Bill Danforth | The American Nomad | Part 1


Bill Danforth | Nottingham, England (1989). Photo by Ian Lawton

 

You were up here in Montreal for the Revolution 514 skate shop launch party back in November of 2019. It was great to meet you, hang, drink some beers and talk about punk rock and skateboarding! How was the party, what do you think of the shop and what else did you get up to while you were in town? 

From the minute that I walked into Revolution 514, I was stoked because it's exactly what a real skate shop is, and they are few and far between these days. Rev 514 is inviting, they make it comfortable. You got the mix of the music in there, the records, the flyers on the wall and the little skate shop in the back. That's a skate shop to me, and Montreal needed a skate shop like that. In the past there was Spin Skate Shop; I loved that place and I'd go there every time I was in Montreal and hang out. I did the Warped Tour with them, where I sat in the booth and helped them get t-shirts out and promote the shop. When Page (Paget Williams: Co-Owner - Revolution 514 & Co-Founder - Greenland Productions) told me what he was doing, I was like, "Right on, I can not miss it!" I was very thankful that he considered bringing me up. It was really cool on his part and it had been quite a few years since I'd been in Montreal. I got to see a lot of good ol' friends and I got to meet a lot of new ones too. I got to experience Montreal again. 
 Orion Curiel | Co-FounderRevolution 514 | Montreal, Quebec

 

In a Juice Magazine interview, when asked, "What skate shops do you support," you said, "Buy from a company that ships from their closet." In your opinion, what elements are required to make a killer skate shop? 

A place created to be a hangout. I see too many of these shops that I've gone into in the past and if you're not buying, they don't want you in the shop, they want you out. If they're going to be successful, they need to support small brands too. You're gonna have to sell your Element and your Alien Workshop, and all that other stuff to keep the lights on, but you should always respect and support the local brands.

"A skate shop needs to be an experience, not a purchase through Paypal."

With my company, American Nomad Skates, we have some core shops in the state of Connecticut that buy from us. A lot of times we'll even deliver 'em if we're gonna be going through town. It doesn't offend me to go in there and see the Elements, Reals and the Santa Cruz' and all that. For them to support us and buy and push our product, ya know, it's all about keeping it local. You're gonna have a lot of first time buyers come in and say, "Hey, I want an Element board," or a very well know brand, but then you have core skaters that come in and and they're like, "Wow man, American Nomad, they're from Connecticut, I'm from Connecticut, I'm gonna support the locals!" I think that's really important. In skateboarding right now, there are way too many mall shops and there's way too much internet business. A skate shop needs to be an experience, not a purchase through Paypal. 

You and Page go back about 20 years, right? How did you guys meet, and do you have any stories you can share? 
We met at a trade show, became friends and then he started inviting me up to Montreal to do the Warped Tour Qualifiers, so I did that a few times. We did Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Page being a tour manager would always come through Detroit, so he'd show up in Detroit and I'd go down and meet him at the venue, and say, "Hey!" We always stayed in touch. In a short period of time he kept me super busy. He'd say, "So we did the Warped Tour Qualifier, do you want to come up to Montreal to do the Warped Tour?" I was like "Ya, buy me a train ticket!" I got to do a lot of cool events with Page. I did Ramp Rage with him when they had it up by McGill University in Montreal. We built a huuuge vert ramp there and there was a huge street course. I sat there and judged the contest and helped run everything. Page has always included me which has been super cool. He's a friend and if there's an opportunity, he's gonna ask me if I wanna do it. He's never steered me wrong. He's always been straight up and over gracious, ya know? One time we were up in Vancouver and he was like, "I got 3 lift tickets for Whistler/Blackcomb, we're going snowboarding tomorrow." I was like, "Dude I don't snowboard!" He didn't have to reach out and do that, but he was able to and he was very sharing with things. My body is so riddled; even back then and this was probably 18-20 years ago. I'm at the bottom of fucking Whistler at this beautiful chalet, you think I wanna fuckin' go up there in the fuckin' snow when it's like 70 degrees at the base?.. Nooo I'm not goin' up into the fuckin snow. I hate fuckin snow. (Laughs)
I spent a good 15 years goin' up to Vancouver at least once or twice every year because I was riding for Skull Skates. PD (Founder - Skull Skates) would fly me up there for Canada Day and we aways had this huge killer contest, but more like just a fun day. I've had some really good times up there: there's some really rad shit in Vancouver. 
Talk about your connection to Montreal. Let's start from the beginning when you used to come up here to play hockey around '74/'75? 
I was lucky enough to play at the Montreal Forum around that time with the Grouse Point Spitfires. Living in Detroit, we got Canadian stations, so we always had Hockey Night In Canada on, and loved seeing the Maple Leafs play in their stadium, and I always liked watching the Canadians play at the Forum. Probably the time before last, when I was up in Montreal, I got to go into the Forum again after being there as a kid, and see that they still have that little section of seats, the red line and they built a mall around it. But the thing is, do you know how much history that building has? You look at Olympia which was where the Detroit Red Wings played; they called it the Big Red Barn. That place was demolished about 40 years ago. There was no recycling or turning that into a different kind of venue, but that's what they did with the Forum and that is bad ass! All the concerts and acts that went through there. It's amazing! The Metallica riot happened there when Hetfield burned himself.

