“Punk to us was: Do what you want, whatever it is, as long as your heart is in it.” – Jerry Anomie, Legionaire’s Disease
The Houston and Austin punk scenes manifested simultaneously yet from different soil. Both cities began experimenting with shows in 1978. Houston had Paradise Island and Austin’s stomping ground was a near-campus Tejano Bar called Raul’s, which hosted early punk performances from The Violators, The Skunks, and The Huns.
Judging by this letter to WILD DOG from SLUGGO! – Austin’s original punk fanzine – the banter seemed friendly enough on the surface between the competing scenes. While Wild Dog is lauded for its coverage in “Smogville,” there were menacing threats toward what Henry described as “the most notorious, original Houston punk band,” Legionaire’s Disease.
The “Diseased ones” formed during the earliest days of Houston’s embryonic punk scene. Discussing the band’s early shows, frontman Jerry Anomie told Wild Dog Archives, “Some bands were busy rehearsing, and they wouldn’t play for an audience until they got good.” In the DIY spirit of the times, Legionaire’s Disease followed a different tactic. “Man, we just started doin’ shows, you know.”
Anomie was the undisputed wild man of the Houston punk scene. “Anything could happen at our shows, and it usually did,” Anomie says. Brawls, fist fights, and full-fledged riots have been attributed to many Disease gigs.
Legionaire’s Disease was still a cover band in early 1979 with its roster of songs by the Dead Boys, Iggy Pop, Richard Hell, and the Sex Pistols. “What we had going for us was that we put on wild ass shows,” Anomie says. Released from prison in 1973, Anomie literally had no fear and there were few limits to his brazen stage antics when he was in high gear. “Our shows were wild as a motherfucker.”
The Huns from Austin were introduced to the Disease at a show at the Island. “We never did really connect with any Austin bands,” Anomie notes. “They were mostly college guys, and we considered most Austin bands as arty farty with the exception of The Dicks, Big Boys, The Huns, and a few others.” After hearing about the chaos of a Disease performance, The Huns invited the band to play in Austin.
Legionaire’s Disease accepted the offer and made the trip to Austin in mid-April 1979 shortly after their Rock Against Racism performance.
Stabbing at Austin’s 1206 Club
The 1206 Club was a dive bar in Austin. “It was an old hippie bar in a black section of town,” Anomie recalls. Historically, the building was once the famed “Charlie’s Playhouse,” which opened in 1958 as a blues and jazz club. It was a known hot spot throughout the 1960s and shuttered in 1970. At the time of the Huns/Legionaire’s Disease gig, the 1206 Club had recently reopened in December 1978, and punk bands performed there as a side stage to Raul’s.
“The place was packed, and the old hippie that ran it made a lot of money off the bar,” Anomie says. “He asked us that night if we would come back and play in two weeks, and we said ‘Hell yes.’”
What the Disease didn’t know was that the core of Austin’s punk scene had come out against the band just after that first performance. SLUGGO! had published a scathing review of Legionaire’s Disease, and the band came back to a near empty house. Says Anomie, “They just didn’t like us; they thought we should have more artistic ability.”
There are two ways to look at small crowds, according to Anomie. “Some bands would get discouraged if they didn’t have a turnout. For us, the fewer people we had at a show the harder we would play.” He adds that the Disease’s second show in Austin was “one wild ass show!”
After the band’s set, Anomie approached the club owner for a cold drink. “I ain’t got nuthin’ for you!” was the reply. “I thought to myself, ‘we’d better get outta here. This is about to turn nasty,’” Anomie remembers.
He and the band started to load up, but before they could leave, Anomie’s nephew, drunk from the show, turned over a table inside the club. “When he did that, this guy punched him,” Anomie says. “Next thing I know, Norman’s got this guy jacked up and he’s trying to push him through the window, and then the fight spilled into the street.”
Within minutes, a crowd had gathered from the surrounding neighborhood. “Franky Frazier, who was known around the Houston scene as a bad motherfucker, had a baseball bat and we were all in full swing.” Anomie then witnessed an unknown assailant stab bassist Norman Cooper in the back, which ultimately punctured his lung and landed him in the hospital overnight. He snuck out of the hospital the next day.
The fight after this gig proved to be the end of Austin’s 1206 Club. And what appears to be a tongue-in-cheek insult from SLUGGO! is referencing a brutal assault that took place only weeks before the letter was written. Although the “junk rot” reference may sound harsh, Anomie explains the band “didn’t get good until I finally got David Tolbert and Craig Haynes on guitar and drums.”
Once the band acquired the rehearsal space behind the Old Plantation, its sound improved and by the end of 1979, Legionaire’s Disease had released its first single Rather See You Dead/Downtown, introducing Houston punk in the New York, L.A., and San Francisco scenes.