Ron Reyes is not sorry. Not just anyone gets to sing in Black Flag, gets fired mid-show and then sandbagged in Rolling Stone, all in one year. Capping a strange year in the Black Flag universe, Reyes got fired November 24, 2013, only posting a brief statement on Facebook once home in Vancouver. Then there was silence, until Rolling Stone published an article on January 30, 2014. Band manager and newly minted singer Mike Vallely announced his role in the band and shared Ginn’s feelings about Reyes, the tour, the album and its artwork. It was enough to bring ‘Honest Ron’ back in to the conversation about his relationship with Black Flag past and present.
The Church Era
After graduating from high school in 1978, Reyes got a job, bought a car (an Opel Kadett with graffiti painted on it), totalled it, and then went jobless for the Redd Kross/Black Flag run. By 1979 he was squatting in a rehearsal space at the Baptist church in Hermosa Beach. He states he was “the first to live there, followed by Robo and Joe Nolte from The Last.” Other than toilets, the amenities were at the beach two blocks away. Reyes made his way playing with buddy Dez Cadena (Black Flag/Misfits/Redd Kross) in a little project they called The Happy Tampons. Cadena confesses, “Happy Tampons is me and Ron in my garage. We played through my stereo.” The two were a duo without a drummer yet, where Ron played the bass and Dez the guitar, experimental and influenced by U.K.’s Wire and Eater. Reyes says they did recordings at Dez’s garage, wiring instruments through the stereo, “making overdubs using two cheap Radio Shack cassette decks.”
Reyes was a fan of Black Flag who rehearsed at the Church. He was starting to jam with Jeff and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) at the Church when Black Flag co-founder & vocalist Keith Morris left to form the Circle Jerks with Greg Hetson, at which point Reyes was asked to join the band. At this very moment, director Penelope Spheeris happened upon this scene at the Church while shooting her Los Angeles punk documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, a document which outlives the integrity of the era and features Black Flag, Germs, X, Alice Bag Band, Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline and Fear. “The Weirdos and the Dickies should have been in that film. In a very short time we were making a movie, playing and recording,” Reyes says. He was in the band for less than six months doing the band’s first West Coast tour. The Jealous Again EP was recorded and they made their first trip to Vancouver in 1980, playing the Smilin Buddha. He makes the point that he never quit the band but walked away from a scene that was developing. He did however leave the stage mid-performance because of the violence in the audience. “The band kept playing and I realized they didn’t have my back. Two days later I went to Canada with my girlfriend. Eventually I agreed to finish the recording. Those were the times. No hard feelings.” The guys credited Reyes on the album as Chavo Pederast. Longtime Black Flag bass player Chuck Dukowski admits “Greg didn’t want to use Ron’s name on the record and then Raymond Pettibon (Black Flag artist and logo creator) came up with the name itself.” The EP was recorded at the Media Arts Studio in Hermosa Beach. It came out as an EP but “we recorded an album’s worth of material,” says Reyes. Some of those outtakes would find their way into other recordings but that was the end of Ron Reyes and Black Flag.
The New Black Flag
Thirty years later, in 2010, Greg Ginn showed up at Ron’s 50th birthday party at the Rickshaw on Hastings, joining him onstage to play a few songs and sewing the seeds of a new collaboration. By January 2013 Ginn proposed the Black Flag reunion tour and album. Ron had been working on tunes with Ginn and then “all of a sudden it was a Black Flag album and tour.” It was no accident Ron Reyes was chosen as the new singer. He was able to play by Ginn’s rulebook saying, “Greg tells me that there have been other BF members who wanted to do something but it was all about money and that it had to be on their terms. By the time this whole thing happened I was probably the only singer willing to work with him.”
Once the “What the…” album project was underway, Reyes was writing lyrics to 22 songs to Ginn’s guitar parts. Most of the lyrics were rewritten to new arrangements in less than two weeks. In the final stages of the recording he met band manager Mike Vallely, Mike V known to skateboarders. “When we were recording those songs I printed out all the lyrics for Greg. He said they were fantastic. Approval and praise every step of the way. I’d ask him, ‘What do you think of that performance Greg? Awesome Ron. Great performance.’ Nothing but praise, acceptance and approval. For them to turn back and go, ‘Yeah, we are really disappointed with the way it came out,’ that’s bullshit! Looking back, he gave me lip service…I’d be up there singing and he’d be nodding off on his console or watching baseball on his computer. So then I’d go ‘Greg what did you think of that take?’ and he’d go ‘that was great.’”
