They were just heavy. Heavier than you. Heavier than anything…When they played they were amazing. – Henry Rollins, Get In The Van
It’s like Spinal Tap, except the bass player keeps dying – Bruce Loose on the band’s history
Although they came out of a hardcore/punk underground, Flipper’s music was had little to do with traditional “loud fast rules” principles of punk. Combining a certain brand of absurdist/black humor and inspired by the likes of Public Image Limited and Stooges, Flipper managed to piss off and excite crowds simultaneously. Another non-musical influence (drugs), unfortunately, claimed a life of of one the band’s founders, Will Shatter and later, his replacement, John Dougherty.
Band’s work was praised by many, including Kurt Cobain (his self-made band t-shirts appear in the booklet for Nirvana’s “In Utero”), Moby, Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction) and Henry Rollins. Flipper’s songs were covered by Melvins and Unsane, among others.
Flipper was formed by Tim Mooney and Will Shatter, former members of two other San Francisco bands – Sleepers and Negative Trend. The band’s original vocalist Ricky Williams was kicked out of the band before they made any recordings.
Flipper’s first recordings appeared on “SF Underground” compilation to which the band contributed a track called “Earthworm”. 1981 saw the release of “Love Canal / Ha Ha Ha” 7″ and finally the band released their first full-length – 1982 “Generic”.
The deranged masterpiece/centre of the album was 7-minute+ “Sex Bomb”, which contained little besides screamed song title, courtesy of Will Shatter (in a way “Sex Bomb” also echoed Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie”). Another track off the album, “Life”, provided the immortal (and decidedly un-punk) line “Life is the only thing worth living for”.
All Music Guide review concluded that “On Album — Generic Flipper, Flipper plays noise rock with none of the pretension that later bands brought to the form, proving that music doesn’t have to be fast to be punk (a lesson that gave the Melvins a reason to live), and creating a funny, harrowing, and surprisingly engaging masterwork that profoundly influenced dozens of later bands without sounding any less individual two decades later.”
1984 brought live album “Blow’n Chunks”, as well as another Flipper’s full-length – “Gone Fishin'”. AMG pointed out that “Not as confrontational nor as gloriously unhinged” as its predecessor, “Gone Fishin’ still has moments that will poleaxe you with their power.”
1986 live album “Public Flipper Limited” (the title itself is a play on the name of Public Image Limited, Johnny Lydon/Rotten post-Sex Pistols band) featured material recorded by band between 1980 and 1985. It also became their last 80s record, as the band broke up and on December 9, 1987, Will Shatter died of a heroin overdose.
Flex described the album as being “weirder” than the band’s studio material, while AMG commented that “The sound is messy and grimy, but that enhances the experience” / “but it’s also easy to see that Album was without a doubt their benchmark record and that even the good material released after it (like this LP) couldn’t equal its high (low?) standards.”
Early 90s saw the band being resurrected once again, as they released “Someday / Distant Illusion” single in 1990 and a subsequent full-length called “American Graffishy” in 1993 (which saw John Dougherty replacing Will Shatter). AMG called the album “only half succesful”, but also pointed out that ” when the album connected it showed that the group still had something fine to offer on its own particular terms.”
Entertainment Weekly gave the album a C grade and called it “a straight-ahead exercise in loud, sludgy rhythms and cynically gleeful, by-the-book nihilism.”, while Boston Globe commented that “Flipper is still a glorious mess; sonically, they haven’t aged at all, and witty observation remains part of the package. But there’s a certain maturity here, especially in the songs that close each side.”
Mid 90s also saw the band making a deal with Rick Rubin, who re-released “Generic Flipper” and a compilation called “Sex Bomb Baby” via his Infinite Zero label. IZ, however, went out of business and Flipper’s records largely went out of print. Unfortunately, the band lost another member to heroin overdose, as John Dougherty passed away in 1995.
Like a number of rock musicians before him, Dougherty’s constant and prolonged use of heroin caught up with him in a tragic way.
