Guitarist Bob Clic recalls the story of Murder and the early days of Bay Area Thrash Metal
When the Bay Area started to emerge, there was no Thrash or Speed Metal. It was Hard Rock, Heavy Metal. Back in those days, the Bay Area bands were mostly influenced by the N.W.O.B.H.M., but tried to create their own style and sound. One of the earliest Bay Area outfits was Murder, and former guitarist Bob Clic told us the history of the band.
Bob, do you still remember at which point you started showing an interest in music and in Hard Rock/Heavy Metal particularly?
I got into music as a little kid. Top Ten Radio in the early 60’s had a lot of good bands mixed in with whatever else. I got into heavy music whenever I first heard it I think, garage rock, Count 5, Yardbirds.
What were your very first faves to start with?
Cream, Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix. Blue Cheer especially.
How did you end up becoming a musician? When did you first start learning to play an instrument and which instrument was it?
I started playing guitar in 1965. I was 9 years old. I had older brothers who bought rock records. They were a big influence, the records they had.
Were you self-taught or did you regularly take lessons?
I took folk music lessons. I learned old timey Carter family stuff and American folk songs until I could play decent. My parents insisted I learn to play a couple years before they hired one of the guys from the high school to give me rock lessons. He taught me to learn pretty much anything off of records. He taught me to teach myself. It was good for me.
When did you decide to be part of a band?
I always wanted to be in a band. It just didn’t really happen until much later. In the 70’s when punk rock started.
What about the Bay Area scene as a whole? How did it come into being? How did it start taking its shape?
I don’t know, maybe around the time Motörhead came to town? After that SF had what seemed like a pretty thriving young metal scene at that time I was still playing punk rock in the Lewd and Kurdt Vanderhoof was trying to start that first version of Metal Church and he and I and a few others went to the Anvil Chorus practice room and jammed on some songs we were making up that night. We called it Murder. This was in 1980. Kurdt moved back to Washington so I got other guys and put a band together, eventually leaving The Lewd to just play in Murder.
Were Exodus, Leviathan/Anvil Chorus, Vicious Rumors, Metal Church, Control, Sinister Savage/Griffin, Blind Illusion, EZ-Street, Agents of Misfortune, Trauma, Murder etc. those bands that were popping up at the same time and started everything? Did they belong to the first wave of Bay Area metal?
Yes, I saw most of those bands. We knew the guys from Leviathan, pre Anvil Chorus. They used to visit the Lewd house and are still friends. Ha, those guys liked punk rock and saw all the great punk bands back before they were old enough to drink. When we got Murder going at first there was a bigger division between the punk and metal bands. We mostly played with punk bands because metal wasn’t really very thrashy or punk fueled yet. The punk/metal uneasy friendship hadn’t taken root yet except for a few of us. But right from the first night we knew Murder was playing punk/metal. You couldn’t call it anything else really. We came from the other end, we had the punk power already, we just added what we liked from Heavy Metal into what we already knew.
Do you agree with the notion that the earliest documented roots of the Bay Area thrash scene date back to the formation of Exodus in 1980?
Well, to me Exodus weren’t very thrashing at first, they started out with more of a N.W.O.B.H.M. sound. Judas Priest and Scorpions were a big influence on all the earliest SF metal bands. Not until Metallica came and played. After Metallica came it was like the local bands realized it was ok to speed it up and they started adding that thrash sound.
Do you think, that the Bay Area thrash scene might not have had the media attention L.A.’s glam scene received?
The Bay Area did ok, several of them became huge bands. But no, you can’t beat LA when it comes to promoting a bunch of crap bands. They had MTV.
Would you say that Rampage Radio, created by KUSF DJs Ron Quintana, Ian Kallen and Howie Klein, and has been assaulting the airwaves with metal on a weekly basis ever since its official birth on Sunday, March 6th, 1982, played also an important role in the Bay Area scene?
Totally! Yes, Ron Quintana especially really helped it form and was like a spiritual center for the scene. He turned everybody on to something, some band they never heard or rare live recordings. He knows more about this stuff than anyone.
