45 Grave on “New Wave Theatre”: Happy birthday today to Don Bolles!

By on July 30, 2015

On the occasion of Don Bolles’s birthday, we’re sharing this performance of his band 45 Grave doing their song “Black Cross” on “New Wave Theater” back in the 80s.

Bolles, a member of at least two legendary bands in L.A. — one being the Germs and he was also the founder of 45 Grave — was born Jimmy Michael Giorsetti on July 30, 1956, in Oakland, California, but raised in Scottsdale, AZ.

Sometime in early ’77, he had called himself Don Bolles during a phone interview with a deejay who was pestering him about this newfangled music he’d heard about, called “punk rock,” telling the interviewer it was just a coincidence that he had the same name as the dead Don Bolles — an investigative reporter who had been injured, and ultimately killed, after a Mafia-related car bombing that had happened in Phoenix a year earlier — because it was then currently in the news and Bolles thought it would be a funny thing to tell the guy on the phone who didn’t know any better.

By then, he’d already played the drums in a bunch of Top 40 cover bands in the Phoenix area, and developed an interest in all kinds of things, including music made by outsiders on the fringe of society. He’d moved to San Francisco for awhile, and that’s where he’d met bassist Rob Ritter and they knocked around trying to find other musicians to form a punk band with, but it wasn’t happening in the Bay Area, so they came to L.A., in his Chrysler Newport Custom packed full of stuff, including a stolen drum set. Bolles was 21 years old at the time.

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Photo found here

It took awhile — Ritter went back to Detroit, and Bolles went back to AZ, where he tried to play bass in a band that wasn’t a good fit. Then Mikey Borens, who played bass for a local band called the Consumers, got his by a car while peddling his 10-speed across the city, and while he was recovering, the band replaced him with Bolles, who says “I was kind of terrible at playing bass, so that didn’t work out so well. Then I started my own band, getting a guitarist and drummer to switch instruments so their playing could be as terrible as my bass playing, which worked, I think.” One of the very first recordings with Bolles on bass was credited to the Yvonnes, and Bolles used the name Scary Como for his first appearance on vinyl.

Once they’d moved into a house together in downtown Phoenix, he realized he was a better drummer than bassist, so he and the drummer switched instruments. He then convinced Ritter to come to Phoenix and join the band, but soon the two of them were splitting to join Phoenix’s first punk band, and it was around this time that he’d done that phone interview, with a local radio personality, telling the clueless deejay that their band was called, get this, the Bloody Stumps. Get it?

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Bolles, and Ritter, eventually made the move to L.A., where he first joined the Consumers, who had just beat up their singer onstage at a Whisky show and kicked him out of the band. Bolles knew their songs and could sing, so he started practicing with them in the basement of the low-rent Canterbury apartments, described elsewhere as an “above ground home of the underground,” located in Hollywood at the southeast corner of Yucca and Cherokee.

Bolles lived there, as did quite a few other musicians and wannabes who thought they too could be in a punk band, until he moved out to live with his girlfriend Mary at the house where her mother and aunt lived, in West Hollywood. Even after the Consumers broke up and moved back to Phoenix, Don and Mary would occassionaly drive back to Bolles’s original stomping ground to play music with (former Consumer) Paul Cutler, who eventually moved back to L.A. and even lived in a broken down van in the driveway of Mary’s mom’s and aunt’s house.

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They turned the garage at the home into a soundproofed practice space and added Jeff Dahl, who had moved to L.A. from Hawaii, who was looking for a band to back him up for a show at the King’s Palace, which later became Raji’s, on Hollywood Boulevard. That band ended up becoming Vox Pop, which was a corruption of “vincebus vox populi,” Latin for “control the voice of the people,” which was an attempt to come up with something that reminded them of Blue Cheer’s first album title, Vincebus Eruptum, (meaning “control the chaos”), a favorite album of Bolles’s and Dahl’s.

Vox Pop recorded tracks for a 7-inch single in July 1980 at the same studio where Black Flag had recorded with their engineer/producer Spot, at Media Arts, and soon after there Bolles was making his first appearance on “New Wave Theatre.” (We’ll have a Vox Pop “NWT” appearance for you at another time, and hopefully more from Bolles’s himself).

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The band, however, continued to write new songs, but some of these didn’t quite fit what Vox Pop was all about, and so Bolles started an off-shoot “pop” band, which ended up being called 45 Grave, which fused together a lot of the music that didn’t fit in some of the other bands Bolles was in at the time (the Germs, Vox Pop and others), including bits of metal, punk, classical, Avant-garde improv noise, instrumental surf, and even a little ska.

