DC’s punk scene began to form in the oddest places and what is widely considered the “second” punk band to grace the area was the oddest of them all. White Boy, the father and son duo of Mr. Ott and Jake Whipp delighted in freaking out audiences with their rudimentary rock and absurdist lyrics and Mr. Ott’s lounge suits and giant wig. For a number of reasons they have virtually disappeared from the annals of local music history but the 30th anniversary of the landmark “30 Seconds Over DC” compilation has brought Jake Whipp (Glenn Kowalski) back to area stages. We had a chance to chat in a byt exclusive:
How does something like White Boy even start up? Legend has it that your teenage neighbors were having a party and your Dad said you would perform at it.
I would sit and write songs with my guitar and drum machine, recording them to a cassette deck that would allow feeding audio while transferring another cassette. I utilized this as a poor man’s multi-track and came up with a bunch of good material like this. My Dad (Mr. Ott) did some vocals on a few songs. He went up to New York on business and witnessed the early punk scene there. Peru Ubu, The Cramps, Suicide. It wasn’t even called “punk.” It was just the local music scene. Each band had maybe one vinyl 45 out. I went up to NY with him and we managed to meet and make friends with all three of these bands. I was barely old enough (and maybe not even) to get in the clubs. Inspired by the NY bands, we decided to take a couple of songs from our home recordings and go into a studio to re-record them. We went to Soundbox in Arlington and practically blew the engineer’s mind. We hired a drummer (a friend of mine from a previous band), I did the guitars, we each sang a cut, and Mr. Ott SUNG the bass through an amp on Tremolo! After the success of the “I Could Puke” 45, we were pressured (in a good way) by fans to get a live band together. The Slickee Boys were also helpful in pushing us out the door and we played our first gig with them in 77.
What was the initial reaction to band made up of a father and son as well as the presentation of the long haired pencil thin teen and the moonlighting executive as lounge singer?
Looking back and getting a clear perspective of this is difficult, being only 17 when it began. Mr. Ott was considered outrageously old to be in any kind of rock, never mind punk band, which is ironic considering my age now, as I perform in my current band, 7 Door Sedan. There are so many older musicians in rock and roll/punk/whatever these days. Back in the 70’s it was unheard of and laughable. But he played it up. It was part of the joke that he was so “old” and he was a “business man.” Meanwhile, he was 37! We never promoted the father/son angle and acted as if it didn’t exist. Locally people knew and nationally word got out there somewhat, but it was an “unknown” and a rumor.
Did you have any idea the inroads you were establishing or did it just seem like the only way to do things setting up your own record label etc..?
At first it was a fun experiment, then when we got more serous we knew we wanted things done a particular way and no label was going to take us on. The formula was working, so we stuck with it. It was a huge amount of work doing advertising in fanzines and sending out 45s one at a time until we got Bomp to handle distribution. We sent a couple of our 45s to major labels and they were rejected. We laughed imagining what they were saying as they listened and Mr. Ott wrote ridiculous letters to accompany the submissions. We had no idea that the likes of Dischord would follow.
How does it feel being the first “punk” record ever owned by Ian Mackaye? (The “I Could Puke” single.)
It’s a bit funny because it reminds me of how it happened. We asked my brother Gary and his friends to push our 45 at his school. Being the entrepreneur he was, he sold a number of them at Wilson High, where Ian was one of Gary’s classmates.
There was a rumor that pitcher David Wells played “I Could Puke” before every game – have you ever heard that?
I’ve heard that, but don’t know anything about it.
How important was Skip Grof and his Yesterday and Today record store to the early scene?
He was instrumental to the DC scene. The compilation release on his “Limp” label, “30 Seconds Over DC” drew attention to the local punk/new wave scene. He went on to do other releases. But his store in Rockville sold indie records (including ours) even before he started his label. Everyone in the early DC scene knew Skip. He and his store became sort of a hub for networking. This also held true a few years later for the hardcore scene with Ian, Henry Rollins, and more. Yesterday and Today was where you went to find and get cool new music for a long time.
