Introducing Napalm Beach

1980s

There were groups like the Blackouts from Seattle who were being completely ignored, and then from Portland you had Wipers, who to this day I think are one of the greatest rock bands in the history of American music, who were putting out their own records and being completely ignored because they were from Portland. They did not have access to media. – Bruce Pavitt, to Pitchfork. July 7, 2008.

In 1980 the Untouchables moved from Longview to Portland and got straight into the punk scene. It was a scene that included bands like Pell Mell, Styphnoids, Smegma, Sado Nation, Wipers, and Neo Boys[7].

The Untouchables immediately caught the attention of local ‘music biz’ types who were scouting the underground for potential radio-friendly acts (“They wanted me to be the next Quarterflash.”) Chris did not like these smarmy types. He wanted success, but under the circumstances, he didn’t expect it. He wanted to make music with no rules. He didn’t want to give up his individuality. To ‘make it’, they would have moved him to New York or Los Angeles (because that is how it was done), and they would try to make him get skinny (impossible), change his image, change his music. He didn’t want to do it. At the same time, Chris is an artist, and he wanted to record, and to be heard. So Greg Sage offered to record and release the Untouchables, helping them bypass the commercial system. Then, when a copyright dispute came up over the “Untouchables” band name, Chris renamed the band “Napalm Beach” to make it sound more underground and less commercial.[8]

In October 1981, after Napalm Beach had recorded the songs for Trap Sampler, Sam Henry left The Rats[9] to join Napalm Beach. Sam is partly blind, holds his drumsticks like a jazz player, loves Buddy Rich, and like Chris, is a lifelong musician. Before The Rats, Sam had been in the Wipers. It is Sam’s drumming you hear on the Wipers’ first LP Is This Real (1979) and on the Alien Boy EP (1980).

As far as Napalm Beach bassists, they came and went every few months, at least before 1989 when Dave Dillinger joined and stuck around. Chris writes (in varying levels of detail) all instrument parts to his own songs.

Napalm Beach with Screaming Trees and IBC

Here is how someone remembers Napalm Beach in the mid 80s:

From the standpoint of a local fan, the Teen Dream period from 1985 to 1986 marked the peak of Napalm’s success. They played the summer Bumbershoot Festival at the Seattle Center two years in a row, the first year on the large outdoor mural amphitheater stage, and the second year on a large indoor stage…

The highlight of a Napalm show at the Central in these days was always when they played “Road to Recovery,” usually in about the middle of their set… the audience would wait in nervous anticipation for the climax of the night.

…“Road to Recovery” was a roller coaster ride of alternating slow and fast, mellow and heavy. Climbing gradually up to the summit, with Chris quietly mumbling lyrics over a deceptively repetitive, hypnotic guitar riff, an intensely wild Sam Henry drum solo suddenly breaks out from nowhere raising Keith Moon’s ghost from the dead, the guitars hit a perfectly synchronized power chord, Chris belts out the lyrics’ chorus like an opera singer shouting, “I’ve got to stay alive, for the sake of rock and roll!”

— Eric N. Danielson, “On The Road to Recovery”[10]

Vogue calendar

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[7] Neo Boys were a fierce all-female Portland punk band. I do not think they ever toured. Neo Boys drummer Pat Baum is also a filmmaker (now a marine ecologist) who worked with both Greg Sage and Gus Van Sant. She helped Chris with a lot of cassette duplication over the years, and she documented Napalm Beach on film. She is the reason why we have beautiful live footage of Napalm Beach in 80s Portland. THANK YOU, Pat Baum.

K Records is preparing to re-release some Neo Boys music. Just before submitting this article, we received a message from Pat Baum saying that the release date will be October 14, 2013. (check back here for more information).

[8] Greg Sage recorded and released Napalm Beach on the Trap Sampler LP (1981). Then he released Live At The Met and Rock & Roll Hell on cassette (1983). Sometime around 2000 Sage added Live At The Met tracks to Rock & Roll Hell and sold it from his website on CD until about 2010 when Chris began to regain control of his catalog.

[9] The Rats was Fred and Toody Cole’s first band together. Fred and Toody’s best known project was Dead Moon. Their current project is Pierced Arrows.

[10] Eric Danielson’s “Road To Recovery” article somehow disappeared off of the web between the time I started writing this essay and the time I finished it. Danielson worked very hard on compiling a history and a good discography. Eric was a Seattle music fan in the 80s. His perception was that Napalm Beach dropped off the map in Seattle during the years they were touring in Europe (1989-1992).

(continues overleaf)

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