This interview with my pal and, in a way, my mentor Eddie Flowers first appeared in Perfect Sound Forever.
‘Watch Your Asses, People!’
Interview by Kelly Burnette
Since the early ’70’s, Eddie Flowers has been involved in rock in one form or another, whether it be playing or writing about it. Along with singer-songwriter-guitarist Ken Highland and manager-producer Bob Richert, Eddie created the teen proto-punk band the Gizmos in late 1975 and early 1976. Based in Bloomington, Indiana, the Gizmos were a rag-tag group of fanzine writers, rock cultists, and heavy-metal dudes who managed to record and release three 7-inch EP’s from 1976 to 1978. The Gizmos were rooted in the sounds of the MC5, the Stooges, the Sonics and other ’60’s garage bands, the Dictators, the Velvet Underground, ’50’s rockabilly, Black Sabbath, Led Zep, etc.. From his time with the legendary Gizmos, right up through the his long-running current band, Crawlspace, he’s quietly gone about influencing several generations of rockers. His list of associations reads like a retrospective who’s who of subterranean luminaries. PSF sat down via email with him to get his thoughts on multiple subjects.
PSF: How did you find out about what was going on in “real” rock when you did? Was Creem instrumental in finding out about a lot of that stuff? Was Richard Meltzer a big influence on your adolescent mind?
Eddie Flowers: Well, I was 5 years old when the Beatles hit–just the right age to grow up hearing the ’60’s on the radio and TV. So, “real” rock meant nothing at the time–it was just what was in the air, and I loved breathin’ it in! My older jock brother–like, 9 years older–had some cool records like Otis Redding and Johnny Rivers and the McCoys–but he went to Vietnam in ’67 and passed ’em on to me. That year, when I turned 10, I started saving my pennies for records , and started cuttin’ back on comic books. Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Monkees, the Beatles–but also the first Mothers album! I loved Buffalo Springfield Again! And still do. I also started buying Hit Paradermagazine, which was an excellent read, dealing seriously with rock, soul, a bit of country, even more blues, histories of various scenes and genres, some “real” jazz, intelligent record reviews–nothing like the teen mags I had been seeing. In the small town of Jackson, Alabama, we did NOT get Rolling Stone or, later on, Creem.
By ’69/’70, I was into Hendrix, Cream, CCR, Big Brother, the Airplane . . . I got my first taste of REAL blues from 78 RPM records my Mississippi cousins gave me: John Lee Hooker, Little Walter… Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Goree Carter… it was ALL rock’n’roll to them! Which is so great, right?! White sisters living in Jackson, Mississippi, in the late 1950’s diggin’ it like it was THEIR music, you know? So, I always had that sense of where I came from, even thought it SUCKED in the small town of Jackson (not to be confused with Jackson, Mississippi, where I was born!).
Anyway, I saw my first rock fanzines in late 1970, after reading an article in Rolling Stone (HAD to get a subscription when I turned 13!). The zines were Greg Shaw’s Who Put The Bomp, still in its ’50’s-oldies stage, and Lenny Goldberg’s Stormy Weather, another oldies-oriented thing. Around the same time, I read a Meltzer article in Circus called “This Eric Is No Derek,” a piece on Eric Burdon. It blew my mind! At first, it seemed retarded, although funny. Then I re-read it and realized here was a very smart joker! Also in Circus was a Lenny Kaye piece on the Flamin’ Groovies, which made me track down their records. In late ’71, I saw my first issue of Creem and immediately subscribed. Mind-blower #2: Lester Bangs! Of course. Plus I got a copy of the MC5’s High Time free with my Creem sub!!! My life was changed. Then I got the Stooges’ Fun House!! BOING!!! The Velvet Underground & Nico for 47 cents in late ’71! Yeah, that stuff was “real” rock to me, like so many other “Third Generation” rockers (before we were called punks!). But so were the Beatles, the Raiders, the Stones, Bo Diddley, the Zombies, Beefheart, Jerry Lee, and a big etc.!
PSF: So all of those influences laid the groundwork for you? Were the Gizmos your first band?
