In November of 1979, Bob Glassley and a few friends piled into his car for a road trip down the West Coast. It was a retired police cruiser from the Dorris California Police Department, an all-white Plymouth with a souped-up engine. At the time, Glassley sang for a young punk band from Portland called the Rubbers. They were on a mission that day, to make some alliances in the Los Angeles music scene, and to line up some shows for a touring caravan of Portland bands. “We set out for L.A., and the motor blew somewhere outside of Stockton,” Glassley says. “When we got back on the road we found out it was the day they were taping the Hollywood Christmas parade. All of the freeway exits were closed, so we just kept driving around the city, looking for an off-ramp.”
Eventually they made it into the city and crashed at the Holly-West in Hollywood. The space was a former MGM studio and office building on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western, housing everything from a porno studio and a church led by a gay preacher to rehearsal spaces where musicians lived, practiced, and spent most of their time hanging out.
One day, Glassley was listening to a group making noise in a nearby room when a young man with bright blue hair — George Walker — poked his head around the doorway and asked if anyone played bass. “I said I did, although that was a serious stretch,” Glassley says. “I owned a cheap bass back in Portland, so I felt qualified.”
Walker was a gay black man in the late ’70s L.A. punk scene at a time when there were few out gay or black punk musicians.
The two became friends, and after sticking around and playing music for a few days, Glassley was invited to join the group and play bass alongside Walker on guitar with singer Jerry Koskie and drummer Kenneth “Rabit” Bragger. Soon they would come to be known as the Cheifs.
Glassley returned to Portland to play the final shows the Rubbers had booked and was L.A.-bound soon after. The Rubbers’ Bruce Loose went on to sing and play bass with San Francisco’s legendary punk outfit, Flipper. Back in L.A., Glassley experienced a thrilling new beginning, building friendships with the now-legendary denizens of the local punk scene, including Darby Crash and Lorna Doom of the Germs, Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, and Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L.
He was thrust into a life bound by the live-fast, die-young ethos of late ’70s and early ’80s punk scene. But nearly 40 years after breaking up, the specter of the Cheifs has returned, demanding the songs be heard again.
In their prime, the Cheifs were a lauded act that bridged the gaps between West Coast punk and hardcore. They were a fixture of the Los Angeles scene but after scant few releases, the group has languished in obscurity.
From 1979 to 1982, the Cheifs were a staple of the L.A. punk scene. Even though he hadn’t played in a band since they broke up, a chance meeting with a fan one night at the Masquerade proved the catalyst for Glassley to head up a new Atlanta-based incarnation of the Cheifs.
Now 57 years old, Glassley lives near Woodstock, Georgia, where he works as a director of technology for Triton Digital. After watching social and political turmoil surge in recent years, the old familiar sting of unease that drove him to punk in the first place is stirring once again. With a new lineup together, Glassley is paying respect to the Cheifs’ Hollywood legend while laying the groundwork for a new chapter in his musical career.
Despite the decades that have passed, the songs he played and wrote leading into the Reagan era remain as urgent and relevant as the day they were penned. “It’s unfortunate,” Glassley says. “Some of those songs are even more relevant now, in the face of everything the country — the world — is going through.”
By December of ’79, the group had settled on the name the Cheifs. A friend of the band, Roger Rogerson, who played bass for the Circle Jerks, often playfully called out bossy people for being “the big chief,” or saying they were “chiefin’ out.” The band rolled with it.
Around the same time, Glassley had an uncle die from Leukemia. He’d worked as a butcher and always wore plain white T-shirts. When he died, Glassley inherited those shirts. One afternoon he bought some red and black spray paint, went to his room at Holly-West, and made band shirts. When he showed them to the rest of the band, the reaction was a resounding, “Ah dude, you spelled it wrong! On every single one of them!”
But amid the punk era’s landscape adorned with logos like the Misfits’ skull and Black Flag’s bars, “Cheifs” presented a golden opportunity for branding. “I know how to spell,” Glassley laughs. “The i and the e came after c! … And ask anyone named Keith how they spell their name!”
The Cheifs played regularly at venues such as Hong Kong Café and The Fleetwood, sharing stages with a who’s-who of Southern California punk legends: Black Flag, X, the Minutemen, Fear, Redd Kross, Descendents, Germs, T.S.O.L., Social Distortion, and more.
“The Gears, too, if I can add a band to that list,” says former Black Flag and Circle Jerks vocalist Keith Morris, who currently sings with the band Off! “The Gears and Cheifs were our party buddies. How many times did we all just crash on that floor where they practiced in the Holly-West building? Cheifs were easily one of the greatest bands around,” Morris adds. “When Holly-West Crisis finally came out it was such a great record.”
