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In The Red Records' Larry Hardy: "I Had The Stooges' 'Raw Power' by Late 1975, Way Before Punk Rock"

Larry Hardy is the founder and owner of In the Red Records (ITR). For the past 33 years, ITR has been one of the leading independent labels. ITR's discography runs the gamut from The Gories to Andre Williams to Redd Kross. Throughout all the turbulence that's impacted the record industry—from streaming destroying the traditional business model, long vinyl turnaround times, etc.—Hardy and ITR have persevered. Most importantly, the quality of the label's releases has never wavered. The following interview is the first segment of a three-part series. It covers Hardy's early years, stopping just short of ITR's founding in 1991. Segment two will cover ITR's history from 1991-2000. The last installment will go over the years 2000 to the present. 

In The Red Records Founder Larry Hardy at age 18. Photo Provided.

Ryan Leach: You were born in Anaheim, California, correct?


Larry Hardy: Yes. November of 1962.


RL: What did your folks do? 


LH: My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad had spent most of his career in the Navy. When they had me, they were older. I was an accident. By that time, my dad was a foreman at some factory. But my parents had split before I was in first grade. I was with my mom from there on out. 


RL: You were an only child?


LH: It was just me.


RL: You lived in Orange County for a long time.


LH: Yes. Up until my late twenties when I moved to Los Angeles with my first wife (Melanie Vammen). Once I moved out of my parents' house in Anaheim, I lived in Fullerton. So, I didn't get far. 


RL: Many people don't realize that Orange County is Richard Nixon country. They think Southern California is all liberal. 


LH: Nixon came out of Yorba Linda. I wish I could get back to this mindset, but back then I didn't think of politics at all. Even in my late teens when Reagan was elected, I didn't think about how that was going to impact me, while everyone else did. It was so far down my priority list—way below The Damned or The Stooges. Politics was boring. The first time I noticed it was when I moved to Los Angeles and I was still commuting to work in Orange County. This was when Clinton ran against George H.W. Bush in 1992. Living in West L.A., I saw nothing but Clinton signs. Driving down to Huntington Beach, I saw nothing but Bush signs. I remember thinking, "This is really weird." Stark difference.

 

RL: You were living in Anaheim and so much younger than the people participating in the first-wave L.A. punk scene. How did you get to catch all of those early shows? 


LH: I got into music and records early on. My mom was single, she started dating, so I had babysitters all of a sudden. My dad was really strict. He hated rock 'n' roll and people with long hair. He was against anything counter cultural. My mom was kind of the same. I think that made me more attracted to the counterculture. Hippy girls and stoner dudes would babysit me. They'd bring their records over. I got into it. I heard Black Sabbath when I was in second or third grade. I started buying records and that became my thing. I wasn't into sports. I wasn't into most of the shit kids were into. I got fully into rock 'n' roll. I was buying rock magazines. The people at the record stores were typically nice to me because I was a kid interested in music. They'd tip me onto stuff. I had The Stooges' Raw Power by late 1975, way before punk rock. I was listening to David Bowie. I was lucky to have had people turning me onto The Ramones and Rodney on the ROQ. Rodney was the big one for me. His show was a turning point. I was listening to him in late 1976 when he played The Damned and The Sex Pistols on the same night. I was completely obsessed with punk rock. That became my thing. I would listen to Rodney every week. He would play all the English and local stuff. I was hearing The Bags and The Controllers on the radio. I had to get those 45s. That's when I started going to the Capitol Records Swap Meet. That happened once a month. I had an older friend named Mike Dratch. He took me to my first shows and to the Capitol Records Swap Meet and Zed Records in Long Beach. Zed Records would get everything in. I was 14 and punk became my life. I was lucky to know Mike. He was the older brother of a friend of mine who was my age. Mike had Alice Cooper posters in his room. He was way on top of it. He had copies of Back Door Man fanzine. He was mail ordering for early Pere Ubu albums. He went to New York and came back with the first Suicide album. 


RL: That's amazing. 


LH: Yes. He was my mentor. 


RL: Mike got you to all those L.A. shows. I know you saw The Screamers and The Germs. 


LH: A lot of them. Mike was into The Dolls, The Stooges and The Dictators. But when it came to The Germs, he would look down his nose at those kind of groups. "Some of these local bands you like aren't good." Luckily, I had an older friend who'd take me to those shows. His name is Dave Brooks and we're still friends to this day. 


RL: You attended Katella High School and witnessed the "punk riot" that happened there in 1981. 


LH: I watched the plans get hatched by the guys who'd invited Black Flag to play our school. I was privy to the info that it was not going to go well. 


RL: I'm sure most people outside of Anaheim are unfamiliar with what happened. 


LH: It was local news at the time—even making the cover of the newspaper. Black Flag used to put it out there: "Get in touch with us. We'll play anywhere." And they did. They would sell out the Santa Monica Civic and then go play some bullshit little place they got invited to the very next week. They were always playing and they were easy to reach. So, this kid at my school contacted them. "Hey, will you play our high school? We don't think it'll go down well because most kids here don't like punk rock." And Black Flag responded, "No, that's great. If they throw stuff at us, that'll make us play better." They were into the idea. The kid who hatched the plan went to the school administrators and said they had a country-and-western band that they wanted to play the assembly. He gave them a fake name. It was supposed to be a surprise. But Black Flag started telling people that they were going to play this high school in Anaheim. I think they might have said something publicly. Word had gotten out. The day of the event there were tons of these punk-rock kids showing up at our school. The show was supposed to happen at noon at the amphitheater outdoors. You weren't a popular person if you looked like a punk rocker in Anaheim in 1981. So, all the jocks at the school were getting primed to fight these punk rockers. A bunch of fights broke out. Needless to say, Black Flag didn't play. I can't recall if they even showed up. They might have even been told, "Hey, don't come." It was crazy. People that I knew who were into punk just showed up. "Hey, crazy seeing you here in front of my high school." Everyone was there to see a free Black Flag show. But it did not go well. The school called the cops. Violence broke out among the students, these football players beating up on these punk rockers they didn't like seeing at their school. But when the cops showed up, they started beating on the punks as well. 

