Born in 1955 in Stuttgart, Germany; married Sylvia, c. 1974. Addresses: Home--Jeff Dahl, c/o Ultra Underground, P.O. Box 1867, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.; Record company--Triple X Records, P.O. Box 862529, Los Angeles, CA 90086 Phone: (323) 221-2204 Fax: (323) 221-2778 E-mail: Email--DAHL@aol.com.
From his ranch-style home in the desert town of Cave Creek, Arizona, punk legend Jeff Dahl has been self-producing and recording, usually by himself, albums since the early 1990s. Also known for his role as the former lead vocalist for the West Coast underground punk outfit the Angry Samoans and as the founder of the punk-metal band Powertrip, Dahl the solo artist has enjoyed a prolific career, battling drug and alcohol addiction to release, on average, at least one album every year, not to mention a myriad of EPs and seven-inch singles. Influenced by the Stooges, the New York Dolls, T. Rex, and the MC5, Dahl's output combines elements of classic rock and roll, 1970s glam-rock, 1950s rockabilly, metal, and punk, making his music difficult to place in a single category. Although working as an underground performer never made Dahl a wealthy man, he has nonetheless managed to enjoy a comfortable career as a well-known cult hero. His success arrived without a major-label contract, videos airing on the MTV network, or performing in stadium-sized venues.
Born in 1955 in Stuttgart, Germany, Dahl, the son of an Army officer, spent his first five years overseas. In 1960, Dahl and his family left Germany and settled in Hawaii, where he lived until graduating from high school. Drawn to the music of the time from an early age, by 1966, Dahl was already attending concerts on a regular basis. Some of the first shows he witnessed included the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Humble Pie, Jefferson Airplane, and Blue Cheer. A few years later, in 1969, Dahl purchased his first albums by the Stooges and the MC5, bands that would later represent two of his greatest influences. Around the same time, he learned to play drums and performed with various combos as a teenager.
Although the Hawaiian islands seem a paradise to many, Dahl found the decidedly un-rock and roll atmosphere too confining. Thus, after graduating from high school in 1973, he enlisted in the United States Army. Between the years of 1974 and 1977, Dahl was stationed primarily at the Pentagon heliport in Washington, D.C., as an air traffic controller--not the most common position for a future punk rocker. However, in an interview with Agree to Disagree #6, Dahl (who "dug" his job with the Army) pointed out that in those days the rebellious punk ethic had not yet been established, noting, "there wasn't even a Ramones record out at that time! There was no `punk.' As far as being `unpunk,' punk is about no rules. I made my own."
In 1976, Dahl bought his first guitar, an instrument he had never picked up before. Within a week, he recorded a few songs, including the first song he ever wrote, a punk-sounding tune called "Rock `n' Roll Critic," at a four-track studio in Virginia. According to Dahl, because all of the musicians he knew at the time played jazz and felt his simple compositions were beneath them, he ended up playing all of the instruments himself. "When I recorded it there was no DIY [Do It Yourself], the idea of putting out your own single was completely alien ," he recalled in an interview with Carbon 14 #13. Subsequently, an independent Washington, D.C., label called Doodley Squat heard "Rock `n' Roll Critic" by chance at the same Virginia studio and asked Dahl if they could release it. He agreed, and in 1977 Doodley Squat issued the song as a seven-inch single (now available only on bootlegs). A pivotal record in paving the way for Dahl's international popularity, "Rock `n' Roll Critic" became a hit among the punk-rock-starved youth of Europe.
