Keith Morris and his Black Flag band carry the punk banner high
The former Circle Jerks frontman on OFF!, his old bandmates, and why he’s hitting the road with Flag
Published: June 5, 2013
But in late 2011, Morris met up with Dukowski, Stevenson and Egerton to perform some Black Flag songs, and decided to pursue the project further.
“We didn’t know where it was going to take us,” Morris says, “or if we were going to write new songs. We were playing it by ear just like it was when we first started playing. Then it was the blind leading the blind. This time we have a better idea of what we want to do. The thing with Greg and Ron was that they had played together at Ron’s 50th birthday party in Vancouver, and I believe the seeds for them getting back together and doing Black Flag were planted at that time. And, you know, more power to them. … The situation with us is that we won’t be asked to play with Greg, and he’s been extremely unfair, so there’s no reason for us to play with him.”
The unfairness comes down to disputes over royalties. Morris says, “Unfortunately, there’s one thing that always jumbles and fucks up the equation, and that’s money. It’s sad but it’s true.”
Morris continues, “Greg is an amazing guitar player, wrote some genius songs, and playing the songs with Greg was a total gas. It was an amazing experience. But the fact of the matter is, when you record and that music gets put out there, all of a sudden there is a thing called royalties. There are so many horror stories involving him and his business. I don’t really want to dwell on this, but Billy Stevenson had a softball-sized tumor removed from his cranium. They sawed off the top of his skull to be able to remove it from his brain. Billy passed a Polish sausage-sized blood clot through his heart into one of his lungs. So Billy can’t do anything. Billy goes to Greg. See, Billy was and still is a member of the Descendents, the second-biggest-selling band on SST. Billy hadn’t received any royalties, and he needs some financial help after he’s incurred all of these medical fees. And when you’re the second-biggest-selling band on SST, you’re due some royalties.
“Billy was a member of Black Flag and toured with them, bailed them out on a tour, and I think he’s responsible for drums on, like, four or five Black Flag recordings. There should be some kind of reward for that! Billy went to Greg Ginn to ask him, ‘Hey, bro,’ face-to-face, no skulduggery, no bullshit, no heavy-handed macho crap, just as one guy to another, for some royalties and it got ugly. Billy couldn’t get physical. Billy was on oxygen. What’s cool about that? Actually, what’s not evil about that?”
Asked about the specifics, Morris says, “I don’t know all of the details. All I know is that Billy left and he was a bit shaken. He didn’t leave with a good taste in his mouth.”
If it sounds like Morris is complaining too much, he doesn’t stint on praising Ginn as an artist. “We place Greg Ginn as a songwriter and guitar player on a perch that the majority of other people playing and writing will never attain,” he says. “But when you take him down off that perch and place him amongst human beings, he gets an F-minus.”
Of the two Black Flag-inspired shows, Morris predicts, “All the die-hard fans will end up going to both. All die-hard Greg Ginn fans will go to the Black Flag show. There will be large group of fans that won’t see us because of the situation we’re playing in, an expensive festival. If you wanna go, cool, go have a good time see some bands you’ve not seen or heard before. … At some point, we’ll come back and play a regular show.”
Listening to Morris now, he sounds thrilled to be up in front of crowds of people who weren’t born yet when he was fronting Black Flag but who know all the words. He jokes a bit, saying, “They’ve seen the book. They’ve seen the movie. But they’ve never experienced it. … I’m not weirded out by it. I just try to feed off the energy. A lot of these things seem to disappear once the adrenaline kicks in and those notes are being played. The big struggle is to have the energy to do it at 58 years old. That’s the big challenge. … But now we’re getting ready to play this festival in Detroit, where some of our favorite bands came from and still live, and with some of the biggest bands in the world. When we first started playing this music, we didn’t know it was going to take us to a place like this.”
Morris sounds genuinely delighted by it all. “I’m having the time of my life. I’ve never been this busy. In the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve been to Europe three times; I’ve been to Australia twice. … I’m having a great time going to all of these places. I’ve had more opportunities and done more interviews than ever.”
Flag plays the Orion festival at 6:15 p.m., June 8, on the Vans Damage Inc. stage. See orionmusicandmore.com for more info.
Black Flag plays at 8 p.m. June 10, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700.
KEITH MORRIS’ FAVORITE DETROIT ROCK
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