Circle Jerks:Keith Morris/by black dog bone


Circle Jerks: Keith Morris / interview by black dog bone


The sound that was coming from LA in the 80's was very different from what was going on in New York and England. I feel like LA had their unique sound and it came from the Circle Jerks and Black Flag and you were in both bands. I feel like you had a lot to do with creating that sound.


I'd like to argue that the sound wasn't different from NYC and the UK but the attitude was and that's what made the difference. An extremely big difference! We have freeways, miles of sidewalks, asphalt streets and roads, hills and mountains and the Pacific Ocean but the most important part of this is that we have skateboarding, wind and water surfing, skating, snow and water skiing, hang gliding and a large portion of our younger population moving fast and always on the go. This applies to what we do musically. There's an aggressive thought process of rather than waiting around trying to figure things out we're just gonna' go for it! Let's not over think this because we aren't talking about splitting atoms or rocket science, let's do this! We just wanted to have fun and make a large noise! Rail against the government and any authoritative figures. Fuck the man! Our world's going to shit and we don't want to be a part of that! Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were slightly responsible for what was happening here in Southern California but we were also insanely fortunate to be surrounded by and being a part of a scene that included X, Germs, Adolescents, Bags, Eyes, Controllers, Minutemen, Agent Orange, Middle Class, Weirdos, Screamers, Flesh Eaters, Dickies, Go Gos, Alley Cats, Blasters, Gun Club, Fear, Descendents, Last, Social Distortion, TSOL, Suicidal Tendencies, Angry Samoans and an entire army of others. My ego's not big enough to have me step up and take responsibility for the music i've played a role in creating as to me it's more important to step up and be proud of participating in this. We helped to give birth to a musical genre known as Hardcore Punk Rock.


We just wanted to have fun and make a large noise! Rail against the government and any authoritative figures. Fuck the man! Our world's going to shit and we don't want to be a part of that! Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were slightly responsible for what was happening here in Southern California but we were also insanely fortunate to be surrounded by and being a part of a scene that included X, Germs, Adolescents, Bags, Eyes, Controllers, Minutemen, Agent Orange, Middle Class, Weirdos, Screamers, Flesh Eaters, Dickies, Go Gos, Alley Cats, Blasters, Gun Club, Fear, Descendents, Last, Social Distortion, TSOL, Suicidal Tendencies, Angry Samoans and an entire army of others. My ego's not big enough to have me step up and take responsibility for the music i've played a role in creating as to me it's more important to step up and be proud of participating in this. We helped to give birth to a musical genre known as Hardcore Punk Rock.


When I talk to a lot of bands a lot of them say the Circle Jerks and Black Flag was their biggest influence. Do you hear this a lot? As far as me my all time favorite punk band was and is the Circle Jerks. As far as singers go you were the best. You were a real likable person. I was there at every show you did in San Francisco like when you played at On Broadway club and I think Mabuhay Gardens too. I remember drinking beer with you and Greg Hetson in the alley behind the club.


I've had people who I respect as artists and musicians explain to me how much this music's affected them. Ryan Adams who is big in the Alt-Country or Americana genre grew up in North Carolina skating to BF and the CJs. The lead vocalist of the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson pulled me aside in a bar on Sunset Blvd. and proceeded to tell me that his band, who've sold thirty five million albums would not exist if it weren't for both of the bands I was in. Now closer to the Murder Dog base is Ice-T who has said that the CJs and BF played a big role influencing Body Count and some of his other music. Here's a little sidebar........the CJs rehearsed in a garage in Inglewood, CA on the west side of Crenshaw Blvd. which was a couple of blocks from where Ice-T grew up. Not only that but we were a few blocks north from where "Straight Outta Compton" came crashing down on us! the guys who made up a band called Slayer also accuse BF and the CJs of influencing their musical situation.

I enjoy all of your praise but i'm not a singer! I don't know an E from a B! I consider myself a vocalist who's lucky to hit whatever notes i'm hitting which are usually K minors and Z sharps. Also I can't come close to John Doe from X, HR of the Bad Brains, the Misfits' Glenn Danzig or Phil Alvin and his Blasters. Not even on the same level as these guys.

