It was 1977
And Indianapolis' music scene was desperately in need of a jolt.
Nightclubs shied away from original local tunes, primarily booking cover bands instead. Nevertheless, the punk and new wave revolution had still managed to reach a number of restless Indy souls, leading to an uprising of bands being formed in the city. At the movement's onset, this rebellious bunch of rockers was without a place to call home. But fortunately, this would change within a couple years, thanks to the humble club known as Crazy Al's.
Located at 54th and College – where the Jazz Kitchen is today – original club owner Jeff Bugbee began hosting shows put on by Twilight Tone Productions, a booking agency dedicated to changing the stagnant climate of Indy music. With the eventual sale of Al's to Steve Cohen and Dave Myers of Twilight Tone in April 1981, and backed with a financial contribution by Lee Alig,* the club's heyday began.
"Right away, it started catering to these bands that were forming at the time as a result of the interest in this new wave and punk scene," recalls Rex Martin, who performed in several bands during the Crazy Al's period including The Positions, The Obvious and Abstractions. "It was kind of a renaissance locally for rock and roll and that scene because there were a lot of bands performing and a lot of them were doing original work."
The club quickly became the center of the Indianapolis counter-music scene, not only welcoming bold local bands, but national ones as well, including Joan Jett, DNA, The Go-Go's, The Cramps and many, many more.
Cohen remembers, "The people were willing to listen to new music because that's what they wanted to hear. They didn't want to hear one more REO Speedwagon song or any of that crap that was on the radio." By bringing these notable underground acts to town while also offering local bands the opportunity to perform their own original tunes, the Indianapolis scene gained the creative hub it needed.
"Crazy Al's was really putting their arms around bands and nurturing bands that wanted to be original and wanted to do something different, and they made their venue available to pretty much any band that would come along that was looking for an opportunity to play somewhere," says Dave Fulton, who played in many bands of the era, including Joint Chiefs of Staff and Last Four (4) Digits. "I can't think of any other venues in town that extended that invitation as much as Crazy Al's did."
The creative community had its very own lair in Crazy Al's. Randy King, who played in Your Parents, Video Kids and The Positions, reflects, "It was our CBGB, or our Cavern Club."
Through Al's, the punk and new wave occasion in Indianapolis had a venue where musicians could make their counter statement to the insipid radio fluff of the early '80s.
"There were people who were somewhat thinking in the same way. There was a vibe. There were these bands. There was an audience that was interested," explains John Kimsey, who played in the band Art Thieves. "But, the occasion needed a place to happen— it needed a clubhouse or a centerpiece or something. And Crazy Al's became that."
But despite its influence, the venue's reign was short-lived, due in large part to difficulty coexisting with the residential area of South Broad Ripple.
Cohen explains, "The neighborhood had made it very clear that they were going to fight us. They didn't like all the weird people there." And so Crazy Al's closed on April 1, 1982, leaving an indelible mark on Indianapolis music history.
"The two guys that ran Crazy Al's were pretty much in the vanguard of recognizing that this was an important musical movement, and they helped catapult Indianapolis into the '80s to become part of that punk and new wave scene," Fulton says. "They did not create the punk and new wave scene in Indianapolis, but they helped nurture it and helped it really get a foothold in this town."
And it's because of this legacy that one local music fanatic has compiled a collection of songs from 38 bands that played during this era of punk and new wave in Indiana, recently released as a two-CD testament of that pivotal point in the state's music history.
- Photos by Guy Davis
- Latex Novelties at 2147; Jetson, opening for the Zero Boys at Crazy Al's
Turning Back Time
There are likely few that can contest with Rick Wilkerson's knowledge of Indiana music. An avid archivist and record collector, the co-owner of Irvington Vinyl currently owns more than 1,000 Indiana LPs and several hundred 45s. With this undying passion for the state's rich musical past, he started TimeChange Records, a record label dedicated to archiving and preserving Indiana music of all eras and sounds.
For his first release on the label, Wilkerson put out a compilation titled Early Indiana Punk and New Wave: The Crazy Al's Year(s). Spanning more than two hours, the 46-song set focuses on the groundbreaking 1976 -1983 period in Indiana, when numerous bands sprouted up from the woodwork in support of this insurgent rock and roll phenomenon.
- Katherine Coplen
- Rick Wilkerson at Irvington Vintage
"I hope [the compilation] is a comprehensive snapshot of the early punk and new wave era in Central Indiana," Wilkerson says. "We tried our best to cover it as thoroughly as possible. It's a scene that, in a perfect world, should have been much better documented during its time. Since that didn't occur, I hope that it's considered a worthy time capsule by those who were there, and those who would like to have been."
Fittingly enough, his fascination with local music first started around the Crazy Al's era, when he joined up with members of Dow Jones and the Industrials and The Last Four (4) Digits to form a small label called Hardly Music. But he didn't stop there.
"This is like my fourth label," he admits, laughing. "I can never quite get it out of my system."
Through TimeChange, Wilkerson will shed light on under-recognized treasures of the past; some will simply be straight reissues, while others will be first releases of recordings that never saw the light of day. Songs on the Crazy Al's collection were gathered from a variety of sources, from aging live cassettes to polished studio recordings. The compilation's liner notes say, "Many bands dug deep into their archives and friends' souvenir collections to come up with what is preserved herein." With the technology of the time, Wilkerson points out that local bands of earlier decades oftentimes didn't have a physical product to offer their fans.
"All of these bands that were playing live, most of them recorded in the studio. Those that didn't record in the studio recorded their sets live at the clubs," he says. "Yet, hardly any of them released anything. So there's all this stuff that's sitting out there that I think holds up and is worth hearing."
Although archival releases have become more and more widespread over the past few decades, there hasn't been a record label solely dedicated to preserving Indiana tunes, according to Wilkerson. He affirms, "This is really the only label that I know that's basically made this their mission." With this in mind, he hopes to make the most of his deep ties to Indiana music to ensure that these buried gems reach larger audiences.
"If in five years, somebody says, 'Hey. TimeChange Records put out some stuff that really deserved to be heard and preserved,' then I've done my job," Wilkerson says. "I don't know how long this run will last. I hope it'll last a long time. The longer it lasts, the more stuff I can preserve and put out, but it's really just a mission of preservation and spreading the word."
Those who were heavily active during the Al's era have been hugely appreciative of Wilkerson and his efforts to preserve the music from that time. King, who played the final chord in the venue on its closing night, says, "There's this actual physical CD of all this stuff, and for so many of us it's validation. It's like, 'Rick Wilkerson cared enough to preserve that stuff.' " He continues, "He's not going to get rich off of it. Nobody on the thing is going to make money off of it, but at least it exists and at least we'll get a little bit of respect. People will look at it and they'll go, 'This must've been a real thing."