Interview with Gary Floyd by David Ensminger

Gary Floyd by David Ensminger

As American pop music became more milquetoast in the early 1980s, awash in the soft rock of Eddie Rabbit, Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, and Don Fogelberg, punk became restless as hell, especially in places like Texas, where the Dicks were the antithesis of normal. Their raw, defiant, even vicious lyrics were a sore on the lip of American culture as they exposed the taboo underground—glory holes, shit fetishes, porn shops, and little boys feet.

But they were also powerfully countercultural: they wore Mao buttons, repurposed communist symbols, and attacked the Ku Klux Klan and police violence in the heart of the South, where cowboys and frat boys ruled the night. And their music—ratty, truculent, noisy, catchy, filled with bluesy howls and queer energy—proved to be magnetic, attracting the attention of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. Singer Gary Floyd moved to San Francisco in the mid-1980s, jumpstarting a new version of the Dicks, which later partially morphed into Sister Double Happiness, a terrific, sinewy roots-punk unit.

In June 2017, indie filmmaker Cressandra Thibodeaux filmed a conversation with Floyd and me as we prepared for his art show at Cactus Music in Houston and the book release of I Said That, a compendium of his Dicks-era lyrics, photographs, and flyers. For more information on that book, please email: leftofthedialmag@hotmail.com

Dicks flyers
David:
Tell me about the transition from being a gay radical and then discovering Raul’s (an infamous club in Austin) punk rock—was there a convergence?

Gary: Well, in the confusion of that time, people were looking for themselves. It was also a time of transition in music, and I was always in bands, little shitty bands in school.

David: And you had even played on TV.

Gary: I was even on TV with my band, and all of those things snowballed into, you know, “It’s time for something new.” There’s no Beatles left, and the war is over, and the music is over-produced. And out of that, you started hearing things like the Ramones. It was the perfect pathway into a new revolutionary movement. People could water it down into new wave gravy or they could be punk rock lumps and actually make it work.

David: Who were some of the ferocious people out there who you were attracted to? The Next?

Gary: I liked The Next a lot. They were one of the first bands I saw when I came to Austin, because I’d moved to San Francisco where I saw the Sex Pistols. So when I got back to Austin, it was nice to discover that a punk band was around. Then I loved the West Coast bands, like Black Flag. It was always a big deal when they came to town. Then I started the Dicks.

David: One of my favorite stories is that you started putting up flyers without even having a band, like, “The Dicks are coming!” You envisioned the band, and then the band happened.

Gary: Well, I never really wanted the fact that I wasn’t in a band to prevent me from telling people I was in a band, and it was that time, so I thought, “Well, if I had a band, I’d call it the Dicks.” Me and my housemate at the time starting making posters, and we would make up dates that the Dicks would play and we would make up clubs they would play in. Real bands were putting up posters, and so we put ours up everywhere. We would put in things like, “If you bring a pistol, you get free drinks all night.” It was just too… well, it was fun. This helped end the confusion of the time that nothing was happening.

David: You created something.

Gary: Yeah, then I met the guys that were in the Dicks. A lot of bands were springing up.

David: When you met Pat Buxf and the guys, and began formulating the music, who took control of that? Was it you behind all the lyrics? Did Buxf help shape them at all?

Gary: Well, I wrote most of the lyrics; people were open to it all. Glenn wrote a lot of the song, “The Dicks Hate the Police.” He wrote a lot of those lyrics. Buxf wrote “Wheelchair Epidemic” and I wrote most of the rest of the lyrics. There was no boss. We were not anarchists, though. It worked together because we respected each other. There wasn’t a leader, really, in the band. I got the most attention because I was the lead singer, and that’s the way it works. But I wasn’t the leader of the band.

David: When people talk about Texas punk music, they often note it’s about the police repression of the time, whether it’s AK-47 singing “The Badge Means You Suck” or Really Red singing “Teaching You the Fear” or the Dicks song “The Dicks Hate the Police.” Why do you think so many Texans were focused on police brutality?

Gary: Because so many Texans were getting their asses kicked by rogue policemen. They threw a couple of people into the bayou and they drowned. It was a big deal. I never knew punk not to be a political thing. I began to realize that it was apathetic in some of the circles, but not in Austin, and I don’t think in Houston. As you said, Really Red. It was a political movement for me. It was also a release of the uptight shit that was going on in music in the big companies.

David: When you came to Houston and met U-Ron Bondage and played with Really Red for whom he sang, did you feel a connection or kinship when playing at places like the Island?