EF: Yeah, those influences and lots more. After I found out about fanzines, I started writing for ’em in 1972. The first things were a thing on a fictional Alabama band called Heavy Mother in Andy Shernoff’s Teenage Wasteland Gazette, a piece on the real Alabama band Wet Willie for Dennis Metrano’s Sunshine, and a letter of recommended obscure records in Mark Shipper’s Flash #2. Also in ’72, I first got in touch with Ken Highland, teenage resident of Rockport, New York, and editor of Rock On! I think it was the following year, both of us now immersed in the scattered zine scene, that we both heard from Bob Richert, who sent us his fanzineBeyond Our Control from Bloomington, Indiana. This brought together the original team who gave the world Gulcher magazine in ’75 and the Gizmos in ’76.
First band? Well, before the Gizmos, I had a kid bands of a sort. With my cousins Cheryl and Alan, at age 10 and 11, we had the Young Americans–or something wretched like that–before we became Lord Stenny & the Umberduck. My first name is Stenson, so I was Lord Stenny–and Umberduck was a made-up word that probably meant nothing even then. After that when I was 11-12, I had the Diesel Airplane with my friend David. That was more, um, advanced–HAHA! We did an early version of “Lake Daddy Jim,” which became a Crawlspace song in in the 1990’s–same chorus, different verses. And our theme song “Diesel Airplane” was a noise piece with guitar feedback, drum stick banging on acoustic guitar strings, and crazy drumming on a marching-band snare-tom, or whatever you call it. But yeah, the Gizmos was my first band-in-public. And it was barely that! We were really a recording project that got out of hand. In one fashion or another, the original or slightly original band played a party, two nights at a public library with MX-80 opening, and Cincinnati without Ken Highland or me! HAHA! What a band, huh? But I think the first EP is pretty great, and there are a few good tracks on the other two EP’s. I was NOT involved with the Gizmos after that period–Bob Richert did release more stuff using the name with different people.
PSF: It’s kind of cool to think that a lot of your beginnings had to do with the written word, although you obviously have a long history of playing as well. For our readers, what were some of your favorite cuts off of that first EP and are those songs included on the Studio Recordings CD? It must have been pretty crazy playing with MX-80 back then. What were your recollections of the library gigs? Did they leave for California before you got the urge to jump borders? We’ll get to Crawlspace soon, but I want to create a firm foundation for all things leading up to Crawlspace.
EF: I was always obsessed with books and comics. They offered a way out of my crap real-world existence. Typical, I guess. I’ve never been a true musician–if you know what I mean–but I’ve always used instruments for one reason or another. For a long time, I thought of myself as a writer above all. Now I just don’t care!
My favorite tracks off the first Gizmos EP are ALL of ’em. And yeah, they’re all on that first Gulcher CD. There’s the goofy teen-smut of Ted Niemiec’s “Muff Divin’,” Ken Highland’s “That’s Cool (I Respect You More)” soundin’ young and Stonesy, the Duhamel-Flowers-Highland Dictators-sorta pro-TV anthem “Mean Screen” with me singing, and the ridiculous “Chicken Queen,” cooked up by Highland, bassist Dave Sulak, and yours truly writing lyrics. Love ’em all! It was a fun time that March of 1976–think that’s the right month.
Right before we recorded the Gizmos stuff, there was a show in Bloomington with Patti Smith and MX-80 Sound. I was excited about Patti–we were going to interview her too! MX-80, according to Ken, “sounded like Mahavishnu.” HAHA! Patti turned out to be an arrogant goofball up close and personal, but she and the band did rock. Before that, though, MX-80 altered my world a bit! It was like seeing Captain Beefheart without knowing what to expect! Blew my 18-year-old brain! I’ve loved ’em ever since. And I was stoked that they OPENED for the Gizmos in ’77! Too bad I was so sick I couldn’t get on stage–although I was there in the audience. Creem writer Richard Riegel showed up from Cincinnati, and fanzine writer Claire Panke came down from Chicago. A couple of knuckleheads, names now forgotten, gave the first EP a good review in their zine but then nixed it after seeing the live show! HAHA!