Jeffrey Lee Pierce fronting The Red Lights at the Whisky a Go Go (1978). Photo by Larry Hardy.

RL: Let's talk more about those shows you went to and the Capitol Records Swap Meet. I'm sure you saw Jeffrey Lee Pierce there. 


LH: I saw Jeffrey Lee Pierce there. I recognized Jeffrey because I saw his group The Red Lights open up for The Germs. I also used to see Tomata du Plenty and Darby Crash walking around at the Capitol Records Swap Meet. They were like rock stars to me. I used to hear them on Rodney every week and I'd see their photos in Slash and Flipside. To me, that was no different than seeing Iggy in Creem. I was awestruck by them. But you could walk up and talk to them if you wanted to. Same with going to see them live. I never did make it to The Masque. I wanted to. I did get to go to the Whisky a bunch. Pleasant Gehman was the booker, so she was booking all of her friends' bands. It was not uncommon for The Germs to headline on a weekend night. Same with The Screamers. I saw X at the Whisky. I went to The Starwood a bunch. 


RL: You took photos of these shows which you haven't really shared with the public. To the best of my knowledge, you have the only known photos of The Red Lights. 


LH: That's pretty incredible considering I didn't know who The Red Lights were. I do have one big regret. The best photos I ever took—I wasn't a good photographer and I had a terrible Instamatic. I took photos for myself and I was inconsistent about it. I would go to a lot of shows where I didn't take the camera. There were only a handful of shows that I shot. Nevertheless, I have these really great photos of The Germs at the Hong Kong Café. I was standing right up front, the stage was really low, and I was in their faces. Middle Class and Black Flag opened and I took photos of them. Red Cross (Redd Kross) was first that night and it was an early show for them. Steve McDonald was 12 years old. And I didn't take any photos of them! At the time, I was trying to not take photos of the opening bands because I wanted to save my film rolls for The Germs. But I really regret not snapping photos of those guys. I think it had to do with seeing a group of dudes my age or younger. Up until that night, I had never seen people my age at these shows—yet here they were, on stage.


RL: You still have all these prints, correct? 


LH: Yes. I still have the prints and negatives. I have to talk with Melanie (Vammen) about it. She has some of my photos. I'm praying the photos I took of The Damned at the Cuckoo’s Nest are in there. I took a bunch of photos that night and it was one of my favorite Damned lineups (Machine Gun Etiquette). There aren't many photos of that one. 


RL: You went to Cal State Fullerton after graduating from Katella High School. Were you still actively going to shows?


LH: I was going to shows the first couple of years that I went to college. And then my attendance tapered off as punk morphed into hardcore. I became less interested. I got really into collecting movies around then. Something Weird-type movies. I was one of the first people I knew who had a VHS machine. I got one in 1983. I was friends with Mike Vraney who started Something Weird Video. He managed T.S.O.L. at the time. I was more interested in underground movies by that point. Punk shows got depressing for me. I'd still go see bands like Redd Kross, Dream Syndicate and I was a massive Cramps fan. I do have some photos of The Cramps from that period. I'd go see The Gun Club and Tex and the Horseheads. Nevertheless, I wasn't going out as much. I was also doing drugs (laughs).

Kid Congo Powers' first LA appearance with The Cramps at The Roxy (1981). Photo by Larry Hardy.

RL: When did you start working at the grocery store?


LH: I was there for a long stretch. The late 1980s to 1995. I was able to quit then. I worked for Albertson's for eight years. But it wasn't full time, so I was able to do other things. It paid well for that kind of job, and I was still able to do what I wanted to do. 


RL: You were married to Melanie Vammen, correct?


LH: Yes. Melanie was in The Pandoras and later The Muffs. We got married in the early 1990s. But we had been a couple for a few years before that. 


RL: So, you were kind of doing your thing, floating around throughout the late 1980s?


LH: You can say that. I was indulging my whims. 


RL: You caught the beginnings of what became known as the grunge explosion. 


LH: Definitely. I found out about that stuff really early on. I remember a friend of mine went to Seattle and had come back with the first Mudhoney single ("Touch Me I'm Sick" 1988). It had just come out. He played it for me and I was like, "You're giving that to me. I have to have it." They blew me away. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth came through town and Mudhoney was their opening band. This was a couple of months after I had gotten that single. Mudhoney was fucking awesome. It was what I had been waiting for. Two months later my roommate at the time and I flew up to Seattle to see this music festival Sub Pop used to throw called The Lame Fest. Mudhoney headlined, Tad was in the middle, and Nirvana opened up. That would've been early or mid-1989 (June 9, 1989). I was mainly into Mudhoney, but I also liked Nirvana.


The second part to this interview will be posted at a later date. Check out In The Red Records here.

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