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He's Still Got It: Ray Stevens II, a key player in the 1980s skate-punk scene in San Jose, caught in action last month in Sunnyvale.

South Bay Riot

Just in time for the arrival of the Dew Action Sports Tour: an oral history of San Jose's legendary skate-punk subculture

By

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Keith David Hamm is doing a booksigning inside the Cinebar on San Fernando Street. It's Wednesday night, punk rock night. Using a guitar head as the PA system, Ray Stevens II is spinning ancient punk 45s that he's had for over 20 years. Hamm's book, Scarred for Life: Eleven Stories About Skateboarders, rouses the masses enough that he sells 22 copies at $20 a pop throughout the course of the evening. Which is amazing, as the particular clientele inhabiting the bar are the types who complain about having to spend three bucks for a drink. In fact, most of them are swilling two-dollar cans of Hamm's—fitting for the booksigning. Hamm's beer and Hamm's book—what more could you want?

Taking its name from a classic tune by San Jose skate punk band the Faction, Chapter 6 of Hamm's glossy book is titled "The '80s: Skate and Destroy," and it documents San Jose skate punk in the early part of that decade. For some, the entire evening at Cinebar is a throwback to 23 years ago. Ray Stevens II was right smack in the middle of that scene, which, believe it or not, put San Jose on the international punk rock map. That's not an exaggeration and this is a hidden slice of local S.J. lore you will not find on display at History San Jose in Kelley Park. This was a special time in the valley where skateboarding and punk rock originally intertwined. It was a long time ago in a galaxy right here in town and several of the original heavyweights are still lurking in the shadows of San Jo. (Full disclosure: Most of these troublemakers are friends of mine.)

The most hysterical thing is that everyone has a punk rock riot story. The Black Flag riot in 1981. The Adolescents riot at the San Jose Civic in 1986 where everyone ripped the tiles out of the floor. The TSOL riot in Hollywood. Skate legend and co-owner of the Blank Club Corey O'Brien opined that this particular scene was the only thing San Jose has ever done right.

So if you're hip to the Dew Action Sports Tour that hits the HP Pavilion this weekend, mull this one over: These skaters were blowing shit up in San Jose 25 years ago. And they were known throughout the United States—and probably the world—for the scene they eventually created. I doubt any of them would actually care that they're part of San Jose history, but they are. In fact, call Dean Munro at the San Jose Sports Authority and ask him why the hell Steve Caballero isn't in the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. He's a lot more internationally renowned than many of the other folks inducted into that institution.

The best plan of attack to explore what that scene was like is to hear it straight from the horse's mouth—the skaters themselves. Another disclosure: This is by no means any attempt to thoroughly document this particularly magical time when so many skaters and antiauthoritarian types came together in the early '80s in San Jose. It would take an entire book to accomplish that. You'd have to interview 300 people over the course of a few years. But, more importantly, the following tidbits on the skate punk scene are all perfect examples of what the nauseating boredom of growing up in suburban San Jose actually did to certain people.


Story of Their Life: A flier from back in 'the day' touting an all-ages show with local bands opening up for SoCal punkers Social D.

DAVE CARNIE: There comes a time in the early stages of every skater's life where the skateboard ceases to be just a toy, and it becomes something much larger than just a plank with wheels on it. When it happens, skateboarding isn't a game anymore, or a novelty like a yo-yo, but rather the skateboard consumes your entire being and it becomes your life. It's an event often marked by the acquisition of one's "first real board," and with that first real board comes the introduction and initiation into the world of skateboarding. Suddenly skateboarding is no longer confined to your driveway, or the hill in front of your house that you and your dumb li'l buddies butt board down, no, once you get that first skateboard, you have something far greater than the thing in and of itself. You become part of a gang, a brotherhood, an attitude, that stretches far and wide and, most of all, you become the possessor of sacred truths only those who ride skateboards can know. It's total trippy Ninja shit, man. When I got my first real board in 1979 and I rubbed the childish scales from my eyes and began to look around, I quickly realized that the world of skateboarding was much closer than I thought. I was smack dab in the middle of one of the greatest, most influential and notorious scenes in skateboarding ever: San Jose.

