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DEAD KENNEDYS BIOGRAPHY

If there is one group that stands out as the epitome of American Punk it is the Dead Kennedys. Some may argue that Henry Rollins and Black Flag or Exene Cervenka and X or even Lee Ving and Fear were the stalwart renegades of rock'n'roll at the dawn of the American Punk scene, but no group can hold a candle to the controversy generated by the "DK" and their flamboyant leader, Jello Biafra...

Jello Biafra (real name Eric Boucher) became enamored with the burgeoning British punk scene in 1977 after seeing The Damned and The Sex Pistols play in San Francisco. A brief visit to Britain clinched the deal -- he became determined to create an American equivalent to what was going on in the UK.

Dead Kennedys began when vocalist Jello Biafra answered an ad placed by musician East Bay Ray (Raymond Peppernel). They were soon joined by Klaüs Flouride (Geoffrey Lyall) and Ted (Bruce Slesinger). They adopted their colorful stage names, and began rehearsing shortly before their first gig in July 1978. From the outset, Dead Kennedys were much more than a "typical punk band." They were clearly more musically skilled than their peers and, most impressively, the lyrics were dripping with sardonic wit. Biafra's politically charged lyrics left virtually no public figure, left or right (especially right), or any issue unscathed.

Dead Kennedys, circa 1980
Dead Kennedys circa 1980. L to R: Klaüs Flouride, Jello Biafra, East Bay Ray and Ted.

Biafra's primary targets were big business, the American Government, Ronald Reagan, and the ineffectiveness of the political left among others. In 1979, so disgusted with the state of politics in San Francisco (after the murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk), Jello actually ran for mayor on a platform that included requiring police officers to run for election! Most shocking of all is that he came in fourth in a field of ten! In 1979, DK released their first independent single, "California Uber Alles", an attack on then-governor Jerry Brown, satirizing his purported wacky new-agey antics.

Though they rarely played outside the Bay Area, it was around this time that IRS heads Miles Copeland and Jay Boberg learned of the band. Miles immediately signed them and work began on their first album, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Legend has it that... well, legend has a tendency to overstate and embellish facts, but legend has it that Miles kept the signing hush hush and that the LP and its simultaneously released single, scheduled for release on Christmas day, 1980, got the axe from A&M honchos Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss. IRS was being manufactured and distributed by A&M at the time and A&M had recently taken a critical and financial licking by signing and immediately "un"signing The Sex Pistols. That incident not only cost a few bucks (collected by Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren) but almost cost the label several star acts (such as the Carpenters) who threatened to leave the label if they actually signed the controversial British punk band. A&M did not want another punk fiasco so they refused to distribute the Dead Kennedys records. This forced Miles Copeland to launch a US version of his UK punk distribution operation, Faulty Products. (More can be learned about Faulty Products in Part 2 of the IRS Story).

But the controversy did not end there. The band's name alone was controversial enough -- playing gigs on November 22nd every year (anniversary of JFK's assassination) only inflamed the controversary. And legal troubles started almost immediately. A member of the band pictured on the back of Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables -- in actuality an old photo of a 50's sock-hop band -- recognized the picture and sued. Faulty revised the sleeve and re-released the album. At this point, Ted left the band and a new drummer named D. H. Peligro (Darren Henley) replaced him. The notorious single "Too Drunk To Fuck", an EP, In God We Trust, Inc. followed as well as a second LP, Plastic Surgery Disasters.

Around this time the band took a break. Jello concentrated on running his label, Alternative Tentacles while the rest of the band pursued solo work. At this time Miles Copeland also decided to cease the Faulty Products operation. While Faulty distributed selected Alternative Tentacles product, Faulty's demise was the impetus Biafra needed to get AT up, running and self-sufficient -- which he succeeded in accomplishing.

Dead Kennedys returned with Frankenchrist in 1985. This LP ultimately (and indirectly) led to the demise of the Dead Kennedys. An enclosed poster of Swiss surrealist and ALIEN stylist/creator H. R. Giger's painting "Penis Landscape" gave the band its greatest publicity ever. Under a revised California obscenity law, a suit was filed on behalf of the mother of an adolescent who purchased the LP. Prosecutors argued the poster, which features an offensively garish landscape of penises and anuses (peni and ani?), broke the law written to prevent pornography from being distributed to minors. The legal battle ran for two years, during which time Jello Biafra joined the likes of Frank Zappa and John Denver in condemning the actions of the PMRC (Tipper Gore's music censorship operative). In 1987 the case was dismissed after a hung jury could not reach a concensus.

