Fear - Biography
Fear came out of the early Los Angeles punk scene in 1977, and is considered one of the earliest of the so-called “hardcore” bands to emerge from that scene. The earliest incarnation of the band had featured Burt Good on guitar and Johnny Backbeat on drums. After the release of their first 45, “I Love Living in the City,” both were replaced, by Cramer and Stix respectively, in 1978.
A happenstance encounter with budding filmmaker Penelope Spheeris (later famous for Wayne’s World) led to their appearance in The Decline of Western Civilization, a groundbreaking documentary that exposed the nascent Los Angeles punk and new wave scene to a national audience. If X came across as the actually “talented” (in a traditional musical sense) band in the film, Fear were the jokesters, with obscenely funny songs rendered at breakneck speed and with considerable aggression. “I Love Living In the City” was X’s “Los Angeles” turned inside out, the bleak poetic posturing of the latter replaced with a hilarious, Ramones-like celebration of Los Angeles in all its filthy, phony sordid splendor. “Let’s Have a War” is nearly a punk rock protest song, managing to indict both the bloodthirsty media (“Sell the rights to the networks”) and world economics “General Motors’ll get fat like last time), while Ving turns in the most unhinged and frightening vocal of his career. If you want to hear Fear at their most molten, go-for-broke best, this is the song to put on.
Still, for a band seemingly at the extreme, un-commercial end of the punk rock spectrum, they had some surprisingly old-school roots and connections. Danny Hutton, one of the singers from Three Dog Night, was their manager, and their first and still best album was produced by none other than Gary Richrath of 70s arena rock stars REO Speedwagon.
Their audience-baiting, edge-of-violence stage presence and nihilistic lyrics also obscured the fact they were, in fact, more than competent musicians. Guitarist Philo Cramer’s style was a goofy blend of West Coast speed-riffing and the detuned 12-string clatter of DNA’s Arto Lindsay. Lee’s foghorn voice packed a powerful punch. At various times the band’s membership included Flea, later of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Eric Drew Feldman, a former member of Captain Beefheart’s latter-day Magic Band, who has since gone on to play with Frank Black and PJ Harvey.
Fear: The Record (Slash) was released in 1982. Richrath’s production was rather flat and muted, and largely failed to capture the band’s raw powerful live sound. After the record’s release, they found a champion in John Belushi, who had left Saturday Night Live and achieved movie stardom with his starring role in Animal House. Belushi and the band had become friends and mutual admirers; both favored juvenile, gross-out humor, and there was an undercurrent of violence in the band’s lyrics and performances, that echoed Belushi’s various self-detonating personae on Saturday Night Live. With Belushi’s assistance, the band appeared on Saturday Night Live’s 1981 Halloween show. Fear brought along some of their slam-dancing fans (including Belushi) who formed network television’s first mosh-pit, while the band tore through hyper speed versions of Beef Baloney and “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones” (their satire on the arty downtown punk-jazz scene). The performance quickly descended into beautiful chaos while producer Lorne Michaels watched in horror as fans of the show, more accustomed to middle of the road musical guests such as Paul Simon and James Taylor, were given their first taste of West Coast punk. They were cut off during their third song, after an obscenity was picked up on by a microphone and the show cut away to a commercial.
For all that, it remains the best recorded document of the band in its classic lineup. In 1985, they released their second album, More Beer (Restless), in which Ving’s lyrics moved toward outright and un-ironic misogyny and right wing politics. With the build and demeanor of a bouncer, Ving had a history of baiting crowds to violent behavior, sometimes to the point of physical assault. Violent behavior was becoming more prevalent at hardcore shows, especially in right-wing Orange County, where shaved-head jocks started going to clubs not so much to hear the band but to beat up on punk rockers. Fear’s music and lyrics found easy acceptance in this milieu, and if they never overtly identified with this crowd, they never publicly distanced themselves from it, either.
Live…For the Record (1991 Caroline) was a serviceable document of the band’s live shows, and featured the classic lineup, minus Derf Scratch, replaced by Lorenzo Buhne. Have Another Beer With Fear (1995 Sector 2 Records) is a mélange of old songs re-recorded, songs from their live sets that had never been studio-recorded, and more bone-headed beer references than a dozen Bob & Doug Mackenzie SCTV skits.
Their most recent recording is American Beer (2000 Hall of Records). The album is a mix of old songs re-recorded, songs played live but never before recorded, and the usual mix of odes to alcohol and rehashes of the usual themes of misogyny and violence.
Lead singer Lee Ving is the only original member of the band left in the current lineup; bassist/saxophonist Derf Scratch was gone by 1982, guitarist Cramer and drummer Spit Stix both left in the early 90s, since then, a revolving door cast of sidemen have passed through the band. More than 30 years after the formation of the band, they continue to tour, and even played the Warped Vans Tour in 2008.
Lee Ving has also maintained an acting career concurrent with playing with Fear, and has had roles in such films as Flash Dance, Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, and the television show “Fame,” in which he sings “The Impossible Dream.” He also appeared, along with the rest of the classic lineup, in Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy, (1983) singing a Fear-scorched version of Muddy Waters’ “Hootchie Kootchie Man.”
Both Derf Scratch and Philo Cramer seem to have disappeared from the music scene following their departures from the band. Spit Stix (real name Tim Leitch), however, who had had professional training in jazz prior to joining Fear, went on to play with such disparate performers as German punk-operatic star Nina Hagen and surf guitar legend Dick Dale. He has since gone on to work mainly in digital music production, working in television and movies, as well as in pop music, with a great deal of success in all three realms.