As for album artwork, Greg was in charge. Mike V stated in an interview with Rolling Stone, “Greg didn’t challenge Reyes on details he now regrets…” Reyes states his artwork ran through typical pitches and approvals and that “Greg and Mike acted as the art directors for this project. At first my designs were black and white stark lines, not Pettibon’s work, but homage to the Jealous Again era with a yellow background. The guys wanted something lighter. I went back to the artwork from a band Greg loves called Crash Bang Crunch Pop and started using those characters. I made several submissions before Mike and Greg approved. They were heavily involved in the process.”
YouTube Doesn’t Lie
Reyes feels the big problems started when Greg hired drummer Gregory Moore. On the second batch of rehearsals Ron may have crossed the line with Ginn. “I called out the drummer privately. ‘Dude you are lame. It’s not working.’ When I brought it up with Greg, that was the moment he turned his back on me. He was yelling at me ‘How dare I question his decision!’ Our rehearsals fell apart almost immediately and were irreparable almost immediately. Way before we hit the road.”
Then the tour. “On a nightly basis there were a lot of people having a great time and there were a lot of people walking out.” As the reviews came in, the crowds got smaller. “I got banned from access to the Black Flag website because I wouldn’t censor negative posts about the drummer or the band. I made one as well. Come on, YouTube doesn’t lie.”
The FLAG Factor
“There were people that had an understanding of the history of the band and there were a lot of people who showed up and knew nothing. I got asked ‘Are you Henry (Rollins)?’ ‘Are you Keith (Morris)?’ ‘Are you Robo?’ ‘Who are you?’ Then came FLAG. “When I found out about Flag, one of the first things I said to Greg was, ‘We must take the high road on this. Do not disrespect those guys in public. They have the public’s support. People LOVE Keith Morris, people LOVE Chuck Dukowski, people LOVE Bill Stevenson. If we come against those guys we are going to look like bitter old men. Greg said, ‘Fuck it. I am bitter.’ He did it and it completely backfired. I didn’t even know about Greg’s lawsuit until the day it went public. Mike V told me. Once the lawsuit came out (August 2013) we were the Evil Flag. There was the Good Flag and the Evil Flag…it was really hard. When I started I was on good terms with those guys. All of a sudden they stopped responding to my emails. Relationships were severed and I was guilty by association.”
The End of Ron Reyes
Until Greg Ginn allegedly threatened Ron Reyes’ family, Reyes was committed to the band. He says he deserves an Academy Award for what he had to put up with in 2013. He admits Mike V was right when he told Rolling Stone “Ron became combative and argumentative,” emphasizing, “That did happen only after Greg threatened my family.” The reasons for the alleged threat are not known.
On November 24, 2013 Ron Reyes was fired from Black Flag after working in collaboration with Greg Ginn for one year. He had an album contract, but nothing for the tour or partnership in the band. He now admits without the paperwork, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on for the money he is owed from the tour. He has made amends with his FLAG friends and is back at work with local band PIGGY.
Hardworking Mike V stands a chance of a good run. With ‘Black Flag’, they can bank on the name but that doesn’t give him a clear pass on all fronts. Asked to comment on the Black Flag shitstorm, another skateboard legend, artist & Juice Magazine contributor Steve Olson says, “there is no Black Flag since Keith went to form the Circle Jerks. Opinions are like Assholes… Greg whatever his last name is (the guitarist for Black Flag) is a DICK. Put a dick next to an asshole and you’ve got some buttfucking going on.”
Reyes will be featured in the upcoming DVD release of Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization. Anna Spheeris Fox confirms, “Penelope always moves forward and has a hard time looking back. However, I’ve finally convinced her to make the DVD release of THE DECLINE series a priority because I know the world wants to see them again.”
Ron Reyes makes his return, joining Richard Duguay and drummer Jon Card in a short set of Personality Crisis tunes on March 21 at the Wise Hall. Says the SNFU drummer Card, “It’s not my imagination. Ron got stabbed in the back.”
By Susanne Tabata
Photos: Sarah Whitlam (top), Jim Cummins (middle), Bev Davies (Black Flag live)
Susanne Tabata works in digital media and is known for the punk documentary Bloodied But Unbowed a.k.a. thepunkmovie.com.