979, bassist Steve Soto was a founding member of the Fullerton punk band Agent Orange. Tony Cadena — no relation to Dez Cadena’s Black Flag — went to Agent Orange shows and befriended Soto. At a punk show in late 1979, Cadena and Soto agreed to form a band and at the end of the year Soto quit Agent Orange. The two 16-year-olds assembled the first lineup of The Adolescents in January, 1980 with former Social Distortion guitarist Frank Agnew, second guitarist John O’Donovan, and mysterious mustached drummer Peter Pan. In Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore, Cadena says, “We started rehearsing in Pan’s garage and then at The Detours’ studio, which was a chicken coop behind this lady’s house. She had a hen house that she turned into a rehearsal studio.” Pan and O’Donovan were soon replaced by drummer Casey Royer and guitarist Rikk Agnew (Frank’s brother), both of whom had also been in Social Distortion’s original lineup as well as the early Orange County punk band The Detours. A skilled lead guitarist and gifted songwriter, Rikk Agnew was an asset to any band.
The one-sided single “Amoeba” was The Adolescents’ first record. The band’s early records do not list songwriting credits but according to the official bio on the Adolescents’ website, “Amoeba” was among a number of original songs Rikk Agnew brought to the band. “Amoeba” also appears on Rodney on the Roq (1980 Posh Boy), the first in a series of punk compilation LPs tied to Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show on LA’s KROQ.
The cover of the debut LP, Adolescents (1981 Frontier), is an iconic punk graphic, the band’s name in red typeset against a blue background. “Kids of the Black Hole” refers to the scene at the Black Hole, Mike Ness’s punk house in Fullerton which police had closed down in early 1980. There are no songwriting credits on the album but the ringing guitar octaves and descending chords of “Kids of the Black Hole” make it sound very much like a Rikk Agnew composition. It is still not uncommon for backwards teenagers to use the word “gay” as a synonym for “bad” and Adolescents’ “No Way” contains an instance of this usage: “No way, no way / I cannot live in a world this gay.”
Rikk Agnew left The Adolescents in 1981 and joined the goth-punk band Christian Death. Initially, Pat Smear of The Germs replaced the senior Agnew brother but according to the band’s official bio, “Pat couldn’t tour at the time so he was replaced by Casey’s roommate (Steve Roberts) who could.” After the band recorded the Welcome to Reality 7” with Roberts; Frank Agnew and Steve Soto left to join Legal Weapon. The Adolescents recruited bassist Jeff Bean (formerly of The Detours) and guitarist Rick Herschbeth but broke up before a scheduled US tour.
Royer and Roberts formed D.I., a punk band fronted by Royer that came to include Rikk Agnew and another Agnew brother, Alfie. Cadena, Herschbeth and Royer formed The Abandoned. Rikk Agnew sings and plays all the instruments on his underrated solo LP, All by Myself (1982 Frontier), which includes the original versions of “O.C. Life” and “Falling Out,” two songs later recorded and popularized by D.I.
The classic lineup reformed in 1986, but Frank Agnew and Royer left before the recording of the self-released reunion LP, Brats in Battalions (1987 S.O.S.). Sandy Hansen of The Mechanics joined on drums and Alfie Agnew replaced Frank. When Alfie left The Adolescents at the end of 1986 to return to college, Dan Colburn of White Mice took his place on rhythm guitar. Cadena and Colburn quit at the end of 1987 after a year of touring to promote the reunion album. Despite the loss of their lead singer, The Adolescents continued to tour and record, now with Soto and Rikk Agnew on lead vocals and Paul Casey of Subculture on rhythm guitar. Paul Casey quit in the middle of a 1988 tour and Frank Agnew flew out to rejoin the band. This Cadena-less Adolescents recorded the album Balboa Fun Zone (1988 Triple X) and continued to tour until early 1989, when The Adolescents broke up again.
Soto and Hansen subsequently formed the band Joyride. Cadena, Royer and Rikk Agnew formed the quasi-reunion band ADZ, which released the album Where Were You? (1992 Lethal Weapon). Royer and Agnew left ADZ in 1993 and Cadena kept the band going with an ever-changing cast of musicians. The classic Adolescents reunited in 2001 for live shows to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Adolescents. Royer did not stay long, and ex-Social Distortion and D.I. drummer Derek O’Brien took his place. Rikk Agnew split before the band recorded O.C. Confidential (2005 Finger) as a four-piece: Cadena, Frank Agnew, Soto and O’Brien. Frank Agnew played the guitars in concert until Matt Beld replaced Junior in 2006. In October 2008, The Adolescents’ website announced that the band was working on a new album. Steve Soto toured the US in 2009 with his band, The Twisted Hearts, opening for X.