By Andy O’Connor
Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 30, 2013
This year, two Black Flags emerged, sort of. One is the new Black Flag, with founding member Greg Ginn as the only original member. The second is FLAG, a group of ex-Black Flag members touring and playing the songs of Black Flag. The group features drummer Bill Stevenson, who played on many of Black Flag’s later albums, early bassist Chuck Dukowski, original Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris, guitarist Dez Cadena, who performed rhythm guitar and backing vocals on Damaged, and Steve Egerton, who plays guitar alongside Stevenson in Descendents (who are also playing Fun Fun Fun Fest).
Ginn was none too pleased with FLAG, suing them earlier this year for trademark infringement (he was recently denied a preliminary injunction against the members of FLAG that sought to halt their tour). Black Flag played Infest earlier this year, so now fans will have a chance to compare the two when FLAG headlines the Black Stage at 8:55 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8. Dukowski spoke to us about his memories in Black Flag and how FLAG came together, with a nod to the lawsuit.
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What was the impetus for putting this together? Would this idea have been conceivable 5, 10 years ago?
It happened in a series of small steps. First Keith and I did a performance of Black Flag songs with the band No Age. No Age are a drums and guitar duo, perfect for a bass player and singer. The show we did was a free one in the park. The police ended up coming, just like back in the old days and Keith talked them down. It was pretty cool.
Six or so months later I was asked by Goldenvoice Productions to do something to help them celebrate their 30th anniversary show. Goldenvoice was important to Black Flag because they were the only people willing to put on Black Flag shows at the height of our problems with the Los Angeles police department.
Goldenvoice wanted me to give a speech — but from the experience with No Age I knew I could do something better than talk. The Descendents were headlining the Goldenvoice show so it immediately hit me that Keith and I could play some Black Flag stuff with Bill and Stephen. The show was righteous so we all decided to do it again when we had some time.
A few months later I called Dez and he joined up and we had a real massive and amazing musical combination. The jams are ripping and it is awesome to play music again with these guys.
FLAG has members from many different incarnations of the band. What sort of vibe does this lead to?
Everyone but Keith played together in Black Flag at the same time so we have a lot of mutual epic history. Stephen brings so much talent and skill it’s no wonder he is so highly regarded for his playing in the Descendents. Dez’s singing is so heavy and deep, he has so much soul, and he improvises the lyrics (in) “Damaged I” every night. Someone close to him died in a freak accident during our recent tour, and it was positively wrenching to hear him riff on his loss. Keith covers most of the vocal duties in FLAG and there is no one who can sing the early Black Flag music like he can. It is great and cool to hear him tackle the later tunes, too.
What’s been the reception like in the shows you’ve played already?
Without exception the reception has been over the top enthusiastic. There is nothing like seeing the swirling mass of the pit from the stage. Amazing.
Does playing certain songs bring back specific memories of being in Black Flag?
Yes, it does! I don’t know why my mind connects some songs to particular gigs. It’s funny you ask that! For example when I play “Padded Cell” I always think of playing it at a show in Seattle at the Showbox in the early ‘80s. The song “Revenge” reminds me of a little studio show we did on Hollywood Boulevard with Keith singing. “Nervous Breakdown” and “Fix Me” take me back to a Hong Kong Cafe show when we played with the Last. That show had the first Raymond Pettibon flier. The song “My War” makes me think about my dark end days in Black Flag and the feelings that drove me to write it. …
Because you are playing a fest on Greg’s now-home turf, are you concerned he may unleash an army of feral cats on you?
I have heard that he doesn’t have cats anymore. In fact several of his former pet cats have approached us and asked about unpaid royalties from their benefit. I hear Greg is going to sue the cats first though. Greg loves his lawyer.
Will there be two FLAGs in the future — one playing Black Flag songs, the other playing White Flag songs?
I was very sad to hear of Bill Bartell from White Flag’s death. I am sure he would have been honored if FLAG played some White Flag!
‘My War’ — side A or side B?
Side one is the best. It has two of my songs “My War” and “I Love You” plus Ginn’s best song for later Black Flag “I Can’t Decide.” Henry Rollins is a huge talent, he was brilliant singing those songs.