Gary: I was intimidated. It’s hard to believe I was ever intimidated by anyone, but they came to Austin and played, and it was a big deal. When Houston came to town, it was like, “Let’s get serious now!” And they were really great, so we did strike up a friendship. I had a lot of respect for the Houston scene, a lot. They were always very nice to the Dicks.

David: What are some of your memories of the Island, which handled most punk bands between 1979-84 in Houston?

Gary: Yes, we played there many times. It was always a big deal to come to Houston and play, and the first time I was all nervous because… well, I had lived in Houston in the early 1970s, then left, and never came back until I started playing there. So I thought, “Well, it’s a much bigger city, and Austin is so laid back.” After I started playing there, I realized that this was just an extension of the family. I remember we went to collect our money one morning, because we had to leave quickly—the police had closed the show down that night—so I left because I didn’t want to get arrested at the club. So we all came and regrouped back the next day to get our $30.00 or whatever, and the night before, the guy who was the owner or manager had bought some donuts, set them on the counter during sound check, and said, “If anyone wants donuts, you can have some.” We were getting drunk and didn’t want to eat any donuts.

So the next day when we went back, the club was really dark—it was a thousand degrees outside, it was hot in the club. He said, “I’ll go get your money.” I went over to that box of donuts and thumped it, and about 3,000 roaches ran away from it. Like, too many roaches ran away from that box. So, we all went “Ew” and jumped back. The guy comes from the back, says, “Here’s your money,” reaches over, gets a big donut, and eats it down. We were all like, “Wow.”

Another time we were playing there and Black Flag was going to play. They had some kind of contract, and they got a meal. This guy brings out this not-washed-very-well dish, a Crock-Pot, and it had something in it that I guess was edible. It looked like it had been in a Porta-Potty. It was probably some kind of stew, I don’t know. There were a bunch of pie tins and spoons, and we all just looked at it and thought, “That looks terrible.” He turned around wagging a finger and waved it at us, saying “This is for Black Flag, and I don’t want any of you eating this.” It was like dipping into a pile of shit—nobody’s going to eat it. But it was a neat place. It was what it was.

One of my good friends took his mother to the place one night, and afterwards she expressed to him, “That’s the scariest place I have ever been in.” And I thought, “I’ve never thought of it as scary.” Somehow, it was just cool. It was always a treat to come up here and play. The Island was such a cornerstone of the whole thing. A little later we started playing a few other places and when I came back later, it was always a bigger deal, but the Island was your mental tattoo. I don’t need the ink—it’s there forever.

David: Women have always been a part of punk rock. I’m sure you loved all the bands that had women—X-Ray Spex, Blondie, whatnot—but in Austin and Houston, did you notice a lot of women participating?

Gary: More and more, they quickly became part of it. One of the first bands I saw in Austin at Raul’s was the Violators, and Kathy Valentine.

David: Of the Go-Go’s.

Gary Floyd by David Ensminger
Gary: Yeah, she was in that band. I was pretty new at the club at that time, so I was pushing my way into every scene, but that was very, very cool, and it stood out. It was like, “Hmm, this is going to be a scene.” Then as time went by, and those years are sort of foggy for me, the Buffalo Gals came out. And we were hearing about the Mydolls. There were women that I later on began playing with, like Lynn Perko was doing the Wrecks out in Reno. My mother was strong, and my sister was a sassy loudmouth, so I always had the image of women not being the weaker anything. And the music of the 1960s that I was earliest influenced by was political consciousness music, not some mindless bullshit—it was anti-war and pro-thinking, and women were a part of the music I liked. And I am a devotee of Mother Kali, so I better be respectful or she’ll slice my throat.

David: You also had a woman as manager.

Gary: Yes, in Sister Double Happiness I had a woman, Lynn, in the band that played the drums and was a huge part of the Dicks (San Francisco) too. Our manager was a woman, our lawyer was a woman.

David: Do you think punk rock kind of created an opportunity, a level playing field that maybe didn’t exist in regular rock’n’roll?

Dicks
Gary: Women created their own scene within punk. Punk really didn’t do shit for them—they did a lot of shit for punk, taking their own place. The whole idea of the movement wasn’t going to be like, “I’m a lily sitting in the background to be pretty.” It was, “No, not unless I want to be.” That’s what I was doing. [laughs] It was a scene that they took their place in.  A lot of people running the soundboard were women. I think they felt very empowered by the music as it was, because the line between fan, performer, and technician was getting blurred sexually and in terms of gender. People were taking their place within the scene.

David: I like the emphasis on “taking”—you have to be proactive.

