Houston Punks Legionaire's Disease Band, Gone But Hardly Forgotten

"I've got a bum arm here," a gruff but cheerful-sounding Jerry Anomie says from the other end of the phone. "I've had two cervical operations, so my right arm ain't workin' good.

"I'm gonna have to hold the phone up with one hand and roll a joint with another," he explains. "I used to be able to roll a joint ridin' horseback, but now I'm gettin' old. Gotta slow my shit down."

Physically, perhaps, but not mentally. The former lead singer of Legionaire's Disease Band is now past 60 years old, living in the Northern California mountains and involved in "agriculture," but his spirit is in the same place as it was when he helped create the legendary local punk band in 1978.

Fresh out of back-to-back stints in the Navy and prison (on a marijuana charge), Anomie, then 30, came to a Houston that was dead asleep — there were bands, but no scene. He went to a couple of shows and decided that punk rock was the way in.

"I came out of jail dumber than shoe leather," he recalls. "I figured I was going to spend my whole life being a criminal."

An Iggy Pop/Dead Boys gig convinced him otherwise, and he informed his girlfriend of his plans. The next night, she came home to find all their furniture gone. He'd sold it, he informed her, so he could rent a warehouse for his band.

"Then she knew I was serious."

There was nothing musically profound about LDB. An early lineup was scratched for its inability to produce any original music, and eventually became David Tolbert and Gwen Duke on guitars, with the late rhythm section of Norm Cooper (bass) and Craig Haynes (drums).

Anomie sang, and LDB plowed on behind him in the style of the Dead Boys, MC5 and other punk pioneers. Many songs were only a couple of chords, and most folks noticed the members could barely play their instruments.

But LDB live were blisteringly loud and outrageous. Anomie would sometimes show up dressed in a suit; other times he'd be naked. His vocal musings amounted to guttural screams that set the veins in his forehead on edge.

He could be seen hopping around on one leg, crawling around on his hands and knees in the crowd and frequently making a tangled mess of whatever sort of order his mates tried to hold together onstage.

"Man, it was like a monster," says Nicki Sicki, lead singer of hardcore band Verbal Abuse. "I couldn't believe it. There was nothing around like that."

Anomie would convince club owners to let his band play on the slowest night. Then they'd fill the place, usually getting chased off.

"They used to book themselves at some weird places," former Axiom owner J.R. Delgado says. "Gay bars, lesbian bars, very standard rock clubs like the Old Plantation."

"Most of the shows would devolve into a big old fight and then police would come and shut the show down," Nicki Sicki recalls. "Jerry would always come out naked or something [and] would just piss somebody off. We didn't really have a punk-rock club, so it was always these people who didn't really want to see punk rock."

The height of that might be LDB's lone gig at the High Noon Saloon, a biker bar where Rudyard's is today.

"He's up there singing," relates Sicki. "He's got his pecker in his hand. I don't remember what song they were playing, but this big old biker comes up there and tells Jerry that he had disrespected his woman, all this stuff. And he turned to walk away — Jerry picked up the microphone stand and slammed it against the back of his head."

"The whole band jumped out to fight," remembers Gwen Duke. "And right at that moment, our road manager — my mother had threatened him if anything happened to [me], and so he picked me up over his shoulder and took me out, and put me in a car. I watched everybody get the shit beat out of them."

All the same, kids who saw LDB began picking up instruments and forming bands. A scene had developed.

Before long, Anomie took LDB's act on the road. He struck a deal with a local businessman who needed vans transported cross-country, and when he found out the route the van needed to go, he'd book a tour.

When LDB planned a trip to Los Angeles, Anomie had designs on playing the Whiskey a Go-Go, opening for the Dead Kennedys. The promoter told him that to even have a chance, a band had to have a record out. Anomie went and got one pressed.

Resulting was the only recording released while LDB was active — 1980's EP Rather See You Dead (Than with Wool on Your Head).

"Other than that, we probably wouldn't have had shit out," Anomie muses.

It also fueled the most legendary story surrounding the band.

"The rumor was going around that Jerry had died before the record could come out," Sicki says. "He found a funeral home that was gonna let him have a coffin, as long as he was going to advertise their funeral home."

"I said, 'I'll mention your name on the radio,'" Anomie remembers. "And he said, 'You mention my name on the radio and I can hear it, you got you a coffin.' So I got on [KPFT] and I said, 'I want to announce Jerry's passing. His funeral's gonna be Saturday at Warehouse Records and Tapes. This funeral has been brought to you by Sunnyside Funeral Home. They'd never had a customer complain.' So that son of a bitch delivered me a goddamn coffin, man! I couldn't fucking believe it."

"They drove on down to the record store with the coffin and Jerry was in the coffin the whole time," Sicki recalls. "He just stayed perfectly still. He stayed there for hours."

LDB continued on until the mid-1980s, eventually felled by drugs and a general loss of purpose. Nevertheless, Anomie still looks on those days fondly.

"We went to wake 'em up," he says. "We had our way with Houston, man, I tell you that. At that time, man, music woke us up."

"I once picked up an alternative paper in New York years after they broke up," says Delgado. "[There was] an article on some of the wilder bands that came through, and they were on the list. I was blown away. I always tell folks my life changed after seeing Legionaire's Disease. I never looked back."

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Lance Walker