“SPʘT was not punk rock, and that’s a beautiful thing,” says Keith Morris, founding singer for the raging and hugely influential L.A. hardcore band Black Flag (and, later, the Circle Jerks and OFF!).
SPʘT, the record producer-engineer whose given name was Glenn M. Lockett, died on March 4 at age 71 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He was a central figure in the creation of ground-breaking recordings by Black Flag, Minutemen, Misfits and Hüsker Dü (among many others) at the start of the Southern California punk rock movement; Morris remembers him as a crucial “set of ears coming in and creating the time capsule.”
“When I look back on it now, it wasn’t really a style of music,” says Minutemen bassist Mike Watt of the punk scene. “It was kind of a way of doing things.”
SPʘT and Punk’s Early Years
Morris first worked with SPʘT when he served as a recording engineer on Black Flag’s snarling opening statement, the 1979 EP Nervous Breakdown. That disc remains raw and direct, five minutes of rage and unhinged melody.
“If you listen to that Black Flag EP, it’s primitive,” says Morris, who left the band a year later. “It is rock & roll. It is just, wind them up and let ’em go, plug in and play.”
SPʘT, who continued to work with Black Flag founder Greg Ginn at SST Records off the back of his work on the first Black Flag EP, produced their second EP, Jealous Again in 1980, recorded and mixed the Minutemen’s seven-song debut recording, Paranoid Time, in a single midnight session that year, and then co-produced Black Flag’s first studio album, Damaged, in 1981. He produced the Descendents’ 1982 debut pop-punk landmark Milo Goes to College, and Hüsker Dü’s 1984 classic Zen Arcade along with the band’s explosive single of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.” Outside of SST, SPʘT produced the Misfits’ final album with founding singer Glenn Danzig, Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood in 1983. He left SST in 1986.
He was also battle-tested on the road as soundman for some of Black Flag’s notorious nonstop van tours that Watt describes now as “hell rides.”
SPʘT’s work with SST was the beginning of a movement that led directly to Nirvana and the ’90s grunge explosion, with ongoing reverberations that are still being felt to this day.
Becoming a Legend
Recording engineer Steve Albini, who has played a similar role to SPʘT but over a much longer period from his base in Chicago, tweeted: “Every music scene needed someone to document it, someone with no agenda, an open mind and hot mics. SPʘT was the archetype scene recording guy, the guy we all emulated and whose role we tried to play.”
Most of the musicians he worked with knew him only as SPʘT and never heard his real name. “In those days, with the movement, you didn’t ask people a lot of questions,” says Watt, who called his friend Spotski. “They had funny names and funny clothes and interesting personalities. And you just let that be.”
His close friend, the author and former SST co-owner Joe Carducci, wrote in a tribute on Facebook: “When approaching the mixing board SPʘT would assume an Elvis-like stance and then gesturing toward all the knobs he would say in a Louis Armstrong-like voice, ‘This is going to be gelatinous!'”
“It’s the ‘spiritual side’ of SPʘT that made him so unique in that crew of SST guys,” says Meat Puppets drummer Derrick Bostrom. “SPʘT had his own way of dealing with stuff — in the same way that, say, a Captain Beefheart might not make sense to the outside world, but it all worked out in the end.”
The Early Years
The son of a former Tuskegee Airman from World War II, SPʘT grew up in Leimert Park with Ray Charles as a neighbor, but his love for the forward-leaning bop players Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Horace Tapscott eventually drew him to the jazz scene in Hermosa Beach, where he photographed life along the Strand with the first-wave punks, skate kids and bikini girls. In 2014, he collected many of his mostly black-and-white pictures into a book, the well-received Sounds of Two Eyes Opening – Southern California Life: Skate/Beach/Punk 1969-1982.
He also wrote jazz reviews and took pictures of beach culture for the weekly Easy Reader newspaper, then became an apprentice recording engineer at Media Art Studio, where Black Flag recorded their first EP. He subsequently continued working with SST, New Alliance and other indie labels
As treasured as the albums he worked on are today, however, little effort was given at the time to preserving those accomplishments for the coming decades. Part of that was from the inherent chaos of boho punk rock life, but dissension within SST and conflicts with bands added to the dysfunction. Most acts never got their original recordings or master tapes back from the label.
In 1986, SPʘT left Southern California for the music scene in Austin, Texas, but his producing days were winding down and he began to focus on his own music. He got deep into Celtic music and learned to play viola. Watt frequently brought him on the road as a one-man-band opening act.
His Later Years
For years, SPʘT was believed to still have possession of some of the original recordings he worked on. “I have no idea where SPʘT kept them,” says Morris, who occasionally spoke with the producer-musician on the phone and last saw him at Shepard Fairey’s L.A. gallery Subliminal Projects. “I had people that were close to him tell me that he kept them in the trunk of his car.”
A day after SPʘT’s death, Meat Puppets posted pictures on Facebook of the newly unearthed original multi-track tapes from his band’s acclaimed 1984 album Meat Puppets II (which included songs performed nearly a decade later on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged).
“As he was closing his accounts and getting his affairs in order, SPʘT got in touch with us last summer,” they wrote. “We received a large box in the mail, containing a stack of two-inch tape. They stunk to high heaven of mold and appeared to have spent the last several years in a garage.”
Bostrom now says the band may try to rescue the fragile tapes in an expensive process paid for with a GoFundMe campaign.
SPʘT had relocated to Sheboygan later in life, and in the last two years he complained of fibrosis in his lungs and difficulty breathing, Watt says.
“So we’re talking about this fourth act in life — Shakespeare, right? — and how it’s tougher,” Watt recalls. “He’s talking to me about Social Security, stuff we never talked about.”
SPʘT posted new music online last year and had been hoping for a lung transplant when he suffered a stroke three months ago. He remained in a nursing home and was unable to speak after his stroke. According to Watt, SPʘT’s extended family is tentatively planning to bury him back home in Southern California. Carducci says that SPʘT’s ashes may be scattered in Hermosa Beach.
In the wake of his death, Soundgarden wrote on Instagram that, even though he’d left their label before they were signed, SPʘT’s various recordings were a major inspiration for the band: “His name on the back of an album guaranteed that its contents would [be] head spinning and beautiful.”
“SPʘT was a wonderful soul who loved making music, documenting the scene, and unconditionally supporting all the projects that bear his name,” Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould tweeted. “Thank you, SPʘT. You gave so much to all of us.”
Watt was among the first to announce SPʘT’s passing on Twitter, as fans and colleagues reacted with sadness and condolences. “I noticed this comment: ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ It ain’t just my loss!” says Watt. “We all lost when we lost Spotski.”
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