Within the past year, three new releases have been put forward that collect material from cult favorite Texas punk band Stick Men with Ray Guns. Below is the first of a series of new (2016) interviews with former members. This site, Grave City, is based in Stick Men’s hometown of Dallas and is obviously named after a Stick Men with Ray Guns song. Below I interviewed Bobby Beeman, who formed Stick Men with Ray Guns with the late singer Bobby Soxx in late 1980.
But first, a little back story is in order: Over a decade ago I interviewed Stick Men with Ray Guns guitarist Clarke Blacker for my old podcast and radio show, Radio Schizo (RIP) and at that time the band’s well-received CD collection Some People Deserve to Suffer had just come out, produced by Blacker. At that time, I wanted to pick Blacker’s brain about that collection (and I did!). Some People Deserve to Suffer is still a defining document for this notorious hardcore punk band that existed from 1980 to 1988.
A little bit more info about SMWRG is in order before getting to the interview. It’s well known that among the bands Stick Men with Ray Guns would influence were the Butthole Surfers. The Surfers’ King Coffey, in Steven Blush’s American Hardcore, stated:
“Stick Men with Ray Guns, one of the best I’ve ever seen. They were fronted by Bobby Soxx, a manic Buddy Holly-type, scary motherfucker who’d pick fights with the audience. He shoved the mic up his butt during a show and the Buttholes [sic] had to play after that, so Gibby sang with the mic from the kick drum. […] Stick Men with Ray Guns had such intensity about them.”
Other reminiscences of the band are shared in the interview below.
Bobby Beeman of Stick Men with Ray Guns was interviewed by Oliver/Grave City in September, 2016.
Oliver: Bobby, congratulations on the two new collections that have recently been put out by 12XU. Can you give some background about these releases, what material they include, and how you came about doing them? I know my friend Jack down in Austin helped with mastering some of them.
Bobby Beeman: Jack Control at Enormous Door is really the reason these albums and the Grave City album (released last year on End of an Ear Records) came out. He took our old material and remastered it so that it sounds better than it ever has, and the best it possibly could. Then Jack found labels to release it. He helped with the covers. He is the one that made this happen.
Oliver: What’s on the Grave City album?
Bobby: The Grave City album is all studio tracks and some stuff that was professionally recorded for the VVV “Live at the Hot Klub” album. That is basically all of the studio stuff we ever did. It’s hard for people in this day to understand this sometimes, but in the 1980’s there were no computer-based studios. There was no Garageband or ProTools. The song “Grave City” was the first thing we ever recorded, and it was done in the bedroom studio of Chris Hamilton (Rote/Biological). That was not cheap, but it was very expensive to go into a recording studio: The engineers and for the most part the producers in the 80’s did not understand our music or how to record us, and there was no reason to expect that even if we could come up with the money, we would ever get any of it back in record sales. And since we generally got paid $50 to $100 a gig (for the band), coming up with a few thousand dollars to toss at that was a dream that had little change of ever happening.
Bobby: Most of the live tapes Stick Men with Ray Guns have are from a boom box I used to bring to gigs sometimes and set up with a cassette in the back of the room. It had condenser mics in it that didn’t provide for much fidelity. It was mostly just so we would have something to hear how we sounded.
The new release Property of Jesus Christ was recorded in Houston at the Rock Against Reagan show in 1984. Clarke (Blacker, guitarist) brought a home cassette deck and a couple microphones and put that in the back of the room, so there is more on that tape to work with and Jack did an amazing job of making that sound great.
