September 5, 1986
I went to the Developmental Research School, aka Florida High School from 7th through 12th grade. Florida High was technically part of Florida State University (FSU), not the regular public school system. There was a waiting list to get in. The school sat on the university campus in the shadow of FSU’s massive football stadium. There was a designated smoking area for kids on the edge of the school dubbed Freak Corner. Our school mascot was the Demon.
In 1983, my younger brother Jimmy and I were Junior Seminoles. That meant we got tickets to all the FSU home football games for cheap, along with a McDonald’s Happy Meal before each game. We also got away from our parents for a few hours, more often to make mischief than to actually go to the games.
Up until the summer of 1983 I had only a faint notion about punk rock. I was thirteen years old, and even though I’d been a fan of KISS since I was eight, bands like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Pink Floyd were as radical or intense as music could get – or so I thought.
My friend James, who lived nearby and was a fellow Junior Seminole, had returned from his summer vacation in Southern California, so Jimmy and I paid him a visit. James brought a cassette into the back yard and slapped it into his boom box. “Check out this music,” he said. I asked what it was and he answered “Dead Kennedys”. How could I not want to hear that?
The pace and intensity of what came next was unlike anything I’d ever heard. But the vocals and lyrics – about Nazis, hyperactive kids and vaguely familiar names like Jesse Helms – were every bit as compelling as the music. I wanted to hear more Dead Kennedys and find out more about this music called hardcore punk.
Before long, I’d scraped together enough money to buy albums by Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks and Black Flag. I also picked up the We Can’t Help It If We’re From Florida compilation (from Vinyl Fever, of course) after hearing about it from Lee, who also happened to be a fellow Demon and Junior Seminole. Like many, the first time I ever heard bona fide Tallahassee hardcore punk was listening to the mighty Sector 4 and Hated Youth on that record.
Being a student at Florida High, I was able to attend one of my earliest and most memorable punk gigs by skipping class and walking a few hundred yards to see Sector 4 play on a weekday afternoon at the FSU Union Green.
I had been drawn to the drums from a young age and was a drummer in the school band starting in 6th grade. But once I heard punk rock, I became determined to learn how to play a drum kit. My mom hooked me up with private lessons from a highly credentialed local drum teacher with a jazz background. The lessons were at his house in Indian Head Acres. I don’t remember his name.
At my first lesson, he encouraged me to transcribe the drum part to any song I liked and bring it back for him to critique. I went home and transcribed Black Coffee off Black Flag’s new album Slip It In, then showed up for our next lesson with the record and it’s iconic, highly suggestive album cover.
It was about then I noticed prominent religious wall hangings and displays in this dude’s house. Things became a little uncomfortable as he examined the record and placed it on his turntable. “It’s the SECOND song!” I insisted, not wanting to subject him to the title track.
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September 5, 1986. It’s my senior year and I’m about to perform at CA Chapel, the premier venue and nerve center for Tallahassee punk at the time, as the drummer for Gothic Playground. One of my bandmates is Damien, who had also been both a Demon and a Junior Seminole. He was the one who introduced me to MaximumRockNRoll, a milestone moment for any punk back then.
The night of September 5, 1986, though, was momentous because Gothic Playground was warming up for Maggot Sandwich and Stevie Stiletto and the Switchblades, two of my favorite bands who also happened to hail from North Florida. The wild show that night inspired Maggot Sandwich lead singer Vik Kaos to write the title track for the band’s debut LP, Get Off The Stage, released in 1987. You should check it out.
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A few years after I graduated from Florida High I heard that Freak Corner had been abolished, and the school nickname changed from Demons to Baby Seminoles. From what I was told, a deeply religious principal had taken over the school and couldn’t handle having a Demon representing the school as its mascot.
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During the Reagan years it was a really big deal to warm up for well known touring bands like Bad Brains or Corrosion of Conformity. But looking back now, what stands out most from those years were the gigs like September 5, 1986. The touring bands played all over, but where else could you see North Florida punk legends like Stevie Stiletto, Maggot Sandwich, Sector 4 and Tallahassee’s godfathers of punk rock, the Slut Boys?
I wasn’t there when punk first burst onto the scene in Tallahassee. I was too late to see Hated Youth perform, among many others. But I have learned a lot from the people who were there, and from information archived on the internet. I’m glad this project is memorializing the legacy of early Tallahassee punk rock.
In 2018 Damien and I co-founded Panhandle Punk Productions as a vehicle to archive and promote early North Florida punk rock. For the first project, I compiled and produced Trouble With A Capital T, a record album featuring 15 of Tallahassee’s best 1980s punk and underground bands.
As I sit here in Southern California 35 years later, Freak Corner, the Slut Boys and CA Chapel are just echoes from the past but the impact of growing up punk rock in Tallahassee, Florida is still reverberating loudly for me.
Trouble Dolls (1985-86)
Gothic Playground (1986-87)
Panhandle Punk Productions (est. 2018)
My first punk show in Tallahassee, FL. was at a place called SweetBay Studios. My memory tells me that it was perhaps 1985 and it was Husker Du, but i don't have an actual memory of seeing a band there. What i remember are two things: the Sex Pistols t shirt that i wore, purchased at a small, Indian run variety store at the Tallahassee Mall. I also remember Noah Seganush's Dad, who was what seemed to me to be 9 feet tall, and who pogo'ed and flopped his arms around over and over non stop to the music.
My second punk show in Tallahassee I do not even have a false memory of who the band was- i have no memory at all. What i do remember is that i was dropped off at CA Warehouse in my Mother's brown mini-van, I asked her to drop me off about a block from the venue. I had a Mohawk that was very wide, and blonde, and teased up high like a B-52 and i had no friends there. I didn't now anyone at all but i knew that i wanted to be there, sitting in a corner near a wall, and watching everything going on and trying to understand, get a grasp, and realizing that i might just have found my people.
The third punk show i ever saw didn't happen because of the cops there. It was a celebration at Tom Brown Park in Tallahassee, likely it was the 4th of July. There was live music and there were booths, games, and because it is the true South, there was "clogging". I was there, however to see a local punk band called "X-Band". I am not sure how many songs they managed to play there, in the middle of the afternoon on a make-shift pallet stage on the 4th of July at this family event in the park before the cops came over and simply unplugged them. I thought they were incredibly brave.
When i met my friend George Barker i was 16, and i was no longer living with my single Mother. I was in Tallahassee after a short time in Jacksonville, and I was living on various friend's floors after my Mother's therapist advised her that the stress of living with me and my developing idealization of suicide and self harm was bad for HER health. I had a new version of that Mohawk. I had gone to the mall and picked up these stick-on jewels meant for fingernails, and had stuck them to my shaved head. I constantly wore a brown suede 60's jacket with fringe that i thought was incredibly ironic. I called it my "Buckskin Bill" jacket after the children's show that i had loved as a kid. I was at CA Chapel, and i was underage drinking a beer from a bottle outside in clear view of anyone who would have cared. I was hanging out with my friend Will Ryan, who i had met at the North Florida Fair and who had worn a long trench coat and who had purple high tops and who i had literally walked up to and asked "Will you be my friend?".
I was feeling big, and drunk, and very punk rock and i smashed that beer bottle on the ground near the front of the club. Almost right away out came George, with his finger right in my face, telling me I should leave and not come back if i was going to pull shit like that, underage drinking and smashing things and there i stood, embarrassed and suddenly very uncool - i was a 16 year old child, who had no idea what she was doing at all.
Lesli Baker ( to be continued)