Interview with Gregg Turner of Angry Samoans (5/23/06)
By Sean Koepenick

Right: Angry Samoans

Gregg Turner has had a long rollercoaster ride as a musician. It started in the mid 1970's with VOM-a band that featured 3 music critics-Richard Meltzer, Mike Saunders and himself. There must have quite a few long winded discussions in that rehearsal room! After that band imploded, Greg and "Metal" Mike started a new band in Van Nuys California -Angry Samoans. Rounding out the line-up was Todd Homer on bass and Bill Vockeroth on drums. A revolving door of second guitarists would run throughout the band's time-starting with Mike's brother Kevin. Featuring full tilt rockers with lyrics that will make you laugh until you spit out your cake, the band developed quite a following throughout the 1980's. With titles such as "My Old Man's A Fatso", "You Stupid Asshole", and "They Saved Hitler's Cock" how could they not? But after 4 records and countless tours, the band decided to call it a day at the end of 1991. Now the band is seen as punk legends on par with The Circle Jerks and Black Flag. Many musicians are constantly naming Angry Samoans as major influences. "Gas Chamber" was recently covered by The Foo Fighter on a recent compilation for example.

However, the band's name was resurrected by Metal Mike in the mid 1990's, retaining only Bill Vockeroth on drums from the initial line-up. But Gregg decided instead to move on with his musical career. Turner released a solo record under The Mistaken moniker and then started a new outfit-The Blood Drained Cows. They have put out 2 records and even recently got to play with the legendary Roky Erickson! So even though things may have slowed down from those wild 80's days, Turner continues to rock with reckless abandon. He was gracious enough to discuss his entire career with me in this recent interview.

E.C.: How did you first get involved with music?

Gregg Turner: Digging Ray Walston as the Devil in the musical Damn Yankees, singing "Those Were The Good Old Days," when I was a kid. Then Allan Sherman ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh") and Tom Lehrer ("Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"). Moved on to the Velvet Underground, Procol Harum, the Kinks etc, in the 60's. Eventually, I graduated to a nasty record collecting habit when I was an undergrad at UCLA in 1971, which provided the segue to all the 60's psychosis that I'd missed out on - 13th Floor Elevators, Mouse and the Traps, Chocolate Watchband, John Fahey even.

E.C.: What music did you listen to growing up?

Gregg Turner: See #1 above.

E.C.: What was the first band you played in?

Gregg Turner: VOM. 1976. With Richard Meltzer (1st lead vocals), Dave Guzman (tuneless rhythm guitar), "Gurl" (bass guitar), Phil Koehn (lead guitar) and Metal Mike Saunders (drums; pre-Samoans). VOM pre-dated the Samoans by a couple of years and near to a half dozen "tunes" in the VOM set list migrated to the Samoans repertoire as crude prototypes: "I'm In Love With Your Mom," "Too Animalistic," "Electrocute Your Cock," "Broads Are Equal," "I Am (The Son of Sam)," and so forth. I was 2nd lead vocalist.

E.C.: How did The Angry Samoans form?

Gregg Turner: Meltzer threw in the VOM towel in 1977. Saunders and I collected a handful of OK chord changes and sufficiently offensive words and decided to move forward, or backward, depending on your point of view. Bass player Todd "The Hippie Stabber" Homer and Billy Vockeroth answered musician classifieds we ran in the local free trades and we waited for Mike's younger bro Kevin to arrive from Little Rock, AR (from where they both hail) as some sort of a "secret weapon lead guitarist" (so promised the older brother). This nucleus was the genesis, but we added Tony Conn, a washed-up out of control rockabilly loon to the mix as additional "secret weapon" (once again, we were too easily influenced by the Dictators and professional wrestling - when it was cool, way before the WWF ruined it) lead vocalist. The first show we played was opening for Roky Erickson and the Aliens in Richmond, CA in 1978. Roky wasn't able to make it that night (the Aliens covered for him) - this first set was about 40 minutes long. Tony was called out near the end to prance onstage w/his trademark leopard skin coat and punk out singing "I'm In Love With Your Mom." Tony was like pushing 50 something at the time, had a generous paunch (i.e. not to be mistaken for um Sid Vicious) and was intent on earning his punk rock wings. Unfortunately, he'd been scarfing down one too many Frito Pies before the set and at the same time imbibing generous spirits. So he was PUKE CITY before being called out onstage. Still, he managed to fasten the DOUCHEBAG he'd brought up from Southern California (along with lots of chains that gave him trouble thru airport security) to his belt. He bounded up in the spotlight, swinging the douchebag over his head wildly in the air, he could've been AMAZING! But he forgot all the lyrics - we had scrawled them down on a piece of paper that he'd attached to the stage floor under his mike. But he didn't realize that w/out his reading glasses this wouldn't work. I personally thought this was hilarious! But "secret weapon" lead guitarist Kevin freaked out and refused to play with him again. So that was our inauspicious foray into the p-rock universe. Downhill all the way from there.

