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Flash Metal Suicide: Johnny Crash

This week: lost to the fog of rock'n'roll history, Johnny Crash's debut was a one-off gem stacked with hard-ass Angus riffs and massive choruses

“Raised in a latrine on a dead end street/ I was a gang bang scoundrel of the social elite” - Hey Kid

Granted, a lot of the bands from the flash metal era have aged in woeful fashion. What seemed right in 1986 can seem very wrong indeed in 2016. But if there’s any band in the flash metal universe whose biker-fitted sleaze metal sound has aged itself to perfection, it’s Johnny Crash. At the time of their sole album's release in 1990, they were dismissed as worn-out AC/DC revivalists, mindlessly sleazy blues-metal thunder-chuckers peddling a tired formula in a world that was way more interested in druggy mope-rock than it was in sexed-up flash metal. 

But today? Today just might be their day. JC’s singular contribution to the flash metal universe, Neighborhood Threat, is easily on par with similar biker-boogie-blooze fan-favorites of the day like Circus of Power’s Vices, Junkyard’s debut and Two Bit Thief’s Another Sad Story in the Big City, which is to say that it fuckin' rocks, man. It’s the thrum and rev of American steel, it’s sweat, blood, booze and gasoline, it’s tits and skulls and no red lights in sight. Plus, they dressed cool. But you might've blinked sometime in ’90 and missed ‘em, so I suppose an explanation is in order. 

The story of Johnny Crash begins in 1978, in a reform school, where all good stories start. August Worchell and Christopher Stewart, two fledgling guitarists/teenage flameouts doin’ time in a hippie, outhouse-out-back reformatory, began playing in a blues cover band called Champagne with fellow hoodlum Eric Stacey on bass (later of Faster Pussycat), and their school principal (!) on vocals. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, right? Eventually, they all graduated, or got sprung, or shot their way out, whatever delinquents do, and both Worchell and Stewart ended up playing in obscure (obscure for this crowd, even) metal band World War III (not to be confused with the Pennsylvania band of the same name, or the 666 other WWIII’s on the circuit in the 80’s), a few years later.

Meanwhile, vocalist and ego star Vicki James Wright had split from NWOBHM heroes Tokyo Blade in 1985, and headed straight for LA for defame and misfortune. He initially tried making a name for himself (ahem) as the Vicki James Wright band, which boasted Stewart as its lead guitarist. They played Tokyo Blade covers. That was a problem, tho, because nobody in LA really knew who Tokyo Blade was, and even if they did, their brand of ‘classy’ melodic metal certainly wasn’t gonna light the glammed-up and trashed-out Sunset Strip on fire anyway. Vick’s next big idea was to audition for LA Guns, but when that didn’t pan out, he decided to form his own  band and blow those LA Guns pussies outta the water. Stewart was already on deck, he gave Worchell a call, and the band was quickly filled out by Andy Rogers on bass and Punkee Adamo (ex-Rock City Angels) on drums.

The band starting gigging in LA in ’89, and, as it was impossible to wear leather pants and not get signed in Hollywood in the late 80s, they were soon under contract with CBS records, who released Neighborhood Threat in early ’90. A stripped-down performance video for single Hey Kid was shipped to MTV (it played the Headbanger’s Ball a few times), and the label put ‘em on the road with nepotist-metal snores Bonham. Later that year, they also toured with Motley Crue. All system’s go, right?

Nope. It was 1990. Flash metal was about to get eaten alive by Seattle. Hey, we can’t all have good timing. After the tour, Johnny Crash was on the ropes. Punkee split and Matt Sorum (yikes!) was recruited on drums, as was keyboardist Dizzy Reed (again!), who had just broken up glamdustrial flash metal visionaries the Wild. 

A second album was recorded, but legend has it that it was too, uh,  awful to release. Well, ok, but the reality of the situation is that Axl had already signed up Dizzy and Matt for his first fake GNR run, so they were gonna be busy anyway. But whatever. Fact of the matter is, just about any glitter-glam-biker-sleaze-psycho-plastic-go-go-punk-flash metal band in operation in ’90 were just months away from Flash Metal Genocide, so Johnny Crash hardly had a chance to do any damage. 

What remains is Neighborhood Threat, a one-off gem of hard-ass brawl n’ roll fulla Angus riffs and big ‘ol choruses meant to be screamed along with on blurry midnight booze runs, with 500 euphemisms for pussy (“My baby’s like a piano/ When she’s not upright, she’s grand”), and a general air of true blue rock'n' roll mayhem. Completely belying his past as a Brit-metal screecher, Vick sounds like he was born to howl the bad-dog blues, and his band — criminals, everyone of ‘em — just blaze, the perfect AC/DC-slash-Guns N’ Roses scrambleboogie street rock riff-rioters. I dunno how I forgot ‘em. I dunno how  anyone forgot ‘em, because this is exactly the kinda sound the fuzzy, aging rocker brain thinks all it's fave bands sounded like, but very few actually did.  Aside from some dodgy anti-gay lyrics that sound even uglier at this point, Neighborhood is an unsung classic, well worth the dig through some dusty crates.

Next week: So this is rock'n'roll?

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