D.O.A. - Biography

By Oliver Hall


Canadian punks D.O.A. are one of the original bands of the hardcore movement. D.O.A. toured constantly through the 1980s, building a reputation for their muscular musicianship and energetic live shows, thus earning the praise and friendship of most contemporary North American punk and hardcore bands. The group has consistently aligned itself with left-wing, populist politics, singing against war, racism, and capitalist greed. D.O.A. has also indulged in off-the-wall, self-effacing humor throughout its career, as seen with their best of compilation Greatest Shits (1991 QQYRQ).


D.O.A.’s leader and sole constant member, Joey Shithead, was born Joseph Keighley. In 1990, he had the spelling of his last name legally changed to “Keithley” to prevent people from mispronouncing it. Born June 3, 1956, Keithley grew up in Burnaby, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. Keithley had played in the hippie-ish rock band Stone Crazy, which included his squatmates Ken Montgomery and Brad Kent. Stone Crazy metamorphosed into the Skulls, one of British Columbia’s first punk bands, in 1977. Punks took new names, so Montgomery became Dimwit, Kent became Brad Kunt, and Keithley became Joey Shithead.


The Skulls moved to Toronto because it was on the way to London, where the band hoped to find punk stardom. After several months in Toronto’s punk scene, Skulls Simon and Wimpy flew to London, where Shithead and Dimwit had promised to meet them. True to their names, Dimwit and Shithead flaked out. Shithead moved back to Vancouver at the end of 1977 and put together the first lineup of D.O.A. Dimwit’s younger brother Chuck was a fifteen-year-old powerhouse drummer, now renamed Chuck Biscuits (as in, “Dude, I don’t feel too good. I think I’m gonna chuck biscuits”). Randy Rampage played bass, Shithead played guitar, and, very briefly, a frontman named Harry Homo sang. After D.O.A.’s first show in early 1978, Homo was fired and Shithead took over as lead vocalist.


As the Sex Pistols had Malcolm McLaren and the Clash had Bernie Rhodes, D.O.A.’s revolutionary-styled manager was a man named Ken Lester. In July of 1978, Lester organized a free outdoor punk concert and anarchist rally at which D.O.A. performed. D.O.A.’s original power trio lineup recorded and self-released a four-song 7”, D.O.A. (1978 Sudden Death), which included the popular “Disco Sucks.” In his illuminating memoir I, Shithead: A Life in Punk (2003 Arsenal Pulp), Keithley explains: “Since the existing record labels were run by a bunch of dicks, we decided to produce [the 7”] ourselves.”


Brad Kunt joined the band as lead guitarist in mid-1978, and in August D.O.A. played the first of many tours of the United States’ West Coast. They saw the Dead Kennedys play in San Francisco and befriended the band’s singer, Jello Biafra. After the tour, the band fired Kunt, who joined San Francisco punk greats the Avengers. D.O.A. recorded its second single “The Prisoner” (1978 Quintessence) that November. The band spent much of 1979 on the road in the United States and Canada, and opened shows for both the Ramones and the Clash in Vancouver that year.


D.O.A. broke up briefly in 1979 after a disastrous show at the University of British Columbia. Almost immediately, Shithead put together a new version of the band with guitarist Dave Gregg, bassist Simon Wilde, and drummer Andy Graffiti. This lineup lasted only a few months, followed by a 1980 reunion of the original band. Shithead, Rampage, and Biscuits recorded the material for the band’s first LP and returned to the U.S., where they opened for X and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Police clashed with punks outside an overcrowded D.O.A. / Black Flag bill at LA’s Whisky a Go Go. The Canadian label Friends issued D.O.A.’s first LP, Something Better Change (1980  Friends), as well as the live 7” Triumph of the Ignoroids (1980 Friends), which is a recording of D.O.A.’s performance at a 1978 “battle of the bands.”           


Second guitarist Gregg returned for the recording of the band’s second album. Widely credited as the first use of the word “hardcore” applied to the new style of punk, D.O.A.’s second LP Hardcore 81 (1981 Friends) widely popularized the term, though the band did not invent it. According to I, Shithead, the band first encountered the term in the fall of 1980: “we had seen an article in a music mag from San Francisco that talked about the west coast punk scene […] The title of the article was ‘Hardcore.’” In February, D.O.A. organized and headlined the two-night Hardcore 81 festival, featuring Black Flag and 7 Seconds at Vancouver’s Laundromat. On the subsequent Hardcore 81 tour, D.O.A. played with Bad Brains, Minor Threat, S.O.A., the Dead Kennedys, the Adolescents, Stiff Little Fingers, Flipper, Toxic Reasons, and Hüsker Dü (mistakenly billed as “Who Screwed You?”), among others.


