A total fucking godhead of bass guitar shred, Black Flag’s Chuck Dukowski annihilated the four-string on massively iconic records like Damaged while penning a chunk of BF’s most iconic tunes (“My War,” “I Love You”). Dukowski, along with guitarist Greg Ginn, Joe Carducci and his BF mates at the helm, birthed and epitomized the DIY and punk/hardcore aesthetic in piloting the Amerindie underground via the revolutionary SST Records.
During its crucial 80’s heyday, Dukowski played an integral role in captaining the SST mothership when the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and BF reigned, sending aftershocks throughout the scene still felt to this day. Of those sages, flannel flyin’ punk godfather Mike Watt still jams econo, the brothers Kirkwood remain twanging with the Pups, SST lineup-era Dino Jr are still pedal-hopping and Hüsker dudes Bob Mould and Grant Hart march on.
FLAG plays Irving Plaza on Thursday with TSOL and Cerebral Ballzy
But there are two warring BF factions: Ginn’s current incarnation he has touted as “Black Flag” versus, arguably, the bane of his very existence, FLAG, a hardcore super-group consisting of SST vets led by Dukowski and original BF vocalist and OFF!/Circle Jerks’ provocateur Keith Morris, guitarists Dez Cadena and Stephen Edgerton, and drummer Bill Stevenson (ex-BF and Descendents) “performing the songs of Black Flag.”
Needless to say, the volatile and universally-despised SST founder (just listen to OFF!’s Ginn-stabber “I Got News For You” for the low down) didn’t take kindly to FLAG stealing the reunited Black Flag’s thunder–he abruptly slapped Morris and Henry Rollins with a lawsuit. No matter. With true hardcore iconoclasts Dukowski (fifty-fuckin’-nine-years-young) and Morris (fifty-effin’-eight) and their FLAG mates face-ripping with total abandon, FLAG have soldiered on, thus keeping the independent ethos they placed on the proverbial map, intact.
We got in touch with Dukowski via email to catch up on FLAG, lawsuit shenanigans, and the jaw-dropping lengths he’s gone to collect money Ginn owes him. It ain’t pretty.
So, the seeds were planted for FLAG when you and Keith joined No Age for a set of Black Flag songs back in 2011….
Chuck Dukowski: YES! We did a free concert at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. They called it ‘No Flag.’ We had a great day. There was a kid that got to crowd surf in his wheelchair. The police came and Keith cooled them off…it was beautiful…
Were you familiar with No Age?
Yes. I knew about No Age through our oldest child, Milo. Milo is also the guitar player of my other band, The CD6. Milo was even in an early No Age video but I hadn’t heard them play live until Keith and I did the show with them at MacArthur Park.
How did the rest of FLAG ultimately join the fray?
A while after the No Age/No Flag show, Gary Tovar from Goldenvoice Productions asked me to give a speech at their 30th anniversary show. Goldenvoice, who now puts on Coachella and other festivals, was very crucial for Black Flag. They were the only promoters that would touch us. We had so many problems with the police; with the violence that they generated, that Black Flag literally could not play. So when Goldenvoice asked me to give a speech I thought “Let’s play some songs instead.” I knew the Descendents were playing so Keith and I could just get onstage and do some Black Flag songs with Bill Stevenson and Stephen Edgerton. I knew Bill and Stephen would rage. Initially, Henry Rollins was going to sing as well but he had a scheduling conflict. We had a great time so we thought it would be fun to play together some more.
You have been covering “My War” with The CD6 for a long time. But what about the other BF songs you played with No Age that night in 2011?
I don’t call “My War” a cover since I wrote the song…but I hadn’t played many of the songs since I was performing with Black Flag back in the day. Dean and Randy were great to play with. They put the time in to play the songs well. It’s deceptively difficult material. Many people don’t really get it right.
When was the last time you played those BF songs live? What do you remember about that last time?
Black Flag became a heavy negative thing for me at the end. I wrote the song “My War” about it, the feelings of betrayal, of futility and loss. I ended up writing songs for the band even after I stopped playing with them. It was hard. I went to jail for contempt of court for releasing the Black Flag album, Everything Went Black, even after I had been forced out of the band. I went through some things in jail. My heart goes out to everyone who has had to suffer our prison system, especially for non-violent crimes. It is very evil.
Did you have to go back and re-learn the tunes? What kind of adjustment has it been for you as far as the physicality?
Yeah, I pretty much had to relearn them. Sometimes my recollection of how they should be played was wrong! The tempos and feel are so important–they are a challenge. I knew that playing a long set of high energy music demands that you be in shape both physically and musically. I started running months in advance to build physical stamina and I practice hours of bass every day.
Now with FLAG, what kinds of emotions run into your head as crowds go ballistic to songs that you wrote that are over 30 years old?
It’s fucking awesome! It is such an honor that the music I wrote and that I performed is so important to so many people. I feel so glad that people can appreciate the dark beauty and stark emotion that we worked so hard to convey. I feel like it is an affirmation of the human spirit and of human truth to have a crowd of people explode in catharsis and unbridled emotional energy. What a privilege to see that huge ass pit from the stage! What could be better?
Keith’s band OFF! has seemed to hit on hardcore in the last few years like no other band has for, god knows how long….
Yes, they are great!
Were you into OFF! prior to FLAG coming together?
Yes, I was. Keith is so talented.
OFF! has also taken on an SST-like route in its vision, with Raymond Pettibon‘s artwork on their album covers and Raymond is even in one of their videos. Seeing that, how did it inspire you?