After completing his service with the Army and a brief return to Hawaii, Dahl moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1977 where he made a few abortive attempts to form a band. Finally succeeding in 1979, Dahl formed the group Vox Pop in Los Angeles with then-future/current members of the Germs, 45 Grave, Dream Syndicate, and Nervous Gender. Darby Crash, a member of the Germs who later committed suicide, called Vox Pop the worst band he had ever seen. In 1980, after Vox Pop folded, Dahl accepted the offer to replace Angry Samoans co-founder and lead vocalist Mike Saunders during his absence from the band. Although the Angry Samoans, a punk/rock critic combo, helped lead the Los Angeles underground music scene, working with the group wasn't the most ideal situation for Dahl. "People hated us," he commented, smiling, to Phoenix New Times Online contributor Brian Smith. "There was no legendary status; we were hated. We couldn't play anywhere at the time." The band also suffered internal problems as well, and because of what Dahl described as the intense hatred the band members felt toward one another, he left the Angry Samoans in 1982.
Dahl formed his next band, Powertrip, in 1982, hoping to merge the proto-punk music of the Stooges with the harder-edged sounds of Motrhead. A pioneering speed-metal quartet, Powertrip, from 1982 until its demise in 1984, toured the United States twice, played extensively up and down the West Coast, shared billing with other newly established metal bands like Metallica and Slayer, and released a single on Mystic Records and an album on the Public label. However, plagued by the members' self-destructive drug problems, Powertrip only lasted two years. During his stint as the group's front man, Dahl injured his knee and hand, shattered his tailbone, bit off a chunk of his tongue, and all but destroyed his liver, which doctors informed him was only functioning at 15 percent capacity. He was the only group member to survive and overcome his addictions; unfortunately, the other three original members all died from drug-related causes.
Determined to change his lifestyle, Dahl bailed out of Powertrip and drug use. Over the next couple of years, he removed himself from the music scene, sobered up, and began writing new songs. Resurfacing again in 1987, he formed the Jeff Dahl Group, and started recording seven-inch singles at a furious pace. The singles were distributed worldwide, from Europe and Japan to Australia and the United States. In 1988, the Jeff Dahl Group released the competent, though undistinguished album Vomit Wet Kiss, followed in 1989 by Scratch Up Some Action, an album that included both covers and Dahl originals. Dahl's new band became a headlining fixture in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, and their reputation took hold overseas as well. Despite the welcomed attention, Dahl disbanded the group in 1990 to record as a solo artist.
Relocating to the Arizona desert after folding his band, Dahl next landed a record deal with an upstart independent label, Triple X, out of Los Angeles and decided to use different musicians and/or bands for different sessions. "Anything to confuse people," Dahl joked on his official website. For his first true solo effort, I Kill Me, released in 1990, Dahl enlisted the aid of ex-Dead Boy guitarist Cheetah Chrome, the Angry Samoans, and the Lazy Cowgirls and included some tracks from Vomit Wet Kiss. Since then, he has released a steady flow of about one full-length album per year and a myriad of singles and EPs. He also started conducting annual tours of Europe and Japan, where his popularity remained strong.
For his follow-up solo album, made back in Los Angeles, he enlisted drummer Dave Nazworthy of Chemical People and guitarist Paul Cutler of 45 Grave and Dream Syndicate to join the recording sessions. The resulting Ultra Under, released in 1991, unleashed Dahl's brand of Detroit-inspired punk originals, spirited rock covers (the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb"), and even a piano ballad entitled "Just Amazin'." He followed this with 1992's Wicked, which followed a similar approach. Both albums were well-received by critics. Some of his most recognized subsequent albums included 1993's Wasted Remains of a Disturbing Childhood and Moonchild, 1994's Leather Frankenstein, 1995's Bliss, and 1996's French Cough Syrup. During the late-1990s, Dahl's output included Heart Full of Snot, released in 1997, and All Trashed Up, released in 1999.
Around the same time he decided to focus on his health, Dahl also discovered a replacement for drugs and alcohol in a former pastime: running. Before long, the musician was competing in marathons, as well as triathalon. One event, the Fountain Mountain Triathlon, brought Dahl to the Phoenix area for the first time. Remaining sober throughout the 1990s and beyond, Dahl continued to participate in cross-country events non-competitively as the decade came to a close. "With the running, I had to do something to ease my mind," he explained to Smith. "If I was still getting f---ed up, I would be accomplishing about a tenth of what I am doing now."
