The Secret History of Cincinnati Punk

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In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, “underground” and “indie rock” in the U.S. was birthed by a glut of bands that sprung up in the initial wake of the Sex Pistols. The luckier (or well-financed) bands—back when every stoned, obnoxious suburban kid and art-damaged bohemian miscreant was in a band—would self-release only one or two singles in limited pressings. Surprisingly, a lot of this stuff is remarkable rock ‘n’ roll rather than formulaic drivel, thanks to the fuck-it-do-whatever-you-want approach that defined the punk movement. —-But as it went with old blues and folk 78s from the ‘20s and ‘30s, these thousands of hand-crafted sleeves and sides of weird, singular noise and postmodern, adolescent anxiety have been largely discounted, discarded on the scrap heap of history by music’s modern tastemakers and institutional powers that be. Rabid collectors are another story.

In any case, from 1977 to about 1983, quality D.I.Y. punk records flowed out at a regular clip from the bigger coastal cities and sizeable college towns across the country. Looking back at this magical, aberrant collaboration of self-directed art and rhythm some 25 to 30 years later, though, one finds that almost every decently sizeable town has a legacy of at least one or two blistering 45s from the late Carter and early Reagan eras. Never really a big punk town and always a little behind the times, Cincinnati’s contribution as far as early-days punk singles go is a blip on the screen compared to the in-total massive amount of killer singles churned out by Cleveland bands like Electric Eels, Pagans, Killers and so on. But our city’s few brave punk pioneers and their output are at least worth noting and celebrating.

Thanks to those awesome aforementioned rabid collectors and the majestic glory of the internet, many of the most obscure little pieces of vinyl have been converted to downloadable digital format, chronicled and made available online by blog-fueled sites like, and plenty more.

Probably the most interesting Cincinnati single I’ve dug up thus far is 1978’s “Keith Richards’ Dead” b/w “Asshole” by the proletarian art people known as the Ed Davis Band. (No real Ed Davis exists in the band, by the way.) Really “Keith Richards’ Dead” is where it’s at. The angular riffing, slacker vocal delivery, and fantastical lyrics about the untimely yet fictitious death of a Stone combine to offer the listener a uniquely fantastic example of Midwestern sarcasm and bad attitude at its finest. And seriously, where did that guitar riff come from? It barely even sounds like punk. These guys just sound loud and pissed. Download the single here and read the band’s and see some vintage video clips here.

Skip ahead a couple years to Newport’s the Edge and their eponymous 1984 single, a more up-tempo, high-energy punk pop type thing led by a Cuban-American nomad. Two of the three jaunty songs deal with parochial matters such as WEBN’s suckiness (“Death to A.O.R.”) and Northern Kentucky cops (“Newport Gestapo”) but do so in an endearing enough way as to be only slightly annoying. Download it.

Finally, what kind of city would we have been without our own hardcore punk band? Sluggo was Cincinnati’s answer to Minor Threat, a group of short-haired louder-fasters who released one straight-up EP in 1983 called “Contradiction.” While they might not be masters of creativity or anything, they definitely knew how to bang out a couple scorchers. Hear their archived tunes here.

There are a couple others floating around out there… Dennis the Menace, the Customs and SS-20 a bit later on were the only other Cincinnati punk bands who released singles from the era that my research could uncover. If anyone wants to correct me, knows of more, or just wants to reminisce, leave a comment below.

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