I make an attempt to try and be as friendly and approachable as possible but you have to take into consideration that i'm a member of the Human Race and I have good days and bad days just like everybody else. People seem to think that if yer' a public figure that you're always on ten and that yer' always available for an hour long discussion at their convenience. Can you drop everything yer' doing and pay attention to me! To this I say "PHOOEY!" I'm sixty one years old with Diabetes and Emphysema and I could be suffering Hypoglycemia and need some kind of sugar fix or have to take a whizz and all of a sudden encounter someone who's onna' mission to get their photo taken with me or ask me what I think of donald trump and his lack of knowledge or being in denial of climate change. If I excuse myself to take care of something that needs to happen immediately i'm an asshole. I get accused of this in waves. I can't stop for a selfie that turns into some kind of professional photo shoot. I always put out one of my hands and ask for twenty dollars. Of course I drench this request in as much sarcasm as possible only to have this fall on ears that don't get it! I then explain that the great Pete Rose who played for the Cincinnati Reds and won't be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame due to his gambling sets up a table in a lobby of one of the casinos in Las Vegas and charges everyone two hundred dollars to sign baseballs or anything with his face on it.

Oh yeah we loved that dark alleyway next to the Mabuhay Garden and On Broadway as a place to get our chilled adult beverage drink on! All sorts of fun took place in that space.......



When you first started the Circle Jerks was there a lot of people playing songs as fast as you?


This answer includes D.O.A., Avengers, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Necros, SSD, Gang Green and the majoriy of the bands I listed in the answer to question number 2!


Your first band was Black Flag, what happened with that?


I was a founding member which equates to me going through a process of self discovery and realizing I loved to drink and get some Hollywood happy powder goin' on, living through four bass players, two drummers, rehearsing every night for a minimum of three to five hours, playing maybe a dozen shows in a three year period and resigning myself to the fact that BF was no longer fun. I had become a scapegoat and ended up losing every argument. I was holding them back, not learning the new songs, no longer felt wanted and our friendships had dwindled so it was time to make an exit. Thirty something years later it was brought to my attention that the one guy who everyone bowed down to was trying to figure out a way to ditch the other guy who was there at the beginning. I have almost no regrets in going on to start my next band the CJs.


Now closer to the Murder Dog base is Ice-T who has said that the CJs and BF played a big role influencing Body Count and some of his other music. Here's a little sidebar........the CJs rehearsed in a garage in Inglewood, CA on the west side of Crenshaw Blvd. which was a couple of blocks from where Ice-T grew up. Not only that but we were a few blocks north from where "Straight Outta Compton" came crashing down on us! the guys who made up a band called Slayer also accuse BF and the CJs of influencing their musical situation.

we loved that dark alleyway next to the Mabuhay Garden and On Broadway as a place to get our chilled adult beverage drink on! All sorts of fun took place in that space.


What did you do before Black Flag?


I swept the floor of the local Barbershop twice on Saturdays when I was ten, was employed by my dad at his fishing tackle store which was a quarter of a block from the pier in Hermosa Beach, CA and attended El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA for four semesters before dropping out and starting BF with Greg Ginn.


Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Germs, Fear, the Weirdos and the Dickies were some of the first punk bands to come from California, Were there a lot more?


In answer to this question I have to start off by saying BF and the CJs were not part of the frontline of punk bands in Los Angeles or California. This first wave of bands that used The Masque as their ground zero would be The Screamers, Bags, Eyes, Alley Cats, Dickies, Weirdos, X, Controllers, Flesh Eaters, Avengers, Dils, Zeros, Plugz, Middle Class, Skulls, Deadbeats and a handful of others..........

How did you get in to punk? Who were you in to?