At his home in Cave Creek that he shares with wife Sylvia, Dahl's high school sweetheart whom he married around 1974, the glitter-punk rocker assembled a do-it-yourself empire of sorts. In his studio dubbed Devil Tree Ranch, Dahl usually records, produces, engineers, and often plays all the instruments by himself for each recording. While tours across Europe and the Americas often leave him in the black upon his return, Dahl's semi-thriving worldwide mail-order business called the Dahlhaus (from which Dahl sells his own records and merchandise, as well as limited-edition merchandise from other like-minded punk and glam-rock heroes) provides a steady income, and his records sell well enough to help keep him afloat.
In 1999, Dahl established his own irreverent fan magazine called Sonic Iguana. Published three times a year by Jeff Dahl/Ultra Underground, the fanzine covered areas of music such as punk, trash, powerpop, glam, garage, rockabilly, and blues. He does direct-mail orders to stores by himself, and hired a distributor to make Sonic Iguana available internationally in Japan, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Malaysia, Tahiti, and all over Europe and the United States. "I have offers for bigger distribution and people interested in upping the circulation. But I want to keep it at this level," Dahl, who used to read Rolling Stone and Creem when those publications were still underground ventures, revealed to Smith, "This underground is like a real word-of-mouth thing, too. The thing I like about it is that it is not at all casual music fans. It is people to whom music still means something."
by Laura Hightower
Jeff Dahl's Career
Served in the U.S. Army, 1974-77; learned to play guitar, recorded first original song, "Rock `n' Roll Critic," 1976; lead vocalist for the Angry Samoans, 1980-82; fronted Powertrip, 1982-84; formed Jeff Dahl Group, 1987; started recording as a soloist, released I Kill Me, 1990; established fan magazine Sonic Iguana, 1999.
- Selected discography
- (With the Jeff Dahl Group) Vomit Wet Kiss , Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1987.
- (With the Jeff Dahl Group) Scratch Up Some Action , Dog Meat, 1989; reissued, Triple X, 1993.
- I Kill Me , Triple X, 1990.
- Ultra Under , Triple X, 1991.
- Wicked , Triple X, 1992.
- Have Faith , (EP), Triple X, 1992.
- Wasted Remains of a Disturbing Childhood , Triple X, 1993.
- Moonchild , Triple X, 1993.
- Leather Frankenstein , Triple X, 1994.
- Bliss , Triple X, 1995.
- French Cough Syrup , Triple X, 1996.
- Heart Full of Snot , Triple X, 1997.
- All Trashed Up , Triple X, 1999.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to `90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
- Arizona Republic, March 25, 1999, p. 38; November 18, 1999, p. 42.
- All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 28, 2000).
- "Cave Creek Dahl," Phoenix New Times Online, http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/issues/1990-08-26/music.html (February 28, 2000).
- Dahlhaus--The Official Web Site of Jeff Dahl, http://www.lastbandit.com/jeffdahl/ (February 28, 2000).
- "Jeff Dahl I from C14," Carbon 14 #13, http://www.c14.com/Music/dahl/dahl.html (February 28, 2000).
- Jeff Dahl--All Trashed Up, http://www.glitzine.com/recensioner/jeffdahl_alltrashedup.htm (February 28, 2000).
- Jeff Dahl Interview,"Agree to Disagree #6, http://www.members,xoom.com/_XMCM/a2d/jeffdahl.htm (February 28, 2000).
- "Jeff Dahl," Noise for Heroes, http://www.members.webgalaxy.com/nkvd/jeffdahl.htm (February 28, 2000).
- "Valley of the Dahls," Aversion.com Interviews, http://www.aversion.com/bands/interviews.cfm?f_id=20 (February 28, 2000).