The Warlocks’ reputation hasn’t recovered from shooting outside of the Echo
Maybe more than any other local band, the Warlocks will be glad to see 2010 gone.
On June 20, the psychedelic outfit played a show at the Echo as part of a night booked by the Eastside DJ crew, the Part Time Punks. Around 2 in the morning, as Warlocks frontman Bobby Hecksher was packing up his gear onstage, he heard gunshots outside.
“It wasn’t one bullet, it was a full-on onslaught,” he recalled, speaking six months later in a coffee shop near his apartment in Northeast Los Angeles. “I heard people screaming and yelling, and then everyone ran inside.”
A gunman had fired about eight rounds from a semiautomatic pistol into the small crowd leaving the Echo, injuring three people, and then quickly escaped.
“One guy came and sat down to the left of the stage,” Hecksher said. “He was holding his head in his hands. And there are people around him and he says, ‘A bullet just grazed my head.’ … He had a gash there. It looked like it had just nicked him.”
About a month later, the police arrested an alleged member of the Mongols biker gang, Jose Luis Sanchez, in connection with the shooting, which the police established as targeting a member of the rival Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang who had been inside the Sunset Boulevard rock club.
All three victims have recovered, including a man who sustained the most critical injury, a gunshot to the torso. However, Hecksher says his band’s reputation is still hurting, and he has been having a hard time getting L.A. bookings in the wake of the shootings.
According to LAPD Lt. Wes Buhrmester, a watch commander with the Rampart station, “the band's involvement, or lack of same, was investigated pursuant to the overall investigation of how this incident occurred, and no link to the suspect was found.” The case will be going to jury trial in early 2011.
“My phone was ringing all the time,” Hecksher said, still visibly shaken as he recalled the incident. “I was in shock, and I didn’t know what to do or if I should do anything. My manager, Mary Patton, was trying to convey the same message I am now: We had nothing to do with this. We’re a rock ’n’ roll band, that’s all.”
A decade into their career, the Warlocks have taken their fair share of hits. In addition to having a deal with Mute Records that ended in the mid-’00s, their latest U.S. tour, in 2009, was hammered by the bad economy. They fared decently in major cities but couldn’t bring in enough on the smaller stops to cover their expenses. Tensions rose, and Hecksher’s close friend, drummer Bob Mustachio, quit the band.
Since the shooting, the Warlocks have reissued “Rise and Fall,” their first album long out of print, on their new label Zap Banana. They also toured Europe in November and December, playing to sold-out crowds.
But despite having his hopes buoyed by young European audiences reveling in an American tradition founded in part by the Velvet Underground, Hecksher is still worried about the reputation of his band close to home.
“It’s not like anyone has said, ‘You can’t play here,’ but we haven’t been asked to do a show in L.A. since then,” he said. “Usually we get asked three or four times a year.”
Hecksher has managed to secure his first official homecoming gig at the all-ages club the Smell, where the Warlocks will perform on New Year’s Eve.
For Jim Smith, the owner of the venerable punk institution, having the Warlocks play is a return to the club’s roots.
“The Warlocks, and Bobby in particular, have been a part of our history. They’ve been playing here since we first opened in North Hollywood in 1998.”
Brian Smith (no relation), booker at the Troubadour, where the Warlocks have played several times since their start in the late ’90s, wrote in an e-mail: “The Warlocks are one of the great underappreciated Los Angeles rock bands who have played probably every club and bar in the city over the last ten years. What happened in June was tragic and a sad moment for the L.A. music community but as far as I know there is no official or unofficial ban in Los Angeles.”
But the idea of the band being “banned” on their home turf does seem to have circulated in the music community.
“I, oddly enough, heard about their being banned in Los Angeles from a European promoter,” Brian Smith continued. “I would really hate to think that anyone would use the ‘ban’ as a way to unnecessarily spin their music as being dangerous or even glorifying any mysticism that might be left in rock n roll in the year 2010.”
Another prominent Los Angeles booker, who has worked with the band but who asked anonymity because of potential business dealings, stated that the Warlocks, who cultivate a heavy image with songs such as “Dilaudid” and “Shake the Dope Out” — both nods to drug culture — does attract a certain crowd.
“The Warlocks do have a Hell’s Angels following, that’s what I was told,” the source said. “Would it stop me from booking them? Not necessarily. It would have more to do with their diminishing draw.”
Although Hecksher vehemently denies the band’s involvement with motorcycle gang culture, he obviously can’t speak for every last one of his fans. “Have I seen motorcycles at our shows? Sure. Do I know what those bikers are involved in? No.”
For Hecksher, the fallout from the shooting is another in a long line of misfortunes, but he has no plans to dismantle the Warlocks. In fact, he plans to write another album come spring.
“I’m a songwriter,” he said. “I have a love-hate thing with this music stuff. It’s a lot of hours, a lot of problems, and there isn’t much encouragement. But the songs keep coming out of me. I love music, and that will never change.
The Warlocks perform tonight with the Meek, Black Flamingo, Chelsea Wolf and others at the Smell, 247 S. Main St. $5.
Photo: Bobby Hecksher in Northeast L.A. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times