1977 in Los Angeles
As one of Southern California's finest punk rock outfits, X put a permanent stamp on the decade's mainstream and alternative music through its energetic blend of roots rock, rockabilly, folk, country and straight-ahead punk. Because of an uncompromising, independent approach to songwriting and performance, the band never broke through as true stars, even if its output easily had the versatility to draw plenty of commercial as well as critical acclaim. Fueled by a solid and eclectic guitar-based attack and the lead vocals and harmonies of leaders John Doe and Exene Cervenka, the group became legends right away.
Original & Current Group Members:
- John Doe (born John Nommensen Duchac on February 25, 1954 in Decatur, Illinois) - Lead vocals, harmony vocals, bass guitar
- Exene Cervenka (born Christine Cervenka on February 1, 1956) - Lead vocals, harmony vocals
- Billy Zoom (born Tyson Kindell on February 20, 1948, in Savanna, Illinois) - Guitars
- D.J. Bonebrake (born Donald James Bonebrake on December 8, 1955) - Drums
Compared to most punk contemporaries, X enjoyed a surplus of musical proficiency and genre-defying sophistication. Much of that can be attributed to the strong music backgrounds of veteran musicians Zoom and Bonebrake and the artsy impulses of Doe and Cervenka, who met in fact at a Venice poetry workshop. A sign of that impressive breadth of influence and ability can probably be pinpointed in the fact that Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the popular '60s L.A. psychedelic band the Doors, championed X early on and produced its early recordings. This was essentially a punk/rock band with few limitations or restrictions.
Immediate Emergence As Critical Darlings:
Through the first half of the '80s, the original quartet released five albums of highly admired driving rock music, matching a prolific, nearly record-per-year output with a remarkably vibrant level of creative quality. In consecutive years from 1980-1983 alone, the group released critical favorites Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World. Packed with honest, often poetic lyrics merging the personal and political in unique, provocative ways, the band's music flirted with commercial success but always seemed to be a bit too defiant to reach the masses.
Continuing Influence of X and Its Members:
Even as the band began to wind down by the late '80s (Zoom retired after 1985's Ain't Love Grand, and his replacement, Tony Gilkyson, took over guitars on the group's swan song, 1987's See How We are), X and its members continued to exert a broad influence within the arts and pop culture into the '90s and beyond. Doe became a reliable character actor, providing memorable comic support, for example, in the preposterous but enjoyable 1989 film Road House, while Cervenka had success as a poet and spoken-word artist. Both artists, particularly Doe, would build respectable solo careers in the decade to come.
Alternative Rock's Rise Promotes Retroactive Attention:
The work of X had proven instantly influential, having a definite impact on the small numbers of artists who explored roots rock during the '80s as well as the blanket experimentation maintained within the heterogenous field of college rock. So undoubtedly, after Nirvana unexpectedly ushered alternative rock into a newly commercial era, the contributions of X in terms of preserving and promoting dynamic threads of popular music became more and more apparent to music fans of all stripes. Such extended life probably helped bring on the return of Zoom in 1998, after which the original lineup has toured sporadically.
31 Years and Counting:
By late spring of 2008 the original quartet had embarked upon its winkingly termed 31st anniversary tour, taking the band's complex yet direct musical fusion into a fourth decade with flair and energy. The continuing popularity and critical acclaim of Americana and roots music indicate that the core sound of X has really never gone out of style even as it has evolved away from pure punk. As such, this is a reunion that is particularly welcome in an age when so many other '80s artists of much greater prominence long ago exceeded their saturation points. Here's hoping appreciation for this great band continues to rise.