The Cheifs’ sound occupied a strange but growing middle ground in the post-punk era, when the term hardcore didn’t yet denote a musical genre. Before Cheifs came along, groups like X, the Screamers and the Weirdos had stylized a Hollywood punk sound by infusing short, sharp blasts of rock ’n’ roll with outsider art leanings. The more aggressive sound of bands like Black Flag and the Adolescents had yet to fully reveal itself.
In the Cheifs, Walker’s twisted hooks and bar chords taking shape in songs such as “Blues” and “(At The Beach At) Tower 18” were driven by a contentious snarl and fast, reflexive melodies. Rabit’s jittery drumming in “Knocked Out” was cut from a loud-fast and deceptively simple style on par with New York’s no wave scene. Koskie’s sneering voice was a conduit for disturbed visions of disenfranchisement, and Glassley gave direction to Cheifs’ buzzsaw onslaught.
One song that Glassley penned the music and lyrics for, “Eddie’s Revenge,” tells the true story of a journalist who was gunned down by police. “The LAPD at the time were neo-Nazis, I won’t mince words,” he says. “I read a story in the newspaper about this amateur writer who was shot while standing inside a phone booth, holding a typewriter. A cop felt threatened. There was even a witness,” he adds. “The song is from his perspective, wanting payback because justice wasn’t served.”
Glassley sings: “Armed with a typewriter you look very threatening/They know you’re a nut case so they’ll say anything/And don’t try to resist your life’s worth nothing.”
Other songs such as “Blues” confront the hardships of the world with thick skin. In “(At The Beach At) Tower 18,” Walker offers insight into the perils of a gay lifestyle in the Reagan era when he sings, “You think your sex action’s better than theirs/They’re doing a job you could never do/At the beach!”
“Knocked Out” celebrates the youthful abandon and persistence of throwing punk shows whether the cops liked it out not.
The Germs’ vexed singer Darby Crash was a friend of the band, who hung out at Holly-West. Glassley recalls an afternoon in 1980 when Cheifs’ manager Debbie Johnson announced she’d lined up studio time at Present Time Records in North Hollywood. Crash wanted to be there. “I recall him setting in the control room and making suggestions about sound and vocal tricks, like the doubling that Jerry used on most of the recordings,” Glassley says.
The songs they recorded — “Blues,” “(At The Beach At) Tower 18” and “Knocked Out” — were pressed on a 7-inch via Playgems. It was Cheifs’ only release while the group was active. Crash is credited as “Creative Consultant” on the sleeve. “That wall of sound on the guitar was likely his doing,” Glassley says. “He was there from beginning to end, providing input, effectively working as a producer. He was a good friend of the band,” Glassley adds. “His fans demanded him to be someone he wasn’t 24/7. They expected him to be on stage all the time. I think he really enjoyed chilling with everyone at Holly-West.”
Holly-West is hallowed ground in the annals of punk history. Redd Kross’ bass player, Steven McDonald, remembers the intimidating feel of the place when he was a kid. “I was only 12 years old back in the those days,” says McDonald. Redd Kross also plays the Mess-Around on Sat., April 29.
“Redd Kross recorded a project there, and we hung out with Cheifs and the Gears and everyone else,” McDonald A. Everyone was friendly and accepting, but the place had this Bukowski vibe. It was a scary, old, decrepit building, but the community was really cool.”
Cheifs’ song “The Lonlies” appeared on the New Alliance/SST compilation titled Chunks that year. Later, “Riot Squad” (an adopted Rubbers song), “No Justice” and “Scrapped” appeared on an American Standard compilation titled Who Cares.
A half-dozen more songs were recorded, but personal differences caused Koskie and Rabit to leave the band. Glassley and Walker reconvened with vocalist Paul Brashier and drummer Gilbert Navarro, aka Jack Rivera, but they were together less than a year. By 1982, Cheifs were done. Glassley sold his bass and bought a computer, and has worked with technology ever since. He has made attempts to get the original lineup together for occasional one-off shows, even a surprise birthday party that Descendents’ drummer Bill Stevenson was throwing for singer Milo Aukerman. But neither Koskie nor Rabit have expressed any interest in playing with Cheifs again. The two have reunited to play shows with their pre-Cheifs band, the Simpletones. Neither Koskie nor Rabit were available for comment. Walker is presumed dead, although no death certificate has been produced yet. He was last seen hanging around Newport Beach in the early ’90s, but when Glassley went searching, word on the street was he had died.
Cheifs have since languished in obscurity, but the music refuses to disappear. A 1997 Flipside compilation titled Holly-West Crisis emerged as the definitive Cheifs document rounding up everything the group recorded. In 2000, Hate Records repackaged the songs for a European release, and Dr. Strange reissued Holly-West Crisis in 2004. The same year Spontaneous Combustion reissued Cheifs’ “Blues” b/w “(At The Beach At) Tower 18” and “Knocked Out” 7-inch.