E.C.: What record with the Angry Samoans was the most enjoyable for you to make?

Gregg Turner: The very first- Inside My Brain, is my favorite (though I guess technically it was a 12" EP at 45 rpm) to listen to on vinyl. We recorded that at Media Arts in Redondo Beach with Spot, Black Flag's producer at the time. It seemed like a politically correct move to make -- y'know, to hunker down recording in the eye of the storm, or maybe more apropos to say per Southern Cal - the punk-rock studio epicenter (this is where Black Flag, The Last, FEAR, etc hooked up to put down their initial ten cents of cultural revolution). The 2nd release, Back From Samoa was an amalgam of several sub-evolutions in the band in 3 different recording studios over (I think it must have been) a 2 year span of time. Saunders had quit the band to move from Southern California to Oakland for job relocation. This was before we even started recording. Jeff Dahl, then of Voxx Pop and 45 Grave, replaced him. Jeff was great, more of a Wildman than Mike and we played out with him live for about 1.5 - 2 years. We began the first studio sessions with Dahl up in Novato, CA (north of San Francisco) with Karl Derfler (Roky Erickson's engineer and producer) at the helm. Stu Cook, the original bass player for Creedence Clearwater, owned and operated the studio. He was there for a lot of the initial tracks we recorded. When Toddy did his one (barely sober) take of "Jerry Curlan," including the presumably incidental (accidental?) ingestion of the recording mike down his esophagus at the end (it's what you hear on the song at the end), Stu's 8 year old just freaked out and started crying , necessitating Dad to have to remove him from the premises. That should have served as a portent of (grim) things to come.

Some time after this session, Saunders was throwing out feelers about coming back into the fold. We hadn't completed the recording around this point in time. Todd and Billy weren't terribly excited about having him return; but I lobbied for them to think it over. Mike was a pain in the ass at times (as well as any of us were to the others at any given moment!) and Jeff was really doing an impressive job as lead singer. Audiences seemed to respond to him much better than Saunders, he was considerably more animated (swinging on rafters, inadvertently biting off a third of his tongue live at the Hong King Café, sometimes even out-Iggying Iggy) than Saunders. Dahl would scream out the words so that the veins on his neck were visible from the back of the audience! You really couldn't ask someone to come in and replace an original lead singer with any more enthusiasm, energy and vitriol. But I think ultimately it seemed like a bit of a mismatch. Saunders and I co-wrote most of the songs together, or at least pieced lyrics and chords together in different sittings, and the irony and persona from the singer's point of view, the neurosis that was Metal Mike, just wasn't the same with Jeff singing. E.g., "My Old Man's A Fatso" was about the Fatso Saunders Dad that both brothers apparently (truly) detested. They say that hated him (Dad) because he spilled milk on the front seat of the family car and failed to clean it up. The smell that evolved from souring milk on the car seat was the metaphor of their resentment, something like that as I recall. So the fueled neurosis, it seemed to me, was much more obvious and identifiable thru the mouth of the progeny-afflicted, than what Jeff could hope to replicate. Of course, the assignment to embody this was impossible from the get-go, and to Jeff's credit he never tried to recreate this. He tried to stake out his own turf as the frontman, and some might argue that his contribution out front live was significantly more supercharged and captivating than Saunders' muted neurotic introspection. But I missed this - the band always seemed to me to be about neurotic introspection, muffled psychosis of sorts. I missed the master of muffled , so when Saunders indicated he wanted back, I really thought his identity was so woven into the original fabric, that, for better or worse, having him back would capture an identity missing with Dahl. Of course, when the creative and performance process is charged with this kind of misanthropy, you pay a personal price babysitting it as well as cultivating it. Looking back in retrospect, this might not have been a worthwhile tradeoff. If that juncture in time was available again, knowing then what I half remember in hindsight now, hanging on to Jeff could have been the viable option. The countless hours courting Todd and Billy to have Mike return were thankless to say the least. There was an initial honeymoon period when he returned at this point, but as always, that didn't last. But it necessitated re-recording all the Dahl vocal parts with Saunders. We did this at first in Berkeley with Derfler, and then Mike fell in love with the idea of finishing with Pat Burnette who "produced" The Germs. We pushed him to recording and mixing all the guitars way up in the red, harmonic distortion reigned over everything. That was sorta fun, to answer your original question from a huge digression.

E.C.: What were some of the best gigs that you remember? Are there any that you care to forget?

