Cash From Chaos

Reissue Issues

Personally, I'm thrilled to death that people are still interested," says Joel Richardson of San Diego, formerly of Austin. "I'm fascinated that people still have some recollection of the Huns. When we all moved away, I kinda figured it was just gonna fade away and just be part of Austin folklore."

Richardson may now be head of security at one of San Diego's older nightclubs, the Brass Rail, but 17 years back he was playing bass for those aforementioned Huns. Yup, those Huns. The closest thing Austin punk rock had to a homegrown Stooges. Unwitting fathers of a psychodramatic performance style, which persists in alternative Austin today in bands like Pocket FishRmen. Protagonists in one of the more shopworn bits of Austin punk folklore, The Raul's Bust. (Cliff's Notes Version: Huns debut a set of Pistols-inspired audience antagonism/cops attempt to stop show during a tune called "Eat Death Scum"/singer Phil Tolstead kisses APD officer Steven Bridgewater on the lips/much mayhem ensues/arrests are made/instant legend status for the Huns - cemented by photos and blurbs in Rolling Stone and New Musical Express.)

What Richardson is learning is that one of rock's five ugliest male heads (according to an '81 issue of Creem), Bob Seger, was right on one score: Rock & roll never forgets. The Les Paul may be in Mom's attic, the waistline may be too big for the drainpipe trousers, and having a wife and 2.3 too many responsibilities prohibits living off Ramen and Busch tallboys. Yet every strain of rock has its season to be collectible, and right now it's the turn of late Seventies punk. Last decade, it was Sixties-era punk, thanks in no small part to Lenny Kaye's groundbreaking early Seventies anthology of vintage fuzzboxes-and-Brian-Jones-haircuts rock, Nuggets. Suddenly, the marketplace was awash in reissues and anthologies and archival releases of the stuff, everything from Nuggets knockoffs of varying degrees of quality and legality, like Pebbles and Boulders, to re-pressings of complete LPs from garage megastars like the Seeds and non-stars like the Swamp Rats. And the more obscure the band/record, the better.

A change in decades means a change in a collectibles decade. Now anything in safety pins and Sid haircut is what's collectible. The mentality remains; it's the names that change. Instead of Back From the Grave, it's Back to Front. And instead of Thee Forgotten Fyve, it's the Nipple Erectors. Or the Huns.

For all their notoriety, the Huns were ('til recently) surprisingly sparse in documentation: one 45, "Busy Kids" b/w "Glad He's Dead," recorded on the sly at the studios of Austin City Limits, and about as easy to find as a Democrat in Congress (it was also the subject of a limited, quasi-legal re-pressing a few years back). Richardson had recorded on a Nagra reel-to-reel many Huns rehearsals and every Huns show (including The Bust, although the tape ran out on the opening notes of "Eat Death Scum," much to their attorneys' chagrin), although the Nagra and the tapes were lost, in Richardson's words, "in shuffles and moves."

Enter Ryan Richardson (no relation to Joel). A young collector of Texas pogo punk whose Existential Vacuum Records had issued archival releases from Dallas' legendary Nervebreakers and the Hugh Beaumont Experience (to the annoyance of ex-Beaumont King Coffey), Richardson discovered a tape of a Huns' set at the 1979 statewide "Battle of the New Wave Bands" finals in Dallas, recorded on a mobile unit for release on an aborted live LP of the event. Richardson (who, due to a cross-country vacation trip, was unavailable for comment) then started making plans to release it, first contacting the Huns' self-described "drummer, songwriter, and dramaturge," Tom Huckabee.

"He's a friend of my brother's," says Huckabee, now a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. "My brother called up and said [Richardson] found a tape and bought it, and he was gonna do a record. He was wanting to know in retrospect if I would give permission, but basically he was gonna do it whether I did or not. And I can admire that, because some things in this world don't get done unless somebody does 'em regardless of what everybody else wants."

As Huckabee himself notes in his liner notes to The Huns: Live at the Palladium 1979:"This recording... is excellent. Too good, I'm afraid, as it only magnifies our ineptitude." Which may be stretching things (as is calling the Huns "the Pistols with Sid on every instrument"). What it is, is a document of a competent band on a bad night, at points getting the parts right while seemingly unable to play 'em together. Huckabee himself says the music is "only marginally compelling," the record's value "being more anthropological than artistic," making this the Metallic K.O. of Huns-kind. Still, since much of the Huns' appeal was apparently in the spectacle, perhaps Joel Richardson is correct in thinking that what the world needs is a CDV of the sole 15 minutes of Huns video footage that exists (complete with the spectacle of Huckabee's roommate on a cross, dosed on ipecac, spewing, and guitarist John Burton refusing to budge from his amps "because he doesn't wanna get anywhere near the guy that's puking!")