Do you recall one of the very first fanzines Metal Mania, that was done also by Ron Quintana?
Yes, of course. I still have several early issues stashed away in my old stuff!
What can you tell us about the club scene? What were the first clubs that started opening their doors for Hard Rock/Heavy Metal?
Well, the punk clubs and bookers were pretty open to having metal bands play. The Mabuhay Gardens had metal bands mixed in and gave them metal nights. Also clubs like the Stone, Old Waldorf and Ruthies most of those bands you are talking about grew too big to play those clubs within 3 or 4 years.
What do you think about the idea that Metallica’s move to the Bay Area was an important step? In your opinion, were they the fastest, rawest and most brutal band at this point?
Yes, it was super important. Like I said, Metallica showed a direction and brought another piece of what would become the Thrash Metal sound. Bands had already starting absorbing the British and European N.W.O.B.H.M. sound and they added the thrash rhythms and ran with it. They wouldn’t have done that without Metallica.
In the early 80’s, more and more heavy metal bands started popping up in the Bay Area, such as Mordred, Ruffians, Death Angel, Laaz Rockit, Warning, Legacy, Ulysses Siren, Havoc, Assassin etc.? What were your views on the scene at this point?
It was predictable actually. The same thing happened in the punk scene: there were so many bands that took their inspiration from the exact same places. Bands end up with similar looks, sounds and attitudes. They still do that.
Is it correct, that Kurt Vanderhoof, bassist for the Lewd originated the basic concept for Murder and wrote two songs (The Butcher, Cease to Exist) before leaving the Lewd to eventually form Metal Church and he passed these songs onto you?
Yea, I think there were five or six songs that Kurdt wrote that we played then. When he left and I decided to continue it those two songs are the ones Nyna wrote words for.
You approached bassist and long-time friend Ed Ju MacNeill (Fuck-Ups, Legionnaires Disease) with the concept of a Heavy Metal band doing songs about serial killers, maniacs ect., shared Kurt’s two songs and conceptualized a splatter rock band and together wrote a set of songs in that genre. Where did this idea come from?
Growing up watching horror movies! At that time I worked in a movie theatre on Market St in SF and Ju and I and Danny loved that stuff. The crazier it was, the more we liked it!
By the way, did you desired writing originals or were you mostly jamming on covers?
In the time that Murder was together we only played two cover songs, Second Time Around by Blue Cheer and Hot Smoke and Sassafras by the Bubble Puppy.
Drummer and graphic artist, Danny Dui (Flyin’ Fucking A-Heads) was then added and he supplied poster art and the blood dripping Murder logo, while Nyna Crawford (VKTMS – R.I.P.) joined the band as a singer. How did they get in the picture exactly?
Well, Danny was involved right from the start, he thought up the name! We knew him from the punk scene, he came from Hawaii with a punk band called The Uptights and befriended the Lewd. He was a long time roadie and artist for us and other bands around town. Nyna I knew from The VKTMS and she left that band about a month before I left the Lewd. A very important friend suggested I go see what Nyna was up to. She wanted to play louder and faster so it seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately she and Ju had previously been going out together and putting them both in the same band was a stupid idea! They hated each other at the end.
A single was then recorded with Murder and Chainsaw Love (Slight Return). What do you recall of the recording sessions?
We played a benefit for Ginger Coyotes Punk Globe and Ginger was able to gift us some free recording time at Hyde Street Studios, one of the big time studios in town. I mostly remember that I daisy chained five complete amp rigs in that big room, one of them was a Sony reel to reel tape recorder with those speakers that become the lid for the recorder. That was mic-ed up in an isolation booth. No distortion pedals, just a wahwah. The engineer combined those amps all into one overloaded guitar sound.
How would you describe the material? How did it sound like?
Punk metal. Loud and fast with plenty of guitar!
Did you shop it around to attract labels’ interests?
No, we used the tape to get gigs I think. I gave it to Ron Quintana of course. I don’t recall if any of us even talked about record labels back then. We assumed what we were doing was underground it would stay that way. We figured if we got a record out it would be because someone we knew did it from their living room, not a big label.