Gregg Turner: Best: Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ and probably the first time we played Boston at the Channel - sold-out crowd of young punkoids who seemed to know every syllable of every word of every song. When we launched into "Lights Out" somewhere in the middle of the set, this scary throng up front were ready, they pulled out these white plastic forks and simulated eyeball impalement. I was convinced that one would miss, or rather connect, and mom and dad of victim would be a personal injury attorney! And this wasn't like Ozzy- y'know subliminal messages backmasked etc, more like "do it, we recommend it, it's good for you." I almost passed out watching this and imagining. My favorite show really had nothing to do with how we played, or audience reaction, but more with Homer and Saunders antics. This was at a local Hollywood dump called Blackies early on in the 80's. Saunders and Toddy got into one of their 4000th career-long temper tantrums before a performance, but the bad karma seemed to hangover to onstage as well. Less than a few tunes into the show, Todd was shocking the Metal Man with his guitar and electronics onstage, and Mike retaliated with isolated shin kicks to Todd. It culminated in a free-for-all which effectively pulled the plug on the set. Bill and I were just incredulous watching this play out. Whereas the famous Davies brothers of the Kinks might have had similar rounds onstage; this probably had more to do with sibling issues and biogenetic blood relations. With Todd and Mike more to do with emotional states frozen in infantilism! WORST GIG: Oh, there were a slew of 'em in the late 80's before Todd was asked to leave the band. Not so much to do with him, but the hardcore faithful that turned out for these shows were less fans of anything intrinsic to do with us, than looking for the right ambient noise to kill each other in the mosh pits. This got tiring quickly; plus the set list was more than stagnant and hadn't evolved for a long long time. Looking back, it's interesting to note the bands who opened for us along the way: Green Day, opening in Petaluma; Stone Temple Pilots in Huntington Beach; The Offspring any of 4 or 5 different times in Sacramento, CA; The Nuns in San Francisco; The Pogues in Trenton, NJ; The Flaming Lips in Hollywood and so forth. And a picture is supposedly being sent to me of Kurt Cobain and The Foo Fighters holding up the band's shirt we were selling in Vancouver, Canada (at Club Soda) pointing to the name!

Right: The Blood Drained Cows

E.C.: What was the largest crowd that The Angry Samoans played for?

Gregg Turner: Probably at the Channel in Boston in 85, close to 2500 I recall.

E.C.: Explain how the songwriting process worked for the band.

Gregg Turner: Well, the process was that there really was no process. All pretty ad-hoc. Sometimes Saunders would have the lyrics and I'd graph on the music ("Lights Out") or the other way around ("Get Off The Air ;") Some were his entirely ("Right Side of My Mind"), some mine ("I Lost My Mind"), a couple were solo Todd efforts ("Gimme Sopor"). Most of the time, Mike and I would sit down together and get each other's take on what solicited the bigger laugh.

E.C.: Is there any active musician/artist you would like to collaborate /write a song with?

Gregg Turner: Roky Erickson, Ray Davies (like, that's gonna happen!).

E.C.: What band/artist would you like to share a double bill with?

Gregg Turner: I've become sufficiently removed from what's hip these days. The Blood Drained Cows opened for the Dictators, so that's been fulfilled. I like some of the stuff that Death Cab for Cutie's recorded - they're really the only relatively recent emergence that's caught my attention. Probably cos I'm getting old.

E.C.: How did The Blood Drained Cows come together?

Gregg Turner: When I moved to Santa Fe, NM in 1993 (from LA), I was shocked to find how lame-assed the music scene as well as the musicians in this town could be. Just the most retrograde imitators of the worst clichéd shit from the 70s (Boz Scaggs, The Eagles, I mean the whole spectrum of rancid hippie trappings). Somewhere out of this muck, I bumped into Tom Trusnovic who not only disowned the indigenous retro culture, but was totally hip to Roky Erickson, as well as most of the other hallmarks of 70s and 80s p-rock. He and his buddy Matt Miller were in a band together known as The Floors. I talked them into trying a few things out, and when Tom actually corrected me in a chord change on a Kinks song (these guys were like 15 years younger than me) I fell in love! So to speak.

E.C.: What has been the most rewarding recording session with that group?

Gregg Turner: Both sessions had payoffs and virtues. The first one (eponymous Blood Drained Cows) was recorded in 1998 at Jeff Dahl's garage-recording studio. It was a low rent affair, but Jeff had a great feel for the mentality we were dialing. I was way into simulating the sounds of pops and scratches common to old vinyl and insisted on tracking over and through the entire recording - in the songs as well as the space between songs. I thought this "Sound" could be our jug noise a la The Elevators --- and in fact went so far as to bring a beat to shit 45 rpm phonograph to gigs to play a scratching 45 in perpetual loop to recreate the recorded sentiment. Unfortunately, this broke down more than it succeeded and apparently I was the only one who dug the extra noise. Oh well. In 2003 we recorded the 2nd Cows CD, this time we flew my pal Andy Shernoff (singer-songwriter of The Dictators) in from NYC to produce here in Santa Fe. Also flew in an even older buddy, Billy Miller, who was the electric autoharp virtuoso backing Roky Erickson in the Aliens in the 70s. The net result of putting these two guys together was awesome. Billy officially came aboard for live shows at this point as well. He's an absolutely amazing player and a riveting figure live. Check out blooddrainedcows.com

E.C.: Do The Blood Drained Cows mainly play in your home base of New Mexico?

