(Rod Locke and John Fisher of Tough Justice)
Elling Lien speaks with John Fisher, guitarist for local punk band Tough Justice
So tell me about how Tough Justice started.
Tough Justice started in 1983 as a punk oi band, playing a lot of british-type stuff. They played a variety show at MacPherson Junior high, where they played three or four punk rock classics [laugh] And after that, they really got going after the boys went to see DOA. It was after seeing DOA that they got inspired and started booking shows and playing in bars and playing all ages shows and things like that.
How did you come into it?
I was a neighbour of Rod and Dean Locke, who were the original members. I lived a few doors up from them. They were walking home from school one day and they heard me playing Sex Pistols records through my window. They knocked on my door and they said, “hey, you’re listening to punk.” And I said, “Yeah.” [laugh] And that was it.
We started hanging out and eventually they decided they wanted a second guitar player, and at the time I had been playing in a punk band called the Asthmatics (which didn’t really go anywhere but was a start.) They were holding auditions for the spot, and it was myself and Bob Hallett – later of Great Big Sea – who auditioned. I don’t think I was any better a guitar player than Bob at all. I won out because I was a friend and a neighbour. [laugh]
Bob Hallett was in the punk scene??
Bob Hallett used to play in a band called The Reckoning (not Dead Reckoning.) They were a pretty good band. They used to do some Dead Kennedy’s covers and stuff. I remember they used to play shows with Tough Justice before I was in the band.
So you were going to see shows around 1984?
Oh, absolutely. I was 14 years old, getting into bars and having a great time. I was a tall 14-year-old so I somehow managed to slip through without ID.
Tell me about what was going on at that time.
Well, most people know that the original punk bands were Da Slyme and The Reaction, and from that grew some other bands. There was a band called Public Enemy, who we hung out with, and The Riot, with Dave Sweetapple.
Tough Justice used to often play shows with Public Enemy and The Riot, The Reckoning, and they’d play shows at the Grad House, which was on Military road. We lived down near Bannerman Park, so that place was easy for us to get to. And they were really great shows. There wasn’t a big scene back then, but there were anywhere from 50 to 100 people that would show up on a regular basis.
When did the scene start to grow?
Like I said, there was the original scene which we didn’t know a whole lot about because we were between 10 and 14 years old, so we weren’t really going out, but around 1984 is when the hardcore scene really started to pick up. Around 1984 was when we’d be holding shows at the Grad House. There weren’t too many All Ages shows at that point. The All Ages shows really started around 85’ I guess.
And that’s probably a big part of what helped it carry through to today. When you’re 14 it’s a little tricky to get into a bar.
Yeah, well I used to sneak through because I looked the part, but there were a lot of people we hung out with who had no chance of getting in a bar. And they started whining and complaining, saying “hey, we can’t see you play, what are we gonna do?” [laugh]
Bob Average, Bob Average Armstrong, he had a fledgling company called Dead Upturned Puppy Productions.
Wasn’t there an outfit called Average Damage productions too?
Average Damage productions preceded the Dead Upturned Puppy Productions. Average Damage was the one that brought in DOA. After that – I don’t know if it was because they lost money on the show – but they changed the name to Dead Upturned Puppy Productions. And Bob at that point started booking All Ages shows. We used to play at this place called Maxine’s 301 club up on Hamilton Avenue. They’d rent out the basement to us and that’s when the All Ages scene started to grow.
And it was punk rock?
Oh, absolutely. We didn’t know of any other bands that were doing all ages shows at that point.
Just curious: was there any metal?
The metal came in around 86.
In the early stages of the hardcore punk and metal scene, folks didn’t really get along too well. There was a bit of a standoff, you know? The metalheads didn’t really like the punkers and the punkers didn’t really like the metalheads. But after a while we realized that it’s not all that different and eventually we started becoming friends with some of the metalheads around town and they would start playing shows with us and vice-versa.
It’s really interesting to talk about this because there doesn’t seem to be any real record of it. It’s just all in peoples’ memories.
Absolutely! And our memories are a bit suspect at best. [laugh]
How many people do you think were in the scene in 1984?
Like I said, my memory is suspect, but I’m thinking there were probably around 100 die-hards.
And compared with now?
Now it just seems wide open. One thing I will make note of, it does seem like people have segregated scenes. The hardcores don’t associate with the indies, and the indies don’t associate with the metalheads, you know? But back then, everyone who was underground had to band together.
I went to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies and was scouring through all the papers from around that time, and I found the Newfoundland Herald article about D.O.A. The journalist didn’t believe their bio. But he also said that people should consider going even if they aren’t into the punk scene, and they’d probably enjoy it.
Yeah, it was a spectacle back then for sure.
What did you hear from other people about that show?
I was talking to Rod, our guitar player who was actually at that show, and he was telling me he was 14 and he remembers getting downtown and there was a lineup going from Smitty’s Piano Bar going up past The Spur of people trying to get into the show. And he was a little freaked out, because he was seeing all kinds of different people there – there was this one guy who was dressed in all silver lame who had on a silver hard hat. [laugh] It really freaked him out as a young guy, you know?
And after a few minutes they thought about it and were like, “cool!”
I didn’t get to go to the DOA show, my mom wouldn’t let me go. I was still listening to mom back then. So it was after DOA that we realized there was something going on in North America that’s a little bit different.
Do you think the DOA show had a part in the scene picking up around that time?
Oh, absolutely! 100% I believe they did.
You know, at that point there were a few bands on the go, and they didn’t really have a lot of outside influence unless someone went away and found a fanzine somewhere and they’d bring it back home. It would get passed around and we’d all read it and be like, “Oh, so this band is cool, or that band is cool.” And then at that point some of the wealthier kids in the scene would order in records, because at that time you just couldn’t buy a punk record in St. John’s. Even though Fred’s imported some stuff, they didn’t really have much knowledge of it back then. The boys would order it in, and they’d dub it off and pass it around and we’d all end up having a copy of it.
After DOA came, we realized also that a lot of it was about networking, and talking to people in other areas. People would send us fanzines, and, pretty much right after the DOA show, Dave Sweetapple and the boys started up a local fanzine called Wabana Riot.
I don’t know how many issues they put out, but it was an interesting thing at the time. They interviewed Joey Shithead just after the show, and he asked him “What did you think of St. John’s?” And Joey said St. John’s was real, it was fresh, and what we were doing was new for everybody there. And that’s what they wanted when they came here, he said. They wanted to break new ground.
Tough Justice are playing alongside Dog Meat BBQ for the D.O.A. bar show at Junctions on Sunday, April 8 (10pm.) $12 advance, $15 at door. available at Freeride, X-It Skates, O’Keefe’s Grocery and Gas Bar, Books-R-Us Plus.