Redd Kross, from Hawthorne, California, is one of the great West Coast rock bands. Brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald have been performing their mysterious alchemical transformations of pop trash since they formed the Tourists in 1978, when Jeff was 15 and Steve was 11. The first lineup, with guitarist Greg Hetson, played its first show with Black Flag. In We Got The Neutron Bomb (2001 Three Rivers Press), Jeff McDonald remembers: “Redd Kross got Black Flag their second show, a sixth-grade graduation party in Hawthorne playing in somebody’s living room. That was Redd Kross’s first show before Janet Housden played with us. We were all pre-to-mid teen—one was 12 and one was 11.” In the summer of 1979, Red Cross played Black Flag’s famous Polliwog Park show, where punk rock interrupted the lunches of picnicking families in Manhattan Beach.
Before he was Black Flag’s second singer, Ron Reyes was the drummer on the Red Cross EP (1980 Posh Boy), which included the McDonalds’ instant classics “I Hate My School,” “Clorox Girls” and “Standing In Front Of Poseur.” Hetson joined the Circle Jerks, who turned Hetson’s Red Cross song “Cover Band” into their “Live Fast, Die Young.” After Reyes and Hetson left, Red Cross became a trio with drummer John Stielow. Writing in BAM, Jennifer Schwartz described a 1981 show: “Just after the opening band Circle One finished their sweaty, macho blast of three-chord hardcore, Red Cross stumbled onto the stage with flashy guitars, platform shoes, teased hair, black eyeliner, and gold lamé pants. The shaved-head assemblage fell silent in utter horror.”
Stielow and guitarist Tracy Lea, also of the Castration Squad, played on Red Cross’s first album, Born Innocent (1982 Smoke 7, 1986 Frontier)—a punk classic, with “Linda Blair,” “White Trash,” “Kill Someone You Hate” and “Notes And Chords Mean Nothing To Me” as well as Charles Manson’s “Cease To Exist.” Drummer Janet Housden, who also played on the record, joined the band replacing Stielow. According to the All Music Guide to Rock (2002 Backbeat), shortly after the release of Born Innocent, the International Red Cross threatened to sue the band if it did not change its name, which consequently became Redd Kross.
In 1983, Redd Kross acted in and contributed to the soundtrack of the Super 8 LA punk feature film Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984). Lovedolls director David Markey writes at his website that Housden was kicked out of the band during filming. “I remember that made for a few tense moments,” Markey writes, “especially when we filmed the live Lovedolls sequence at an actual benefit for the film at the notorious Hollywood dive punk basement, the Cathay De Grande, in December of 1983. Janet was to use her replacement drummer Dave Peterson’s kit, and I remember she was threatening to destroy it.” Peterson appears on Teen Babes from Monsanto (1984 Gasatanka), six classic rock covers and an updated “Linda Blair.”
Markey and the McDonald brothers co-wrote Lovedolls Superstar (1986), the sequel to Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, and Redd Kross again acted in the movie and played on the soundtrack. Redd Kross’s next proper album was the hard-rock classic Neurotica (1987 Big Time), recorded with guitarist and singer Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (apparently no relation to the brothers). Victor Indrizzo, who has since become a popular session drummer, joined Redd Kross in 1988. Cherie Currie, the lead singer of the McDonalds’ heroes the Runaways, joined Redd Kross onstage for two Runaways songs during a show that year at LA’s John Anson Ford Theater. Joined by Pat Smear of the Germs and Pat Fear and Trace Element of White Flag, the McDonalds recorded the Tater Totz’ first album, Alien Sleestacks from Brazil (1988 Gasatanka).
Redd Kross signed to a major label for Third Eye (1990 Atlantic). Hecker left in 1991 to form his own band, It’s OK. The McDonalds assembled a new Redd Kross with drummer Brian Reitzell, guitarist Eddy Kurdzeil and keyboardist Gere Fennelly. This lineup recorded the next two albums, Phaseshifter (1993 This Way Up/Mercury) and Show World (1997 This Way Up/Mercury). Kurdziel died of a drug overdose in June 1999.
Ze Malibu Kids, the McDonalds’ band with Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey (Jeff’s wife), Jeff and Charlotte’s daughter Astrid, and That Dog’s Anna Waronker (Steve’s wife), released Sound It Out (2001 Houston Party). Sympathy for the Record Industry reissued Neurotica in 2002. The Neurotica-era line-up (the McDonalds, Hecker and Roy McDonald) reunited in 2006. Redd Kross was on fire opening for Sonic Youth at the Greek Theater in July 2007, playing the entire Born Innocent album (Sonic Youth played the entirety of Daydream Nation).
In the summer of 2012, the reunited core of Redd Kross released the back-to-basics scorcher, Researching The Blues (Merge Records). The band celebrated the release with a blistering in-store set at Amoeba Music Hollywood, and continue to tour to this day.
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