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Book 'em, Brandes

Local rock-roller writes the book on San Diego punk history

In his new book, Brandes recounts 12 bands “that personally influenced me and had an impact that went beyond San Diego.”
  • In his new book, Brandes recounts 12 bands “that personally influenced me and had an impact that went beyond San Diego.”

“It’s important people know that punk in San Diego didn’t start in the 1990s,” says Ray Brandes.

"Crawling Back to Me"

...by the Tell-Tale Hearts

...by the Tell-Tale Hearts

He should know, as he’s been making music in this town since the early 1980s, first with the Tell-Tale Hearts and later with the Shambles before starting his solo career.

Brandes is helping to shed light on the early years of punk, new wave, and mod cultures in San Diego with a new book, Getting Nowhere Fast, a history of the region’s music scene between 1976 and 1986.

It was a time when a relatively small group of people created a vibrant music scene influenced by ’60s garage rock and modern-day punk.

Many of the bands profiled in the book, such as the Penetrators, Manual Scan, and the Zeros, left a mark that resonates still in the local music culture.

“These are people who didn’t get into music for fame, money, or to sleep with beautiful women,” Brandes says. “They were pursuing music for artistic reasons. These bands weren’t interested in cutting corners or changing their sound in order to get a record deal.”

Brandes isn’t claiming his book is a definitive history of the era.

“There are 12 bands in the book and another 50 bands deserve to be,” he admits. “But I picked a dozen bands that personally influenced me and had an impact that went beyond San Diego. A lot of these bands were appreciated more overseas than here.”

Case in point: his own band, Tell-Tale Hearts.

“We still get fan letters from all over the world, from Europe and Australia,” he says.

Although there is little similarity musically between the straight-ahead rock sound of Glory, a mid-’70s band with future Beat Farmer Jerry Raney, the pioneering proto punk of the Zeros, and the power pop made by Manual Scan, Brandes says musicians of the era did have a similar worldview.

“The pretentiousness of L.A. was largely absent here,” he says.

But so was the support to musicians found in that city or San Francisco, two cities where many local bands relocated to during the Ron Burgundy era.

While telling the history of groups like the Unknowns, the Dinettes, or the Crawdaddys, certain names keep popping up, such as Penetrators drummer Dan McLain, who became famous as Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers.

“At least half the stories connect to Dan in some way, whether he’s a member of the band, a supporter, or a promoter,” Brandes says.

A whole chapter of the book is devoted to the All-Bitchen’ All-Stud All-Stars, a musical conglomeration that combined punk energy with McClain’s love of chaos and old-school showmanship.

Another patron saint who makes numerous appearances is rock critic Lester Bangs, an El Cajon–born music journalist.

“Jerry Raney grew up with rock critic Lester Bangs — their parents were both Jehovah’s Witnesses — and Lester introduced Jerry to a lot of free jazz,” Brandes says. “The Zeros came up with their name from a Lester Bangs line: ‘Don’t be a hero, be a zero.’”

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