"We beat all these other Canadian teams, but we couldn't beat the Montreal team; we got schooled. You start gettin' those French Canadians in on it, back at that time... Oh ya we got schooled! They went to Rocket Richard's hockey camp."

I remember we played like a regional with the Grouse Point Spitfires in London, Ontario and then we went to Guelph and on to Toronto where I got to play at Maple Leaf Gardens, and then we went to Montreal to play at the Forum. To me that was my Stanley Cup, and I scored a goal there! To top it off, we lost the game and I went home kind of discouraged. We beat all these other Canadian teams, but we couldn't beat the Montreal team; we got schooled. You start gettin' those French Canadians in on it, back at that time... Oh ya we got schooled! They went to Rocket Richard's hockey camp. (Laughs) 

Bill Danforth | Big O - Montreal, Quebec | Photo by Marc Tison

 

We can't talk about Montreal without bringing up the infamous Big O Pipe, and I know you've skated it before. Can you recount any stories about ripping that unusual concrete structure at the Olympic Park? Who are some of the people you skated with at The Pipe, and are there any other MTL spots that are memorable? 

I went there with Barry Walsh and Marc Tison. I couldn't have asked for two better guys to take me there for my first time. I just remember having so much fun. It takes a little gettin' used to. Tison captured a couple of shots. They wanted to get some pictures, and when the book came out (Pipe Fiends: A Visual Overdose of Canada's Most Infamous Skate Spot) they used one of the photos and contacted me and said, "Would you mind shootin' us a quote?" Of course, in a one liner, I said something like, "The Big O was much better served for skateboarding than for the jock olympics." It's one of those bucket list things; when in Montreal, you gotta go skate the Big O. And to be able to skate it with those guys... I also loved skating at Jarry Park.

"That film is a Canadian treasure. The Devil's Toy is fuckin' heroin because once you see it, you just want fuckin' more of it, and you want to push it on other people!"

My favourite skateboard video of all time is the Devil's Toy, which was sooo fucking far ahead of its time it was ridiculous. I turned so many people on to that film who normally wouldn't have known that it even existed. That thing is a fucking piece of art! The last time I was in Montreal, Page gave me the tour of where a lot of the Devil's Toy was filmed. That film is a Canadian treasure. The Devil's Toy is fuckin' heroin, because once you see it you just want fuckin' more of it, and you want to push it on other people! 

The Devil's Toy (1966) by Claude Jutra

 

As a kid growing up in Detroit in the 70's, you witnessed first hand the creation of punk and hardcore. Talk about your involvement with the punk rock & hardcore scene in Detroit.

It all came through skateboarding. We would read Skateboarder Magazine and here are these guys that are cuttin' and dyin' their hair and they're listenin' to all this crazy music that we used to have to hunt and search to find. We'd play it at the skatepark and the locals at the park were like, "Hey, I play drums, I play guitar or I play bass," and we started forming little punk bands. We'd play at the skateparks and in little garages and backyards. We'd draw more and more people in, and everybody was sayin', "We got this club downtown in the fuckin' heart of the ghetto, why don't you guys come play with us?" It was $3 to go see like 8 bands. So that's how the hardcore scene started in Detroit. It started with the skaters. That scene from from 1980 to about 1984 was one of the hardest hardcore scenes, countrywide. DC had their own thing, NY had their thing and of course LA and San Francisco had theirs. But even at the time, there were these young skate punk bands like JFA who were in Phoenix, Arizona. JFA made their own scene in Phoenix. We were doin' the same thing in Detroit with Negative Approach and the Necros. We would get Black Flag and Minor Threat comin' through town. We were having good shows. We were always having The Misfits come through town because they knew they could always come to Detroit and pack a house. We'd get bands from Chicago 'cause we were close. We didn't really get a lot of Canadian bands unless they were from Windsor, Ontario. Windsor had a good scene too 'cause they had a place called the Coronation Tavern. Minor Threat actually played there one time in probably '81. That got shut down real quick, so punks from Windsor flocked to Detroit and kinda considered Detroit their scene. We had some great bands like Flesh Columns that came out of Windsor and they were a band that actually got signed to Touch and Go Records, which was a Michigan record label. Touch and Go was actually Tesco Vee from The Meatmen's label, and the second Necros EP that came out was half Dischord and half Touch and Go. What that did was really combined the DC scene and the mid-west hardcore scene, called the Detroit scene. That's what really cemented a relationship. We were getting all these bands from DC that wanted to play Detroit and we were getting all these Detroit bands that wanted to go play DC. It formed a bond between two scenes that really could have otherwise hated each other, which was great! That really grew what was east of the Mississippi punk rock. California bands were already signing contracts before punk bands from Detroit were even signing autographs. Bands didn't have egos back then. If a flyer only had four bands and eight showed up, guess what, eight bands played. On a Saturday night in Detroit, you'd see everybody from Tesco Vee to John Brannon. Negative Approach and the Necros were always the house bands. We had to bounce around clubs sometimes only because the shows got bigger—that's when everybody thought the Detroit scene had a future. About 1984 it pretty much died and it stayed stagnant for quite some time. After the Freezer Theatre, we had The Clubhouse and this old funeral home in the same neighbourhood. The scene kinda got dispersed. I think a lot of people moved on and went to college. Now you see NA doing more shows than ever. It's not the original lineup, but they sure put on a damn good show. 