In 1989, “Blues” appeared on the seminal Killed By Death Vol. 2 LP. What’s more, the Descendents often whip out a cover of “Knocked Out” during live shows.
Glassley moved to Georgia for work in 2000. His time with Cheifs had become a distant memory ever since. But that changed in July 2016 when Flag, a hardcore supergroup featuring singer Keith Morris, bass player Chuck Dukowski, drummer Bill Stevenson and vocalist/guitarist Dez Cadena — all Black Flag alumni — along with Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton played the Masquerade. Glassley went backstage to say hello. While talking with Stevenson, Glassley felt a hand on his shoulder. A stranger asked: “Excuse me, did you say you were in the misspelled Cheifs?”
It was Scott Hedeen who owns Burnt Hickory Brewery in Kennesaw. The brewery is known for naming beers after punk bands, such as the Didjits Blood Orange IPA and Die Kreuzen Imperial Pumpkin Porter. Atlanta metalheads Order of the Owl even have a Chocolate Orange Stout in their name.
“Some of the seed money I used to start the brewery came from selling my punk record collection,” Hedeen says. “I sold a Cheifs single for $300, so I joked that he was a partial investor in the brewery.”
Hedeen and Glassley became friends. Hedeen hadn’t played guitar in a long time, but one night he sent Glassley a text. “I asked if he’d ever considered playing Cheifs’ music again,” Hedeen says. “I was in his ear. At the time he didn’t know the depths of where he had been, and the interest that’s out there for that era of music. It’s like you’ve seen a famous photograph from history countless times, and suddenly you realize that you see someone in the background. He was there.”
Glassley knew former Crisis Under Control singer and punk historian Brad Castlen would be interested. “When this started out last July, it was more for fun, but as people responded to the potential of the Cheifs’ music being played live again, I realized this was something more,” Glassley says. “Brad and Scott helped me see that. As I started posting lyrics on Facebook, it became clear there was still relevancy and many of the songs could have been written today and people related. That said, I was dead set against doing anything that would not live up to the original spirit and energy.”
They convened with a temporary drummer to play a Halloween party at Burnt Hickory. Hedeen made posters boasting a performance by “Holly-West Resurrection playing the songs of Cheifs.” Glassley was hit hard by seeing the name again. “He said, ‘You can’t do that!’” Hedeen says. “He didn’t want to dis the other members of the band, but I think we’ve convinced him now that they don’t care. Our intention is to make sure that Bob and the band get their just deserts.”
When Hedeen takes the stage, he sticks a laminated photo of Walker on his guitar, adorned with the word “Respect” — Shepard Fairey style. “George was a trailblazer on so many levels,” Hedeen says. “Getting into his head and figuring out how these songs work is a major accomplishment for me. I had to decode this man’s web of how he did it. I had to reinvent myself.”
Drummer James Joyce (ex Noot d’ Noot and Car Vs. Driver) knew Hedeen through the brewery and tried out for the gig. He’d also been friends with Castlen for nearly 25 years. After one practice, they looked at each other and said, “OK, we’re the Cheifs!” A Christmas party at Burnt Hickory was followed by a show at the Earl opening for Detroit proto-punk rockers Death. Then came a run of L.A.-area shows in March.
At first, wondering if they’d be accepted by the group’s hometown was nerve-wracking. “There were people who came out to the shows and said, ‘Wait, where’s Jerry?’” Glassley says. “I was worried about it at first, but the bottom line is, I tried to get him involved, but I found somebody else.”
Still, anxiety was high, especially for Castlen and Joyce, both of whom are of a younger generation than Glassley and Hedeen. Before their Saturday night show at Cafe NELA, they were sitting at the bar when Joyce noticed Keith Morris walk in. “Brad started losing it,” Joyce says. “He kept saying, ‘This is your fault! If it wasn’t for you being able to play these drum beats and tying everything together, I wouldn’t have to perform in front of Keith Morris, and have him judge me as the singer for Cheifs.’”
Morris, in his 2016 memoir, My Damage: The Story of A Punk Rock Survivor, writes that Cheifs were one of the few bands he thought of as the Circle Jerks’ competition. Now, he was there to see what the new group was all about.
“In the early days we were always friends — all of it was friendly until it was time to play shows,” Morris says. “That’s when some darkness crept up: ‘We’ve been playing longer, and we’ve played more shows than you. We’re from Hollywood, you’re from where you’re at, we draw more people, can you keep up with us?’ All of that kind of drama. But I always drank a few extra beers, got a little more fuzzy-headed and tried to keep the camaraderie at a social and friendly level.”