Incidentally, the band’s name came a little later, from a strange gift that Cutler had found at a thrift store and given to Bolles on Christmas morning, 1980 — it was a large button, about three-inches in diameter, that said “WE DIG” on top, had a huge number “.45″ in the middle, and under the word “GRAVE” at the bottom. They knew then that this was destined to be their new name.

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Mary — soon to become known by the stage name Dinah Cancer, but you’ll notice that “New Wave Theater” host Peter calls her Mary — became their singer, and wrote the lyrics, and the rest of the band featured Rob Ritter (now Rob Graves) on bass, Paul Cutler on guitar, and Bolles played the drums. Throughout the 80s, they would play various L.A. venues, beginning with their first gig at the Hong Kong Café, with Human Hands and the New York-based band the Bush Tetras (45 Grave often played with bands visiting from New York, including 8-Eyed Spy, one of Lydia Lunch’s post-Teenage Jesus bands).

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For their live shows, 45 Grave adopted a kind of horror rock appearance, influenced by another Phoenix, Arizona-transplant, Alice Cooper, and Bolles wore skull makeup and often wore hats, including fezzes (they would later record the Alice Cooper Band’s huge hit “School’s Out” in 1984).

Their first single, 1981’s “Black Cross” b/w “Wax,” was recorded on a four-track in the practice space/garage at the house in West Hollywood. The band put out the 7-inch single on their own label, Goldar, delayed mostly because the artwork wasn’t ready for three months. They gave an acetate of it to KROQ radio show host Rodney Bingenheimer, to play on his “Rodney on the Roq” program, and he added it to his regular rotation, and their local rep began to build beyond the underground club scene in L.A. “Black Cross” became one of Rodney’s most requested songs, charting on Flipside fanzine’s Rodney Chart and it was the number one request for several months.

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That delayed cover art, by the way, featured an upside pentagram with a goat head in it, the Baphomet, the same one that was on the cover of the Satanic Bible, which we recently posted about here. It took so long, in fact, that Bolles’s started seeing other records coming out before 45 Grave’s was ready that also featured satanic imagery, including a Venom album with the very same image of the Baphoment, and one by the Plasmatics, and also the band Mötley Crüe, who Bolles has said were huge fans of 45 Grave and went to almost all of their shows — they ended up putting an upside-down pentagram on the cover of their album Shout at the Devil.

45 Grave — along with the Adolescents, whose song “Amoeba” was a huge hit on the “Rodney on the Roq” show — were at one point the biggest bands in L.A. and they played frequently, and developed a solid following, but fell victim to a lot of the same things that lots of bands fall victim too, including dabbling with heroin.

Their first album, Sleep in Safety, came out in 1984, and was produced by Craig Leon, who had produced the Ramones’s and Blondie’s first albums and the first Suicide LP, too, but the band aren’t happy with the way it sounds today, preferring the early 7-inch singles that they’d recorded themselves.

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Even though they remained together for a few years, appearing on “New Wave Theater” sometime in either 1983 or 1984, Don Bolles’s band was destined for the subsequent dustbin of L.A. punk history, where all good bands eventually go to die. He and Mary (Dinah Cancer) later broke up, and then she and Paul Cutler got married, and, as Bolles has noted elsewhere, “the power structure of the band changed pretty drastically.” Then he and Rob were both kicked out of the band by Cutler and Cancer, because of their drug use (ironic, since everyone in the band was doing drugs), and even though they were able to do a couple of U.S. tours, they finally broke up in 1984.

45 Grave are still cited as a huge influence on the not-yet-popular goth rock scene that came later, and at least one of their songs, “Party Time,” has become a frequently licensed track that has showed up on movie soundtracks (like Return Of The Living Dead), and was frequently played in full roation on MTV (their song “Evil” actually debuted on MTV’s “The Cutting Edge” in 1985).

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One of the best memories members of the band share was playing extras in the cult sci-fi movie Blade Runner, one of Night Flight’s favorites.

On June 28, 1991, New York City, NY, the band’s bassist Rob Graves passed away from an accidental overdose.

More recently, in 2004, on the 25th anniversary of 45 Grave forming as a band, Dinah Cancer put together a new lineup for a a new album, its first in 27 years. That lineup, unfortunately, did not include its founder, Don Bolles.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • http://sparklepony.blogspot.com peteykins

    What a nice guy. I ran into Don several times in thrift stores in San Diego digging through the crates for weird old records. We bonded over our mutual love for 101 Strings and strange children’s LPs. Another time, at my house, he begged me for my “Heidi Pocketbook Doll” album, but nuh-uh, like I’d part with THAT masterpiece. He was a lot of fun. I always wish him well.