"I actually put those 4 members together for the first solid Negative Approach. They never even had to pin the ad up on the bulletin board. They all jammed one night, and the next thing you know, they got a band together."

John Brannon and I went to the same high school. Before John and Pete Zelewski even formed Negative Approach, they had been kinda writtin' songs together, and they came out to the skatepark one day lookin' for a bulletin board to advertise for a guitar player and a drummer. I said to Pete, "You know what, I got a guitar player out there skating the pool and I also got a drummer out there skating the pool. Come back and meet them." Those 4 guys were the only NA members that ever recorded. I actually put those 4 members together for the first solid Negative Approach. They never even had to pin the ad up on the bulletin board. They all jammed one night, and the next thing you know, they got a band together. 
 Bill Danforth | Montreal, Quebec (2019)
You guys had a hand in every aspect of a gig, from roadying to booking and making flyers to cleaning up the mess the next day. Talk about that. 
When the bands showed up on a Friday or Saturday night, there'd be a bunch of us 15-16 year old kids that would help them carry the equipment in. We'd sweep out the Freezer Theatre and pick up all the crap from the night before and just maintain the venue. We were proud to do that, cause we were contributing to a scene that we believed in. We wanted our place straight and as cleaned up as possible for our friends to come in and see Negative Approach, the Necros or whoever. 
Everybody created their own fanzines, wrote show reviews and promoted upcoming shows. We did so much before desktop publishing. We'd hand write this shit or type it out, take it to Kinkos and come home and staple it. That was how grass roots this shit was in Detroit. Chris Moore worked in a print shop. Where do you think all the flyers came from for all the fuckin gigs? Everybody pulled their own weight in a certain way that made that punk rock scene thrive. 
 
Chris Moore from Negative Approach was one of your close skating friendsright? How did you guys connect?
Ya, he rode for Powell and Tracker. He now lives in New York City, teaches music, performs a lot and occasionally plays in Negative Approach. He's a fantastic artist; very unique style. He's been one of my best friends for my entire life. I've known the guy for over 40 years. He was a skate park buddy, and we were the same age and we just hit it off. We grew up in the skatepark (Endless Summer) and grew up with punk rock, but when I see him in person, he's just the same 14 year old kid and I'm still the same 14 year old kid. We talk about the same silly shit. It all came from the bond that we formed at the skatepark. That skatepark was our high school; it was our clubhouse. If for some reason we missed a day, everybody would be like, "Hey man are you alright? Where were you today?" We were that tight. There was maybe about a dozen of us. Everybody went and formed bands. Most of us still remain friends, and we had a reunion in 2001 and there was a good bit of us there. I swear to god we were all 14 when we saw each other again; 14 with a couple of kegs. Our Endless Summer dozen were all involved in the punk scene, so not only were we seein' each other at the skatepark every single day, but also at shows. One guy has the best photographic history of punk rock (Davo Scheich) because he was like, "I'm not gonna go to these shows and not take pictures, I'm a photographer." So, not only did we have all the skate photos, we had all the punk rock photos. That was before you needed press passes and all that other crap. You bring a camera in, you pay 8 bucks, you go see a show and you shoot these photos that you can now sell for fuckin' thousands! 
 
Can you give me a little history lesson on the Freezer Theatre?
Detroit was hurtin' back then. The Freezer Theatre was in the worst part of town; it was rough. There was always a group of people around you, and the the local hoodlums in the neighbourhood were scared of the punks. Check out the trailer for Dope, Hookers and Pavement: The Real and Imagined History of Detroit Hardcore. That's what Detroit was all about. 

"We all looked out for each other, we all had each others back." 

