X in performance at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, 2004, from left to right: Cervenka, Zoom and Doe
|Origin||Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Labels||Dangerhouse, Slash, Elektra, Big Life, Infidelity|
|The Eyes, the Germs, the Flesh Eaters, the Knitters, the Blasters, Lone Justice, Original Sinners, Auntie Christ, Devil's Brigade, the Bonebrake Syncopators, Orchestra Superstring|
D. J. Bonebrake
Dave Alvin |
X is an American punk rock band, formed in Los Angeles in 1977, among the first wave of American punk. The original members are vocalist Exene Cervenka, vocalist/bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake. The band released seven studio albums from 1980 to 1993. After a period of inactivity during the mid to late 1990s, X reunited in the early 2000s, and currently tours.
X achieved limited mainstream success but influenced various genres of music, including punk rock and folk rock. In 2003, X's first two studio albums, Los Angeles and Wild Gift, were ranked by Rolling Stone as being among the 500 greatest albums of all time. Los Angeles was ranked 91st on Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 1980s. The band received an Official Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles in acknowledgment of its contribution to Los Angeles music and culture.
X was founded by bassist/singer Doe and guitarist Zoom. Doe brought his poetry-writing girlfriend Cervenka to band practices, and she eventually joined the band as a vocalist. Drummer Bonebrake was the last of the original members to join after leaving local group the Eyes; he also filled in on drums for Germs.
X's first record deal was with independent label Dangerhouse, for which the band produced one single, "Adult Books"/"We're Desperate" (1978). A Dangerhouse session version of "Los Angeles" was also featured on a 1979 Dangerhouse 12" EP compilation called Yes L.A. (a play on the no wave compilation No New York), a six-song picture disc that also featured other early LA punk bands the Eyes, the Germs, the Bags, the Alley Cats, and Black Randy and the Metrosquad.
As the band became the flag bearer for the local scene, a larger independent label, Slash Records, signed the band. The result was their debut, Los Angeles (1980) produced by the Doors' keyboard player, Ray Manzarek. It was a minor hit and well-received by the underground press and mainstream media. Much of X's early material had a rockabilly edge. Doe and Cervenka co-wrote most of the group's songs and their slightly off-kilter harmony vocals served as the group's most distinctive element. Their lyrics tended to be straight-out poetry; comparisons to Charles Bukowski and Raymond Chandler were made from the start.
During 1981, both Doe and Bonebrake (along with Dave Alvin, guitarist of the Blasters) served as members of the Flesh Eaters, performing on that band's second album, A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die.
X then signed to Elektra in 1982 to release Under the Big Black Sun, which marked a slight departure from their trademark sound. While still fast and loud, with raw punk guitars, the album displayed evolving country leanings. The album was heavily influenced by the death of Cervenka's elder sister Mirielle (Mary) in a 1980 automobile accident. Three songs on the album ("Riding with Mary", "Come Back to Me" and the title track) all directly related to the tragedy. A fourth, a high-speed version of Al Dubin and Joe Burke's "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes", was, years later, indirectly attributed to Cervenka's mournful state of mind. The stark black-and-white cover art and title were also a reflection of the somber mood of the band during this time. Cervenka has said it is her favorite X album
"You know, my favorite record is Under the Big Black Sun, so everything else is kind of . . .
I'm saying if I had to sit down in a room and put on an X record--which I don't generally do--I have recently listened to some X records but I generally don't listen to myself--the record I would pick to listen to would be Under the Big Black Sun.
In 1983, the band slightly redefined their sound with the release of the More Fun in the New World album, making X somewhat more polished, eclectic and radio-ready than on previous albums. With the sound moving away from punk rock, the band's rockabilly influence became even more noticeable, along with some new elements: funk on the track "True Love Pt. II", and Woody Guthrie-influenced folk protest songs like "The New World" and "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts". The record received critical praise from Rolling Stone and Playboy, which had long been stalwart supporters of X and their sound.
The Knitters, a side project, were composed of X minus Zoom, plus Alvin on guitar and Johnny Ray Bartel (of the Red Devils) on double bass, and released the Poor Little Critter on the Road album in 1985. The Knitters were devoted to folk and country music; their take on Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" "may be the definitive version".
Despite the overwhelmingly positive critical reception for their first four albums, the band was frustrated by its lack of wider mainstream success. Zoom had also stated that he would leave the band unless its next album was more successful. The band decided to change producers in search of a more accessible sound. Their fifth record, Ain't Love Grand!, was produced by pop metal producer Michael Wagener. It featured a drastic change in sound, especially in the polished and layered production, while the band's punk roots were little in evidence, replaced by a countrified version of hard rock. The change in production was intended to bring the band more chart success, but although it received more mainstream radio play than their earlier releases, it did not represent a commercial breakthrough. Zoom left the group shortly thereafter in 1986, the same year in which the feature-length documentary film, X: The Unheard Music, was released.
Zoom was initially replaced by Alvin, who had left the Blasters. The band then added a fifth member, guitarist Tony Gilkyson, formerly of the band Lone Justice. By the time the band released its sixth album, See How We Are, Alvin had already left the band, although he played on the record along with Gilkyson and wrote 4th of July for the band. Like Ain't Love Grand, the album's sound was far removed from the band's punk origins, yet featured a punchy, energetic, hard-rocking roots rock sound that in many ways represented a more natural progression from their earlier sound than the previous record had. After touring for the album, X released a live record of the tour, titled Live at the Whisky a Go-Go, and then went on an extended hiatus.