Following a long period silence, the band reunited and were joined for UK/Ireland/US tour by none other than former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. In 2000, they also recorded “Scentless Aprentice” cover for a Nirvana tribute album. The band parted ways with him in September of 2008 and he was replaced by Rachel Toele.
Water Records reissued four of the band’s albums in CD format in 2008, including “Album – Generic Flipper”, “Gone Fishin'”, “Public Flipper Limited” and “Sex Bomb Baby”. 4 Men With Beards label is scheduled to release vinyl versions of the same albums in 2009.
In 2009, the band released a double album called “Love/Fight”, which included new studio album and a whole record of live material. PopMatters website commented that “Whatever happened within the band between “American Grafishy” and now, it’s, apparently, all water under the bridge because on “Love” and “Fight,” Flipper put up a united front. Where “Love” is missing the grit and the attitude, “Fight” delivers with the live aggression; when “Fight” isn’t the cleanest live recording, studio album “Love” picks up the slack. Call it yin and yang (or aptly timed marketing if you’re more cynical) but the two records clearly complement one another.”
Bruce Loose (Bruce Calderwood)
Steve DePace (Negative Trend)
Ha Ha Ha / Love Canal 7″ (Subterranean, 1980 / Alternative Tentacles, 1982)
Album Generic Flipper CD / LP (Subterranean, 1981 / SPV, 1993 / Def American, 1993 / Beggars Banquet + Def American, 1993 / 4 Men With Beards, 2009)
Sexbomb / Brainwash 7″ (Subterranean, 1981)
Get Away 7″ (Subterranean, 1982)
Blow’n Chunks CD / LP / Cass (ROIR, 1984 / 2001 / 2005)
Gone Fishin’ CD / LP (Subterranean, 1984 / 1988 / Water, 2009 / 4 Men With Beards, 2009)
Public Flipper Limited 2xLP (Subterranean, 1986, Fundamental, unknown year)
Some Day / Distant Illusion 7″ (Subterranean, 1990)
American Grafishy CD / LP (Def American, 1992 / SPV, 1993)
Flipper 7″ (Matador, 1992)
Sex Bomb Baby CD / LP (Infinite Zero, 1995 / Subterranean, 1995 / Water, 2008 / 4 Men With Beards, 2009)
Live At CBGB’s CD (Overground, 1997)
Flipper Live DVD (Target Video, 2008)
“Earthworm” on SF Underground (Subterranean, 1979)
“Falling” + “Lowrider” + “End The Game” on Live At Target (Subterranean, 1980)
“Ever” on Eastern Front (ICI Sanoblast, 1981)
“Ha Ha Ha” on Let Them Eat Jellybeans! (Alternative Tentacles, 1982)
“Sacrifice” on Not So Quiet On The Western Front (Alternative Tentacles, 1982)
“Life” on Rat Music For Rat People (Go!, 1982)
“Falling” + “Lowrider” + “End The Game” on Live At Target – A Video Album (Target Video, 1983)
“Life” on Rat Music For Rat People, Vol. 1,2 and 3 (CD Presents, 1987)
“Ever” + “Sex Bomb” on The-Wanna-Be-Indie-But-We-Got-Too-Much $ Sampler (Def American, 1992)
“May The Truth Be Known” on Anthems For The Rotten (Steamhammer, 1993)
“Full Speed Ahead” on New Product (SPV, 1993)
“Sex Bomb” on RCD Punk Plus Collection 14 (RCD Magazine, 1993)
“Someday” on Til Def Do Us Part Pt. 2 (Def American, 1993)
“Love Canal” + “Get Away” on Infinitze Zero Promotional CD #2 (Infinite Zero, 1994)
“Ha Ha Ha” on Old School Punk (Neurotic, 1995)
“Love Canal” on Infinite Zero Promotional CD #4 (Infinite Zero, 1996)
“Love Canal” on Sampler IV (Infinite Zero, 1997)
“Scentless Apprentice” on Tribute To Nirvana (Silver Star, 2005)
“Ha Ha Ha” on So Indie It Hurts: ROIR Rocks Vol. 1 (ROIR, 2008)