The Dickies were the clown princes of punk, not to mention surprisingly longstanding veterans of the L.A. scene. In fact, by the new millennium, they'd become the oldest surviving punk band still recording new material. In contrast to the snotty, intentionally offensive humor of many comedically inclined punk bands, the Dickies were winningly goofy, inspired mostly by trashy movies and other pop culture camp. Their covers were just as ridiculous as their originals, transforming arena rock anthems and bubblegum pop chestnuts alike into the loud, speed-blur punk-pop -- basically the Ramones crossed with L.A. hardcore -- that was their musical stock in trade. As the band got older, their music slowed down little by little, but their sound and their sense of humor stayed largely the same, and they were an avowed influence on new-school punkers like Green Day and the Offspring.
Inspired by the first wave of punk coming out of New York and London, the Dickies were formed in 1977 in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. Their initial lineup consisted of cartoon-voiced lead singer Leonard Graves Phillips, guitarist Stan Lee (both of whom would remain constant throughout the band's myriad personnel shifts), keyboardist/saxophonist/guitarist Chuck Wagon (b. Bob Davis), bassist Billy Club (b. Bill Remar), and drummer Karlos Kaballero (b. Carlos Caballero). Already local scenesters, the majority of the band had some connection with the Quick, either as friends or roadies, and started out mostly as a cover band and an amusing diversion for its members. They started playing around the burgeoning L.A. punk scene within a few weeks of forming, and quickly earned a following with their zany live show, which featured outlandish costumes, puppets, and a midget roadie.
On the strength of their demo tape, the Dickies became the first L.A. punk band to score a major-label deal in 1978, when they signed with A&M. That year they issued their debut single, which featured their warp-speed cover of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" and the originals "Hideous" and "You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)"; the latter reigned as their signature song for many years afterward. In early 1979, the group's debut album, The Incredible Shrinking Dickies, was released to significant sales in the U.K., where their cover of the "Banana Splits" cartoon theme song became a Top Five hit. By the end of the year, the Dickies were able to put together a follow-up, Dawn of the Dickies, which featured the fan favorites "Attack of the Mole Men" and "Manny, Moe and Jack," plus a jokey, rocked-up cover of the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin."
In 1980, the Dickies released a single version of "Gigantor," the theme from a Japanese cartoon series. By the end of the year, the increasingly volatile Chuck Wagon had left the band; sadly, he shot and killed himself in June 1981. Stunned, the rest of the Dickies went on hiatus, during which much of the original lineup drifted out of the group. Late that year, Phillips and Lee returned with a new version of the Dickies, which included guitarist Steve Hufstetter (ex-Quick), bassist Lorenzo "Laurie" Buhne, and drummer Jerry Angel; Hufstetter was soon replaced by Scott Sindon. This lineup recorded half of the material on the 1983 mini-LP Stukas Over Disneyland, the other half of which dated from 1980 sessions with the late Chuck Wagon replacing Kaballero on drums and Sindon on second guitar.
A lengthy hiatus from recording ensued, as Phillips and Lee struggled to keep a steady lineup together just for touring purposes. A new group featuring second guitarist Glen Laughlin, ex-Weirdos drummer Nickey Beat, and founding bassist Billy Club was on the road by the end of 1983. Beat was replaced by Rex Roberts in early 1984, and when Laughlin broke his hand in a car accident later that year, Steve Fryette signed on; around the same time, Jerry Angel and Laurie Buhne returned as the rhythm section. By 1985, Laughlin had recovered and returned as the bassist, teaming with new drummer Cliff Martinez. In 1986, ROIR issued the live compilation We Aren't the World, which featured concert recordings from throughout the Dickies' existence, as well as their original demo tape.
In 1988, the Dickies regrouped for a return to the studio, specifically to record the title theme for the low-budget sci-fi/horror comedy Killer Klowns from Outer Space. By this time, their lineup included Phillips, Lee, second guitarist Enoch Hain, and a Buhne-Martinez rhythm section. The Killer Klowns project turned into a five-song EP -- issued by Restless -- that also included a cover of "Eep Opp Ork (Uh, Uh)," a rockabilly tune once featured in an episode of The Jetsons. The EP brought the Dickies back to underground prominence, and 1989 brought their first full-length album of new material in six years, Second Coming. In the meantime, A&M issued a retrospective of their earlier work called Great Dictations: The Definitive Dickies Collection. A second live album, Locked 'n' Loaded, followed in 1990 on Taang.
Another lengthy hiatus followed, however, during which time rumors about the band's drug problems began to circulate. The Dickies didn't resurface again until 1993, when they issued the three-song EP Road Kill. Not long after, bands like Green Day and the Offspring brought punk-pop to the top of the charts, shining a spotlight on the Dickies as an influence. Renewed interest in the band led to a new album, Idjit Savant, which appeared on Triple X in 1995. It featured contributions from the previous Dickies lineup, as well as Glen Laughlin, bassist Charlie Alexander, and Smashing Pumpkins cohort Jonathan Melvoin on drums. Phillips and Lee subsequently assembled a more permanent lineup featuring second guitarist Little Dave Teague, bassist Rick Dasher, and drummer Travis Johnson. Always known for their tongue-in-cheek covers, the band put together its first all-covers album, Dogs from the Hare That Bit Us, for Triple X in 1998. They subsequently signed with Fat Mike's Fat Wreck Chords indie punk label, debuting with the single "My Pop the Cop." The full-length All This and Puppet Stew followed in 2001. Punk Singles Collection appeared in June of 2002 on the U.K.-based Spectrum, while Live in London showed up three months later. ~ Steve Huey