Have you regularly gigged in those times? How about your performances?
We played once a month or so.
Is it true, that Ju designed macabre stage sets, choreographed the lighting, smoke, dry ice and pyro for the live stage shows and live skits with various beautiful women being butchered were added?
Yes, we had no budget, but we had lots of imagination! We had a full guillotine, and several fake corpses onstage and behind things. On our final live show our singer shot the guy who introduced the band as “America’s Favorite Sport – Murder”. That guy had condoms filled with blood and firecrackers under his shirt front so the folks up front all got blood splatter in their faces! At the end Ju and I slit our girlfriends throats and dragged them backstage. We had a song called Abduction, about kidnapping and torturing a beautiful girl on her wedding night, so our friend Shoshana allowed our singer Tom to rip her guts out.
Did it help fill the venues?
No. Probably not! I think it would have if we kept going. Our best show was our last show.
Was your goal to appeal to the audience? Did it cause a lot of harm for the band? The crowds were titillated by the backdrop of eerie atmospherics and the music, weren’t they?
Well, our audience was made up of our friends from both the punk and metal scenes. They all grew up watching horror movies, too. I know people who saved and probably still have bloody souvenirs from our shows.
At which point did Danny leave the band and was replaced by Carl Sacco (Metal Church, Heathen later on)? Was he your first choice becoming the new drummer?
Danny pawned his drums one time too many. He’s my good friend still after all these years, but we couldn’t count on him then. Our next drummer was my friend Harley Flanagan from the Stimulators and Cro-Mags. He came out to Ca, when he was 15 and played with us for about two weeks or so. He was young and wild and he was out rambling…. our perfect drummer. I was sad when he left town. Harley and I stay in touch, he sends me his new recordings…. very heavy and also very good I think. After Harley we got Carl.
There was another line-up change, when Nyna left after a while, because the shear volume of the band was corrupting her voice and Tom Wilsey was then added as front man…
Yes, she had trouble with the volume, and we weren’t very sensible. She was right, but you know how it is, louder is better! You gotta remember that amps and foot pedals and guitarists rigs were different back then. Things didn’t work the way they were supposed to. You had to turn amps up loud to get them to sound cool. Now it’s easy. Anyone can sound heavy with whatever modern amp they find and just thinking about which distortion pedal to use gives me a headache! I prefer the old ways. Get a big old amp and turn it up. When Nyna left we regrouped, got Tom Wilsey to sing and that was when we kinda got focused. His lyrics were all about murder.
Several songs were recorded in the studio; what were those ones and did you evolve compared to the demo? Did your style somewhat change?
We recorded some songs for a demo at The Vats, a punk rock squat in an abandoned beer company. Like I say, we got more focused as a band, what we wanted to sound and look like. I prefer that lineup.
Nothing was released from the band except the aforementioned single. What were the reasons for it?
We just weren’t music business oriented. When people start talking to me about record labels I just tune it out. We wanted to play music, we didn’t really think about much else. I’m still that way, my relationship with music doesn’t involve “business” in any way.
Finally the band dissolved during a dormant period as you rejoined the more active Lewd, and Carl Sacco joined Heathen, while Nyna later joined Smashed Weekend, reunited VKTMS in 1995, and passed away of ovarian cancer in 2000. What can you tell us about it?
I didn’t rejoin The Lewd until 1998! After Murder I started another metal band called Die Seiger, we played shows with Metallica, Slayer, even Spinal Tap! By the end of the 80’s I was done with it though. I took a year where I just went to work everyday and let my guitar strings rust. No playing at all. I needed a break. During that time I started buying records that I remembered loving as a kid, the bands that got me into playing guitar. I dug deeply into 60’s blues rock, Peter Green, Savoy Brown. I sort of rediscovered my guitar, dusted it off and since then I’ve pretty much ignored all the heavy groups and punk bands I used to like.