MX-80 left for San Francisco about a year before I moved to Los Angeles in ’79–if my mind ain’t glitchin’. But remember, after the ’77 Gizmos stuff, I went back to Alabama. I made my first trip to L.A. in late ’77, where I shacked up for a couple months with a somewhat notorious porn-editor/groupie who shall remain nameless! I spent part of the summer of 1978 in Baton Rouge and other places around Louisiana partying and working on the final issue of Russell Desmond’s Can’t Buy A Thrill. Earlier in the year, I had made my way down to Baton Rouge to see the Sex Pistols. That whole period was very heady. I finally moved to fuckin’ Hollywood in the summer of 1979 to try and form a band with fellow ex-Gizmo Rich Coffee. It did not happen for reasons that are all too typical–let’s just say, um, personal and musical differences–HA!
PSF: So we have sort of a picaresque tale emerging. All the better. I remember reading that the likes of John “Cougar” Mellencamp sat in with the Gizmos at one point? How was that? I’m not crazy about his music, don’t like it all, but I admire his rootsiness that he never really abandoned, even though he did get much more commercial– and the way he uses his fame to reveal how corporate America is destroying farmers–just another example of how our country has gone to shit. Any comments on that?
EF: I can’t stand Johnny Cougar Mellencamp! Background Gizmo Davey Medlock and I thought he was so lame that we refused to sing on his lame song “Boring,” which the Gizmos recorded. It stunk so bad that it wasn’t released until the CD reissue ten years ago!
PSF: So you get out to California–at what point to Crawlspace begin to coalesce?
EF: So, yeah. Anyway, Rich Coffee and I were gonna’ form a band in Hollywood. It turned out that Bill McCarter, who I met during the ’77 Gizmos sessions in Bloomington, was now living in L.A. I contacted him, and he joined our not-quite-a-band. We had halfway rehearsals a few times–me on vocals, Rich and Bill on guitars. Some of the songs were later Crawlspace pieces like “The Devil Talks in Tongues” and “Aeroplane.” But it went nowhere.
In 1981, Bill and I continued moving at a snail’s pace. I put an ad in The Recycler, an L.A. paper with free ads–lots of bands met through the ads in there. Karl Precoda, pre-Dream Syndicate, came over to my place and talked. And Dream Syndicate leader Steve Wynn, by coincidence, answered an ad. He jammed with Bill and I once. Same with Greg Davis, later Blood On The Saddle mastermind, who jammed with me, Bill, future Cowgirl Keith Telligman, and a drummer. Once! It was the Lazy Cowgirls who would bring Crawlspace to life. The guys in the band were friends of Bill’s from Indiana, and I got to know them quickly–especially their rhythm section, bass player Keith Telligman and drummer Allen Clark. We became tight, and in 1985, bored with only playing 3-minute punk-rock songs in the Cowgirls, they joined up with the non-band that Bill and I had been planning for awhile. And it was called Big Dad & 10 Lbs. of Swingin’ Meat–HAHA! But only while we were still fuckin’ around–still in the formative stages. It soon became Crawlspace. In 1987, another Hoosier friend of the Cowgirls joined the band–that was Mark McCormick. Then Lenny Keringer, bass player for the Creamers and one of the later Cowgirls line-ups. So, that was the band that started playing live shows and recorded our first stuff in ’87/’88… Mark McCormick on lead guitar, Keith Telligman on rhythm guitar, Bill McCarter on fuzz guitar, Lenny Keringer on bass, and Allen Clark on drums. Plus me, of course, singin’.
PSF: Crawlspace has gone through a lot of musical changes over the years, and you’ve somehow circled back ’round to playing 3-minute rock songs. Any particular reason for the constant change and your current return to rock’n’roll?
EF: The changes were very natural. There has never been a set format for Crawlspace. I’ve always disliked the way people do their “rock” thing and then have side projects to “get freaky.” It seems like a bit of a cop-out, although easily understandable for the career-minded among us. So, you know, we’ve been punkadelic and free-rock and noise and improv minimal and whatever–as the personal moment called for it. I’ve always thought of Crawlspace as a rock band, though–you can see it in titles and approaches scattered throughout our vast catalog of crap.
