Three decades ago, a fledgling Chicago label called Autumn Records released Busted At Oz, a compilation record that documented the city’s punk scene. Recorded live at Oz, a venue that hosted many of Chicago’s first punk acts, the compilation features early recordings from Strike Under, Da, Silver Abuse, Subverts, Naked Raygun, and the Effigies.
Busted At Oz has long been out of print, and it has become a collector’s item for Chicago punk enthusiasts. It has been hard for most folks to hear the record, until now. That’s because Ukrainian Village record store and label Permanent Records is reissuing the compilation on vinyl: 500 copies of the newly minted Busted At Oz will be available at the end of the month. Before the reissue hits store shelves, The A.V. Club spoke to Permanent co-founder Lance Barresi about the record, why it’s taken so long to reissue, and why he thinks it’s the quintessential Chicago punk document.
The A.V. Club: When was the first time you heard Busted At Oz?
Lance Barresi: Shortly after I moved here to Chicago, some record collector guy would come in, because as soon as any record store opens in any given city, everybody from out of town visits the store for the first time and all the locals come in asking about all the rarest records from that part of the world. Everybody was like, “You’ve got that DV8 single, man? You got that Strike Under 12-inch? How ’bout the Busted At Oz LP?” And I was like, “Whoa, I’ve never even heard of these records.” It’s, like, pretty obscure stuff that very few people outside of hardcore punk record collectors and Chicago natives who were around during that time have ever even heard of.
So, I went investigating and found that stuff: The DV8 single was comped on one of the Killed By Death comps. But Busted At Oz, I found out after the fact, had never been reissued. So I dug and dug and dug, and tried to find myself a copy, and then talked to my friend Jim McArdle, who worked here for a little while. He’s old friends with Terry Nelson, who ran Autumn Records back in the early ’80s.
In the meantime I had illegally found a copy on the Internet, which ... prior to this reissue, would’ve been the only way to obtain the record, aside from finding an original LP, because it has never been reissued on CD even. Terry tried to get it done during the ’90s, and then through the early 2000s, and it just never came to fruition, which is another reason why we wanted to do the reissue.
Getting back to the question, I heard it sometime in the past three years, probably 2008. I love the record; it’s great, obviously. The Naked Raygun tracks on it sound nothing like anything they ever did later, which I like better than their later stuff. I’m not super into the melodic side of Naked Raygun. Heard it, and back to the Jim connection, he introduced me to Terry one time when we were all out at the Hideout or something. I told Terry, if he ever wanted to work on a reissue—because he’s done other things ... under the Autumn Records label that are interesting, too, like the first Da single, the Da 12-inch EP, the first Effigies 12-inch, too—I was like, “this stuff needs to be reissued,” because a lot of those records were selling for decent money when they even came up for sale, which was rare.
The first thing he wanted to do was the Busted At Oz LP. I tossed the idea around for a while, and talked to a few collectors to see what the demand would be. As soon as the You Weren’t There documentary came, I was like, “Okay, now is the perfect time for this thing to happen.” It just so happens that 2011 will be the 30th anniversary of the original release, too, which is kind of cool that it worked out that way accidentally. I wish I could say I waited, sat on it for two years purposefully to put it out on the 30th anniversary: “Yeah, I did that, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I did.”
AVC: Besides your adoration for the record, and that it’s hard to come by, why did you want to re-issue Busted At Oz?
LB: Those two reasons alone would’ve been enough for me to want to do it. Beyond that, the Chicago punk scene gets overlooked a lot of times. In many of the books that have been written about the first American wave of punk rock, Chicago barely gets mentioned usually. There was a lot of really interesting stuff going on, like, all the bands included on here: Silver Abuse, that early Naked Raygun stuff. Everybody’s heard of the Effigies, but a lot of people haven’t heard the cuts on this LP. The Da tracks on here are exclusive to it.
It’s essentially the quintessential Chicago punk document from the first wave of the movement in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and it’s just really not been documented in print or otherwise. I think it’s just important that it be heard by people who may or may not have actually heard of a lot of these bands, [people] that are into the L.A. or New York or U.K. punk scenes.
AVC: Busted At Oz sounds like it was hard to come by when it first came out. Is that perhaps part of the reason the Chicago punk scene is overlooked in the American punk narrative? How much does Busted At Oz reflect Chicago’s punk scene at that time?
LB: It’s absolutely a reflection. If you watch You Weren’t There, or talked to any of the people in these band that were interviewed in the movie … I mean, the majority of the major players in the Chicago [scene]—the real punk scene, not like the skinny tie, New Wave-y scene—were included on the Busted At Oz comp.
There was some thought that went into who was going to be included. Oz was on the way out; I believe it was shut down, literally the day after, two days after the record was cut. Terry and Timothy Powell, the guys who recorded it, they thought long and hard about who was going to be included, and they picked the quintessential Chicago punk bands of the time.
There were a few bands that were left off that were a little more avant-garde, or maybe weren’t still together at the time. End Result was going at the time, and the Way-outs were as well, I believe. But a lot of the people in those bands are in other bands that are included on this record. I think it’s a really good representation of the Chicago punk scene of the time.
Part of the reason why it was overlooked, besides geographically—you know, people always seem to overlook stuff that happens in the Midwest in general and focus on the coasts, but—Chicago wasn’t right at the forefront of the punk scene. So maybe purists don’t think of it as OG punk, because of the fact that it was going on in ’79 and ’81, as opposed to ’76, ’77, or something like that. But, there’s a Chicago punk sound of that era, and it doesn’t sound like L.A., and it doesn’t sound like New York. It’s got this gritty, kind of like workingman’s, Midwestern vibe to it that neither of those places, or the U.K., had going for it at the time. It’s unique, and it should be recognized for that, if nothing else.
AVC: What was the process like for getting the reissue out? Did you encounter any difficult issues?
LB: It was kind of time-consuming, because Terry, the guy behind Autumn Records, I don’t think he deals with e-mail at all. If he does, I don’t have his e-mail address. It was a lot of phone tag.
We agreed to do it, and then there was a period of time where we were just waiting to get the master, and that was coming through regular mail as opposed to being uploaded to MediaFire or whatever digitally. There was just a lot of hurry up and wait: We got our shit together and our ducks in a row, and then we just have to wait for the master.
There was just some waiting involved, but other than that, it was a pretty straightforward process. I talked to Terry, he thought it over, he agreed to it. We licensed it from him, just for vinyl. He hooked us up with the master, the artwork—he had a few inner-sleeves that we were able to scan, too, nice ones that weren’t beat. I have, finally, within the last year acquired an original copy, but it’s beat to shit, so I wouldn’t have wanted to scan that in.
But, no, there weren’t any major ordeals. The hardest part was tracking Terry down, talking to him about it, and getting the ball rolling, really. We just finished up the talks this summer, so it’s only been a few months.