RAY STEVENS II: My band Los Olvidados practiced in South San Jose at my parents' house at 6072 Larchmont Drive. I also had a miniramp, an empty pond and a dog named Sarge in the backyard. We would skate the ramp or hit the curbs at "The Bank" before or after—or sometimes even during—practice. My bands the Faction and the Drunk Injuns would also rehearse out there and we might even drive out to Morgan Hill to skate "The Ditch." When my parents were away, I had my 21st birthday party at their house and hundreds of punks came out to see the Drunk Injuns play and thrash our house. I started a zine called "Beef Street" with Randy Burk and we had a slang feature called "Terms to Learn" that is still published to this day. My mom would hate it when I would spend my money at Tower Records or Dedicated Record Collector, so I would have to sneak my vinyl in under my clothes or ditch it behind the garbage cans for a later pickup. I make money off of those same records these days!

MIKE FOX: Skateboarders and punk rock? Pretty similar back then. No coaches, no teachers, no real adult supervision, and a lot more rule-breakers than rule-makers. I mean, if you were skating pools and ditches, you were doing more than your share of trespassing, breaking and entering, running from and/or lying to the cops, etc. Truth is, all that stuff was just as fun as the skating itself. Skateboarding really affected the way we played music too. When you see someone who skates playing in a band, you can usually tell. They don't stand there and play or cop rock star poses. They slash, they grind, they get air, they RIDE it. To this day, skateboarding has a LOT more to do with my approach to music than music ever did.

RAY STEVENS II: Los Olvidados opened a legendary show in Hollywood with Toxic Reasons, Red Kross, Social Distortion and TSOL that turned into the fattest riot including: helicopters with spotlights, cops on horses, tear gas, beat downs, etc. The promoters oversold the show, leaving 700 punks with tickets out on Sunset Boulevard very unhappy, rolling over cars and setting them on fire, breaking windows, etc. The next morning I peeled myself off of our skate buddy Spidey's floor and called my mom in San Jose to tell her about the riot and she said she saw it on the 11 o'clock news and wondered if I was there too! Hell yeah, Mom! Los Olvidados was definitely there and feeling the signs of sweet success!

SPEEDBUMP: At a time that will never be repeated again, the skate punk era had arrived—thanks to the Pistols and the Clash—with such a fevered pitch it was hard to explain. Just what had transformed in terms of the evolving street skate rage from Fog Town through Midtown and Silicon Valley's once safe haven of San Jose appeared as quickly as an earthquake or hurricane! In plain terms, the early scene was Rick Blackhart, Bob Denike, Kiwi and Stevie [Caballero], along with Renaissance man Kevin Thatcher. For without their foresight and vision, the entire local, as well as national, scene would have died a death similar to Sid's overdose, while at this time the music scene was exploding with skaters flocking to such gigs as the Buzzcocks, the Specials, TSOL and even the Faction. One sight worth its weight in gold was the marquee of S.J.'s Hyatt St. Claire with the neon signage of "TONIGHT—DEAD KENNEDYS." That was well worth the price of admission, even though I was moshed to the point where I lost my eyeglasses.


Photograph by Mark Waters, courtesy of Keith David Hamm

When Ordinary Shadow Puppets Aren't Enough: Corey O'Brien skates at Montague Banks in 1986.

MARK WATERS: The first hardcore show we saw was at De Anza college in Cupertino, with Social Unrest, Whipping Boy, Los Olvidados, Grim Reality and probably a few others. I remember three things vividly from that show. One, the dude from Whipping Boy had leather pants on, and he had a sidepipe that scared the hell out of me. It was so foreign. Two, I was bummed because I didn't have a flannel to wear to the show. I had a fear that without one I would be out of place, and my dad's wouldn't fit me yet, I was too skinny and meek. And really bummed. And third was a guy I later learned to be called Donald McKechney. This was a scrawny little skater punk dude, smaller than me, bleached blond hair, dirty as hell, and he was desperately trying to knock over one of those candy machines where the candy came towards you on a little clip and fell into the bin below. This was in the student union at De Anza, just around the corner from the bands playing, lots of deputy sheriffs and the school staff. The kid just didn't think or care about what he was doing. He must've weighed about 100 pounds, and the machine was probably over 600 pounds. And somehow he managed to get it tipping back and forth until it pretty much exploded into the ground with a crash you could hear over the band in the next room. After scrambling to get as much candy as he could, he split the scene into the now-appearing crowd, and my friends and I were left there, jaws probably on the floor, in amazement. It was by far the most punk thing I had seen until that point. At some point after we'd all been skating for a while at the Mountain ramp in Cupertino, Donald did a backside air off the 8-foot section into the 5-foot section, and of course just fully locked up and body slammed onto the flat bottom. I'd never seen anyone fully commit so hard and just pack his face, and Donald just lay there on the ground. After a half a minute, this little mouse came crawling out from under his chest. The mouse stirred Donald to life, and he grabbed after it, caught it, put the mouse back in the chest pocket of his flannel, and crept off the flat bottom to go sit in the shade. What the hell he was doing skating all day with his pet mouse in his chest pocket I'll never know, but from that moment on, Generic Lapper Donald earned the title of sketchiest dude we knew.

