Sweet Baby Jesus

Sweet Baby Jesus

Dallas Denery: There was speedcore and hardcore and screaming, and serious attempts at art and social commentary, but no one was doing what, to Matt and me, was the most obvious thing of all — short, poppy punk songs.

Frank Portman: My first year at UC Berkeley, it was 1982. Dallas Denery was in the dorm across the way. I knew that I could talk to him because he was wearing a Joy Division button.

Dallas Denery: My friend Matt and I started writing songs. It seemed like a way to justify drinking beer. Frank Portman told us we should form a band. Frank said he would be our drummer, and we found this guy Jim.

We never thought about ourselves as a punk band. But Brian Edge was at the first show, and he loved it and told Tim Yohannan. We sort of got adopted by all of them. So we had shows at places like Club Foot, the Chatterbox, the Mab. It would be us and a hardcore band. People would laugh at us.

Frank Portman: They used to be really ridiculed.

Dallas Denery: The other bands would say “That’s not even a song.” We had harmonies, which meant we were weak. Frank was no drummer. He played a snare drum, and sometimes a cymbal, standing up Violent Femmes-style, usually while chatting up some admiring female. The bands we’d play with would be the first Gilman Street bands, like the Lookouts, Soup, Spot 1019, and Mr. T Experience.

Danny Norwood: I went to see Sweet Baby Jesus and it was so great. I knew that Social Unrest had lost that sort of innocence. There was friction in our band. People knew us around the world and wanted our T-shirts and la la la. But then I saw these new kids just get up there, having fun. It reminded me of when I had fun. It made me want to take a break from it. I moved to Europe. And then I moved to the mountains.

Andy Asp: I got a cassette from Sweet Baby early on. Them and Mr. T were the architects of what would become that sound. Harmonies and everything like that.

Frank Portman: All the San Francisco punk rock establishment had this indulgent, condescending, patronizing attitude about us. We were suburban middle class. Singing love songs about girls. I’d never been in a street fight. I’d never cut anyone with a shiv. Neither did those Sweet Baby guys.

Sergie Loobkoff: Me and Rich went to a New Year’s party and saw them, and they kinda blew us away because Frank played drums on a garbage can, which was weird fun.

Dallas Denery: Richie and Sergie were both high school friends and had played together in a pretty great Gilman band, Soup. Richie and Sergie completely transformed the band and we became an equally sloppy garage punk band. We were less quirky, but better.

Sergie Loobkoff: Those two guys were really, really, really talented. Dallas and Matt. And then they replaced Frank with me, who had a drum set but barely knew how to play drums. And they were still really good.

Dallas Denery: We did dozens of shows with Crimpshrine and Isocracy and Op Ivy. We broke up. But we had done a demo tape with Kevin Army. Without telling us, Kevin sent the tape down to Slash Records. Kevin called me up and said, “Dallas, I hope you’re not gonna be mad at me, but I think I signed your band.” I said, “What? We’re not even a band anymore.” So we got back together to record.

Jeff Ott: They were all the nicest people in the world. They always seemed out of place, so when they went and did the record deal thing, everybody was like, “Well, they were always kinda their own thing anyway.” Even though they were one of us, totally, somehow there was just no badness to it at all.

Sergie Loobkoff: We made a record. The guy had to get a razor blade and chop every drum hit and move it over, because I was so bad.

Dallas Denery: Our A&R guy left four months after we signed. And we were dumped off on a guy who never even liked us. They didn’t understand the scene. They didn’t care.

Frank Portman: They recorded an amazingly great but completely unsuccessful album. It was the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Dallas Denery: Months later, I learned our album was nominated for a Bammie for “Best California Debut Album of the Year.” How this happened, I have no idea. Our label had dropped us. I doubt if anyone even bought the record.

But we figured, why not? Matt and I trudged down to the award show at the Civic Center. It was the night we learned what a “no-host bar” is. We figured that “no host” meant “self-service.” Wrong. That was more disappointing than losing out to Bad English for debut album of the year. Bad English! Maybe you had to be from the Bay Area to realize how depressing it would be to lose out to a bunch of Journey rejects, and have to buy your drinks all on the same night. Then again, maybe not.

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