Generally considered one of the pioneers of the punk movement in the late ’70s, DOA (Dead On Arrival) is also one of the few bands to give the genre any commercial credibility in Canada.
Hailing from Vancouver, their beginnings stemmed from the demise of the Skulls, another group that although musically inferior to much of what was being played at the time, carried a message that seemed to resonate with angst-ridden teens. When punk at the end of the ’70s was being commercially pressured to morph into a more mainstream sound, guitarist Joey (Shithead) Keithley left to form his own group. He enlisted drummer Chuck Biscuits (real name Charles Montgomery – whose brother Ken had played in Skulls) and bassist/vocalist Randy Rampage, and began rehearsals while playing the few clubs on the coast that catered to that style of music, and quickly developed a following.
By the time they signed with independent Friends Records in 1980, they’d already released a couple of fairly well received EPs called TRIUMPH OF THE IGNOROIDS (including a re-issued censored version that didn’t contain the “Let’s Fuck”) and DON’T TURN YOUR BACK on Keithley’s own Sudden Death Records, with a smattering of support for the songs, “Disco Sucks” and “The Prisoner.”
Ventures outside of the Vancouver area led to shows throughout North America, where violent clashes between the audience and police, spurred on by the violent lyrics in the songs, were often the result. With the addition of second guitarist David Gregg, the album SOMETHING BETTER CHANGE was more about the anti-establishment attitude and social protest in songs like “Rich Bitch” and “World War 3,” than it was about the music.
Their sophomore album, HARDCORE ’81solidified their comparison to other punk rockers like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. The album, featuring a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” and half a dozen tracks that were only about a minute long and designed as preludes, is also generally credited for the origin of the term ‘harcore punk.’ Later re-releases of the album also included their earlier four-track EP, DON’T TURN YOUR BACK, which featured the controversial “Race Riot” and “Burn It Down.”
1982 started with Rampage leaving the band and join thrash metal’ers Annihilator. Replacing him was ex-Skulls member Dimwit, who switched over to bass from behind the drumkit, just in time to hit the road for a jaunt through California, which ended with the departure of Biscuits so he could join Black Flag, then later Circle Jerks and Danzig. Dimwit ended up switching back to drums and Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble (ex-Subhumans) took over on bass duties.
They released the EP, WAR ON 45 in 1982, which strayed from the in your face straight forward heavy punk, showing influences from reggae and funk. But with songs like “War In The East” and the cover of Edwin Starr’s “War,” it wasn’t hard to figure out their anti-political sentiments were still the core focus of the lyrics. That was made even more prevalent when it was re-released as a repackaged album in ’05 under the same name, but with a different cover. Although it contained covers of Bob Dylan’s “Master of War” and CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” the Goble-penned “Bombs Away,” and “World War 3” had been dug out of the vaults, the perennial live favourite “Let’s Fuck” (sort of a cover of the R&B hit “Let’s Dance”) from the original EP was ommitted.
After some more touring around the continent with the likes of Black Flag and The Clash, the band took some time off to write and record new material. By this point, however, the punk movement was all but dead. The band’s idols like The Clash and Sex Pistols, and even fellow Canadians like Teenage Head had all sold out and gone commercial. So tracks like “Smash The State” and “I Don’t Give A Fuck” were more offensive than socially relevant. Like most of the band’s catalogue, the EP was re-released with spatterings of other material from over the years in 2005.
They returned in ’85 with LET’S WRECK THE PARTY. Along with the title track, it featured a remake of “Race Riot,” and a cover of the Gene Kelly classic, “Singin’ In The Rain.” The subsequent tour took them to France, the Paris date becoming the live EN CONCERTE album later that year.
By the late ’80s, musical fads had all but completely pushed true punk out of the picture, but the band carried on to the diehard masses. Dimwit was now gone and their new drummer was Kerr Belliveau. His time in the band lasted less than a month, but it was long enough to appear on TRUE NORTH STRONG AND FREE in ’87, along with his replacement Jon Card (ex of Personality Crisis). With the new album, they tried to go more mainstream, keeping a harder edge to the music with the cover of BTO‘sTakin’ Care of Business,” but still kept their political views known in “51st State” – a commentary on the apparent assimilation of Canada by the US, and a remaked of “Nazi Training Camp.”
Considered one of the hardest working touring bands in the country, they trekked out across Canada after returning from a European tour, finishing back home in Vancouver in early ’88. Joining them onstage at The Edge for “Takin’ Care of Business” was none other than Randy Bachman. The band had also gained a reputation for its philanthropic idealogy, and donated all proceeds from album sales from TNS&F to the ANC (African National Congress).
The album also marked a partnership with Joey “Jello” Biafra (ex of Dead Kennedys), as he not only produced the album, but also released it on his own Alternative Tentacles label, the first of many albums to be done so. It was also the last one to feature long time guitarist Dave Gregg, who left after objecting to manager and personal friend Ken Lester was fired. Taking Gregg’s place was ex-Dayglo Abortions member hris Prohom.
They finished out the decade with select dates in North America and Europe, including opening for David Lee Roth at home in the Pacific Coliseum, then teamed up with Biagra for the 1989 album, LAST SCREAM OF THE MISSING NEIGHBOURS. Along with the critically-acclaimed cover of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” it also featured the 14-minute long “Full Metal Jackoff,” which dealt with Oliver North and the Iran-Contra Affair.