PAUL MENDELOWITZ: On May 17, 1981, Black Flag was scheduled to play at Holmes Hall in San Jose. The Lewd, Los Olvidados, the Ghouls and two new bands, A Happy Death and Onslaught, were to play support. The show got off to a little bit of a late start—about a half-hour—but once it got started, it really moved along. Bands played short sets and set up fast. About two hours into it, the security guard the hall had hired showed up and made an absolute pest of himself, harassing everyone in sight. At about 11:30, he said that the show was to be over at midnight. But the person the papers were signed with had said that it could go to 12:30 if it ran a bit late. The cop decided that no one was going to get to call any of the owners to tell them it would go a little over. So, right at 12, just as Black Flag got onstage, he went and pulled the fuses out of the wall. Then he told everybody to leave. They all yelled at him, so he did what all good security officers do when there is a threat that they might lose control of a crowd: he turned the lights off. This resulted in chairs being thrown through windows, etc. Basically general destruction. He called for more cops and in about 10 seconds, there were 21 cop cars outside. S.J. cops just love a riot. They chased people yelled at them and were pretty fucked, although they decided to arrest only one person. San Jose's first punk rock riot—bitchen.

JOEY MYERS: Everyone was completely amped by the time Black Flag took the stage. Then the rent-a-cop who came along with the hall freaked, either because it was past midnight or he was afraid of us—I don't know—but what does the genius decide to do? Cut the power. Of course that only inspired some skaters—I won't name them but I'm sure they'd claim this—to get the party started by throwing chairs through windows and letting loose some fire extinguishers. Things got really interesting as the first cops started to arrive only to get pelted with beer bottles by punks on the roof of the hall. Everybody was going nuts, either wrecking something, trying to get out of there, or running around in circles not knowing what to do. In no time it was easy to see that every cop in San Jose had arrived, and by the looks of things it was open season on us. Clubs were swinging hard and fast on guys and girls alike, most of us in our teens. When the dust settled, all I can say is I have yet to go to a more exciting show. And this would have probably been a "nice" town, but one of the most boring and insufferable places on the planet if it wasn't for the punks and skaters showin' San Jose the way!

KEITH DAVID HAMM: Early skate/punk scene in San Jose? Don't ask me. I was on the other side of the mountains, on the beach in Santa Cruz, skimboarding and listening to Peter Tosh. Oh, I do remember something about the O'Brien brothers wanting to "Drain the beach!" And this one time, a few dudes from San Jose came over to skate the Buena Vista pool, and they're complaining, "This is the only pool you guys got?" And one of the locals is all, "At least it's not in the fucking valley."

DAVE CARNIE: In hindsight, there were a lot of little things that were unique to San Jose that bolstered the heaviness of the scene. For one, snaking. To this day I haven't seen many people who could even hold a candle to how fast those guys could get into a ramp or a pool. They made it into an art and Corey was one of the best. He could be leaning against the rail on the deck chatting with you, or spitting on himself, or whatever, and in one motion he was suddenly riding across the flat bottom before you could even get your board over the coping. ... I never mastered it the way they did, but when I left San Jose it seemed like the rest of the world was moving in slow motion.

COREY O'BRIEN: We were street skating seriously before [Winchester] park closed because we didn't always have money to go there, so we were street skating the Scurbs on the south side. It was the place we hung out.

DAVE CARNIE: The Scurbs were a bunch of red curbs in an Alpha Beta parking lot and the sessions that went down there were epic. A lot of the foundations of modern street skating were invented at the Scurbs.