Rampage left D.O.A. after the band’s New Year’s Eve show in Vancouver and Dimwit replaced him on bass. Biscuits left the band during recording sessions in early 1982 and joined Black Flag. In later years, Biscuits drummed for the Circle Jerks and Danzig. Dimwit moved from bass to drums after Biscuits quit, and former Skulls bassist Wimpy Roy joined the band. D.O.A. recorded its next album, War on 45 (1982 Alternative Tentacles), at Perspective Sound in Sun Valley, California during another West Coast tour. War on 45 includes a very fine punk cover of the Edwin Starr classic “War” for which the band filmed a video at A&M Studios.


D.O.A. toured relentlessly through 1982 and 1983. In 1983, the band’s old friend Gerry Useless (The Subhumans) was among five people arrested in Squamish, BC in connection with an underground bombing campaign that targeted an arms manufacturer, a power plant, and an adult video chain. D.O.A. released the benefit single Right to Be Wild (1983 Sudden Death) and put on a Vancouver concert in aid of the Squamish Five with all-female security. Dimwit quit D.O.A. shortly before the band traveled to Fantasy Studios in San Francisco to remix songs for the compilation album Bloodied but Unbowed: The Damage to Date 1978-1983 (1983 CD Presents). While in California, D.O.A. recruited Verbal Abuse drummer Greg James. In November of 1983, the band rushed out a new single in support of the Solidarity movement among working people in British Columbia, advocating a “General Strike” (1983 Sudden Death).


The band toured Europe and recorded a Peel session in spring 1984. Following a tour of Canada and the West Coast, D.O.A. fired drummer James, and Dimwit rejoined the band. Former Chilliwack guitarist Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod approached the band about producing their next album, and they agreed after some deliberation about MacLeod’s commercial style. The result was the bizarre Let’s Wreck the Party (1985 Alternative Tentacles), followed by an eight-month tour of heroic proportions. Dimwit quit in 1986. D.O.A. replaced him briefly with Kerr Belliveau before scoring ex-SNFU drummer Jon Card.


D.O.A. covers Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Canadian rock classic “Takin’ Care of Business” on True Strong & Free (a.k.a. True (North) Strong & Free) (1987 Profile). Randy Bachman joined D.O.A. onstage to play the song in 1986; two years later, BTO and D.O.A. played together in a maximum-security prison in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. In 1988, D.O.A. fired manager Lester and then guitarist Gregg quit in protest. Former Day Glo Abortions guitarist Chris “Humper” Prohom joined the band. Jello Biafra and D.O.A. collaborated on the album Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors (1989 Alternative Tentacles).


Following Murder (1990 Restless), D.O.A. announced they were breaking up. Their 1990 farewell performance in San Francisco is documented on the home video D.O.A.: The End, and the Vancouver farewell show is represented by the live album Talk Minus Action Equals Zero (1991 Restless). Happily, the band returned in 1992, now consisting of Shithead, Wimpy Roy, and drummer Ken Jensen. The new lineup issued 13 Flavours of Doom (1992 Alternative Tentacles), produced by John Wright of No Means No. Loggerheads (1993 Alternative Tentacles) followed and D.O.A. added second guitarist Ford Pier in 1994.


Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery died of a heroin overdose in August of 1994, and Ken Jensen died in a house fire in January of 1995. John Wright drummed on The Black Spot (1996 Essential Noise), after which Wimpy and Pier left the band. Shithead and O’Brien recorded Festival of Atheists (1998 Sudden Death) and added bassist Kuba Ohms for live shows.


Randy Rampage returned on bass for Win the Battle (2001 Sudden Death), but Rampage was replaced by Dan Yaremko for the tour following the album. Shithead, Yaremko, and The Great Baldini recorded Live Free or Die (2004 Sudden Death). Rampage returned to D.O.A. again in 2005. Baldini left the band in 2007 and was replaced by drummer James Hayden. Bob Rock, who had been the assistant engineer on some of D.O.A.’s early singles before he produced Metallica and the Cult, produced D.O.A.’s 30th anniversary album Northern Avenger (2008 Sudden Death), which was released in 2008. Rampage played on the album, though Yaremko returned as bassist on the following tour.

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