The first time I (and probably many others) heard Cleveland’s Defnics was when their AMAZING song “51%” was comped on Killed By Death #3 back in 1989. I grew up in Cleveland so I hold Cle punk in high regard- “51%” is one of THE BEST Cleveland punk songs of all time, up their with classic Pagans or Electric Eels ditties. The unique, sharp guitar sound on “51%” is to die for, the lyrics are memorable, the singing style is great (always a plus for me) and it just has that “instant classic” feel to it right from the start.
The Defnics’ only release back in the day was the “51%/Hello From Berlin” 7” back in 1981 on Terminal Records which was the label run by Mike Hudson of the almighty Pagans (Terminal Tower = Cleveland landmark- get it?). More on that 7” later… The Defnics’ singer and rhythm gee-tarist was Bobby Conn (nee Bill DeGidio) who was in the almighty late 70’s Pagans for a brief time and actually sang on the immortal “Six and Change” before Mike Hudson took over as lead warbler. Er, Messrs Hudson and Conn had some falling out years later because, according to Mike Hudson’s liner notes for Thermionic’s 1998 reissue of Terminal’s 1982’s GREAT “Cleveland Confidential” comp LP, he said Bobby Conn turned into a “white power Nazi dude” who scared Hudson’s wife and son. Fuck. The lead guitarist for the Defnics was Bob Sablack who would go on to several other good Cleveland bands back in the 80’s like the Pink Holes, the Plague and others.
When I discovered the Defnics way back when, I had found yet another hometown band to be proud of (although I was hearing them for the first time years after their 1982 breakup). Even though they were from the East Side of Cleveland, The Defnics still rocked in my book (ha ha). Let me explain my lighthearted jab– I grew up on the West Side of Cleveland and for years there’s been this “East Side vs. West Side” rivalry of sorts. Chicago has the North Side vs. South Side thing (and the West Side vs. South Side thing too) for example- I guess most major U.S. cities have similar pseudo-jingoistic rivalries going on. Cleveland’s East vs. West rivalry has lots of different factors layered in it, but at least when I was growing up in Cleveland it boiled down to West Siders seeing themselves as more salt of the earth, down home, common folks while East Siders were seen as snootier, wealthier and more elitist. Or maybe I should sum it up like this- West Siders worked in the factories owned by the East Siders. Both the East and West sides of Cleveland have wealthy AND normal, working-to-middle class suburbs which kind of negates the perception each side has of each other but enough on that for now.
Anyway, the address for the Defnics on the back of my vinyl copy of their 7” is in Eastlake, a “normal” East Side suburb (in terms of median income) about 20 miles Northeast of downtown Cleveland that is very close to Lake Erie. Due to its close proximity to the lake, Eastlake is near the infamous “snowbelt” area of Cleveland where they get fucking dumped on in the wintertime with wonderful lake effect snow. ANY part of Cleveland gets a lot of the white stuff every winter, but the snowbelt is like the usual heavy snowfall x 10. Fun.
OK- back to the issue at hand, the Defnics. A year after I first heard their 7” I then heard their great track on the “Cleveland Confidential” comp LP, the very tense and haunting slow grinder, “Suicide Trip”. Cool! The Defnics were 3 for 3 in my book so far. These were the only three songs that the Defnics committed to vinyl back in the early 80’s, but I really wanted to hear more. There had to be some unreleased live or studio stuff, I thought.
And it turns out that there was! A short two years later in late 1996, back in the height of my tape trading days, someone from Cleveland taped me some unreleased live stuff by the Defnics (c’mon, where else would stuff like that pop up on a tape trader list?!). It was great- lots of LOUD thick guitars, nice singing by Mr. Conn, very catchy and hummable mid-tempo ditties that were in a similar vein as “51%”. As with many of my live tapes, this one came with no song titles but someone that I recorded it for around 2000 actually wrote to the band via the great ClePunk.com site and acquired all of the song titles (thanks P.R.).
