Gary Floyd, Scene-Defining Singer of Austin Punks the Dicks, Has Died

WATCH: An exclusive look at Arts+Labor’s in-progress Dicks doc

Gary Floyd of the Dicks performing at the 2009 Austin Music Awards (photo by John Anderson)

Gary Floyd, the multiformat artist who helped define the Austin punk scene as the outspoken frontman of rowdy punks the Dicks, has died at 71. He was taken off life support after a stay in the hospital with congestive heart failure.

Floyd grew up in Palestine, Texas and spent two years in Houston – where Floyd, a conscientious objector, worked as a janitor at a state hospital in order to avoid the draft – before he moved to Austin in 1974. By 1980, he, bassist Buxf Parrott, drummer Pat Deason, and guitarist Glen Taylor had formed the Dicks.

Perusing the titles on definitive compilation album Dicks 1980-1986 – “Anti-Klan (Part 1), “No Nazi’s Friend,” “No Fuckin’ War,” “I Hope You Get Drafted” – you get a sense of the band’s Reagan-era politics. Most aggressively upfront was Floyd himself, a fat, openly gay man who often wore drag while performing to Eighties Texas crowds. “Dicks Hate the Police,” a brutality satire often covered by Mudhoney back in the day, might be the band’s calling card, but “Saturday Night at the Bookstore,” an atonal tale of gloryholes and self-hating closeted men, best depicts Floyd’s blunt style.

In a 2000 Chronicle feature on the singer, punk forebears Jello Biafra and King Coffey recalled the exact moments they first saw Floyd front the Dicks. For the Dead Kennedys singer, it was 1982.

"I was a little late for the show, and walked in and there was Gary in full drag (with eye shadow that made his eyes a lot bigger to us down on the dance floor), a long, long wig, cut-off shorts, and a tight white wifebeater shirt with a great big white bomber bra underneath,” Biafra said. "Believe me, Gary took on a whole new dimension in drag that was more alarming than anything I've seen him do since. My God, a 300-pound communist drag queen who can sing like Janis Joplin."

Scroll to the end of this story for an exclusive first look at an upcoming documentary about Gary Floyd and the music he made. Arts+Labor, working with The Society for the Preservation of Texas Music, is making this documentary short about The Dicks for its "How We Found Our Sound" series – look for it later this year. (courtesy Arts+Labor)

Coffey, then a Fort Worth high schooler and not yet drummer for the Butthole Surfers, recalled of his first Dicks show: "People began leaping from the stage, the slammers behind me began making double-time, and the rest of the crowd as deliriously happy as I. Right then and there, in the middle of 'Fake Bands,' I had my first major rock & roll epiphany. I knew then I wanted to move to Austin, be a punk rocker, be in a band, and try to relive this moment for the rest of my life.”

Floyd moved to San Francisco in 1982 and, after the Dicks disbanded in 1986, led a number of other projects. More than a screamer, the vocalist showed off his singing chops in alternative blues ensemble Sister Double Happiness, which toured with Nirvana and Soundgarden in the Year Punk Broke. Aughts band Black Kali Ma followed, blending the styles of his previous projects.

Outside of music, Floyd wrote books – including the 2014 mini-autobiography Please Bee Nice: My Life up ’til Now and 2017 Dicks lyric book I Said That – and made visual art. In 2022, he debuted his last Austin art show, Maybe We’ll See Butterflies, at Prizer Arts & Letters. Issues with diabetes and congenital heart failure, plus a fall the artist suffered during the pandemic, kept Floyd from returning to Austin for the opening, but he caught up with the Chronicle for one last Q&A.

On the art show’s uncharacteristically optimistic title, he joked: “It sort of hippies me up a little bit, right? What good punk rocker would ever call anything after the loving butterfly? I'm glad to break all those molds and not be too sealed into any one idea. So, hippie butterfly, let it be. It's that stubborn, hardheaded Texan part. I'll say I'm a hippie, but if you say I'm a hippie, I'll say, ‘Well, wait a minute now, I'm a punk rocker.’ And if you say, ‘Well, okay, you're a punk rocker,’ I'll say, ‘Wait just a minute now!” It's always fighting the titles hung around your neck.’”

In his final Chronicle interview, Floyd said he had given up his in-your-face ways. “I'm just a sweet old Buddhist now,” he declared. From his home in California, he looked back on his time in Texas with similar ambivalence.

“Texas is where I grew up,” he said. “I've lived in San Francisco longer than I've lived any place – I moved out here in ’82 with the Dicks. The original guys moved back, but I've been in bands almost ever since. My home is where I am with my friends. My family is gone, but I've been so lucky to have a family from my friends, my chosen family. And luckily, they've chosen me back. It's like – I could die here; I could die there. I could die on the plane en route [to Texas], and I'll be happy because I've had such wonderful friends and a really good, full life. It's still happening.”

The Dicks from Arts+Labor on Vimeo.

Credits:
Arts+Labor
Director: Alan Berg
Producers: Laurie Greenwell and Dawn Johnson
Creative Director: Cody Ground
Art Direction/Animation: Vicky Andres, Laura Gonima
Online Editor: Jessie Auritt

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Gary Floyd, Dicks, King Coffey, Jello Biafra, Alan Berg, Arts + Labor, Sister Double Happiness, Black Kali Ma

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