By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the first punk bands to cross-pollinate the aggressive new sound with roots music in the late ’70s, pioneering Los Angeles quartet X stands as one of the great American groups from the era and the only one still operating with it’s classic original line-up almost four decades later.
Founded by bassist/singer John Doe and rockabilly-influenced veteran guitarist Billy Zoom in 1977, the outfit took shape with the addition of Doe’s poetry writing girlfriend Exene Cervenka as co-lead singer and drummer D.J. Bonebreak, who had previously played with fellow LA-punk progenitors the Germs and the Eyes.
X put out it’s first single — “Adult Books” backed with the ripping anthem “We’re Desperate” — the following year on independent label Dangerhouse Records. They became one of the standard bearers for the region with their inclusion on the Yes LA compilation along with contemporaries the Bags and the aforementioned bands the Germs and the Eyes. The band also appeared with those same bands in the seminal Penelope Spheeris punk documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization.”
The group’s success at mixing Zoom’s slashing roots-rock riffs with the poetic lyrics and ragged vocal harmonies of Doe and Cervenka would lead to a record deal with major independent Slash Records in 1980. Produced by onetime Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the band’s first two albums Los Angeles and Wild Gift garnered global critical acclaim and established X as a leading light of West Coast punk.
Their success would continue with a leap to major label Elektra Records in 1982. With Manzarek still on-board as producer, the follow-up efforts Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World broadened the band’s audience while introducing more country elements to their songwriting. While X would continue to record and tour after Zoom departed the band (following the 1985 recording Ain’t Love Grand!), later efforts with Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin and his replacement Tony Glikyson would only show flashes of the brilliance heard on the first four seminal albums.
X continued to tour and record through the 1990s, but it was the return of Zoom to the fold in 1998 that reunited the classic line-up and led to a resurgence in live performances that often focused only on the powerful songs from their initial output. The band has stuck to touring for the most part save for a live CD/DVD package in 2005 and a digital only Christmas single with two yuletide standards in 2009, regularly selling out its holiday-themed tours on the West Coast that always pass through X’s fan stronghold of San Francisco.
This past fall, the Grammy Museum in their hometown hosted X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles, an exhibit that featured artifacts from early in the band’s career including original instruments and gear played by X, handwritten lyrics and notebooks by Cervenka and Doe and original concert flyers. For this latest visit to the Bay Area, the quartet returns to the Regency Ballroom as part of it’s 40th anniversary “X-Mas Tour” to wrap a busy year of live dates celebrating four decades of making music. Modern roots-punk outfit LPIII and the Tragedy and local surf band the Young Barons also perform.
Saturday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m. $35-$40