I moved out to Raleigh North Carolina in the spring of 1986 because I had liked this band so much at that time period, and also to escape from my family. Things would have turned out a little differently if I had just learned how to drive before I was thirty.
But, the idea of being an old fart romanticizing things like not driving and punk rock from thirty years ago…well, I have already done that a bunch, mainly in the form of writing sort of an oral history of the band and the town that they came out of, titled Manchild 5 – Rabid Pack with Sirens Howling. It was pretty good. I was a big fan of the bands early days, but that time period is really short in comparison with everything else that they have done since. We are talking about a thirty year period after all. That is bizarre enough right there. So, I think it is perfectly reasonable for any band to move on to something else. And there is certainly stuff that they have done that I have enjoyed along the way.
Even if I am an old fan, I am not wishing that people try and pretend that they are twenty years old forever. I have had a lot of arguments with outraged hardcore punk rock youngsters over the years. Brash kids who think music stopped after 1985, and who weren’t born when they were doing Animosity (remember, its thirty years ago), lamenting what they have been doing these days as if it happened yesterday. Before punk rock, what did I listen to? A lot of it was the same sort of stuff that the COC guys liked..Kiss, Black Sabbath, Queen, Aerosmith and all of the rest. So, I think I understand wanting to have other influences seep in along the way.
Since there is no way of not having a little history lesson:
In the pre-internet world of people having to write letters to each other in the name of punk rock, the band quickly builds a reputation with its initial Black Flag/Sabbath hybrid during 1984 onward. Despite how Reed Mullin, Mike Dean and Woodroe Weatherman downplay their musical abilities in their earlier days, the three of them were great players and had a unique chemistry, even going back as far as their poorly produced, super-fast first album. Then Animosity is released. The trio version of the band added Simon Bob Sinister in 1986.
The Technocracy EP is released next. The pairing of Bob on vocals was very different, but it resulted in a whole new set of songs that were never recorded before Mike quit the following year. That remains a real shame. Mike was the bands biggest songwriter at the time. The band replaced him with Raleigh friend Phil Swisher on bass and they kept on going for a while before sort of stopping. We are talking towards the end of the eighties. Eventually, Karl Agell and Pepper Keenan step into the new quintet version on vocals and second guitar respectively, resulting in the record Blind – which was sort of like ground zero for what was basically a new band with a new, more metallic/seventies rock influenced sound. I was torn on Blind a little, but a good deal of it – all of side two, actually – I really liked.
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They sort of re-invented themselves. Of a particular note to the whole record was Reed’s drumming throughout, probably his best playing. They toured a lot. This was followed by the reshuffling of the bands lineup to include Mike Dean stepping back in and Keenan becoming the band’s vocalist, along with Mullin and Weatherman. This lineup is pretty much the most famous one in the bands history, people really responded to it. This lasted for two albums, Deliverance and Wiseblood.
The band had major label backing and had the good fortune of touring a lot with Metallica. This version of the band, with Pepper Keenan fronting the band, is clearly the most popular/successful version of the band. People really respond to him and his presence. The funny thing is also that the bands fan base is sort of divided between people mainly preferring Keenan as the bands vocalist, then everything else is a distant second (the band as a trio with Mike Dean singing and the Blind period with Karl Agell as the bands vocalist). It is a division for sure, which is kind of interesting. There have been a lot of phases.
The band moves on from their major label thing and puts out my least favorite COC record called America’s Volume Dealers. Mullin quits the band right afterwards and is replaced by a handful of drummers over the decade. The remaining three main members get Stanton Moore to drum on In The Arms Of God, which is by far the most solid recording the band has done since Animosity. The band peters out again after a while due to some assorted circumstances, but I do remember that I saw the Mullin-less band a couple of times, once with initial replacement Jimmy Bower (okay), then once with Moore (not a rock drummer in the live setting), and one with Jason Patterson, who was the best out of the bunch.
Some years pass and it was really surprising that the band, as a trio, even decided that they would get together in the first place – but get together they did. They started to play some shows which led to some touring, and eventually a single followed by two albums.
Mike asked me to go on a short tour with them, so I did. This was awhile after the self-titled album (2012) they released came out. There were a lot of good songs on it and I thought that maybe it didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. I was in the company of the three Animosity era members along with John Hopkins and Reid Raley, both really nice guys. It was almost a two week little tour.
It seemed like a weird jaunt, as the band were kind of either fighting against their own legacy or had also just hit the same markets not too long beforehand. Or maybe both. It was hard to figure out which of the many fanbases of COC were going to show up. But, show up they did…sort of. It was probably a far cry from opening up tours for Metallica while being on a major label, but there were shows to play and play shows they did.
They played one show in Barrie, Ontario that was the best show I had seen them pay since 1986; in front of sixty or so people at some crab shack by the lake that borders the town of Barrie. They absolutely killed it that night and it was completely out of nowhere. After that, it was back to the same weirdness for the rest of the trip. But that one fucking show was awesome, they turned out a very triumphant set.
The second record they did as a trio (IX, 2014) was completely ignored. It was really off the cuff and spontaneous sounding. It seemed like the record label did nothing to try and promote it. There was a song called “The Nectar” that was especially good. At this point the band was gearing up to the quartet version of the band anyways. Maybe one day those records will get another look, they both have some good moments. Maybe not.
The one person in the band that I have continuously stayed friends with is Mike Dean, but I have known most of the guys for so long at this point that I can’t do anything but wish them the best of luck in whatever they do as a band. Anyways, I hear they have a new record coming out soon, but I haven’t heard it yet. I will have to check it out.
– Brian Walsby
Brian Walsby is a drummer/artist/cartoonist who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. His latest book Manchild 8: Punk Rock Jail is available now. We interviewed Brian in 2016 and he also contributed this piece about the Wipers later that year. His band the Davidians also released an excellent 12″ last year that we highly recommend.
Want the scoop on COC’s latest album, No Cross No Crown? Check out our review here.