The specific urge to “get back”–to rock without irony or shame–kinda started after 9/11. My first reaction to those attacks was pure Malcolm X–the chickens have come home to roost. My second reaction was deep nostalgia for the twentieth century! I suddenly found stuff like Sun Records singles and the Sonics far more precious and exciting than the latest UK drone group or cynical turd-suck noise junk. Early 70s rock music like the Faces and early J. Geils came alive for me again. At the same time, I was still hearing tons of noise and underground whatever. The result of all that was The Spirit of ’76–an album of mostly covers from the 60s and 70s, played with free-rock abandon and drenched in noise. Our new album, Ignorance Is Bliss, removes most of the noise and improv from that approach. What’s left is basically 3-minute rock songs–and just a bit of improv. I think it sounds fresh, though–it’s not like we’re some retro garage band that would fit on Bomp Records! And our live shows are mostly still a big mess, albeit with a few songs played–or at least attempted!
PSF: You mentioned to me recently that your politics have been pushed to a more radical place than ever, thanks to some real-world experiences. Would you like to elaborate here?
EF: Sure. I won’t go into the tedious details of my financial situation, but I’ve been going downhill for awhile. For a year or so, I started seeking help from government agencies. After all, California’s supposed to be GOOD at this shit–not like Alabama or Texas.
Well, I spent a year going through psychiatric stuff that just about killed me. Quack doctors doling out death drugs like candy. Therapists who are totally incompetent. I gotta tell you, as a very smart high-school drop-out, it enrages me when I see some of the morons who are awarded college degrees and making good money! I finally went through a few very self-destructive psychotic episodes, while fucked up on THEIR drugs. My pleas for help were ignored, so I finally said fuck ’em and quit everything cold turkey. I went through weeks of intense withdrawal–every day I couldn’t sleep, just building more anger and resentment at the fucking system that’s supposed to “help” me. I also went through three rejections for disability from Social Security–a maddening process of half-truths, cynical workers, and ultimately nothing for me. The only thing concrete I ever received, besides their free death drugs, was $200 a month in food stamps. That’s gone now too.
In the midst of all this, I was pulled over by LAPD pigs. Expired license plates. They scared the crap out of me–flashing lights and that “whoop-whoop” siren right on my ass out of a foggy night. As a result, I veered slightly onto the sidewalk when I turned into a gas station that was right in front of me. The pigs’ reaction was to leap from their car, guns drawn and pointed in my direction–yelling, “Get out of the fucking car! Get out of the fucking car!” When I got out, confused, they lowered their guns. Then came the routine–no registration, no insurance, out-of-date driver’s license. Then I noticed there was a tow truck with them. The pig marked my car as a “wreck” on the towing company’s receipt. When I asked what that meant, he said it was no longer road-worthy because of a missing back window and some body damage. What?! I was stunned. They were already hooking my car up to the tow truck. The pig then gave me the drug bullshit. Fortunately, I wasn’t drunk or stoned. But I did truthfully tell him I was on Lorazepam, a powerful downer or “anti-anxiety” pill as the quack doctors and pharma scumbags call it. The cop’s reaction was, “Oh shit, not again!” and then “Get in the car and tell me where you live.” He drove me home and said, “Get out!” I never received notification of the “appeals” process for my impounded car–not that I could’ve paid all of the fines and fees anyway. As far as I’m concerned, this is legal theft–fucking LAPD cruising WITH towing services, stealing people’s private property. So much for the liberal welfare state, huh?
I know I’m not saying anything that most intelligent people don’t already know, but Obama is the rightful heir to the corporate-state partnership that was begun by Jimmy Carter, cemented by Ronald Reagan, and is now the unquestionable political lie that this country is built upon. If you’re on the left, you need to stop looking at small-government conservatives like Ron Paul as the enemy. And if you’re on the right, stop playing into the hands of racist and religious assholes who have no interest at all in true liberty. The United States, as a nation, needs to END–just like the Soviet Union, it’s too big, too powerful, and does NOT serve the interests of the people it supposedly represents. I don’t own a gun, but don’t let them take your guns away! The shit IS coming–it’s just a question of how long and from what direction. Watch your asses, people!