Back in 1984, X had released a cover version of "Wild Thing" as a non-album single. In 1989, the song was re-released as the lead single from the soundtrack to the hit film Major League. It later became a staple at sporting events, particularly baseball games, and was used by Japanese professional wrestler Atsushi Onita after he founded Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling in 1989.
X regrouped in the early 1990s to record their seventh studio album, Hey Zeus!, released in 1993 on the Big Life label. The album marked somewhat of a retreat from the increasingly roots rock direction that the band's past few records had gone in, instead featuring an eclectic alternative rock sound that fit in well with the then-current musical climate. Despite this, it failed to become a hit, although two of its songs, "Country at War" and "New Life," peaked at numbers 15 and 26 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts, respectively.
In 1994, they contributed a cover of the Richard Thompson song "Shoot Out the Lights" to a Thompson tribute album called Beat the Retreat, which featured David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on electric guitar. On the same album, Doe sang harmony and played bass and Bonebrake played drums on Bob Mould's cover of "Turning of the Tide," and Bonebrake played drums on the title track, which was performed by the British folk artist June Tabor.
The band released an acoustic live album, Unclogged, in 1995 on Infidelity Records.
In 1997, X released a compilation called Beyond and Back: The X Anthology, which focused heavily on the early years with Zoom and included a number of previously unreleased versions of songs that had appeared on their previous albums. At the same time, they also announced that they were disbanding. However, they did a farewell tour to promote the compilation in 1998, with Zoom returning on guitar. The original lineup also returned to the studio for the final time, with Manzarek reprising his role as producer, to record a cover of the Doors' "The Crystal Ship" for the soundtrack for The X-Files: Fight the Future. Although the band has not released any new studio material since then, they continue to perform live with Zoom on guitar.
In 2005, Doe, Cervenka and Bonebrake reunited with Alvin and Bartel to release a second Knitters album, 20 years after the first, titled The Modern Sounds of the Knitters. In summer 2006, X toured North America on the "As the World Burns" tour with the Rollins Band and the Riverboat Gamblers. In the spring of 2008, the band, with all original members, embarked on their "13X31" tour with Skybombers and the Detroit Cobras. "13X31" was a reference to their 31st anniversary.
From 2004 onward, X have continued to perform frequently around North America.
X appeared at the 2008 SXSW Festival (with footage of their performance made viewable on Crackle); the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 19, 2009; and the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Minehead, England from May 15-17, 2009. They were invited to perform at the latter by the festival's curators, the Breeders.
In June 2009, the band publicly announced that Cervenka had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. However, she told the Orange County Register in 2011 that the doctor who originally diagnosed the disease believes he misdiagnosed her. Cervenka stated, "I've had so many doctors tell me I have MS, then some say I don't ... I don't even care anymore".
In June 2010, X played a free show at the North by Northeast festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and headlined the third annual Roadshow Revival, a Johnny Cash tribute festival in Ventura, California. X performed at The Voodoo Experience 2011, held at City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 28-30, 2011. The band also opened for Pearl Jam on their 2011 South and Central American tour in November and their European tour in June and July 2012. On September 2, 2012, X performed at the Budweiser Made in America Festival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
On March 4, 2016, X appeared on the episode "Show Me a Hero" of Adult Swim show Childrens Hospital. On October 13, 2017, the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live opened a new exhibit titled "X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles", to run through February 25, 2018.
Over the years, both Doe and Cervenka have released solo albums, with Doe having a stronger emphasis on roots music in his solo work. While Cervenka's solo albums have also been in a folk and country vein, she has also fronted punk bands like Auntie Christ and the Original Sinners and has done tours featuring her poetry, sometimes alongside either Lydia Lunch or Henry Rollins.
Since 1986, Doe has also maintained a busy second career as an actor, appearing in such films as Oliver Stone's Salvador (1986); Slam Dance (1987); Allison Anders' Border Radio (1987) and Sugar Town (1999); Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House (1989); the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire! (1989); the independent feature Roadside Prophets (1992), in which he starred with Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys; the Lawrence Kasdan Western Wyatt Earp (1994); Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997); Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl (2002); Craig Mazin's The Specials (2002); and Todd Haynes's I'm Not There about Bob Dylan (2007). He was a regular cast member of the television series Roswell on The WB and UPN, and made a memorable appearance as an aging rock star on a 2003 episode of Law & Order.
|1982||Under the Big Black Sun||76||--|
|1983||More Fun in the New World||86||--|
|1985||Ain't Love Grand!||89||--|
|1987||See How We Are||107||--|
|Year||Song||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1978||"Adult Books"||--||--||non-album single|
|1980||"White Girl"||--||--||Wild Gift|
|1982||"Blue Spark"||--||--||Under the Big Black Sun|
|"Motel Room in My Bed"||--||--|
|1983||"The New World"||--||--||More Fun in the New World|
|"True Love, Part 2"||--||--|
|1984||"Wild Thing"||--||--||non-album single|
|1985||"Burning House of Love"||27||--||Ain't Love Grand!|
|1987||"4th of July"||--||--||See How We Are|
|"See How We Are"||--||--|
|1993||"Country at War"||--||15||Hey Zeus!|
|1994||"Shoot Out the Lights"||--||--||Beat the Retreat: Songs by Richard Thompson|
|"--" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that region.|