Digging Into the Recordings That Really Red Never Knew Existed
Really Red performing at the Island, early '80s
Photo courtesy of Ben DeSoto
It's been an exciting week for fans of classic Texas punk. Why? Well, the more-or-less complete recordings of Really Red, the top-flight Houston punks who were among the very first independent bands in the state to tour the country and release their own music, were remastered and re-released on Tuesday by Alternative Tentacles, the storied label run by ex-Dead Kennedys agitator Jello Biafra.
If you're old and cool enough to have heard this stuff before, trust us, you've never heard it like this. And if you've never heard of Really Red before, get these records and savor them, because you aren't likely to stumble on to a better or more obscure golden-age punk band without the use of a time machine.
The new Alternative Tentacles set is not a terribly large collection, comprising only three LPs. Really Red spent around six years together and then split up forever, fading into memory. When the label set out to restore the band's output, it was no sure thing that it was even possible. After 30 years of silence, no one was even sure exactly what remained of the band's original recordings.
Biafra's first step was examining the moldering master tapes that Really Red singer Ronnie "U-Ron Bondage" Bond had stashed away decades ago.
"When Biafra requested the master tapes, which had been poorly stored for decades, we weren't even sure if they were going to be usable," Bond says. "So we send in the master tapes, and apparently they were in good enough condition to remaster in digital. But we had no idea what was even on them."
The most crucial stuff found on the tapes were the band's original releases on their own CIA Records label. There was Really Red's absurdly terrific first album, Teaching You the Fear, which had been previously re-released by Empty Records in 2004. Perhaps more importantly, there was also the band's long-lost second album, Rest in Pain, which was recorded with Andy Bradley at SugarHill Studios and has been out of print since the band's split in 1985.
"[The band] was a done deal in 1984, except that we already had a recording in the can for that final album, Rest In Pain," says Really Red drummer Bob Weber, who worked patiently with Alternative Tentacles for years to assemble the new collection. "That one's got the hardest stuff, the more hardcore stuff, because as Really Red grew over time from '78, we sort of started in New Wave, but we always had a political sensibility, an independent sensibility."
Hard to find as copies of Rest in Pain may be, there were even rarer cuts to be found on the old master tapes -- discoveries that were as pleasant a surprise to Really Red as they will be for fans.
"I heard that we recorded a song that I don't ever recollect recording, and it's included," says guitarist Kelly Younger. "I don't know anything about it other than supposedly there's a song that we recorded that exists, but I haven't ever heard it."
Younger wasn't alone, either. The unreleased songs that Biafra discovered on the master tapes hadn't been heard by anyone since they were originally laid down in the '80s.
"When you go in the recording studio, not everything you record ends up being released," says Bond. "This was quite a ways back, so as time marched on, we completely forgot what unreleased material there was that we'd recorded. In the process [of going through the masters], Biafra was finding all these tracks and going, 'Well, what are these?' So, they'd download them on to cassette and send them to us, and we'd go, 'Well, I don't even remember the name of that!'"
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One of the oddities uncovered was a peculiarly pleasant cover tune that's never before seen the light of day: a punked-up version of Petula Clark's "Downtown."
"I'm glad that surfaced, because I'm kind of proud of it," says Bond. "It turned out really well. I don't know why we didn't release it; I guess because it was Petula Clark's 'Downtown!' But that was a staple of our set in the early days."
Jello Biafra, himself, delivered an even more obscure track to the collection that had never even been recorded in the studio. He'd saved it since Really Red had sent him cassettes of songs for possible inclusion on Alternative Tentacles' 1981 Let Them Eat Jellybeans! compilation.
"We were in the process of recording Teaching You the Fear at the time, and we sent him the tapes we'd been working on," Bond says. "He wanted this song called 'Little Death,' which was on a cassette from a live show that somebody had taped, but we chose a different track, 'Prostitution,' from the album. Well, that song 'Little Death,' he had the only cassette in the world of it! We completely forgot about it; we didn't know it existed."
Over a span of five years or so, every scrap of a recording that Biafra and Really Red could find was parsed over, with practically every usable rarity available remastered and loaded on to the collection's 3rd volume, New Strings for Old Puppets.
"I think this is the bulk of what we have to release," Bond says. "Biafra went through it with a fine-tooth comb. He proposed some stuff to us and said, 'Do you want this released?' and we'd go, 'Eh, not so much, that.' We've kind of culled all the material."
The three Alternative Tentacles LPs represent what is almost certainly the final word on Really Red, with all four members politely but firmly disavowing any interest in a reunion.
"Honestly, I would be surprised if all four of us would ever even be in the same room together," Younger says.
Despite any lingering resentments stemming from the band's breakup, however, Really Red retains a great deal of respect for one another and for all that they accomplished in their time together.
"I'm really amazed that there's still interest in the music," says bassist John Paul Williams. "I was listening to some of it this week and kind of realizing how tight we were! We practiced three days a week and sometimes four hours on Sundays, and we did that for years. There was a lot of effort put into playing that music. I'm very gratified that stuff is coming out."
Talk Sick Brats and Texas Biscuit Bombs perform selections from the Really Red catalogue 6 p.m. tonight at Vinal Edge Records, 239 W. 19th St.
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