Listening to the unreleased stuff over the years, it made me sad to think such great stuff never saw the light of day on an official rerelease. I thought that perhaps these great tunes would linger in the netherworld of tape trading forever so why not put it on my blog. Well, while I was halfway done with this post I did a random Google search on the Defnics and actually found out that the Smog Veil label is actually going to put out a Defnics reissue, er, tomorrow (January 6th) entitled “Black Hole Anthology 1980-1982”. Um- the timing of my posting and this reissue is coincidental, as I was planning on doing this post for some time but kids, family life and the holidays interfered. [Well, the holidays interfered- I love my wife and kids so I should choose to instead say “postponed” in reference to them, eh]
From listening to the quick 30 second audio samples on Amazon, it looks like this Smog Veil reissue not only has the 7” and their Cleveland Confidential comp track but also unreleased live AND studio stuff from the early 80’s. Although I have never met him, I am kind of acquainted with the cool guy Frank Mauceri who runs Smog Veil and I don’t want to steal his thunder so I have slightly revised the tracks I posted below so as not to lapover with his label’s official reissue. One of the tracks, “Governor’s Daughter”, that I was going to post sounds identical to the version that was also included on Smog Veil’s 2001 “Pies and Ears” comp of lots of Cleveland bands so that song is not here. I also see that the upcoming Defnics reissue also has a different version of the track “My Girl” that I was going to post below, so I left that one off too so there is no lapover again although the versions of it differ. I’d love to know why the ones I posted below were not included on the upcoming Smog Veil reissue ‘cuz they are great- ESPECIALLY the lead off track, “1981”, and are NOT substandard filler by any stretch as is the case with too many “discovered” live tapes I have heard over the years by other KBD-type bands. Perhaps the song title “Daddy’s Little Homo” was seen as a bit too politically incorrect for 2009 (er, plus the sound quality is a little too rough also). Social Distortion gave us “Mommy’s Little Monster” and the Defnics gave us “Daddy’s Little Homo”, so I guess they can be considered companion tracks of sorts- har har har…
Most of these tracks were recorded at the famous J.B.’s Down Under in Kent, Ohio which is about 40 miles South of the Defnics’ home base of Eastla
ke (and 10 miles or so Northeast of Akron a.k.a. Rubber City, also home to some cool bands in the late 70’s and early 80’s). Kent, Ohio is of course home to Kent State University where VietNam war protestors were shot dead at in 1970. Another embarrassing bit of Ohio trivia (there’s a lot of it, my friends- don’t get me started or this blog posting will go on forever). Cleveland had a famous long-time venue called Peabody’s Down Under that I saw some great shows at in the late 80’s but totally different place than J.B.’s in Kent.
LIVE @ J.B.’s DOWN UNDER, KENT, OHIO, 1981
/files/98398-90993/06__Bringing_Me_Down_(Live).MP3″>Bringing Me Down.mp3
LIVE IN OHIO, 1981 (LOCALE UNKNOWN)
From reading the VERY informative Defnics page on ClePunk.com with lots of info from lead guitarist Bob Sablack, the band apparently had some problems at Kent, Ohio shows with the local skinheads- perhaps this who was heckling the band during these live songs and taunting them to play faster. Or, if not skinheads, then maybe some local drunk redneck wandered into J.B.’s that night (always a fun person to have at shows) and gave the band some shit (?).
Stamps collectors- get out your magnifying glasses and follow along with me as I dissect the fragile sleeve for the Defnics 7”. First off, my copy- like all others- is a plain white inner sleeve that has square, mustard yellow-colored paperstock pasted on both sides. I absolutely LOVE homemade sleeves on punk records- it’s very charming, DIY and part of what makes punk so, er, punk for me. I just picture the band sitting in some kitchen gluing together all 1,000(!) sleeves, in between swigging on some beer, for a very long period of time. I mean, it seemed like a long, two-part process- first they had to glue together the sleeves (and then wait for them to dry) before they slid the actual vinyl into each and every sleeve or else the glue might have permeated and wrecked the vinyl. What a labor of love.
Damn, they must have used some strong glue on the sleeve because the record is almost 30 years old and the paperstock on my copy show no signs of loosening or peeling off. From the Defnics page on ClePunk.com, I found out that the cover photo of the band playing live was taken at a place called The Flipside on Green Road (in Eastlake?). The back of the 7” shows the band standing between two garages in someone’s backyard- wonder where this photo was taken. Speaking of the back of the sleeve, this is where some variations come in when I do a little research. My copy has the band’s contact address in Eastlake handwritten in blank pen in the lower left-hand corner (see picture of my copy above)- also handwritten is “Write!” just below the address. But I seen other copies- like this one on Brian Sayle’s great punk rock sleeve archive site- which have NO address on the back of the sleeve- hmmm? Maybe some old band member will post a comment here and clear up this important global dilemma. How many copies had the handwritten addresses out of the 1,000 pressed? Inquiring minds want to know. Forgot the problems with the economy or the war in Iraq- this sleeve issue demands our utmost attention and focus in the new year.
Some sleeveless copies of the Defnics 7” turned up in the mid 90’s at this bad record shop in Cleveland with a wanker of an owner who hovered over you and who kept his short stack of Defnics 7” under the counter. I forget how much he sold them for, or to what “elite” customers, but I tried to obtain a copy on a trip to Cleveland in 1995 and was totally denied in a somewhat condescending manner by that tosser. Goddammit, I cannot remember the name of that place for the life of me but I remember he had a small section of punk vinyl which was ridiculously overpriced for dog-eared copies of some common U.K. 7”s. Doh.
I keep plugging the ClePunk site, but they have a GREAT stream (read: not for download) of two live Defnics songs here– one of unknown title and “51%”. These tracks seem to have come from a different show than the one I am posting but is still circa 1981 or 1982 and not from the Defnics’ early 2000’s reunion.
One more thing if you’re still reading- there is a documentary that has had some East and West Coast screenings called “Cleveland’s Screaming” that talks about the early-to-mid 80’s Cleveland and Kent, Ohio scenes (HC mostly). I have not seen it yet but there are several trailers on YouTube, and very soon Parts Unknown Records is supposed to be selling copies. There was a GREAT interview with the guy who did the film in the January 2009 issue of good old Maximum Rock n’ Roll. It was a fantastic issue in general, as the theme was “Punks and Film” and aside from interviews with contemporary filmmakers, went all the way back to punxploitation films of the late 70’s and early 80’s. But, sorry, no interview with our friend, the beloved Steven Blush who did “American Hardcore”. Har har.