Is that you on the cover of “Heavens of Hell” as the trick-or-treating demon child? Was that a botched KISS make-up job?
That was a photo sent to us by a fan. We liked it, so used it. Not much of a story behind it. We just thought it was crazy enough and a great photo. I have no idea who the kid was.
What led to the White Boy break-up? Was it the grown up sounds starting to form in “Kissing at Midnight” as had been rumored?
We had a revolving door of band members. Mr. Ott and Jake Whipp were the only constants. Most of the musicians were found through the Unicorn Times (pre-cursor to City Paper) and most were wildly out of place–disco outfits, big cowboy hats, etc. They had no idea what they were in for, although once they got involved, had fun. We finally had a couple of members towards the end that fit better and went on to other punk bands. This was tough work going through musicians and gigging. Mr Ott was feeling a bit tired, and I wanted to move on to something else. I was approaching college age and had other things to concentrate on. We broke up the band, but later did studio work again which resulted in “Kissing at Midnight” then the single “Poker Chips.” We ended up where we started, back behind the console.
What did you guys do musically post 83?
The 45 “Poker Chips/How Safe Are You?” came out in 84 or 85 I believe. It was much more hard hitting than Kissing at Midnight, which didn’t do well. Poker Chips received good reviews and was considered to be like the “old” White Boy. In ’87 I released a full, solo LP under the name of “The Procession” titled “Haunted by Memories.” It received good reviews in some fanzines, but locally didn’t do much. The hardcore scene was in full swing here at the time, and this was far from that, as well as being far from White Boy. I had no band at the time, or interest in having one. A few of the DJs at WHFS latched on to two of the cuts and played them with some regularity. I went on to dabble with music for film for a few local artists and recording, but offered no formal releases.
Recently there have been shows around town celebrating the bands from the “30 Seconds Over DC” compilation. What is everyone up to?
There’s a resurgence of new bands comprised of members of bands from the early DC scene. Turns out many of them were on the original “30 Seconds Over DC” release or subsequent Limp releases. Previous angry teens are now experienced musicians with mid-life angst and offering strong, unique performances in what some are jokingly calling “geezer punk.” The 930 club put on a show to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 30 Seconds compilation LP, and our debut at IOTA with 2 other bands was named after the 30 Seconds release. The Quarry House in Silver Spring is working on a regular booking of pioneer local DC punk bands. 7 Door Sedan is performing at the Quarry House “kick-off” Saturday 1/26.
Have you been in touch with John Stabb (iconic lead singer of Government Issue) and how is he recovering from his serious attack months ago?
I haven’t been in touch with him since my interview on WMUC. I’ve heard that he’s doing much better and wish him well.
Time seems to be helping paint White Boy for what it was at the time – a revolutionary DIY punk band. How has the response been to being back out there at the shows?
Bordering on phenomenal. I was surprised at how many people remember White Boy. Response and support comes not only from people who come to shows, but other bands. Bands who right away wanted to play with 7 Door Sedan and band members like Marshall Keith (Slickee Boys and Ottley) and Boyd Farrell (Rustbuckit), who encouraged me to get a live band together again. Of course there are huge number of club-goers that haven’t heard of White Boy, and are unaware of the early punk scene in DC. We want to reach them too. Our music isn’t about vintage punk and we’re not playing to re-hash the past.
What can we expect from 7 Door Sedan in the near future?
We’re performing at a number of venues throughout DC and Baltimore. I’ve got a bunch of great guys in the band and we’re picking up good momentum. Again, we’re not trying re-create the past. You can expect a fresh new sound not being offered up elsewhere. Expect a hard hitting glam/pop/punk combo with frenetic guitar interplay. Expect true dynamic songwriting. Expect a CD release based on my recordings in the near future. Expect us to be playing with great bands who have musicians that helped get DC on the map.
You can catch 7 Door Sedan at the Red and the Black on Feb 27th with Rambling Shadows.