The Weirdos - Biography
By Oliver Hall
The Weirdos may have been the first punk band formed in Los Angeles, although great debate exists over whether that title belongs to The Weirdos, The Zeros, or The Dils. Nonetheless, they made the strongest impression of the early bunch, with John Denney’s clear and tuneful scream, Dix Denney and Cliff Roman’s Raw Power guitars, and Dave Trout and Nickey Beat’s propulsive rhythm. Like some other early punks, the Weirdos created humor and thrills by pushing nihilism to absurd extremes: as The Randoms’ single “ABCD/Let’s Get Rid of New York” (1977 Dangerhouse) advocated wiping New York City off the map, The Weirdos’ first single urged the destruction of all music.
Brothers John and Dix Denney formed The Weirdos with CalArts students Cliff Roman and Dave Trout. In one account, John Denney says that the band came together in December of 1976, but he gives the date as February of 1977 in another. “The Weirdos had their beginnings way back in 1971, when I met Cliff Roman in an art class at North Hollywood High School (art being one of the few classes I attended with any regularity),” he writes in “Weirdoism,” which appears in the book Fucked Up + Photocopied, published in 1999. John Denney and Roman formed a number of fictitious bands (e.g. “Scab Country”) at North Hollywood High. After graduation, Roman went to CalArts and John Denney went “to the beach.” Roman met bassist Dave Trout at CalArts, and approached the Denney brothers about forming a band.
In Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s oral history of Los Angeles punk We Got the Neutron Bomb (2001 Three Rivers Press), named after The Weirdos song, John Denney says, “The band was for our own amusement really, sort of like some fantasy group for fun with a bit of art damage thrown in; at least that was my take on it.” According to Denney, Peter Case of The Nerves (and later The Plimsouls) came into The Weirdos’ cheap rehearsal space at Hollywood and Western one day and asked the band to play at the “Punk Rock Invasion” gig The Nerves were organizing. Initially, The Weirdos were hesitant to accept because they did not yet have a drummer, but Case talked them into it. “Peter Case discovered The Weirdos,” Denney says in We Got the Neutron Bomb. “Who knows, maybe we would have stayed in our own private little world if he hadn’t been so aggressive in talking us into playing out before we even had a completed lineup.”
The Weirdos performed without a drummer at their first gig, the Punk Rock Invasion on April 2, 1977, and also their second, opening for the Nerves at the Orpheum in Hollywood. After a third drummerless gig, writer Phast Phreddie Patterson introduced The Weirdos to drummer Nickey Beat, who had to cut his hair to get the job. Accounts of the Weirdos’ early shows tend to mention the band’s punk dress and visual style. Robert Lopez of The Zeros remembers in We Got the Neutron Bomb, “[The Weirdos] were from art school, so they all had spray-painted pants and plastic wrappers wrapped around their legs. Shirts made of trash bags.”
Later that month, The Weirdos went to an in-store appearance by The Damned at the BOMP! Records store to promote their own show that evening at the Orpheum. During this fateful event, the Weirdos initiated relationships not only with The Damned and the BOMP! label, but also with a teenage group called The Germs, who approached John Denney and talked their way onto that night’s bill. The Germs gave their chaotic first live performance at that Orpheum show, followed by The Zeros and The Weirdos, making their live debut with drummer Nickey Beat. Captain Sensible of The Damned joined the Weirdos onstage for a cover of the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard.”
The Weirdos’ first record was the urgent punk single “Destroy All Music / Life of Crime / Why Do You Exist?” (1977 BOMP!), recorded, as Roman told Flipside, on the day Elvis Presley died, August 16, 1977. The Weirdos’ second single, “We Got The Neutron Bomb/Solitary Confinement” (1978 Dangerhouse), is one of the most powerful, enduring, and locally beloved records from the early days of Los Angeles punk. These two singles were the only contemporary releases with the original Trout and Beat rhythm section, and The Weirdos’ reputation derives mostly from the Stooges-like immediacy of these five songs. Danny Benair replaced Beat on drums and Billy Persons played bass on the 1979 six-song EP Who? What? When? Where? Why? (1979 – BOMP!), which was at once a move into more conventional rock territory and an attitude of detachment. Beat went on to play with The Dickies, The Cramps, and L.A. Guns, among others. That same year, the Denney brothers recorded the single “Skateboards to Hell / Adulthood” (1979 Numbskull) with producer Geza X.
Roman and the Denney Brothers recorded the four-song Action-Design EP (1980 Rhino) with studio drummer Art Fox and bassist Willy Williams. John Denney told Flipside in 1980 that they kicked Williams out of the band because Dix felt that “five people on stage at full volume” made too much “racket.” Cliff Roman moved to bass. At the time of the Flipside interview, The Weirdos were, once again, without a drummer. Roman and the Denney brothers pulled the plug on The Weirdos in 1981.
The Weirdos played their first reunion show at the Stardust Ballroom in Hollywood in February of 1986. In 1989, Roman and the Denney brothers recorded the new Weirdos album Condor (1990 Frontier) in Los Angeles. Nickey Beat was on drums for four songs, Jerry Angel on the rest, and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays bass for half of the album. The compilation Weird World, Volume One: 1977-1981 (1991 Frontier) followed, including among other treasures the Weirdos’ great unreleased third single “Message from the Underworld.” Roman has continued to be involved in The Weirdos since the recording of Condor, though he seldom performs with the band.
Following the release of Weird World, Volume Two: 1977-1989 (2003 Frontier), the Denney brothers played reunion shows in 2004 with Circle Jerks’ bassist, actor, and multi-instrumentalist Zander Schloss and drummer Sean Antillon of the Skulls, the Gears, and the Controllers. BOMP! issued the Weirdos compilation Destroy All Music (2007 BOMP!) to mark the single’s 30th anniversary.