Ground zero for the scene was the Mabuhay Gardens, home to huge barrels of popcorn, once-a-week spaghetti nights, colorful emcee Dirk Dirksen, and punk/new wave bands from all over the Bay Area.
Concert booker and renegade radio deejay Howie Klein joined with Aquarius Records owner (and fellow deejay) Chris Knab to launch a record label in support of that scene.
Based on nearly 100 interviews with the artists, industry execs, producers, friends, rivals, onlookers, journalists and hangers-on, Disturbing the Peace also features hundreds of photos and memorabilia from the personal archives of those who were there.
Verdict: The story of groundbreaking indie label 415 Records is told in this quite wondrous, thoroughly engrossing, and ultimately splendiferous new book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, due out February 14th, 2022 from HoZac Books.
If you were not aware, the label founded by Howie Klein released era-defining singles, EPs, and albums, and influenced other labels that followed; thus making themselves a springboard to artists and bands to go on and be the best they could be within the music business.
Although, and in all truth, Klein’s pop label has been since labelled (and wrongly, if you ask me) an insignificant player during SF’s excitingly authentic punk scene of 77-80, the bands that did come through the ranks there most certainly resonated within the local area.
Ergo, and whether you are a passerby to the era and the music put out by 415 Records, or a longtime fan, owning most all the output on vinyl or cassette, Disturbing the Peace is a rather fantastic read about a very interesting music scene that existed in one of America’s most creative cities.
In addition to interviews with the people who started the label and some of the bands that were on 415 Records, it also includes interviews with others that were also part of the music scene. Whether they be bigger fish from the same scene, or promoters, or simply just staff sidled with a more discreet left of center seating when it came to the cameras flashing and the comments being made, such notables now interviewed include: The Avengers’ Penelope Houston, Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, producers Stu Cook, David Kahne, Peter Maunu, Tim Palmer, Ed Stasium and, amongst others, Matt Wallace.
These people made 415 Records along with the local music scene the massively thrilling timeframe that it was, and thus it is these handsome strays that now come together to provide a greater context for that time period.
Chock full of a massive amount of photographs, the artists and bands mentioned and discussed include, but are not beholden to: Jo Allen and the Shapes, Baby Buddha, The Contractions, The Donuts, Roky Erickson and the Aliens, Eddy Godoretsky, The Impostors, Monkey Rhythm, The Mutants, New Math, The Nuns, The Offs, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, Pop-O-Pies, The Readymades, Red Rockers, Romeo Void, Sudden Fun, SVT, The Symptoms, Times 5, Translator, The VIPs, VKTMS, Wire Train, The Units, The Uptones, and more!
Excerpt: In the late ‘70s and early to mid 1980s, San Francisco was a creative incubator, bringing forth all manner of new music acts. Ground zero for the scene was the Mabuhay Gardens, home to huge barrels of popcorn, once-a-week spaghetti nights, colorful emcee Dirk Dirksen, and punk/new wave bands from all over the Bay Area.
Concert booker and renegade radio deejay Howie Klein joined with Aquarius Records owner Chris Knab to launch a record label in support of that scene.
Howie and Chris had been hosting their own programs at Bay Area radio stations. And the new punk/new wave radio format at one of them, KUSF would come to bear heavily upon the development of a new record label, 415 Records.
Because many of those bands had been sending demo tapes to Chris and Howie. As Knab recalls, a friend (and serious record collector) named Butch Bridges was along for the ride with him and Howie on one of those 50-mile drives from San Francisco to KSJO in San Jose. “We’d drive down there with a bag of music,” Knab says. “Sometimes 45s, and mostly demo tapes.”
As one version of the story goes, Bridges spoke to Chris and Howie. In his Southern drawl, he said, “You got all these demo tapes. Why don’t you start a record label?” Knab thinks instead that it was he who first gave voice to the idea; Howie has no recollection of the conversation at all.
Regardless of who first had the idea, all three men thought it was a worthwhile one. Memories differ, too, regarding the source of the seed money for what would become 415 Records.
Knab recalls that the plan was that each of them would kick in $300, but that Bridges – who drew upon a more reliable source of income than either Chris or Howie – put up the entire $1,000. “Howie and I didn’t put a dime into it,” Knab says. “Butch put up the money, and he never asked for it back.”
The new label would bear the name 415 Records (spoken as four-one-five, not four fifteen). Taken from the title of a song by Jonathan Postal’s group, The Readymades, the number 415 is a reference both to the telephone area code for San Francisco and the city’s law enforcement code for “disturbing the peace.”
At its start, 415 Records operated out of a small office above Aquarius Records. From the start, the roles of the three founders of 415 Records (plus an unofficial yet key critical fourth participant) were fairly well defined. Butch Bridges would be a silent partner.
“My job, early on, was to sell whatever we put out,” says Knab with a laugh. And there was no instruction booklet for the operation of this new business. “Every single distributor I talked to said, ‘If we’re going to carry your record, we want to be the exclusive distributor of it,’” Knab says.
Reluctant to make such exclusive deals, he told them all yes. “At the height of it,” he laughs, “I was dealing with 20-odd local distributors across the country, and they all thought they were the sole distributors of 415!”
With his natural ability to talk to people, Howie was the promotions guy. “He spoke the language of the radio programmers,” says writer Denise Sullivan, who would work for 415 in the label’s later years. “He did whatever he needed to do to get somebody excited about records. His pure, gut-level enthusiasm was selling these records.”
Howie’s networking skills would quickly emerge as a key strength of the new 415 Records operation. And it was the dawn of something new. “In our little scene in San Francisco,” Howie says, “we had the Mabuhay Gardens as a venue. We had local fanzines, we had radio specialty shows, and we had a label with bands.”
Statement: In the late 1970s, indie labels popped up all over America, forming an underground network that altered the course of musical history, explains Ira Robbins, co-founder of Trouser Press magazine.
Each one had a vision, characters and a story of DIY ingenuity, but those were overlooked as their bands took the spotlight.
Trouser Press worked a lot with Howie Klein and San Francisco’s pioneering 415 label, but I really didn’t know much about the company. Thanks to Bill Kopp’s definitive Disturbing the Peace, now I do.
About the Author: With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018).
The 4000-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill’s keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill’s work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print.
He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian Cannonball Adderley’s final album.
His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, is available now from HoZac Books.
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