When L.A. punk scene was gaining national attention in the 1970s and ’80s that was both good and bad, Rikk Agnew was there.
Today, he remains a popular figure in the Southern California music world, and he will be performing at the Bat Country Labor Day Blast at the Palms Restaurant in Twentynine Palms on Sunday, Aug. 31.
Agnew played with some of the biggest names in L.A. punk: He an early member of The Detours, Social Distortion, D.I., and the Adolescents. During a recent phone interview, Agnew said he had a feeling that punk music would go on to take the world by storm.
“It was so fresh; it was so honest; and it was a true resurgence of roots rock ’n’ roll,” Agnew said. “It was not just in sound, either; it was DIY and for the love for it—just wanting to have fun, be in there, and celebrate rebellion, and celebrate life.
“I know that sounds stupid, but it’s true. I felt even back then that punks were the new hippies, but we could do it with more aggression and without the peaceful, flower-power thing that obviously didn’t work. But basically, it was all about rock ’n’ roll.”
Agnew played in Social Distortion in 1978 through 1979. Through the years, Agnew has had his own struggles with addiction; however, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness was in trouble long before Agnew. Agnew confirmed that Ness was, indeed, once a wild man.
“(A wild reputation) would be putting it lightly,” Agnew said. “I’m so happy for him being majorly successful now, because he was in the lowest of the lows back then. We used to do a betting pool as to which month he was going to die.”
After leaving Social Distortion, Agnew joined the Adolescents in 1980 and played with them until he was fired from the band in 1981. Agnew then made a rather unusual turn: He joined the lineup of the gothic/death-rock band Christian Death.
“I had a feeling I was going to be kicked out of the Adolescents at the time,” Agnew said. “(Christian Death) opened a show for us in Pomona, and it was interesting, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ They played, and it sounded like a raw Black Sabbath. Rozz, the frontman, made me think, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’ I fell in love with it, and I talked to the guys afterward, and a couple of weeks later, I got kicked out of the Adolescents, and the first thing I did was call them. At that point, I was so hurt by being kicked out of the Adolescents that I thought, ‘I want to join this band and be so anti-punk and piss off punks’—go all fem instead of buff, and do anything to make them hate us and piss them off. What ended up happening is a whole cult following came out of it.”
He added that Christian Death’s legacy might be understated today. “It was pretty amazing. There was a lot of wild stuff that went on with it. Any suspicions or legendary stories about what we were dabbling in are probably under-exaggerated. It was something different.”
In the years since, Agnew has gotten sober and even participated in an Adolescents reunion. He now does production work.
“The studio is a whole different medium,” Agnew said. “It’s fun, because you can do certain things in the studio that you can’t do live. … I like it because of its creative process. You can really go to different places with it. I like to produce other bands, because when I’m producing them, I get an idea in my head that an artist can disapprove of or that they think is cool. It’s basically sculpting—that’s what it is.”
Agnew is happy to still be performing today after once being close to death due to addiction.
“It has its ups and downs,” Agnew said. “Some nights, it feels like I want to be in the background, but I’m enjoying it more and more every day, especially now with a clear mind and body. “
He has connections to the Joshua Tree area and has plenty of friends there. He talked about what can be expected during his performance at the Bat Country Labor Day Blast.
“We’re going to do some of my solo stuff, a few Christian Death songs, along with some D.I. and Adolescents. I don’t think we’re going to do anything from Social Distortion though,” he said with a laugh.
The Bat Country Labor Day Blast, featuring the Rikk Angew Band, takes place at 6 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 31, at the Palms Restaurant, 83131 Amboy Road, in Twentynine Palms. Admission is $10; a limited number of advance tickets are available at CVIndependent.com. (Full disclosure: The Independent is sponsoring the show.) For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.