Gregg Turner: Trusnovic the drummer split for Asheville, NC two years ago. We tried auditioning other drummers at the time, but it quickly degenerated into a Spinal Tap cesspool. I couldn't take it. Prior to that we played principally in NM, but also in San Fran and Texas. We haven't been very active since Tom took off, however we regrouped last August for Roky's birthday party in Austin, TX. Billy took the Greyhound from CA, Tom drove from NC; Matt and I joined both of them in Austin; we rehearsed one night before the gig (which consisted of 20 minutes of Roky covers, those were the rules!) and played the next evening, which, I'm told, went over pretty well. Roky said he liked The Blood Drained Cows! That alone was worth it. We may do the same gig this August for a reprise of the same event and theme.

E.C.: What is your take on the recent rash of 80's era punk bands reforming and touring?

Gregg Turner: Some people have nothing better to do with their time.

The inevitable question has to be asked. Would it ever be possible for the original line-up of Angry Samoans to tour and make a new record? Probably not. There's too much acrimony between all of the original members that hasn't been resolved (as far as I'm aware of!) Plus, Saunders insistence on using the name to continue to play out with confederate members, beyond being incredibly pathetic, would almost render any type of reunion pointless. If one even assumes that a new temporary window has opened up with reunion gigs and so forth, even if we were to get together tomorrow, by the time we emerged ready to attempt something credible, it would be like 2015. No one would even care.

E.C.: What activities do you like to do for fun outside of music?

Gregg Turner: I'm an inveterate rockhound. I have piles of choice petrified wood, agate, fire opals, and I trek out many hundred of miles into sparsely inhabited desert to accumulate this crap. It's become very therapeutic. Lately, I've been hosting and assembling a bi-monthly double feature of 50's horror movies, sexploitation gems as well as films that time has (rightfully) forgot. Those interested can dial: www.sychosaturdays.com

E.C.: What bands/artists are you listening to currently?

Gregg Turner: As mentioned somewhere above, I dig Death Cab - which is peculiar because I generally despise indie pop. And on disc, a third of their material takes more of a time commitment to enjoy than is arguable. But I think the home runs they hit are pretty original and intriguing. My friend Lori from the Hot Rollers, the hot lead singer songwriter of the fuzzed out fuzztone 60's-like punk rockers from Seattle, thinks I'm full of shit and that the Death Cabbies suck pumice. She may be right, there's just no accounting for taste. I'm an old guy now, and as you grow old your perspective withers. I usually trust my instincts, but she probably knows better! At least I'm not pinning up Hillary Duff pix on my walls a la Saunders!

E.C.: What are the upcoming plans for The Blood Drained Cows?

Gregg Turner: Not to get too drained or bloody. We're on hold right now until the opportunity for shows arise that might motivate us to merge from all parts of the country in order to facilitate an appearance. There's such a poor infrastructure supporting bands touring and playing out, particularly the material we do, that you have to be willing to incur generous red ink. Anyway, my ears are fuckin' shot these days-too many Samoans gigs where the vocal PA was on the side of the stage - pointed at our heads. Or maybe it was The Who show in 1972 where my auditory endings rang continuously for 4 weeks. I'm sayin "what?" way too often! It all breaks down after 40. We'll see. I'm in the process of trying to secure a tenure track 4-yr college math teaching gig, so that's by far my number one priority. I'd been denied tenure and then fired from my position for 5 years as an assistant professor of mathematics at New Mexico Highlands University. It's a long story, mainly as a result of a corrupt politician hired to run a state university. If any of your readers are interested, check out: www.aaup.org/Com-a/Institutions/NMhighlands.htm for the whole sordid soap opera. It might serve to properly discourage anyone possibly considering an academic career!

Gregg Turner-Selected Discography

With VOM:
Live At Surf City-EP-1978-White Noise Records

With Angry Samoan:
Inside My Brain-EP-1980-Bad Trip Records
Back From Samoa-1982-Bad Trip Records
Yesterday Started Tommorrow-1986-PVC Records
Gimme Samoa: 31 Garbage Pit Hits-1987-PVC Records
STP Not LSD-1988-PVC Records
Live At Rhino Records-1990-Triple X Records
Return To Samoa-1990-UK Shakin’ Street
The Unboxed Set-1995-Triple X Records
With The Mistaken:
Santa Fe-1994-(Triple X Records)
With The Blood Drained Cows:
Self Titled-1999-Triple X Records
13-2003-Triple X Records