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Along with Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, Fear helped define the sound and style of L.A. hardcore. Although they actually formed during the first wave of punk back in 1977, Fear didn't release an album until five years later, by which time they'd honed a blistering, thrashy attack that, for all its fury, was surprisingly tight and sometimes even intricate. Which is to say that, musically, the band wasn't as crude as frontman Lee Ving's outrageous, humorously offensive lyrics, which were geared to piss off anyone within earshot, particularly women and homosexuals; his vulgarity was equaled only by his sincere love of beer. Fear's original incarnation fell apart after just two albums, but Ving began touring with new lineups again in the '90s.
Fear were formed in Los Angeles by vocalist Lee Ving (whose past is shrouded in mystery, though he's rumored to be a Vietnam veteran), with the rest of the original lineup including lead guitarist Philo Cramer, bassist Derf Scratch, and drummer Johnny Backbeat. Rhythm guitarist Burt Good became a member for a short time in 1978, but became unnecessary when Ving decided to take up the instrument. The same year, Backbeat was replaced by Spit Stix. Fear issued their debut single, I Love Livin' in the City, at the beginning of 1978 on Criminal Records. They were in no rush to record an album, however, and spent the next few years without a record deal; instead, they mostly played punk clubs around the Los Angeles area, cultivating a volatile, confrontational stage presence. Fear's explosive appearance in director Penelope Spheeris' punk chronicle The Decline of Western Civilization cemented their legend, and they found a devoted fan in comedian John Belushi, who talked Saturday Night Live into having the band on as a musical guest for the Halloween episode in 1981. Not a band to behave in a public forum, Fear invited a pack of skinhead slam-dancers on-stage for their performance, resulting in costly studio damage and a bit of on-mike profanity.
Now notorious on a national level, Fear finally landed a record contract with Slash in 1982, and released their debut album, The Record, which most critics still agree was their best and funniest outing. Scratch left the band later on in the year, and was replaced first by Eric "Kitabu" Feldman (who appeared on the late-1982 single Fuck Christmas), then the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea; in 1984, Flea was in turn replaced by the Dickies' Lorenzo Buhne. Fear took some time off for side projects in 1983; Stix went to Europe and joined Nina Hagen's band, Cramer formed a band called M'Butu Ngawa, and Ving pursued a successful acting career, playing assorted tough guys in films like Flashdance (the strip club owner) and Streets of Fire, among others. In 1985, Fear released their second album, More Beer, but soon drifted apart into other projects; they disbanded in 1987.
In 1991, most of Fear's prime lineup -- Ving, Cramer, and Stix, plus new bassist Will "Sluggo" McGregor -- reunited and began playing concerts again. Live...For the Record was released later that year. Cramer and Stix both quit in 1993, ending the reunion; Ving began touring with another group, Lee Ving's Army, which included guitarist Sean Cruse, former Frank Zappa bassist Scott Thunes, and drummer Andrew Jaimez. This group eventually became the new Fear lineup, and entered the studio in 1995 to record the band's first album of new material in a decade, Have Another Beer with Fear, which was released by Sector 2. Over the next few years, Thunes was replaced by Mondo Lopez, and Cruse by Richard Presley; in 2000, the revamped Fear returned on the Hall of Records label with American Beer, another all-new album.
After a poor public response and fed up with legal disputes, Ving spent the ensuing years resting on his laurels, while touring the old hits under the Fear name with a rotating lineup. Eventually, in 2012, he delivered the ultimate middle-finger salute to the music industry bigwigs with The Fear Record, a completely unnecessary but otherwise inspired re-recording of the band’s iconic The Record, released on indie label The End. ~ Steve Huey
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