He just didn’t know it yet…
Goss was the producer and band leader of Masters of Reality. He was on his way to a generator party in the middle of the desert, to see a band he had thus far only heard on a demo cassette.
Generator parties were a way for Palm Desert kids to meet, drink, and hear bands play, all out of sight of parents, police and general interference. Bands played miles out of town around a raging bonfire in the open air, the hot desert wind blowing sand everywhere, with just a keg of beer, a barbecue, some possibly illicit substances and an audience for company, all thirsty for music and fun – with a diesel-powered generator providing the electricity.
Despite being the middle of the night, it was over a hundred degrees outside and Goss drove through the desert, feeling totally lost, until he saw a car parked by the side of the road, like it had been abandoned by a drunk driver.
That was his first clue.
Then he saw someone stumble out of the darkness.
He was getting closer.
Then a glow – a single light on a tall pole. This was it…
He got out of the car and walked towards the bonfires and the band. As he approached, Goss was surrounded by a couple of hundred kids jumping around, dancing, creating a whirlwind of sand around them.
He later mused “the sound of it, like you’re listening to them in a tornado, and you could only see this cacophony of bodies… slamming into each other. It was like stumbling on the Plains Indians doing a war dance.”
The band he went to see called themselves Sons of Kyuss (rhymes with “pious”) and featured a teenage Josh Homme.
Josh Homme grew up in Palm Springs and was given his first guitar when he was 10 years old. He learned how to play polkas on the acoustic instrument for two weeks.
Polkas are what Robin Williams’ nemesis in “Good Morning Vietnam” used to play to the troops in what appeared to be a precursor to later military forms of torture such as water boarding.
After two weeks Homme had had his fill of polkas. It’s a bit surprising it took him a fortnight to be honest, but there you go. However, rather than follow Robin Williams’ lead in the film and start playing Thunderclap Newman songs he switched his attention to hardcore punk.
Good Morning Vietnam would have been a very different film if Homme had played the Williams role…
In 1984, the twelve year old Josh Homme met the thirteen year old Nick Oliveri. They met at school, after Nick’s family moved from LA to Palm Springs. Nick liked Ozzy Osborne and Judas Priest. Homme Black Flag and Minor Threat.
Homme formed a band with friends John Garcia, Chris Cockrell and Brant Bjork – who sadly is no relation to the Icelandic songstress. They called themselves Katzenjammer, rehearsing in garages which served a dual purpose at night – as meth labs…
Which was nice.
The band evolved – Oliveri was recruited on guitar before moving to bass when Cockrell departed – and the group moved their sound away from hard core punk because of their demanding audiences. Anything that was too derivative would be picked up on and criticised by kids at the generator parties, and the band switched from punk to extended heavy jams, taking Black Sabbath riffs and mixing them up with trance-like Hawkwind rhythms. Instead of John Garcia shouting the words punk-style, Brant Bjork suggested that he just sing the melody.
And, somewhat by accident, the guitars got tuned down, accenting a lower, heavy growl which Homme emphasised by playing his guitar through both guitar and bass amplifiers.
I say “accident”. It was more circumstance. Without the money to buy guitar tuners, the guitars kept being tuned downwards, and they would all tune to each other and then start.
“That was the main thing in the desert. You had to sound like yourself, or else people would talk s— about you”.
The result was a Darwinian evolution of their own sound, a heavy sound, but isolated from either the LA metal scene or the nascent Seattle grunge scene.
Sons of Kyuss recorded a few songs. The production was poor, but the cassette found its way to Chris Goss – which brings us back to the start of this tale.
Goss’ interest was piqued.
Sons of Kyuss began to make the two hour journey to LA to play gigs. Their first LA show, in 1988, was not well attended.
Five people showed up, including Chris Goss. But, like the Sex Pistols at The Manchester Free Trade Hall, sometimes it isn’t about how many people show up, but who.
Goss walked up to Homme after the show, marvelling at the Black Sabbath-style heavy swing coming from the band.
“Are you a Sabbath fan?” he asked Homme.
“No. I’ve never really listened to Sabbath” replied Homme.
“It was then that I knew we were on to something” remarked Goss later, “This was coming from them.”
After a self-released LP made precious few waves, it took nearly three years for the band to win a record deal.
Dropping the “Sons of” moniker, Kyuss recorded “Wretch” – an LP cobbled together from songs on that initial self-released LP with a few newer songs.
But Goss knew the record wasn’t capturing the band’s sound. Kyuss had a rumble, a giant sound-wave that Goss likened to “sitting in the middle of a bowling alley when the balls are rolling down the wood”. Now a friend and supporter of Kyuss, he pleaded to and won agreement from the Chameleon record label boss to be allowed to produce the next LP.
Blues For The Red Sun was the result. Released in June 1992, Goss’ production captured the band perfectly. And the band hit their peak at the same time.
It’s hard to describe just how strange the album sounded back then. It was so unlike anything that came before it or that was released contemporaneously.
It’s also interesting how well the album has aged. It’ll be twenty five years old in 2017. It still sounds immediate, unique, and had it been released this year, it would still have been described as contemporary. There’s still little out there quite like it: a modern classic that has only improved as the years have flown by.
Here’s Kerrang! magazine’s end of year list for 1992 – the year the album was released in the US.
- Alice In Chains – Dirt
- The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion
- Kyuss – Blues For The Red Sun
- Pearl Jam – Ten
Third best album of the year from a bunch of unknown desert kids. The LP didn’t even get a release in the UK until the following year.
BFTRS appeared ahead of such now classic heavy albums such as Pearl Jam’s debut, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, Faith No More’s Angel Dust, Soul Asylum’s Grave Dancer’s Union, Screaming Trees, Body Count and er, a Marillion singles compilation.
Josh Homme was still just 18 years old. A punk kid from a desert town.
It was quite a statement.
Kyuss broke up when Homme was only 21. Not because they fell out. Not through musical differences. But because they had got bored. In the meantime, they got as far as supporting Metallica in stadiums. Homme went on to join Mark Lanegan’s Screaming Trees as a touring musician before finally conquering the world with Queens of the Stone Age
“We made four records and we just wanted to have a good solid ending with a finishing point” said Homme years later, still amazed at what happened.
“Someone handed me a picture of John Garcia and I from 1993…” he remarked. “I just sat and looked at it for 20 minutes without saying a word, you know. And I never thought all this would come of it.
We never even planned on leaving the desert, to tell you the truth.”
Blues For The Red Sun by Kyuss has been reissued on 180g red marbled vinyl, alongside reissues of Kyuss’ other three albums, Wretch, Welcome To Sky Valley and …When The Circus Leaves Town.