THE SKABBS played nervy, astringent music at a time when all the other white kids in Lawndale, California, were into classic rock. It was 1977, and the LA punk scene hadn't yet taken off—not that saxophonist Andy Thoreson, guitarist Steve Evans, drummer Andy Gonzalez, and bassist Mike Enzor felt connected to any part of a fledgling scene.
"We didn't really think we'd be a real band," Enzor says. "We were just doing goofy stuff with saxophones, doing stripper music, just stuff to crack ourselves up. Then we 'heard about' punk rock. It was really more an intellectual decision than anything else. Like, 'Hey, maybe this is gonna be the next big thing, and maybe it'll kill off this corporate crap passing for rock 'n' roll these days.'"
Gonzalez knew this weird guy named Steve Salazar, and they approached him to write some original songs. "Steve had a degree in musical composition from USC and was writing symphonies as well as pop songs," says Enzor. "He wasn't really familiar with punk, so we gave him some records to listen to—the Ramones, the Jam, 'God Save the Queen'—and a couple days later he gave us a cassette. It was perfect for us. It was like he perfectly understood the concept we already had in mind. Also, he had such a unique voice we knew he had to be our lead singer."
With Salazar onboard, the Skabbs songs started coming fast and furious. Seventeen of them are collected on Idle Threat, released earlier this year by Portland's Jackpot Records label—the first time any Skabbs recordings have seen the light of day. They're culled from great-sounding rehearsal tapes as well as a January 1978 studio session at Media Arts in Hermosa Beach, where Black Flag recorded the Nervous Breakdown EP the same month. These excellent tracks reveal that the Skabbs, while heavily inspired by bands like Devo and Generation X, had their own warped worldview and a unique take on punk aggression.
The Skabbs would never get their due—Salazar died of a lifelong heart defect in 1979 at age 26. "The doctors told his parents he wouldn't live long," says Enzor. "When he beat the odds and made it to adulthood, he stood just under five feet tall and weighed under 100 pounds. He was incredibly fragile. It was our job to watch over him and make sure he was okay. I felt kind of intimidated by him because he was so smart. Of course he had a dark side too and a hot temper, but it all added up to a fascinating package. Some people got him, others didn't. Kind of like the Skabbs.
"After he died his mom told me he was somewhat satisfied because in the last year of his life, he had a girlfriend (lots of sex), had a warrant out for his arrest (for parking violations) and was the frontman for a crazy rock 'n' roll band (which probably killed him)," Enzor continues.
The remaining Skabbs have played off and on since 2006, and now they're touring in support of Idle Threat's long-awaited release. Salazar's younger brother Mark has also joined, playing his brother's keyboard parts and some of the vocals. "Mark is the only other guy in the world who knows these songs like we do. So, happily, we're a five-man band again and we've got a Salazar on stage with us. It's about as authentic a Skabbs show as you're gonna get in 2012."