 Negative Approach | The Freezer (1982) | Photo by Davo Scheich
This independent guy found the cheapest place to rent in the heart of the shittiest part of Detroit, and decided he was gonna have bands play there. He'd have bands on Friday and Saturday nights and it payed for the place. I think the guy only paid $135 bucks a month for the building. Didn't have windows, only had one working bathroom that was never even accessible because it was always filled with amps and other equipment. So basically it was piss outside on your own in the alley or across the street at the Burger King. People knew there was something going on at the Freezer Theatre, either Friday or Saturday night. That place only lasted maybe a year and half because it wasn't legal and they didn't sell anything. All they did was unlock the door and that was the club. There was a shitty stage built out of scrap plywood. Negative Approach had a practice space down the street and around the corner, and that place was even smaller than the Freezer Theatre. When the Freezer closed, they decided to use the Clubhouse for shows. So if the Freezer could only hold 135 people, and we'd get like 300 people in there, the Clubhouse could really only hold about 80, but we'd pack 230 people in that place. Social Distortion even played there back on the Another State of Mind tour. 'Cause they broke down in Detroit and that's where the tour ended. Social Distortion needed bus money to get home and they ended up playing the Clubhouse. I think that was a $3 show. To pack that place with that many people, it was totally against fire code, but at that time Detroit didn't give a shit about anything! The fire marshal wasn't gonna go in there and shut down the fuckin' punk rock show—they had bigger shit to deal with. Since that place was so close to the Freezer, going down to the Cass Corridor and being a punk, you'd never feel afraid because where there's one punk, there's fifteen punks. We had a skinhead scene and we had a punk scene, but we didn't have a problem between the punks and the skinheads, whereas a lot of other cities did. We also had a very mixed-race of people in Detroit, which at that time was super cool because everybody got along. It was like punks vs everybody else instead of punks vs punks. In some cities you'd go to a show and there'd be a fight amongst a bunch of punks that were there to go see the same thing; that was fuckin' stupid. Detroit was not that way. We were a solid group of people who liked to listen to our local music. We were very hospitable to bands that came in from out of town. We welcomed bands and tried to bring bands in from other places. Those were the smaller venues. The bigger venues; what I call the $8 shows... I saw The Damned for $8. I saw Anti-Nowhere League for $8 in '81. Even those clubs knew they could always sell the show out. They always knew that they had protection from the punks; they didn't have to worry about security because we policed ourselves. You see, someone being an out of hand idiot, you're gonna escort him down the stairs face first. Everybody knew everybody. You saw somebody that was pickin' on someone, you'd go confront 'em. Here I'm 15-16 years old and I'm confronting these fuckin' old drunk dudes, goin', "Hey man, leave her alone, she's not answering to you, fuckin' leave her alone." We all looked out for each other, we all had each others back. 

"I'd rather have that photo than my high school yearbook, and guess what, I don't have my high school year book."

Alva Posse | Chicago (1988) | Photo by Steve Gross

 

To wrap up part 1 of this interview I want to mention the iconic Alva Posse photo from 1988 in Chicago. Everyone's got long hair and dreadlocks and there's Bill Danforth with a shaved head. Did those guys give you a hard time for having short hair? 

Oh hell no! We had an even balanced team. There were people from all different parts of the country. I kept my fuckin' punk rock roots. I wasn't gonna grow dreads 'cause I rode for Alva; I'm not a fuckin' sellout. I'm gonna ride in fuckin' boots, I'm gonna wear jean vests, I'm gonna wear ripped clothes. I don't need a Stussy label on my fuckin' clothes. I'm gonna stay true to the core that I grew up with in my hometown skatepark, which all the guys in the Alva Posse did. We had the Texans, we had JT from Florida, we had Hartsel from New Jersey, we had Cooke who was from San Francisco and we had Fred Smith that was from Boston. We had a very good, well rounded team! We had Duncan, we had the San Diego crew covered. We were so well rounded that when we travelled together, we all knew somebody somewhere. I flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco one time and Chris Cooke's like, "Hey I'm gonna call my brother. We got like a 4 hour layover, do you wanna hang out in the airport or do you wanna go eat a great San Francisco burrito?" I said, "I wanna go get a great San Francisco burrito and have a coupla beers!" He was like, "I'll have my brother pick us up." That's brotherhood, and that's what the Alva team was all about. We weren't the Powell team, and we never wanted to be the Powell team. We wanted to be the Alva Posse. We all had each others backs. Transitioning from Detroit hardcore punk rock to going out to California and hookin' up with Alva, it was that same kind of brotherhood where I knew nobody would ever let anybody down. We were just a team. We didn't give a shit about how we did in contests, never gave a shit about what anybody thought about us. All we gave a shit about was going and having fun and representing Alva as a company and being a true representative of Tony Alva himself, the greatest skateboarder ever. I'd rather have that photo than my high school yearbook, and guess what, I don't have my high school year book.
 

Bill Danforth | The American Nomad | Part 2 | COMING SOON!