Joanna Spock Dean
Interview with: Joanna Spock Dean, originally conducted March 2006
Backstage Pass was one of the bands who helped to usher in the era of punk rock in L.A. back in the mid-late 1970's. They were also one of the all-too rare rock bands up until that time to prominently feature female musicians. They rehearsed at the Masque and were one of the first bands to play there, which is probably where I saw Spock for the first time.
Backstage Pass, as I've mentioned before, was one of the more musically competent acts around at the time. They were also slightly more theatrical in their performances than some of their punk contemporaries. The band's sound was somewhere between power pop and punk and their presence at the Masque proved that the label of "punk rock" in the late 70's had more to do with attitude than musical style. The fact that these women were writing and performing their own songs proficiently in an unabashed, sexually assertive manner made them unique.
A bit of trivia: Spock wrote and sang "Legend (Come On Up To Me)" with Redd Kross on the soundtrack to Desperate Teenage Lovedolls.
1. What was/is your contribution to the punk community?
I was the ONLY bass player in Backstage Pass (since we had more rotating members than any other band!), and one of the singer/songwriters. I always felt that Backstage Pass was one of the first bands to come out of the Punk Scene (which we loved, of course), and move into the poppier "New Wave" scene, and others were able to do the same thing. We also were unapologetic groupies, and I think the fact that that was a big part of us, and that we were proud of it, added to the band.
2. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
Outside of the scene, The Beatles @ The Hollywood Bowl, inside the scene... The Germs, X, and later, The Police's first gig @ The Whisky (is that the right order? My memory is baaaaaddddd...) Oh, and The Damned @ The Starwood.
Even though we were on the bill, seeing Elvis Costello and The Attractions at The Whisky was absolutely mind-blowing. EC and the band were so intense, non-stop, and great players. We've stayed friends throughout.
A person involved in the whole scene, but not a player per se, was Jake Riviera, and he probably influenced me more than anyone I'll ever meet. We met him in 1976 while he was on the road with Dr. Feelgood, a bluesy pub band from England, with a sound man named Nick Lowe. At the time, Jake was extremely aggressive, scary, and brilliant. He brought The Damned over, the first English punk band to play America, and the BSP girls put them up for a while. I was going out with Rat Scabies, the drummer, and one night at The Whisky, Dave Vanian looked at me and said, 'Rat, she looks like Spock', and that's how I got my name.
Later, as I got to know Jake better, I learned more and more about the music industry, thanks to him. He co-founded Stiff Records,
and helped introduce to the world bands such as Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Nick Lowe, Rachel Sweet, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Wreckless Eric, and later on, Squeeze. When Elvis got signed to Columbia, I was working as a secretary in the LA office, and I was the only one at the West Coast label that Jake would deal with. He was considered a madman to deal with, and he really relished that. He is still managing Nick Lowe.
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
Women showed how creative and ballsy they were, and inspired both men and women to be in bands.
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
Geez, I don't think I'd be me without having been part of the whole LA scene - it really gave me a chance to take a chance. Being immersed in the whole punk scene when it started was an experience I'll never forget. I remember so many great bands. I saw The Bags play ALOT. We
shared our rehearsal space at The Masque with Wall of Voodoo. I remember a really cool gig @ The Starwood with The Screamers and the Weirdos. We saw every show @ The Whisky; eventually they just stopped charging us and let us in for free.
5. What are you listening to now?
Oh, gee, I still listen to lots of 80's rock - Def Leppard, Cinderella, Ratt, and newer rock like The Darkness, and more recent stuff would be Louis IV, Killers, Kanye West, David Poe, Big & Rich, Kelis, the new Mariah Carey, Black Eyed Peas, I am all over the place...
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
I don't know, you'll have to ask Marina, Genny Body and Holly if I have any stories, as I really don't remember an awful lot... (I kid, you not, I've had people tell me stories that I absolutely do not remember...)
I did remember one. We were in San Francisco @ The Mabuhay, maybe opening for Devo, so it was a 2 night thing. The first night, I remember walking into the bathroom, and finding some girl harassing Genny and Marina, and I told her to leave them alone. (I was always the 'leader' in that way.) The second night, the same girl comes up to the stage, and starts screaming and throwing popcorn at me as we're onstage - hey, she probably just thought it was a 'punk' thing to do. Well, I exploded. I threw off my bass, jumped off the stage and started pummeling her - I heard that Rod came flying over the top of his drum kit to pull me off. I do remember that as I'm swinging away, she's yelling "I changed my mind, I changed my mind, I love your band, I love your band!"
7. Are there any punk women from the early scene that you feel have not been been adequately recognized?
8. What is something we should know about you that we probably don't know?
I guess where I'm at these days... I spent 30 years in the business end of the music business. I left LA in '90. Moved to NY, finally crashed and burned hard from it in 2002 and escaped to Nashville, where I live in my little house with the dog and cat, and I am a photographer/image manipulator. If someone told me that I could be richer, healthier, etc., if I would go back and erase the punk scene out of my life, I would say "fuck no."