During the legal wrangling, a final original LP, Bedtime For Democracy was released. The trial took its toll on the band and they soon called it quits. A compilation of their best, Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death followed in 1987. After that, each member went his own way, with Jello doing a series of well-received and critically acclaimed spoken-word albums. Klaüs Flouride has recorded several solo LPs and D. H. Peligro has a band called simply "Peligro." Jello continues to run Alternative Tentacles (and Klaüs, until recently continued to record for AT). In 2000 Ray, Peligro and Fluoride filed suit against Biafra and AT, claiming royalties were withheld and that the rest of the band was not given a say when Biafra opted not to allow the tune "Holiday In Cambodia" to be used in GAP TV commercial. The former bandmates were victorious in court but as of 2002 a countersuit by Jello Biafra is in progress. It seems the band began touring with former child star Brandon Cruz (best known as the kid from The Courtship Of Eddie's Father) pulling lead vocal duties, yet promotional materials include images of Jello Biafra, giving fans the impression that they are going to be seeing the genuine Dead Kennedys when in reality they're only seeing a "pale imitation". There have been numerous reports of concertgoers demanding their money back. When and where this will end is anybody's guess, but there's a certain irony in something as raw as "punk" resorting to corporate legal strategies...

Stay tuned for more from the only American Punk band whose impact on music will continue to be felt (and heard) for years to come!


DEAD KENNEDYS IRS DISCOGRAPHY

This discography will cover only DEAD KENNEDYS' recordings for IRS Records. Recordings for other labels, other recordings, solo recordings and guest appearances, may be mentioned in the biography or discography, but details can be found by visiting some of the cool links for DEAD KENNEDYS, below...

Albums & EPs

SP 70014 (original cover) SP 70014 (revised cover) FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES
IRS SP 70014 (Released 25 Dec 1980)

Vinyl Only.
Reissued in 1981 with revised cover on Vinyl & Cassette.
Reissued several times subsequently by Alternative Tentacles on Vinyl, Cassette & CD.

Produced by Norm
Engineered by Oliver Dicicco
Recorded at Mobius Music
Assisted by R Pepperell
Mastered by Paul Stubblebine
Sleeve Concept by Jello Biafra
Artwork by Annie Horwood
Front Cover Photo by J Calson
(courtesy of the San Francisco Examiner)
DK logo designed by Fallout Productions

Musicians:
Jello Biafra lead vocals
East Bay Ray guitar
Klaüs Flouride bass & vocals
Ted drums
Additional Musicians:
Paul Roessler Keyboards on cuts 6 & 11
6025 Guitar on cut 13
Ninotchka Keyboard on cut 6
Rocky Mountain Arsenal Choir (Dirk Dirkson, Bobby Unrest, Michael Snyder, Bruce Calderwood, Geoffrey Lyall, Eric Boucher, Ninotchka, Barbara Hellbent, HyJean, Curt & Chichi) background crowd scene on cut 8

Track Listing:

  1. Kill The Poor (Biafra/Ray) 3:07
  2. Forward To Death (6025) 1:24
  3. When Ya Get Drafted (Biafra) 1:23
  4. Let's Lynch The Landlord (Biafra) 2:13
  5. Police Truck (Biafra/Ray) 2:24
  6. Drug Me (Biafra) 1:58
  7. Your Emotions (Ray) 1:22
  8. Chemical Warfare (Biafra) 2:55
  9. California Über Alles (Biafra/Greenway) 3:01
  10. I Kill Children (Biafra) 2:05
  11. Stealing People's Mail (Biafra) 1:35
  12. Funland At The Beach (Biafra) 1:48
  13. Ill In The Head (6025/Biafra) 2:46
  14. Holiday In Cambodia (DK) 4:40
  15. Viva Las Vegas (Pomus/Schuman) 2:38

Review Coming Soon!


Virus 5 IN GOD WE TRUST, INC.
VIRUS 5 (Released Nov 1981)

Vinyl & Cassette.
Reissued several times subsequently by Alternative Tentacles on Vinyl, Cassette & CD.

Produced by Norm
Engineered by Oliver Dicicco
Recorded at Mobius Music & Live at Target
Assisted by East Bay Ray
Artwork by Winston Smith/Fallout Productions & Biafra


Musicians:
Jello Biafra lead vocals
East Bay Ray guitar
Klaüs Flouride bass & vocals
D. H. Peligro drums
Additional Musicians:
Choir (East Bay Ray, Bobby Unrest, Geoffrey Lyall, Ninotchka, Annette HyJean, Darvon & Siobhan) background vocals.

