Once upon a time--well, the mid-1980s--Bloodspasm was Tucson's biggest punk-rock band.
Fueled by the twin-guitar attack of Mike Gorman and Paul Young, and by the over-the-top antics of XL-sized frontman Bob Spasm, Bloodspasm lasted several years, playing notoriously boisterous shows at house parties, warehouses and the occasional watering hole from about 1985 to 1992.
The group released one official album, but that included the undeniably appealing hard-core tune, "We Got Cactus," which more or less became the underground anthem of the Tucson music scene. Even Al Perry, the unofficial musical mayor of Tucson, covered the tune on his most recent album.
"It was a lot of fun in those days," recalled Spasm last week. "Things were on a much smaller scale, at least at first. There weren't as many bands as there are now, not as many people. But it wasn't safe like today."
Spasm spoke via a late-night phone call from the graveyard shift at a job that shall remain unnamed. "I'm talking to you and watching professional wrestling at the same time."
Bloodspasm may have originally disbanded more than 15 years ago, but the group reunited a few years back for a one-off show for Spasm's birthday, and since then, it has continued to play twice a year. Dubbing the semiannual event SpasmFest, the group has made a habit of inviting similar-minded younger bands to join them.
The latest SpasmFest is Saturday night, March 15, at Vaudeville Cabaret. In addition to Bloodspasm, the event will feature a handful of acts booked by Spasm, who will also act as the show's floor manager.
Although he is almost 48, Spasm regularly spends his weekend nights checking out the local band scene, and he likes what he hears. "I think punk rock in Tucson is stronger than ever."
For the upcoming SpasmFest, he has chosen American Deathtrip, Dephinger, Vanish Twin, Blue Collar Criminals and Dead End Dragstrip. Each of the acts is from Tucson, except for the Phoenix-based Dephinger.
Spasm is fond of them all, but he makes special mention of Blue Collar Criminals ("a great street punk band"), the rockabilly Dead End Dragstrip and the relatively new act Vanish Twin.
"(Vanish Twin) is doing something really different. I don't know quite how to describe it. I'd put it in the punk thing, but it's more instrumental. It's an original sound."
Playing punk rock in Tucson 20 years ago meant living the lifestyle, and sometimes paying the price for doing so, Spasm said.
"Today, punk rock is pretty much a safe thing. There's no penalty for being a punk rocker; you don't have to walk down the street and fear getting jumped and beat up all the time. And you don't have to worry, for the most part, about the cops hassling you."
Spasm said his band benefitted from the fact that--although Bloodspasm played straight-ahead punk--all kinds of music informed the band's songs.
"One of the things that made us work was that all of us in the band liked some things in common, but we all listened to different kinds of music. Me and Paul were old enough to remember the days before punk rock."
For instance, Spasm eagerly cites such varied influences as the New York Dolls, Ramones, Mott the Hoople, early Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, the Beach Boys, rockabilly and '50s rock 'n' roll.
"These days, though, if you turn on XM Radio and hear the new crop of punk bands, you can tell these bands grew up just listening to other punk bands, period."
Not surprisingly, Bloodspasm's personnel have changed over the years, especially due to the fact that Young and original drummer Tommy O. both passed away in the mid-1990s.
This year's model features Spasm, Gorman, bassist Eric Snyder and guitarist-drummer Mike (Miles) Martin. The lineup also includes a pair of ringers in guitarist Paul and drummer Rich from the local grind-core/death-metal band Saphead.
"The weird thing about punk rock is that most of the people I know, I don't even know their last names," Spasm said.
Even as its members have aged semi-gracefully, Bloodspasm isn't beyond creating a little controversy. Recently, the band printed and distributed a flier, drawn by local artist Kevin Byrd, to publicize the upcoming SpasmFest. It depicts a purple effigy of Spasm hanging by a noose from a saguaro, with one member of the assembled throng beneath him yelling, "Off with his hair!" The hair reference alludes to the fact that Spasm traditionally has had his head shaved on stage during these semi-annual Bloodspasm gigs.
"Part of my performance bond with Vaudeville calls for me to have my head shaved on stage unless the audience doesn't want me to. I had my hair dyed blond a couple days ago, and women everywhere are saying, 'Gosh, Bob, you look sexier than ever.'
"Now, how that is possible, I do not know, but I'll go with it and encourage all the ladies to show up and stop the crowd from removing my golden locks. Please, I mean, pretty please!"
The flier quickly was pulled from most local businesses, Spasm said. Apparently, folks claimed it had racist overtones--the legend at the top of the image, "Come feel the hate," may not have helped.
To which Spasm has a well-rehearsed response.
"If you find that flier offensive, congratulations, you have passed Sensitivity Training 101. Please stay home and whack off to Morrissey and Green Day CDs. If, however, you want a fun night of loud, obnoxious punk rock, then go to the show. And, no, we don't care if you're black, white, brown or even purple. The more, the merrier."
Interested parties may view the full-color flier at Bloodspasm's MySpace site or the Vaudeville Web site.
Bloodspasm is actually playing twice this Saturday night. They'll begin the evening by performing during a roller derby double-header at Bladeworld, 1065 W. Grant Road. That event starts at 7 p.m. DJ Bombshelter is also scheduled; admission will be $10.