KEITH DAViD HAMM: Down at the Scurbs, the O'Brien brothers and a few others were, out of boredom mostly, perfecting their slides and grinds, often sessioning for hours on end until hunger called, fatigue set in or the cops rolled up. After blowing off a few warnings, Corey, then 14, was arrested for skateboarding in the Scurbs parking lot and hauled downtown, where his mom had to fetch him. It was the beginning of a long hate-hate relationship between Corey and the cops. ... A decade later, a new generation—tapping skateable terrain on every street corner in America and beyond—would warm up with a few curb boardslides and 50-50s before taking the "street style" to the next level, to steep handrails and waist-high marble planter boxes. And in doing so they would redirect the entire industry with a few maneuvers that were once simple, yet creative, cures for common teenage boredom.

COREY O'BRIEN: We were just trying to fill the void of the parks being gone. We didn't know what to do because ramps weren't really big yet. No one really knew how to build them. So we built that shitty ramp at Stevie's. I'm not talking shit about it. That's all we had. But if you think about it, we went from Winchester and Campbell to a 12-foot-wide piece of fucking crap ramp with wooden coping. That's why these days I hate talking about those days.

GAVIN O'BRIEN: I did [the Slappy] in early 1980. I got it on film. At the Scurbs, it was a total accident. I love John Lucero, he's one of my favorite skaters, but the way I remember it, we took a road trip to Whittier and after the park closed one night we were skating the curbs and I was doing f/s 50/50s. But I would do them kind of different: I would go up to the curb at an angle going kind of fast, lift up my front truck and kind of five-O grind on the front truck till the back truck got up there. John improved on it by just slamming it into the curb. But I remember the first few times those guys tried it, they were falling on their asses. Then a couple months later there was a sequence in Thrasher and they were calling it "the Slappy." He did it way better than me, way better. But I did it first.

KEITH DAVID HAMM: Plenty of other bands at the time accused the Faction of riding Caballero's coat-tails. It didn't hurt, of course, that a top professional skateboarder was in the band. But behind Caballero's motivation and underground celebrity was a band of young men—also skateboarders—who wasted little time waiting around to be discovered. The Faction got off their asses and practiced. A lot. Often five days a week. In 2 1/2 years they wrote 34 songs and recorded one tape, one LP and four EPs; they were also featured on several compilations, including the first two volumes of Thrasher's Skate Rock. They took any show that came their way or along the way, playing a damp basement one night and a big-city hall the next. Caballero, too, always pushed merchandise, printing homemade stickers and T-shirts and selling them on the road to pay for gas and food. Together they represented what a band could be: a group of driven musicians with deep, common roots, who played music—music they liked to listen to, and skate to—for themselves and often for a strong throng of like-minded fans.

GAVIN O'BRIEN: Yeah, it didn't hurt having Stevie in the band because Thrasher was pumping us left and right. And people were always saying, "You're Stevie's band," trying to make fun of us, but we really were Stevie's band. He started the band and we'd practice at his house. We practiced every day because we were all at Stevie's house every day anyway skating his ramp. So we would go in and learn a new song a day. Then we started doing sets.

MIKE FOX: I know this is cliché, but it's true. Seeing the Ramones gave me the courage to play music. Back then, if you wanted to play guitar, it could be very intimidating. Guys who could play made it seem like a big deal, like you had to know it all before you could even start. Seeing the Ramones was like having someone scrape all that bullshit away. They made it look easy. Made it look like fun. They made it look like skateboarding.


Faction Leader: Before he was a skate icon, Steve Caballero was just a kid skating by himself at Winchester Skatepark. Two decades later, he's world famous. This shot was taken last month in Sunnyvale.

JOHN HAUGH: The parties were where it was at for a long time. If you skated, you were in a band or knew someone who was. You went to every party and every gig. You had to go! The girl you'd been eyeing all week hanging out at the ramp or last gig would surely be there! In fact, everyone who was someone would be there. I remember being 15 or so playing with my first punk band. We were so nervous! I messed up in the middle of a song and was just standing there bummed when all of a sudden Greg Orpeza, Jamie and Kat from the band Ribzy started yelling, "Go kid! Play it again!" Everyone was so stoked that these kids were playing hardcore punk in their living room! We looked up to so many great bands back then. Los Olvidados was it in the early days. The Faction came along and, in my opinion, developed skate music. Other bands that played a lot were Grim Reality, Unaware—Frank Novicki was the king!, Living Abortions, Executioner and the boys in the KingPins threw a hell of a party! The infamous backyard party at Thatcher's house was all-time. Those guys even went on to win Star Search one year. Their drummer Craig Ramsay was a big influence in the San Jose scene. He made this compilation tape (yep, a cassette) with all of the bands mentioned above and a cool booklet with band info. I think almost every skater in San Jose had all of those songs memorized.