Track Listing:

  1. Religious Vomit (6025) 1:03
  2. Moral Majority (Biafra) 1:55
  3. Hyperactive Child (Biafra) :37
  4. Kepone Factory (Biafra) 1:17
  5. Dog Bite (Flouride) 1:13
  6. Too Drunk To Fuck (Biafra) 2:39 *
  7. The Prey (Biafra/Ray) 3:44 *
  8. Nazi Punks Fuck Off (Biafra) 1:03
  9. We've Got A Bigger Problem Now (Biafra/Greenway/Ray/Flouride/Peligro) 4:24
  10. Rawhide (Washington/Tiompkin) 2:07
  11. Holiday In Cambodia (DK) 3:00 *

    *Bonus Cuts on cassette only

Review Coming Soon!!!
Virus 27 PLASTIC SURGERY DISASTERS
VIRUS 27(Released Sept 1982)

Vinyl & Cassette
Reissued several times subsequently by Alternative Tentacles on Vinyl, Cassette & CD.

Produced by Thom Wilson & Dead Kennedys
Executive Producer Norm
Recorded At Hyde Street Studios & Mobius Music
Engineered by Oliver Dicicco, John Cuniberti & Mark Wallner
Sleeve Concept Biafra
Front Cover Photo © Mike Wells
Back Cover Photo Charles GateWood
Special Thanks to Geza X, Bill Gilliam, Mike & Cindy Vraney, Microwave and everyone else who supports the band. Especially those who inspire us by getting off your ass and doing something on your own.

Musicians:
Jello Biafra lead vocals
East Bay Ray guitar
Klaüs Flouride bass & vocals
D. H. Peligro drums
Additional Musicians:
The Mega Fiesty Designer Horns (Dave Barrett, Geoffrey Lyall & Bruce Ackley) Sax & Clarinet on cut 2
6025 Guitar on cut 13
Ninotchka Keyboard on cut 6

Track Listing:

  1. Government Flu (Biafra) 2:59
  2. Terminal Preppie (Biafra) 2:26
  3. Trust Your Mechanic (Biafra) 1:58
  4. Well Paid Scientist (Biafra) 2:22
  5. Buzzbomb (Biafra/Ray) 2:21
  6. Forest Fire (Biafra) 2:22
  7. Halloween (Biafra/Ray/Flouride/Peligro) 3:35
  8. Winnebago Warrior (Biafra/Ray/Flouride/Peligro) 2:08
  9. Riot (Biafra/Ray/Flouride/Peligro) 5:57
  10. Bleed For Me (Biafra/Ray/Flouride/Peligro) 3:25
  11. I Am The Owl (Biafra/Ray/Flouride/Peligro) 4:51
  12. Dead End (Ray) 3:55
  13. Moon Over Marin (Biafra/Ray) 4:03

Review coming Soon!


Singles

IR9016 "Holiday In Cambodia"/"Police Truck"
IR9016 (Released 25 Dec 1980)

Produced by Geza X
Sleeve Design by Biafra


The versions heard here are slightly different than those that appeared on the simultaneously released LP.


Virus 2 "Too Drunk To Fuck"/"The Prey"
VIRUS 2 (Released June 1981)

Produced by Geza X & Dead Kennedys
Production Assistance by East Bay Ray & Norm.
Sleeve Design by Fallout Productions & Biafra
Thanks to Les, Ninotchka, Siobhan & Barbara H.
A-side title supplied by Ken Fowler...

Probably the most offensively titled recording in the entire history of the IRS operation. The sleeve carried a sticker that covered the title, allowing stores to actually display it. Believe it or not Mr Bill actually picked his up at a record shop in the heart of the bible belt!


Virus 23 "Bleed For Me"/"Life Sentence"
VIRUS 23 (Released 1982)

Produced by Thom Wilson & Dead Kennedys
Executive Producer Norm
Special Thanks to Geza X
Engineered by Oliver Dicicco, John Cuniberti & Gary Mankin
Sleeve by Biafra
Lyric sheet photo by Charles Gatewood
Lyric sheet illustration by Steve Ballinger
Mixed by East Bay Ray

Review coming Soon!


Virus 28 "Halloween"/"Saturday Night Holocaust"
VIRUS 28 (Released 1982)

Produced by Thom Wilson & Dead Kennedys
Executive Producer Norm
Special Thanks to Geza X
Engineered by Oliver Dicicco, John Cuniberti & Gary Mankin
Front Cover by John Greenwway Back Cover by Biafra

Review coming Soon!


Compilations & Soundtracks

HEARING AIDS (No #) includes "Government Flu" on side 2
NOT SO QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (Faulty Products Virus 14) includes "A Child And His Lawn Mower" on Side 2, Cut 6.


DEAD KENNEDYS LINKS & OTHER COOL STUFF

There are a number of websites devoted to the DEAD KENNEDYS...



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This Page Last Updated 10 September 2002

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