BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Starting in 1977, Los Angeles band X blazed the trail for a uniquely American form of punk rock. Although fueled by the New York scene centered around CBGB, singer and bassist John Doe confirms that jazz great Django Reinhardtand blues giant Lead Belly were more inspirational to himself and guitarist Billy Zoom than British punks like the Clash.
“Django for Billy and Lead Belly for me,” says Doe. “Eddie Cochran and Little Richard had a lot to do with our musical goals. The first wave of punk was eclectic. It wasn’t as codified as it is now.”
The quartet fronted by former spouses Doe and Exene Cervenka respected the Ramones, but also leaned upon urban poetry and country music. “We were listening to George Jones and Tammy Wynette and Webb Pierce.”
Despite modest success with “Burning House of Love” from 1985’s “Ain’t Love Grand,” the group’s first four records released from 1980 to 1983 and produced by The Doors’ Ray Manzarek have emerged as cult classics. X will play “Los Angeles,” “Wild Gift,” “Under the Big Black Sun” and “More Fun in the New World” in sequence next week at City Winery.
“If the audience goes to all four shows, which is admittedly extravagant, they’ll hear depth,” says Doe. “It gives us a real sense of accomplishment.The Germs accused us of being hippies, even in 1979, because we played slow songs like ‘Adult Books’ or ‘Unheard Music.’”
“That’s kind of working out for us now,” says Doe. “When we play ‘Come Back to Me’ with Billy on sax and DJ [Bonebrake, drummer] playing vibes, it’s pretty cool that it still has the ethos of punk rock.”
Bringing life to X’s history reconnects Doe with the mindset that produced classics like “The Hungry Wolf.” “We had a bunch of people in our circle,” says Doe. “We felt we were like a wolf pack. In 1981, wolves were just being reintroduced to parts of the U.S. They’re a mystical kind of animal. I became obsessed with them. All of those things worked into the song. I still give to charities to try to keep misguided ranchers from shooting wolves from helicopters.”
A pair of extra musicians will assist during selected songs with denser arrangements. “We never played ‘I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts’ or ‘Come Back to Me,’” says Doe. “We couldn’t. Being able to do those songs now is my favorite part of this.”
* X, with Not in the Face, 8 p.m. Sept. 2-5, City Winery, 1200 W Randolph, (312) 733-9463, $35-$45; citywinery.com.