I pretty much fell into the punk rock thing due to the fact that I read publications such as Creem, Circus and an occasional UK mag/paper New Musical Express, Melody Maker or Sounds. Of course there were fanzines the likes of Back Door Man, Bomp, Slash and then Flipside when punk was proving itself to be as interesting, abrasive and in your face as all of the music that was being rammed down our throats. The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac with their let's be mellow and take it easy mantra was not gonna' cut it with those of us who burned out on that scene. That's what was being played on heavy rotation whenever someone would be listening to the radio. These bands sold millions of recordings and for the most part it was music with a wine cooler, BMW and an overpriced hairdo attached. Visions of Valium, Quaalude and visits from the Cocaine dealer who would look as if he stepped out of an episode of Miami Vice.

I've always enjoyed music of different genres starting with stuff that was played on the two AM radio stations here in Los Angeles. KHJ was shinier and a bit more friendly so they'd play Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Association, Monkees, Mamas And Papas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Beatles and KRLA would get a little grittier and appeal to the Low Riders and grass smokers. The Rolling Stones, Seeds, Love, the Standells and the Stax roster as opposed to KHJ playing the more family oriented Motown. I loved both stations and they weren't that far apart on the radio so if one station was playing something that wasn't interesting you could just tune into the other station. This also applied to FM radio that was album oriented and didn't necessarily play the "Hits".

As for who I was into my music tastes vary from day to day and at the beginning of punk rock I was listening to T-Rex, Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Golden Earring, Blue Oyster Cult, Captain Beyond, ZZ TOP, Black Sabbath, David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars, Kiss, Johnny Winter, the New York Dolls, Runaways and a long list of bands that you'd probably think this isn't what i'd expect this guy to be listening to. The first punk rock i'd paid attention to was The Damned, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Wire, Ramones, Dead Boys, Clash, Sham 69 and all the bands that were playing at the Masque.


You are from the LA area so what part are you from?


I'm a Los Angeleno residing in Los Feliz and live three blocks from where I was born which is Sunset Blvd. and Vermont. The building on that corner is Kaiser Permanente hospital and after I was born it was off to Gardena and then Inglewood. I moved to Hermosa Beach in 1963 and left to go see the world and experience as many adventures as humanly possible in 1983. HB's turned into Spring Break West and the idiot factor is through the roof of a fifty story building! The Friday and Saturday night "Bro Down" is way past ridiculous.



How did the Circle Jerks come together? Was it you and Greg Hetson that put the band together?


There are a couple of versions as to how we got together so i'll spare you the bloody details. Greg Hetson, Lucky Lehrer and I agreed that we wanted to start a band and they'll tell you it happened on the sidewalk in front of the Whisky A Go Go on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood and my memory tells me it happened after a failed drummer audition for Red Cross in the basement of the Church in Hermosa Beach. I had quit Black Flag about two or three weeks earlier but was still living in the Church but either way it was all downhill from there! OUCH!


Who wrote most of the songs in the Circle Jerks? Was that you or did the whole band write songs together?


It was pretty hectic as things were moving at an incredibly fast pace in the beginning as we started working on songs in the garage at the Pink House. Everybody tossed whatever riffs or musical ideas and lyric ideas into the pot and we started stirring this up. Someone would have words for a verse and another guy would have music for the chorus so our first five or six songs would be a hodge podge mish mash of whatever was swimming around in our heads. Lyrical ideas were written down as notes and we'd piece everything together to create songs. At one point I had to light a fire under the other guys asses as we had booked a gig and only had about seven minutes worth of music. This meant we had about three weeks to create five or six songs. At a rehearsal I took it upon myself to ask them if they'd written songs or lyrics in any of the other bands they'd played in. This is where it got really messy as they'd come back with entire songs and I was so excited that I wasn't paying attention to the fact that we were swiping complete songs from the other bands and writing new lyrics. We played our first show at Kahuna's Bearded Clam under the pier in Redondo Beach. We went over with fire shooting out of our heads and could do nothing wrong! The people in the crowd went apeshit except that some of the guys from the other bands we ripped off were in attendance and they wanted to kill us. Red Cross had temporarily broken up and had given Greg permission to use any of their riffs and we had taken a Black Flag song and twisted it around and sped it up with lyrics i'd written while I was fronting BF. One song was lifted from a band called the Mongrels who Greg played in and would later morph into The Leaving Trains. Another song was brought to us by Roger who was our bassist. He swiped a song from The Angry Samoans and between Red Cross, Falling James who fronted and played guitar in The Mongrels and Leaving Trains and Todd Haizman who wrote the song Roger stole from The Angry Samoans I heard nothing but how the CJs were gonna' end up with broken limbs. It's taken years but i've smoothed things out with all of these people because i've since made friends with them and actually play in a band with Steven of Redd Kross called OFF!