Eight hundred copies of the live album have been pressed and released. Huckabee, who initially thought the tape should have been edited down to an EP, thinks Ryan Richardson ultimately made the right decision in releasing the bulk of the tape, warts and all. "It's a great little piece," he says. "I love the package; I think Ryan did a great job putting it together."Joel Richardson's first reaction wasn't quite as positive. "When I'd heard that it had been pressed, my first reaction was, "Ohmigod! No!" says Richardson. "But overall, I was very pleased with it. It's got some of the flaws inherent in that particular situation [i.e. - recording a live set with no soundcheck, with all the audible adjustments in levels that entails]. When I played it, I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary that just stood out as a glaring problem. It sounded just like the tape to me."

Huckabee and Joel Richardson may be fine with release of the record, but not every Hun is. Guitarist John Burton, now working in retail marketing and exercising an interest in European cultures, read about its release in the Chronicle (and of the release of another Existential Vacuum reissue, Sacred Cattle, which features another band with Burton and Joel Richardson, Boy Problems) and was stunned. And displeased, initially because it was done without his knowledge or consent.

"I can't say who else [Richardson] spoke to," says Burton. "I have no idea. But I live in Austin, and they didn't even make any attempt to ask my permission or contact me. I went down and bought a copy of it, and I guess somebody who works at the record store told the guy who put it out. He called up [Chronicle Senior Editor] Margaret Moser, got my phone number, and called immediately. When he found out I was somewhat disgruntled, he miraculously found out how to get ahold of me immediately and called that day. But he couldn't do that before."

That aside, Burton's dismayed at seeing the release of what he believes was "the worst performance we had, pretty much. It's just unfortunate to have that as a representation of the band. I don't know what the legalities are. It may be public property by now. But from what I remembered, we signed some kind of contract or whatever saying that [permission for performances to be used on the planned compilation LP] was subject to all of our approval. And after the fact, after we recorded it, we all agreed it totally sucked, and there was no way we wanted to release it."

"It would seem," remarks entertainment lawyer Mark Tolleson, "those musicians that performed on that tape would have to go back and see if there were any written agreements anywhere along the pathway that would help define rights. [Burton] may claim they were in breach of their agreement. And if those agreements are upheld as valid, he may be in a position to get an injunction to stop the sale of the record. He may be able to sue for damages if he can establish that there are damages in relation to the breach of contract. Those are two things that come to mind."

"I would say what it gets back down to is what kinda contracts were in place when the album was originally put together," says DejaDisc owner Steve Wilkison, whose reissue of the Live at Raul's comp was done with no pain, save for whatever was incurred securing permission to release two Roky Erickson tracks originally cut for the record and barred from release by either Roky's label or management (depending on who you talk to). "It can become very nebulous, a lot of those bands in those days were operating without contracts. Y'know, for a band to really be up-and-up legally, there needs to be some kinda contract within the band as to who constitutes the band and all that kinda stuff. And then, when things like this come up, there's something to refer to."

Burton, for his part, decided the best action is no action. "I don't wanna get into a squabble over this thing. I was really disturbed when it was first released, and I thought about taking some sort of action to try to get the sale of it stopped. I left town for some period of time, and after that, I just decided the best thing was just to ignore it. Because anything like that... would exacerbate it and blow it up even more."

Huckabee feels Richardson "made the right decision doing it as a quasi-bootleg," but noted in a letter dated July 11, 1995, that Richardson was "sensitive over insinuations of bootlegging and is especially concerned over John Burton's condemnation of the album. "I think he did try to a certain extent to track certain people down and didn't have a whole lotta luck," says Huckabee. "But I don't think the record would have come out if he had [had any luck]. For instance, John Burton probably never would have gone along with it, and I don't know about the others. I haven't spoken to Dan [Puckett, former Huns keyboardist, a copy editor at the Fort Worth Star Telegram and a published novelist, last Huckabee had heard; Phil Tolstead's likely converting savages to Christ, somewhere] in about eight or nine years."

Jeff Smith, who had licensing headaches of his own with Hickoids reissues, recently saw tracks from "this band I had when I was 15 years old with a drum machine," the Smart Dads, resurface on a San Antonio punk comp called Taco City Rockers. "I'm surprised anyone had any tapes, in the first place," he says. "You never know what people will hold on to, I guess. It's old, I'm not embarrassed by it or anything. It's just kinda silly. I can't imagine any interest anyone would have in putting it out. But I guess what I would say to anybody in a band is if you've got the live tape, and there's something you don't like about it, I would recommend destroying it, if you don't wanna see it resurface in the future."

"Filthy lucre ain't nothing new," reads a verse to the Sex Pistols' "The Great Rock `n' Roll Swindle." "We all get cash from chaos!" Actually, the Huns said it best: "Never let them take control/Don't let them hate your rock `n' roll...."

"What it all comes down to," Mike Tolleson warns future reissuers, "is there are usually rights there, and those pathways need to be explored. I know there are people out there who want to think that there's a real simple and easy way to get this done, to go out and reissue this material. But it's important to realize that rights very likely exist with regard to the songs, the music that's being performed, as well as the ownership of the original tape in and of itself. And those pathways need to be explored." n

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