Earlier that day, in fact, I went over to Bobby’s to check on him and make sure he had a way to get to the show. His voice was fine at the time, but what I saw was over the top, even for him. I walked in and there was a fire axe on an Xmas tree stand that rotated and played “Silent Night.” It was painted blue and silver and had Bible verses glued to it. He said that a drug dealer had come to collect money he didn’t have and tried to muscle him, so he grabbed that axe and chopped off his ear with it. His living room, he said, was the “Chop Shop”. All manner of knife and axe and ice picks and meat hooks and sheep shears were stuck in the walls. There were dozens of them. And not these cheap dollar store type knives but old carbon steel chefs’ knives and farm tools and such. In the corner was a glass 5 gallon water jug with a neon tube in it. It pulsed off and on because it was connected to an electric fence power pack. He said he didn’t need a ride and I told him to bring that stuff to the show, but he said no, and I left. He showed up later that night with his voice blown. Only time that ever happened. His vocals are interesting on 1000 Lives to Die, but he doesn’t sound like he ever did before or after.
Oliver: A question I have wondered for awhile, and maybe this is common knowledge, and sort of unrelated to the interview, but I have to ask – are you related to one of the founding families of Dallas — Margaret Beeman, who married John Neely Bryan, whose cabin sits at Founders Square downtown?
Bobby Beeman: Yes, after John Neely Bryan and his wife Margaret Beeman settled here, the rest of the Beeman family moved from 45 miles or so away. and we have been in Dallas ever since.
Oliver: What are some influences you all feel fed into the SMWRG sound? On the phone Clark had mentioned 13th Floor Elevators’ “Easter Everywhere” and Captain Beefheart as being among faves of his. What inspirations might folks be surprised by?
Bobby Beeman: My parents didn’t listen to much music. Some Dean Martin or whatever… but my Mom had some old Martin Denny records and a Buddy Holly album that I liked and when I was a kid, that was my introduction to music I liked. One day my Mom told me I could not get any records by Black Sabbath, and I was listening to The Beatles and Elton John. I got my piggy bank and got on my bike and rode to the store and bought Sabbath Bloody Sabbath that afternoon. I stopped listening to Elton John after that.
Bobby: Also, I was very much into industrial music and electronic music before Stick Men, and since. Probably the most defining influence was when I went to San Francisco and saw the Throbbing Gristle show at Kezar Pavillion, with Flipper opening the show. I wrote the main riff for all of the Stick Men songs that didn’t come with Bobby from bands he was in before SMWRG and the Flipper/Throbbing Gristle influence is there in all of those Stick Men with Ray Guns songs. All of us liked rockabilly and “Satan Baby” was influenced by that.
Bobby: Stick Men did 2 or more Iggy Pop covers in about every gig we ever played, so those aren’t on anything released, but all of that Stooges stuff was very much an influence. I guess the other influence was the “No Wave” scene from New York. The Brian Eno produced No New York album with DNA, Mars, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and The Contortions and all of the releases by those bands and the ones that came from that scene were influential.
Oliver: For folks who may for some reason be reading about SMWRG for the first time, can you explain the origin of the name?
Bobby: Clarke picked the name from a zine Bobby made called “Flaming Gavel.” There was a cartoon series called Stick Man With Ray Gun in it.
Oliver: Stick Men with Ray Guns played on the same bill with some bands that are now regarded as incredibly important bands from the early 80s hardcore punk era — Misfits, Black Flag, and others. Can you recall any impression you had of those bands?
Bobby: I was very much into the punk scene in the 80’s. Clarke wasn’t much at all. Scott (Elam, our drummer) was into Killing Joke and Echo and the Bunnymen type stuff, mostly UK bands. Before Stick Men, I played with Bobby in a band called The Enemy.
[Editor’s interlude: There is an excellent interview with Bobby Beeman from 6 years ago at the “Fearless Iranians” blog — another reference to Texas punk. Reading the interview there underscored, to me, how often SMWRG alumni must be badgered for interviews. There are a lot of nuggets of great information there about Stick Men with Ray Guns’ formation.
For instance, this:
Bobby: Stick Men’s first show, I was playing in a band called Hole (after The Enemy and before Stick Men, and well before Courtney Love) and we opened up for Stick Men at their first show. They had a fill in bass player at the time, and after the show, Bobby Soxx asked me to join Stick Men, so I did. Same club we had opened for Black Flag, Zero’s. Hole was kind of a noise/industrial band. We ran everyone off before Stick Men played, and they were mad, hahaha.]