The Circle Jerks played their first show with Cheifs at a club in Redondo Beach called Kahuna’s Bearded Clam. “We pissed off everybody that night,” Morris says. “One of the songs we played was ‘Wasted’ and the guys from Black Flag wanted to firebomb our vehicles and run us out of town.”
The anxiety that Castlen felt, however, was over respect for the music. “There’s a lot of attitude in punk about where you come from,” Castlen says. “Crisis Under Control used to get that attitude from Atlanta punks because we didn’t live in Fulton County. ‘You can’t play punk or hardcore if you’re from Gwinnett County!’ So that’s just magnified. Here we are a bunch of guys from Georgia. How are we going to play these L.A. punk songs? I was worried people would have a problem with that and that we’re playing with just one original member.”
Afterward, Castlen thought, “If I don’t ask, it’s going bother me the rest of my life.” He approached Morris and asked, “What did you think?” Morris looked over his glasses and gave a thumbs up. “We did it justice?” Castlen asked. In the conversation Morris replied, “Oh, I woulda told you if you didn’t!”
Neither Koskie nor Rabit showed up for the L.A. shows. But other old friends were there: Don Bolles of the Germs was at the Cafe NELA show, and second Cheifs drummer Jack Rivera sat in for a performance of “Blues.” The night before, at a show in Anaheim, Brian Brannon of skate punk legends JFA and members of the Vandals were there offering praise.
Castlen recalls overhearing a conversation at a record store out there when their merch guy asked the record store clerk — an older guy — if he was going to the show. His response: “No. I don’t want to ruin it. I saw them back in the day.”
That kind of skepticism is understandable; plenty of people feel similarly about any bands who are resurrected with a new lineup. “But we’re busting our asses, making it sound as close to the original recordings as possible,” Castlen says. “I heard the criticism, but the legend of Cheifs means a lot to us, and we all felt like we had to prove ourselves.”
Kendall Behnke, who sang alongside Koskie and Rabit in the Simpletones, came out for the Friday night show. He showed up again the following night at Cafe NELA. According Castlen, Behnke called Koskie to get him out for the show. He didn’t come but asked how they were. Behnke’s reply: “I’m not going to lie to you … they killed it.”
Castlen says the band discussed what would happen if Koskie showed up. “I’d have no problem handing the mic over to him, if he wanted to sing,” he says. “But Bob’s in Woodstock, Georgia, so it would be hard to have a Cheifs reunion with two guys in California. I think he’s a great singer; I love the songs, and I have nothing bad to say about him. But I’m glad he doesn’t want to be involved, because here I am.”
While practicing for the L.A. run, the new lineup learned a few songs that the original Cheifs played but never recorded, including “Heart in Chains” and “1988,” both originally performed by the Rubbers. Both songs will appear on a 7-inch with “Mechanical Man,” a partially reconstructed older song, along with a newer number, titled “Alienated.”
“I love playing and didn’t realize how much I missed it,” Glassley says. “Even my wife, Vicki, has commented on how playing again affected me, in a good way. Add to that the relevancy of this music, these words at this time, and it makes sense. Given the situation our country and the world faces, I think there is a lot to say, and this is a familiar vehicle to make oneself heard. I fully expect us to be writing new songs in the months ahead, and we’ll see where that goes, but for me it feels like 1980 all over again — only worse.”
They’re recording at the Living Room in June. After recording those two songs, they’ll record the rest of the songs they’ve learned, if for no other reason than to have a document of this lineup’s time together. Whether what they record gets released remains to be seen. “If you’re a legendary band that can release a new album, people will buy it, like it was an original Descendents album,” Joyce says. “We’re not there, so we’re not trying to push out an entire album’s worth of material that somebody has to digest. It’ll be more like a song or two here and there.”
This approach takes the pressure off while fleshing out the strongest material a song or two at a time. But before Cheifs start writing new songs, their priority lies in taking the show on the road. Until now, the group has never played outside of L.A. and San Diego. But with the new lineup clicking in Atlanta, the group has its sights set on the East Coast.
After 35 years, excitement surrounding the group only underscores the strength of the songs. Giving the music a chance to be heard by a new generation, in an entirely new era, the new incarnation of Cheifs is already uncovering new meanings for these songs. For nearly 40 years, the road has been long and full of pitfalls. Like it was the day that Glassley and his friends piled into his converted cop car heading for Los Angeles, the future is unwritten. “I still have difficulty wrapping my head around it all. I have a split personality in this regard,” Glassley says. “On one hand, I’m coming to grips with the legacy side of it for the first time, and the other hand, I want to hit the road and play some fucking punk rock!”
Bob Glassley, bass player, vocalist, and co-founding member of the Cheifs, died in October, 2017. He was 58 years old. Click here to read more.
Check out a gallery of the Chiefs fliers and photos from throughout the years.
A version of this story was originally published on the cover of Creative Loafing, April 27, 2017.