BOB DENIKE: One last thing I'll say about skateboarding and San Jose and everything. ... It was like, you just did it. It's hard to think back about it. 'Cause when you look back at all the stuff we did, it's kinda amazing, the ramps and the pools, but, you know, we didn't know any better. You know what I mean? The energy we had back then was just amazing, as skateboarders, as musicians; a lot of guys were artists. That's what's great about skateboarders: they're so multifaceted. You did a lot of creative stuff, but at the time, you didn't know it, you're just so close to the fire.

JOHN HAUGH: There were a lot of great local fanzines that kept everyone in the know. Guys like Corey and Gavin O'Brien had this great fanzine called Skate Scene. It was pretty much the best of the bunch and those guys and their crew knew of all the great skate spots and helped put on the early punk shows in the area. They were already into the punk bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, X, Misfits and stuff like that. Caballero had a slick zine called Skatepunk—no fair, his brother owned a print shop!—and I had one called Skater of Fortune. We'd do little interviews with local skaters who got sponsored or with bands. This was in a day when you could be pen pals and do mail interviews with guys like Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies or Rikk Agnew of Adolescents and DI. There were no rock stars, you could hang with almost everybody. Fanzines were something cool to read while at a ramp or party. Hell, it also meant you could get into just about any place for free too! It was really a special time. If you want to get the vibe nowadays, go check out the Blank Club downtown and say "hey" to the guys for me.

COREY O'BRIEN: We're driving in my brother Gavin's '67 Firebird down Branham Lane on the south side and these jocks were trailin' us really close. And we get to the left turn light to turn left, and it was a red light. So we're sitting in the car—Gavin was driving, I was in the front seat, Steve Caballero was in the back seat and Rob Roskopp was in the back seat. So we're in the left turn lane to left on Vista Park towards Capitol. And these guys from our school, Gunderson, get out of their car—these two big jock meatheads—and they start jumping on the back of our car—they were on the top of the car jumping on it. Gavin is in neutral and then pops it in reverse and floors it. And he fucking slammed so hard, he smashed the whole front end of their car in, and then popped it in drive and took off and these guys flew off our car. And we went left onto Vista Park and I remember turning around, and the car started following us, and all the steam was coming out of the front of their car and they just pulled over. And I looked at Gavin and he popped a couple of M&Ms in his mouth and kept driving. I'll never forget that. I looked at him like, "You could have killed those guys—they could have fallen off the car and got smashed in-between." We had just moved to Sunnyvale and I never went back to Gunderson after that. We would have got killed.

JOEY MYERS: Just ask anybody who was a punk rocker or skater in San Jose during the late '70s through the mid-'80s about what it was like here and the next thing you know it sounds like you're talking to a war correspondent. The punk and skate thing collided naturally because it was probably just as life-affirming and personally liberating to find that forbidden pool as it was to dig music no one else did—even though they never bothered to listen to it. Both scenes definitely succeeded in one thing and that was in uniting society against us. Just being a punk rocker was enough to get you escorted out of the establishment—restaurants, theaters—or off the premises—a high school campus or shopping mall, nine out of 10 times it was for our own safety because the only thing a punk could get at the mall back then was an ass-whoopin'. Otherwise we were generally not wanted period. If there was a difference between the two scenes aside from whether you do or don't skate, it was that punks brought enough grief on themselves just by the way they looked and knew trouble would find'em soon as they walked out their front doors. Skaters on the other hand just loved to take society's temperature with a rectal thermometer mainly because being hassled for no reason constantly gets to be a drag so you give back what you get but even worse then hop on your deck and get the hell outta there. We were all just trying to have a teenage blast in America even as it slowly sunk in that we kissed our civil liberties goodbye because of what we chose to look like. But life-affirming and personally liberating things don't come along that often, so fuck society!


Source Notes
Most of these quotes are from interviews. As for the rest, the author wishes to acknowledge the following folks for granting permission to reproduce sordid nostalgia from previously published works:
Excerpts from 'Scarred for Life: Eleven Stories About Skateboarders' by Keith David Hamm, copyright 2004, Chronicle Books, San Francisco. Excerpts from 'Connected: Gavin and Corey O'Brien' by Dave Carnie, Skateboard Magazine, August 2005


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