Jello Biafra Thinks It's Time You Re-Examined Really Red
L-R: Ronnie "U-Ron Bondage" Bond and original Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Fluoride at Houston's The Island, c. early 1980s
Photo by Ben DeSoto/Courtesy of Ronnie Bond
Back in the early '80s, there was a kick-ass punk band in Houston called Really Red. In a lot of ways, they were no different than a hundred other groups exploring the potential of alternative rock back in the day. In their six years together, they wrote a bunch of politically charged songs, self-released a few records and toured around the country to anyplace that would have them. Then the band simply ceased to exist.
For 30 years, that was the story on Really Red, and not a terribly unique one, either. If you were around the fledgling Houston punk scene back then, chances are pretty decent that you remember Really Red. If you weren't around, then odds are good-to-great that you've never even heard their music. But you should. And now, a bonafide punk-rock legend has stepped up personally to make sure that you can.
Today, more than three decades after the band called it quits, ex-Dead Kennedys front man and beloved counterculture loudmouth Jello Biafra's storied Alternative Tentacles label is re-releasing pretty much everything Really Red ever recorded on CD and vinyl. The three-volume collection includes albums, B-sides, live cuts and unreleased rarities, most of which haven't seen the light of day since long before drummer Bob Weber, guitarist Kelly Younger, bassist John Paul Williams and singer Ronnie "U-Ron Bondage" Bond went their separate ways.
Why is AT re-releasing the catalogue of a long-gone band that so few outside Texas even remember? Well, the proof is in the pudding. Really Red were really, really good.
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"Honestly, I think that they were, in a way, ahead of their time with a lot of the experimentation that they're doing," says Dominic Davi, Alternative Tentacles' head of marketing and promotions. "This is a band that could be together now and everyone would be excited about them.
"Being a person who was introduced to them through this record label, I'm a perfect example of a modern fan who's listening to them for the first time," he continues. "I wasn't familiar with them. And I've just fallen in love with them."
Davi is not just blowing smoke. The Really Red collection showcases a tight, well-rehearsed band hopped up on the energy of punk's greatest era, agitating for social justice and nurturing a wicked experimental streak. They were among the very first underground rock bands from Texas to release their own records, tour the country and score slots on nationally distributed compilations. These guys were not kidding around -- much, anyway.
For Davi and other fans of the Dead Kennedys and classic punk rock, Really Red are a shockingly terrific obscurity that has been plucked out of the past and magically transported to the present day. As for Davi's boss, well, he's been a believer for decades.
Jello Biafra first encountered Really Red when the band played at the lionized punk dive Mabuhay Gardens in his hometown of San Francisco on their first trip to the West Coast. He was more or less converted on the spot.
"Through the shuffle of things, we didn't meet him then, but lo and behold, we get this phone call out of the blue several months later, saying 'Hey, I really want you guys on this Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation,'" says Ronnie Bond, who penned just the sort of socially thoughtful lyrics a guy like Biafra would dig.
"And we were like, 'Oh! Wow... that's cool!'", Bond continues. "Well then, as time went on, the next time we toured over there, we hung out with them and came by his house, and we got to know him and became friends."
Really Red opened for the DKs a couple of times in Houston, too, before the band dissolved. But Biafra never forgot about them, and as luck would have it, he just so happened to have his very own independent record label.
Even so, getting everything that Biafra wanted sorted out and carved into wax was hardly a quick or easy process. Thanks to the multiple busy schedules involved, the whole process took about five years from the idea's conception until its end result.
"Well, [Jello] had his business and his band and things he's doing on their end, and our end, it was a matter of finding the tapes and seeing what condition they were in," Bond says. "Then there was the issue of looking for rarities, unreleased oddities, and going through all that to see what was worthwhile and what was garbage. Then, rare live tracks started popping up from people that we didn't even know had been recorded.
"All of us had personal things that kept derailing it, and on and on and on," he adds. "So finally, ta-da! Here we are. It's been a long haul, but we're really pleased, obviously."
Story continues on the next page.
How could they not be? When the members of Really Red walked away all those years ago, none of them had any realistic notion that their music would live on. Now, a lovingly curated collection of pretty much everything they ever did is being put out by one of their musical heroes. Not too shabby for a bunch of old H-town punks.
"It really was a project Jello Biafra took to heart, wanting to make sure that this collection got out there," says Davi. "Not every band that comes out in a time period becomes Dead Kennedys or Black Flag that's on everybody's list. But that doesn't mean that there isn't important music that people should know about and hear, and that should be remembered.
"Really Red is one that he really wanted for us as a label to put out a quintessential collection for any collector, so people could know and hear this music," he adds.
To the members of Really Red, joining the Alternative Tentacles family feels a bit like coming home.
"It's so exciting, because I've always been a big Dead Kennedys fan, and there's so many groups on that label over time that Really Red was either associated with or was just fans of," Bond says. "For instance, D.O.A., the Dicks, Butthole Surfers, you know, the list is long.
"To be on Alternative Tentacles after all this time, the word that popped into my head was 'validating,'" he adds, laughing, " I can't think of a better label, as far as our perspective goes."
Talk Sick Brats and Texas Biscuit Bombs perform selections from the Really Red catalogue 6 p.m. this Friday, February 6 at Vinal Edge Records, 239 W. 19th St. Lots more to come on Really Red later this week.
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