Bobby Beeman: My first club gig on a stage was opening for Black Flag on their “Jealous Again” tour. Dez was their singer and this was before Henry Rollins took over their vocals.
Black Flag was a 4 piece and they were traveling with all their gear in Spot’s little orange van. It was in Fort Worth at Zero’s, and on a Tuesday night in December. Maybe 20 or 30 people showed up. I knew who Black Flag was, but the hardcore scene was just developing and hadn’t become a scene in Dallas yet. After the show, Black Flag didn’t have a place to stay and our bass player (I was playing guitar) Suzy Mustang (later of Cringe) had just moved out of this house in Oak Cliff. She had been locked out and broke a window to get a few of her things and had unlocked it. She cut herself and had bled all over the house, so Bobby was riding with Black Flag to show them how to get there and he told them this story about a witch’s coven living there.
So Black Flag came with this badass reputation but wound up sleeping in the van with their equipment in the driveway of that house. We were intimidated by their reputation, but I think they probably went away being intimidated by us. Yeah, it was a dick move. But it was funny! We opened for them as Stick Men with Ray Guns, later. There is a photo of The Enemy in Spot’s photo book, “Sounds of Two Eyes Opening”.
Personally, I was a big Misfits fan. Saw them at the Hot Klub with about 75 people and then we opened for them at Studio D. They were a great band. But we didn’t usually hang out with bands we played with much.
Oliver: Bobby Soxx’ single “Learn the Hate in the 80s” — how does that factor into the SMWRG legacy? How is his backing band on that EP related to Stick Men?
Bobby: The backing band for that single was the Telefones. We weren’t related to them except through Bobby and a few songs they wrote for the Teenage Queers that we also played. They were a power pop band and had a totally different musical sensibility than us.
Before they were the Teenage Queers, Kim Wolfe, Valerie Bowles (Clarkes sister-in-law) and Chris Dirkx (of the Telefones) were the Teenage Queers. I’m not sure who wrote what. There were songs we did live, like “No God” and “Hamster Sadist” that were Teenage Queers songs.
The songs “Scavenger of Death” and “Hate In the 80’s” were written by the Dirkx brothers. “Pee Pee In The Disco” and “Nazi Cowboys” were Teenage Queers songs. There were others Stick Men with Ray Guns re-did. “Kill The Innocent” is influenced by the Teenage Queers version, but is very different. “Christian Rat Attack” was originally a Teenage Queers song, but with totally different music. That one was actually a riff I started playing in the studio while they were setting up. Clarke and Scott chimed in, and Bobby had lyrics from that song already. The recording of that was probably the 2nd or 3rd time we ever played it. It was written less than a half hour before it was recorded.
The single came out on VVV Records. Neal Caldwell from VVV and I split the cost of pressing it and we had 500 records. We each took 250 of them. I had a hard time through the 80’s getting my half sold.
Oliver: Bobby, you were recently in the audience at the notorious Boyd Rice show in Dallas in June, 2016, that 3-4 people tried to prevent others from seeing, by trying to get that show shut down. But, the show happened anyway. What did you think of the show and have you been a fan of NON’s for awhile? Do you think shows like that happen much any more, that seem to genuinely upset some people? Did Stick Men ever encounter this sort of thing?
Bobby: That was a good show. I’ve been a NON fan since before SMWRG. I’ve seen Boyd Rice before, but not since the 80’s. I think the internet has led to a culture of people getting upset about stuff a lot. Things that were pretty commonplace then are big scandals now. I read a story about some guy who was disrupting a band at Austin City Limits and someone in the band pushed him or punched him or something and it was a big deal, but that used to happen more often than not. Stick Men with Ray Guns would not be able to exist today, with every word and action being scrutinized and criticized and recorded and shared on social media, Twitter, and other sites. Whatever was notorious or is scandalous about Boyd Rice, I’m not sure of the actual facts and don’t care that much.