In the mid 80’s there was a kind of Thrash Metal boom in the Bay Area, more and more new outfits appeared on the scene, such as Forbidden Evil/Forbidden, Heathen, Death Penalty (later known as Vio-lence), Defiance, Redrum, Sentinel Beast, Führer, Mercenary, Desecration, Epidemic, Sacrilege B. C., Betrayel, Sadus etc. How did you find this movement? Were they the second generation of Thrash Metal?
Yea, some of the second gen thrash bands really got that sound, like a whirling dervish of hardcore rhythm. It’s pretty impressive sounding when it’s done right!
A lot of musicians crossed their ways since they played in several groups, correct?
Well, yes, like Carl Sacco: he was in The Lewd, Murder and Die Seiger with me before going on to Heathen. We all ran in the same circles socially. Sometimes it was easier to call someone you already know is weak in some way and try to work around it, auditioning new musicians is hell on earth.
Do you think that it was an exciting period, but the scene became oversaturated later on?
It did for me. I love aggressive music, I’ve played in a lot of bands that were aggressive sounding. But jeese, it’s not the ONLY thing. However I lived through periods of really great music, and without a doubt I saw the best of the punk bands and the best of metal at that time. It doesn’t interest me much anymore, but I still love the Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath I grew up with.
Compared to the New York or Los Angeles-based thrash bands, the Bay Area ones were more melodic, technical, had a tight rhythm section, catchy riffs, killer solos and often sing along choruses. Do you agree with it?
I don’t really know. Probably.
Were the Bay Area bands easily distinguishable from each other in terms of songwriting, producing, sound etc.? Did all of them have an own/unique music, style, sound etc.?
The ones that got bigger like Exodus and Metallica each had something unique. Those guys were inspired by early classic heavy rock and the N.W.O.B.H.M.. The next generations of bands after that were often inspired by Exodus and Metallica. So things start sounding the same. This also pushes bands like Metallica to struggle with staying “ahead” of the kids, because the kids sound just as good as they used to. That’s a vicious circle to be caught in from what I can see.
Would you say that Bonded By Blood is a milestone in Thrash Metal and if it had been released the same year as Kill ’Em All or Show No Mercy, as intended, it’s almost certain that Exodus would’ve seen similar success?
It’s hard to say for sure. Success is a motherfucker. I’d point out that Exodus did pretty well for themselves, but it’s a little bit like the Misfits. There are plenty of punk bands who put out records better than the Misfits, but none of them are more famous. What punk band is more famous with more people than the Misfits? When a band really takes off they leave their peers behind.
There was a third wave with bands such as My Victim, Extermination, but they never managed to reach the fans’ attention…
By then I was no longer paying attention. I never heard of them.
Did you take part in the Thrash of the Titans that was a benefit concert held on August 11, 2001 at the Maritime Hall in San Francisco and the concert was a co-benefit for Testament vocalist Chuck Billy, who was diagnosed with germ cell seminoma (a rare form of cancer) and Chuck Schuldiner (R.I.P.), leader of Death, who was also battling cancer?
I was aware of it but didn’t go.
During the past years a lot of Bay Area musicians passed away, such as Cliff Burton, Jon Torres, Sam Kress, Jim Larin, Kevin Mahoney, Mike „Yaz” Jastremski, Bob Yost, Randy Laird etc. How do you feel about it?
Well, I’m in my 60’s. I’ve had a lot of friends pass away. It still hurts though. Cliff’s accident is still pretty upsetting. Bill Skinner passed recently.
Who are/were your best friends from the Bay Area scene?
From the metal scene it would be the guys from Anvil Chorus, Bill, Doug, Thaen, also one of the guys, who was in that first SF version of Metal Church, Rick Condrin, we stayed close until he passed…. Jeese, now that you ask a lot of them are gone.
Do you still keep an eye on what’s going on in the metal scene these days, and what do you think about it compared to the glorious 80’s?
Not much. I ignore more music than many people listen to! Before the pandemic hit I was able to take my 13 year old grandson to see Metallica, it was interesting seeing them in a baseball stadium. Seeing him react to songs I first heard at the Mabuhay Gardens was a trip.
Bob, thank you for the interview! What are your closing words?
Only to thank you for being interested in one of my old bands. I appreciate your reaching out to me and wish you the best!