Gary: That’s the same thing as well with gay folks. It wasn’t like people were sitting there and going, “I hope this works out.” The Dicks were not worried about people liking us because I was queer. I was like “Fuck you” if you don’t like it, and “Bless you.” [folds his hands in a blessing]

David: Did you feel the same thing applies to Randy “Biscuit” Turner of the Big Boys, who was putting himself out there in a way that was shocking?

Gary Floyd by David Ensminger
Gary: Well, Biscuit and I would talk about that. We were friends for many years before, and when we met up hanging out in that new scene, we had our bands, and we would talk how easy it was. I was a little meaner and didn’t mind confronting people. Biscuit would do it in a more clever way. But it all led to the same thing: empower yourself and make this work. And if you don’t do it, let’s all get together and make it happen. But you have to empower yourself.

David: Do you think that is even more important than the music, or do they go hand-in-hand?

Gary: Every breath you take, you have to empower yourself. So the answer is yes. If you work behind the counter at K-Mart, take yourself to be what you are, a powerful human who has the ability to do anything. But we talk about music because that’s what we do. Women were always very powerful in that scene, and I was very conscious of them.

David: When you were on the Rock Against Reagan tour and played places like Kent, OH, a smaller town, and other places, did you feel they shared a similar mindset as the people in Austin and Houston?

Gary: I would assume that they did when I would chat with people when we were busy going from place to place. I approached them in the way that they had already done that. They had taken control of their situation and I wasn’t there…

David:  …to liberate you.

Gary: Yeah, I can’t do anything with you, but I’m going to treat you like you’ve made yourself really strong. And I never got any, “I don’t want to do that,” like a need to dress in a certain way and go to church and make pies. Although I do love a good pie!

David: And you did go to church a bunch when you were young!

Gary: I went to several and ended up in the temples. I would treat the others—like the gays, big sissies, and the women, and everybody—I would treat them like I wanted to be treated. And I’m not trying to come across as self-righteous, because I’m a creep as much as anybody, but if you treat people like they are empowered, they’ll usually act that way. That’s all we can hope for.

David: You are sort of already recognizing that they are already liberated.

Gary: Because they are. Maybe they don’t know it. You treat someone like that, and they are going to be a whole lot happier with their lives.

David: Do you feel like things changed when the hardcore era came into it? Biscuit always told me that when the Offenders, MDC, and even more hardcore bands came along, it started dividing up the scene.

Gary: One of the reasons that the Dicks ended is because the scene had become very male. A big part of the scene had become the pit. That became a question, how was the pit? I never paid any attention to it, except when I was on stage singing. Women would feel free to come up to us—and to Lynn, and to Debbie, who was our manager—and they would talk about getting into the dancing and they couldn’t really participate because people knocked the shit out of them.

David: Or knock the shit out of you. I remember seeing the footage of you playing at the Olympic. They’re yelling at you…

Gary: They kicked me really bad—it was weird. We went back there later and played, and it was a lot better. We were paying the dues. It became a time that I was ready to move further and expand what I was doing, anyway. So that’s when I left and started Sister Double Happiness. You spoke about the Rock Against Reagan Tour a minute ago—there was a woman running most of that with the Yippies. They were very stoned and making a lot of decisions for a whole bunch of people, but there was a woman running it who I’m friends with until today.

David: You could have resettled anywhere, but, in particular, chose San Francisco, as did Verbal Abuse, MDC, and DRI. Was it just because of the community around the Vats or was it about the entire community?

Gary: The entire community, with an emphasis on the Vats.  That was a scary, weird, wonderful place, like so many people I know. And you had a band there called the Fuck-Ups, Bob Noxious, questionable politics, but the guy was always really nice to me. He had these two women, the Fuckettes. They looked after the scene. The power of women was going on there, and the thing about it is they were not tow-the-line, ideologically pure; these were just strong women who didn’t need anybody to define them. That always worked for me, as another human being who got along with them well. The scene there was very politicized.

David: The John Brown Anti-Klan committee was there.

Gary: All those things were there. And I have to say that I always give Dave Dictor from MDC a lot of credit because he was very political and talking up the politics of the scene. People fell into that habit of being strong women and men.

David: Do you think hardcore chased out gay men and lesbians, like it did women in general?

Gary: I dunno. It’s 2017, hardcore, I don’t know. People still do it. People still don’t know I’m not in the Dicks anymore. I see people sometimes, and they’re like, “When is the Dicks’ next show?” Well, um, there isn’t another one. I’ve made country albums. I’ve never felt restricted with music. I’m fine with how things are right now, with or without the music as punk rock. I don’t care.