I swept the floor of the local Barbershop twice on Saturdays when I was ten, was employed by my dad at his fishing tackle store which was a quarter of a block from the pier in Hermosa Beach, CA and attended El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA for four semesters before dropping out and starting BF with Greg Ginn.


I used to play the Circle Jerks first two records all the time. I still have them. That was like Wow! Wow! Wow! Were there members of Black Flag on either of those records? What was the lineup?


The CJs lineup never changed from Greg Hetson playing guitar, Roger Rogerson on bass with Lucky playing drums and myself doing the vocalizing. The only member of Black Flag that participated in our band or on our recordings is a former member whose name is Keith Morris. This roster lasted through Group Sex and Wild In The Streets when Lucky would choose Law school over the CJs.


Later when things kind of slowed down in the hardcore punk scene what were you doing? Were you still doing the Circle Jerks? I know you've been together on and off. The lineup now is it still the same?


When Greg decided that Bad Religion was more important to him the CJs became his hobby and we were basically strapped on and dictated to by their schedule. The scenario equated to us basically waiting for BR to finish whatever they were doing and Greg would take a break and then it was our turn. Do not get me wrong as I love the guys in BR like younger brothers. My gripe is with myself for not being man enough to stand up and saying enough of this shit! I worked jobs ranging from running a thrift store, washing dishes, bussing tables, prepping food and serving drinks in a restaurant and bar to running an office for V2 Records. I was the A&R guy that made sure there was ink and paper in the xerox machine, answered the phone, emptied the trash, made lunch and all sorts of other fun stuff. That was a total gas and I was paid to travel and not only was I allowed to tour with the CJs but they encouraged it. What better way to find out about new bands and who all the kids are listening to than pulling into a town, talking with the people at the venue and heading to the coolest record store where chances are they're not only gonna' know who's happening but they'll either play some of it for you or at least sell it to you. That V2 gig was both educational and beyond happening!

The CJs are currently in a state of non-existence as I found myself being forced to quit the band. At first I was really upset but it took me about half an hour to calm down, have my epiphany and come to the realization that i've got bigger and better things to do. When I left I immediately started my current band, OFF! with Dimitri Coats who had been in the Burning Brides. They were one of my favorite bands I worked with while at V2 Records. It made perfect sense as he and I had been writing songs for what was supposed to be a new CJs recording. That whole scene was nothing but a negative cluster fuck of epic proportions. Who wants to hang out with a group of guys who wanna' hold on to their swollen egos and a bunch of mind numbingly dumb things that can't be corralled. It was almost the same situation I was confronted with when I left Black Flag. I feel so relieved and have never been this busy. We're in the process of writing a new OFF! record, I just finished writing a book, "MY DAMAGE" with my co-author Jim Ruland. The book came out two weeks ago and is doing really well, i've been on tour with FLAG who're some of the guys that can't stand Greg Ginn and we are playing BF songs the way they're meant to be played. I'm also in the process of writing a movie. Whew!!!!


I pretty much fell into the punk rock thing due to the fact that I read publications such as Creem, Circus and an occasional UK mag/paper New Musical Express, Melody Maker or Sounds. Of course there were fanzines the likes of Back Door Man, Bomp, Slash and then Flipside when punk was proving itself to be as interesting, abrasive and in your face as all of the music that was being rammed down our throats.