I love Ray’s art. Ray is a genius. The iconography that he created for Black Flag cannot be underestimated. He has been so generous to OFF!, and to FLAG and to so many other bands. The man is a genius. It can’t be said enough.
Had you kept in touch over the years with Keith? And Dez, Stephen and Bill?
FLAG has made me much closer to Keith than I was before. But all of these guys are my friends. They have shared a giant piece of my life with me.
What about other SST folks, like Joe Carducci?
Carducci kept the home fires burning with his meticulous and consistent nature. It was very important.
What about Kira’s time in BF?
I love Kira! She is a fantastic player and a wonderful person. She and Bill had a real cool groove together. They are both enormously talented.
FLAG are playing tons of shows and festival dates all over. Knowing you’ve been pretty active with The CD6 over the last several years, what has floored you about touring and playing shows thus far with FLAG?
It is beautiful and astounding to see so many people who know the songs and love the music. Black Flag was an underground band. We never played to such epic crowds. It is awe inspiring to see the huge pits and the catharsis of the crowds. How lucky and amazing to see young people going fucking crazy to your music, to feel like you were trying to say something -and that people understood! I am not one of these jaded asses that thinks they are better than everyone. I want to give the audience my ALL. Let’s rip it up! Let’s rip it down!
FLAG and the current Black Flag have had similar set lists. In your mind, how is seeing a FLAG show different from seeing a current Black Flag show?
I think we honor the spirit of the music and play it the way we know it needs to be played. We are not trying to be ironic. There is no “Wink–I scammed you.” We deliver for the audience and we deliver for ourselves. The better we play the more fun it is. The FLAG set includes most of my songs and Dez’s songs and Keith’s songs from the Black Flag era. We embrace our past just like we embrace our present. It has made us who we are.
Besides Black Flag, what are three of your favorite releases on SST?
There are so many great records. Once I start, it’s hard to stop…
1. I love Saccharine Trust’s WE BECAME SNAKES/ PAGAN ICONS. To me Saccharine Trust are one of the most revolutionary and universally excellent groups in existence. They are still great now. Kurt Cobain was a big fan, too!
2. St. Vitus’s Self -Titled and Born Too Late They are another truly revolutionary group who deliver wonderful songs with a deep blue soul. They are the godfathers of doom metal. They invented it. I love them.
3. The Meat Puppets and the Minutemen–all of their albums are great.
What would you say is your worst memory about SST? Best memory?
My worst memory of SST was going to jail for contempt of court so that Black Flag could continue to use their name. I had already been muscled out of the band. I really went to jail for Henry [Rollins]. He had only recently joined Black Flag, I felt responsible for him, I had chosen him to sing and I wanted him to have a future. There are too many good memories for me to choose just one…People complain but I had a great time! It was work but it was beautiful! It was important and I feel grateful for it!
You were with SST from the beginning, co-owner til 1990 then worked there through the 90’s. What was exactly your role after you quit BF in ’83 until you left there for good?
I was a full partner in SST until the end of 1989. I did every job there was to do, including pick bands, which I was good at. There was so much great music put out by SST at one time. Sonic Youth, The Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, The Minutemen–there was so much wonderful music. It was inspiring. After I left Black Flag I went to Germany, where my mother was from, and I thought I would stay there. I came back to the U.S. to serve my time in jail for the Black Flag contempt charge. The partners in SST Records at that time asked me to come back to help run the label–and I did. Eventually, I sold my partnership in SST and started a family. I continued to work for SST for a while without realizing how Greg was stealing from everyone. I wish I had realized sooner. I quit the day I did.
On next page: Why Dukowski quit SST
What kind of terms did you depart SST on?
I quit because it sucked.
What was the environment like “in the office” in those later years?
At the end it was depressing and ugly. I can only marvel at how grim it must be now.
How did the SST model evolve, or devolve, from the early years, from say, 1990 and on?
You can just look at all the groundbreaking albums that SST released to the lame vanity label it is today. It’s tragic.
You had a project brewing with Eugene Robinson from Oxbow called Black Face where you’d be performing your songs and tunes you wrote in BF. Recently, Robinson said you bailed on it. What happened? Will Black Face, or some iteration of it, materialize?
Eugene is incredibly talented and great. What an intense performer, he is unique in this world! I am so proud of the single we released. It is powerful and chilling. I am not ruling out doing something again some day with Black Face. It just wasn’t the right time for me.
In that interview with Robinson, he mentioned that he actually got a check from Ginn for an Oxbow record SST put out in 1989. It’s been well-documented Ginn owes people money, Keith expressed that in an OFF! song (“I Got News For You”) and in an interview the Voice did with him…
Ginn has been inconsistent with his payments to me. My understanding is that he owes money to Keith and Henry.
That said, if you were to venture a guess on how much money Ginn owes you, what would that amount be?
Oh, jeez. I have had to have a Marshall go into his Texas offices to demand payments. It’s crazy.
Why do you think Ginn doesn’t honor his debts?
Honestly, there is no logic to it that I can understand.
When you got word of the lawsuit that he filed against Keith and Rollins, what was the first thought that crossed your mind?
Greg actually sued all of us. He is still trying to get a restraining order against FLAG from performing. It was surreal to see the legal papers released by The Hollywood Reporter before we had even been served ourselves!
On to happier topics. What’s on tap for The CD6?
The CD6 is mixing an EP right now. We recorded totally analog. We had a good experience doing our version of “My War” to analog tape (recorded in one take!!) for our split 7’in with Mike Watt. The new songs sound really good. I am very excited about our new recording.
What about FLAG? Will you guys release a live album, record new tunes? What does the future hold for FLAG?
You are giving us are some interesting ideas…We will have to talk about those…