Titletown Vinyl Excavation—The Tyrants: Two songs. Packers’ royalty. And a whole lot of teen angst
In the first edition of a new, Green Bay music history column, the history of Green Bay’s punk progenitors is unearthed
By Rev. Nørb
The mysteries of long-extinguished ancient cultures are often pieced together by sifting through the artifacts left behind by its members: tools, carvings and cave paintings. For species not terribly inclined to neither whittle nor paint – say, dinosaurs – history tends to be reconstructed by poking through mounds of their fossilized excrement.
I’ve long nurtured a belief that vinyl records stand a better-than-average chance at being the artifacts by which future generations of space archaeologists will construct their rudimentary portrait of human life in the 20th and 21st centuries (this is admittedly a rather dumb belief, but it gets me through the night). Green Bay will never be confused with a hub of cultural production, but Titletown’s vinyl history is far more interesting than the casual observer might initially assume.
Welcome to Titletown Vinyl Excavation—a recurring attempt to sort through the dinosaur poop that is Green Bay’s vinyl heritage. Forward!
The Tyrants: “Hard to Get” b/w “Attitude” (7-inch, 1981)
In 1978, inspired by the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” album and Devo’s infamous appearance on “Saturday Night Live”, De Pere fourteen-year-olds Ed Guerriero and the late Bret Starr, son of former Green Bay Packers head coach Bart Starr (MVP of Super Bowls I and II, maybe you’ve heard of him?) set out to form a punk band.
Guerriero sang, Bret played guitar and the band practiced in the basement of the Bret household on Summer Ridge Road. (Bret, 24, died from complications caused by a drug overdose in 1988.)
The elder Starr was supportive, allowing the band to gleefully bash away multiple nights a week.
“Not everyone would put up with that,” said Guerriero. “Especially someone who had a certain public image to maintain nationally, but especially locally. Punk rock in Green Bay at that time was considered the music of scoundrels.”
When the scoundrels cut their hair short and spiky, disapproving mom Cherry hovered around Bret at practice, attempting to slick his errant spikes back into place. By 1980, Guerriero and Bret’s The Tyrants (along with The Minors, whom we’ll get to later) were one-half of Green Bay’s original two-headed punk monster, the twin pillars upon which all succeeding Green Bay punk-ness was essentially constructed.
As the only two punk groups in town (for a while), The Tyrants and Minors played together, hung out together and shared a manager together. Unsurprisingly, both bands recorded their lone records together. Bankrolled by manager/promoter/svengali Jeff Miller, The Tyrants and Minors set sail for tiny Horizon Recording Studios in Ripon in April, 1981 (like all great recording studios, Horizon was strategically located above a tavern).
At the time, Guerriero and Bret were juniors at East De Pere High School (now known as De Pere High School) while rhythm guitarist Jim Lukes and drummer Dan “Radar” DeMars were seniors at Green Bay Southwest High School. The record was recorded the week Guerriero turned 17. Even so, the impending vortex of adulthood was beginning to rend the band asunder: Radar was off in Florida, contemplating a move; bassist Ken Dennison had bolted for greener pastures (curiously, he would later end up fronting The Minors)
Down one percussionist, Minors’ drummer Myron Hansen would pull double duty for the weekend recording session. The Minors would record first; after they’d tracked through their songs, they’d swap the rest of the band out for The Tyrants, who’d jump in and record their two tunes with Myron drumming. Easy-peasy.
Alas, The Minors’ session ran long, putting The Tyrants behind schedule. When Guerriero laid down his vocals, engineer Tim Hale informed him that he only had time remaining for one take. Undaunted, seventeen-year-old Ed nailed both his vocal tracks on the first try, and the rest is Titletown punk history.
Blending pop hooks with punk energy akin to the Buzzcocks, Generation X and Undertones, “Hard to Get” is an irresistible pop-punk crooner. “Attitude” soon became Green Bay’s first legitimate punk anthem.
Guerriero credits Hale for coming up with the idea of cramming The Tyrants and Minors together into a tiny vocal booth to contribute the yells of “ATTITUDE!” and “GRATITUDE!” that put the song over the top.
By the close of the year, The Tyrants had ended their reign. Initially their record was ignored anywhere farther than an hour’s drive away.
“I think a little box atop the checkout counter at Pipe Dreams (now know as The Exclusive Company in Green Bay) was our distribution,”Guerriero said.
The two-track record began to accrue worldwide notoriety amongst collectors in the ‘90s and currently commands prices upwards of $200. This Titletown punk progenitor is slated for a near future re-release on You Are The Cosmos Records, a Spain-based record label that specializes in punk and power pop limited edition releases.
“Life,” concludes Guerriero, “is weird.”
Rev. Nørb is a lifelong inmate of Green Bay. While in high school, he self-published Green Bay’s first punk zine, SiCK TEEN, and later went on to write for various music publications with names like Maximum RockNRoll and Razorcake. He’s been in numerous bands over the course of the last forty years, most notably Suburban Mutilation, Depo-Provera, Boris the Sprinkler, the Onions, and the Smart Shoppers.