Do you like some of the punk rock that came in during the late 90's?


The majority of that's not punk rock! I like the Alkaline Trio because they are interesting and have some great influences such as Husker Du and the Misfits. There's maybe a handful of songs by some of the other bands that i'd pay attention to but most of them are whiny, crybaby, "why did you hurt my feelings?" boy bands with punk rock haircuts, lots of tattoos and the posturing that came along with it. We'll follow whoever's popular, take direction from an A&R person and create a safe music form for kids. No testicles! All peach fuzz, nice vibes and maybe three of those guys actually shaved once or twice. The majority of those vocalists sound as if they're fourteen years old and what the fuck is cool about that unless yer' a fourteen year old girl?


What do you think of the music going on now? Do you like any Hip Hop?


I'm always searching out new bands wether it be by just showing up to the record store and seeing something on the wall or in one of the record or cd bins. Maybe i'll attend a live performance and end up getting wiped out by a group or artist and purchasing their music. I'm constantly on Facebook as i'm an administrator on five pages so people are always posting their music that they've created or music that moves them so FB is really a great source for discovering new and old music. There's Youtube but sadly with this it enables a person to not go out but stay to at home with their eyes glued to the computer screen and miss out on all of the energy, sweat ,the interaction with other people, catching a vibe and being a part of something. Get off yer' ass and go out and do something! Be a part of something! Be a witness! Have some fun! Now to answer your question about what I think of music going on now. I think music's just as vital now as it ever was. Of course it's really easy to point the finger or bust out the criticism on some of the stuff that's happening now but why waste time on this when there's so much good music out there? I went to the FYF Festival and was totally blown away by Anohni performing "Hopelessness", Charles Bradley doing some funky stuff based on James Brown (who no one's ever gonna' touch) and Head Wound City who're guys from Blood Brothers, Locust and Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. HWC sounds like a wood shop class at yer' local high school only it's guitars, bass, drums and a vocalist trying his best to remove people's faces. Music now is just as real, vibrant and totally phony and plastic as it's ever been. I can rattle off who I think sucks shit through a bendy straw or go down a list of bands and artists I think rule the fuckin' planet but you've gotta' go out there and check stuff out and discover what you dig 'cause that's living and what life's about! What I think's cool might not even be on yer' flight path........

As for Hip Hop do the Commodores count? I actually worked with them for a couple of weeks when "Brick House" came out. In this interview i've mentioned both Ice-T and NWA so I also enjoy some Public Enemy, Geto Boys, Outkast, Wu Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys and some DC Go Go the likes of Trouble Funk and Reds And The Boys. My venturing into this part of the musical landscape's extremely limited. Oh yeah I also appreciate Kool Keith and the Goodie Mob.


I'd like to argue that the sound wasn't different from NYC and the UK but the attitude was and that's what made the difference. An extremely big difference! We have freeways, miles of sidewalks, asphalt streets and roads, hills and mountains and the Pacific Ocean but the most important part of this is that we have skateboarding, wind and water surfing, skating, snow and water skiing, hang gliding and a large portion of our younger population moving fast and always on the go. This applies to what we do musically. There's an aggressive thought process of rather than waiting around trying to figure things out we're just gonna' go for it! Let's not over think this because we aren't talking about splitting atoms or rocket science, let's do this!


What are you up to these days? Do you still do a lot of shows?


I'm way too busy doing OFF!, FLAG, promoting my book, starting a t-shirt business with local LA photographers, Gary Leonard, Ed Colver and Geoff Moore. I've been chipping away at a movie script that concerns itself with the IRS, CIA, FBI, LAPD, MI5, KGB, Mossad, Citi Bank, Disneyland, V2 Records, Circle Jerks, a waitress I fell in love with, two broke down Mercedes Benz, a $60,000.00 loan, teen gangs, the Nigerian scam and a scrawny white guy who gets himself in tons of trouble on the West Coast of Africa. I try and tour as much as possible as longs as it's fun and exciting knowing full well that at this point in time not only is it running out but it's going to be physically impossible!


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