Bobby Beeman: There is a song on the new 1000 Lives release called “Shaggy Has AIDS.” Shaggy, aka Nancy Moore, was a DJ at the popular Dallas community radio station KNON. Texas Monthly in 1985 had just done a story about this teenage punk girl who had legions of young fans on her Dallas radio show. (From that Texas Monthly article: “[Shaggy’s] not boringly, obnoxiously religious; she just believes in it and wears crucifix earrings not merely as jewelry, like a lot of punks do. Sometimes she reads Scripture from the Bible during her show to startle people, keep them awake, and maybe inspire somebody. But she sticks to the coolest chapters, like in Revelation.”)
I guess Shaggy came to one of Stick Men with Ray Guns’ shows and talked about it on the radio, about how horrible Stick Men with Ray Guns were, and she cried about it or something. So in return we wrote a song about her called “Shaggy Has AIDS.”
I’ve heard about people who were upset with us in the past few years, but don’t remember it coming up much then. They were mostly scared, I guess.
Oliver: How was the Dallas punk scene in the 1980s? How was punk regarded by people at large in Dallas, and how would you compare how punk was viewed then versus today, when a punk show is an unremarkable event locally? (I’m sure you’ve seen the old Channel 8 feature on Dallas punk and Bobby Soxx that ran on TV in the early or mid–1980s, and which is on Youtube. It’s hard to imagine a news report being made like that today.)
Bobby: Starting in the late 70’s, record labels started thinking punk was going to be a big thing. Arena tours, etc. It never became that until Nirvana in the early 1990s. In the beginning, record labels went out and signed all the punk bands they could. The Ramones, Patti Smith, Dead Boys, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, etc. — they all got signed by majors, along with bands that never got heard from again. But it never worked out like that.
The popularity of punk never took off until the 90’s. In the 1980s, hair metal took off — punk didn’t. I remember when the Dead Kennedy’s played at Studio D, and they had a $2500 guarantee. That was HUGE for a punk band. There were somewhere around 500 people at that show, and it was the biggest “punk rock” show in town, for sure. Sure, the Ramones and Clash brought more, but that was at a more established venue and bands that were on major labels, with record company support. When we played with The Misfits there, maybe 150 people, at most, were there.
By the late 1990’s, the Butthole Surfers were doing arena tours, but before Nirvana broke, that never was possible. So the TV news feature… the whole scene was looked upon as an oddity.
Bobby: The TV news piece came on the heels of the D Magazine piece about punk in Dallas. But that TV news story is really long. TV news features don’t give that much time to any story these days. So it was Bobby and the uniqueness of punk rock, which still was not something people knew much about, and this was like 1983 or something.
Oliver: If you could tell readers one or two things you’d like them to know about Bobby Soxx you feel that they might not know, or something about him you’d like to clear up, or make better-known, what would you say?
Bobby: We say this a lot, and it can’t be said enough… Bobby was not GG Allin.
He was smart and funny and a loyal friend. He wasn’t a flake and never missed a gig or rehearsal except when he got thrown in jail or something. Some people rightfully have very negative memories of him. Most people who knew him remember something different. He was charismatic and engaging and hilarious. Many women remember him as a gentleman. He had a lot of friends. He made new ones easily and remembered them. Any kindness towards him was rewarded tenfold. Same thing with anything directed against him. And there were sometimes innocent bystanders who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I think most people who really knew Bobby have very fond memories of him. I know we do…
There have been several Stick Men with Ray Guns releases lately:
“Grave City” collection by Stick Men with Ray Guns by End of An Ear is here.
“Property of Jesus Christ” by Stick Men with Ray Guns by 12XU Records is here.
“1,000 Lives to Die” by Stick Men with Ray Guns by 12XU Records is here.