The band’s hardcore audience had always predominantly been overseas, particularly the last few years in former Soviet Block countries. After the Polish-only compilation called GREATEST SHITS was released, featuring the previously unreleased cover of The Doors’ “LA Woman.”
Keithley continued looking for the right balance between keeping the essence of punk in the music while exploring heavier undertones in 1990’s MURDER album. A rawer production value lent itself well to songs like the lead-off “We Know What You Want,” “Concrete Beach,” and “Afrikana Security.” But with a dwindling ticket-buying audience and feeling musically burned out, Keithley opted to close the door on the band, culminating in a final show where they’d played countless times before – at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, in December, 1991.
While Keithley was trying to become an actor, the live album TALK MINUS ACTION EQUALS ZERO in ’91was in the stores, followed by an onslaught of re-releases and compilations. The renewed interest brought them out of the basement. Keithely resurrected a new version of the group that was rounded out by Brian Goble returning on bass, drummer Ken Jensen (ex of Red Tide), and in an effort to be more palatable to the general public by expanding their sound, John Wright (ex of No Means No) was brought in on keyboards, as well as producer. Despite the experimentation, the band returned to its true punk roots with THE 13 FLAVOURS OF DOOM in ’93, featuring “Bombs Away” and “The Living Dead,” two of the five tracks written by Goble.
More short tours ensued over the next couple of years in between 1993’s LOGGERHEADS album. Along with the title (which is basically an old insult that calls someone an idiot), the band’s sentiments on just about any social, political, or military stance, with “Liberation For Execution” and “You Little Weiner,” as well as the take on the Man In Black’s classic called “Folsom Prison Dirge.”
But when Jensen died in a fire at his home in January of 1995, Tentative Records released a combo EP between DOA and Red Tide called THE KEN JENSEN MEMORIAL SINGLE, featuring two tracks from each band. Wright moved over behind the drumkit for THE BLACK SPOT later that year, which featured new guitarist Ford Pier. The album featured a more basic, sing-along type punk rock sound that was reminiscent of the band’s output in the late ’70s with songs like “Kill Ya Later,” “Marijuana Motherfucker,” and the Isley Brothers cover, “Unchained Melody.”
As the ’90s moved on into the new millennium, live dates diminished, as did the recordings. Keithley meanwhile resurrected Sudden Death Records to accomodate another barrage of re-releases and THE LOST TAPES, a collection of out-takes. The next new material wasn’t until Keithley gathered a group of mostly session players for the largely un-noticed FESTIVAL OF ATHEISTS in ’98.
2002’s WIN THE BATTLE featured the return of original bassist Randy Rampage after nearly two decades, which also followed Keithley’s solo album earlier that year, BEAT TRASH. Noteable about WIN THE BATTLE was the inclusion of songs like “Junk City Nowhere (Vancouver)” and “I Am Canadian,” though the band still took pokes at the Americans with the environmental commentary in “All Across The USA” and “If I Were A Redneck.” Rampage’s reunion was short-lived however, as he left again following a series of dates in Vancouver and Toronto, to be replaced by Dan Yaremko.
In between projects, Keithley landed a small role in the straight to video flick called “Graveyard” with Thor, then teamed up with him in ’03 for the critically heralded album, ARE YOU READY?, each doing one half. Along with some new material, DOA also re-recorded their songs “I Am Canadian” and “Give ‘Em The Lumber” for the project.
That same year, they also played Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum with him, the first time there since the ’88 show with Diamond Dave. Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell also proclaimed December 21 as “DOA Day,” in recognition of the band’s 25th anniversary. In honour of the occasion, the band also released the career-spanning retrospective WAR AND PEACE, then the following spring, LIVE FREE OR DIE, with remakes of “Marijuana Motherfucker” and “Earache,” as well as covers of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” and CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” Still holding true to punk roots, the album showed some progression, flavouring the mix with a little ska spice in “You Won’t Stand Alone.”
While Keathley was attempting to branch Sudden Death into the movie and television businesses, Rampage returned for his third stint in the group in time for 2008’s NORTHERN AVENGER and a cover of CCR’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain?,” produced by Bob Rock (Payolas, Metallica), and new drummer Tom Jones (normally a Canada Post worker). Jones in turn was taking over from James Hayden (who’d replaced The Great Baldini).
Before the decade was out, more compilations were assembled, slightly different than the ones over the last 15+ years, as well as the band making its way to DVD a few times. By the time Rampage was gone again, replaced again by Yaremko in time to commemorate the band’s 30th anniversary, as well as the 2009 release KINGS OF HOCKEY, PUNK, AND BEER. Flavoured to a sports fan environment, it contained several remixes of previous material, as well as the new songs “Overtime” and “When Canada Gained Power” (about the ’72 Summit Series), as well as a cover of the Stompin’ Tom classic, “The Hockey Song.”
By 2010, Keithley had apparently lost track of his back catalogue, releasing a second album called TALK MINUS ACTION EQUALS ZERO, completely different from the 1991 release of the same name. Along with covers of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a’ Changing,” it also included “That’s Why I’m An Atheist” and “The RCMP.”
Keithley once again assembled a version of the band to do some touring in 2012, including some dates overseas, following the release of WE COME IN PEACE, which featured a cover of The Beatles’ “Revolution.”