INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN BRANNON
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY JIM ISERI and BRYCE KANIGHTS
Brian Brannon is a member of the legendary JFA who were one of the first bands that could actually back up their skate rock label with members that actually skate parks and pools. Coming up in the early days of Thrasher, Brannon toured the country and lived the skater’s dream of being in a punk band playing and hitting the local hot spots along the way. Brian still skates and plays with JFA and gives you a great perspective of a hardcore skater growing up in the skate and music industry as the leader of Jodie Foster’s Army. Here he is… Brian Brannon.
“I STARTED SKATING AT HIGH ROLLER SKATEPARK. IT WAS PRETTY RAD. IT HAD TWO BOWLS, TWO PIPES, TWO SNAKE RUNS AND A HUGE RESERVOIR. IT WAS REALLY GOOD. THE FIRST TIME I WENT THERE I WORE A “TARZAN” OUTFIT THAT MY MOM GOT ME. THAT GOT ME IN REALLY GOOD WITH THE LOCALS.”
Name, rank and serial number.
Brian Brannon, Pool Pirate first class, 696969.
Skadoosh. Where were you born? What year?
I was born in Long Beach, CA, in 1966.
When did you start skating?
I started skating when I was about four years old. I was just pushing around in the driveway. The first thing I did was lie down on it, and paddle it like a surfboard.
Chicks were digging that, right?
Yeah. The chicks I didn’t throw rocks at thought it was cool.
When did you start skating parks?
I went to Lakewood, Marina and Colton in ’78.
Did you see some good sessions there?
I was just looking at the results from the ASPO Lakewood contest the other day. I got beat by a guy named Joe Hardy who didn’t have any legs. It was kind of embarrassing. He was rad, man. He had the stumps, you know. He was rocking the laybacks. He had inverts going.
Was that in the halfpipe?
Yeah. It was pretty rad.
Was the Clamshell built yet?
No. The Monster Bowl was a little later. It was huge. It was 15-feet. There was another drop-in bowl that fed into it that was 5 or 6 feet deep. That was gnarly to me, as a little kid.
What were you thinking when you saw it?
I just charged it.
You went straight for the bowl?
I just liked going fast. I used to dig the banked slalom runs. I’d get cruising down those, and the snake runs. They don’t have enough of those anymore.
Who were you skating with at Lakewood?
No one. I was the lone ranger. I was only 10. My mom would drop me off at the park every morning. I remember Duane coming through.
What was that like?
It was like a whirlwind of punk rock insanity. I was like, “Whoa. What was that?”
Did you know what was up with punk rock then?
I started getting into it when we moved to Arizona, in ’78. I was in Long Beach skating the parks around southern California for a year or so before we moved.
Why did you move to Arizona?
My mom got a job out there, so we moved. I started skating the High Roller Skate Park. It was pretty rad. It had two bowls, two pipes, two snake runs and a huge reservoir. It was really good. The first time I went there I wore a “Tarzan” outfit that my Mom got me. That got me in really good with the locals.
What do you mean she got you a Tarzan outfit?
I told her I wanted to be Tarzan one year, so she made me an outfit.
Are we talking about a Halloween outfit?
Yeah. It had leopard skin with the strap on one shoulder. I figured I was going to the skatepark, so I’d rock my Tarzan outfit. Halloween had been over for a couple of months. That’s the first the locals saw of me. I was “Tarzan.”
What did they think?
I don’t know what they thought. They were clowning me. It was sweet though. It was a good way to make a statement.
Yeah. People won’t forget that.
I had a Caster Inouye the first time I went there. Then I got a Chris Strople concave board, which was one of the first concave boards. I remember this kid Eric was trying to trade me. He was like, “I’ll give you a Bones Rodriguez for it.” I was like, “No.”
What trucks were you riding?
I think they were Lazers. I went straight from Lazers to Independent.
Were you rocking the 169s?
Did you get the Gyros going?
You know it. They were aluminum core, double conicals.
I think they were white.
That’s the shit.
High Roller was a great park. There were really good locals like Todd Joseph, Mike Sversvold our drummer, Eric Reinfreid, Shane and Eric Benford. That park had so many lines in the snake runs. I enjoyed a lot of parks after they closed. That was one of them. You just snuck in through the fence. You could do whatever you wanted. No rules.
So you went from being a loner in Cali to having a crew in Arizona?
Yeah. The kids at school were more into wearing surf garb in Arizona than they were in California. There were more surfers in Arizona than in California.
Were they posers?
Yeah. They didn’t even skate. A few of them did. This one older dude, Chris Camono took me out to High Roller. There’s a big ‘S’ on the mountain right beside it. It stands for Sunnyslope High School. He was like, “See that big ‘S’ on that mountain? That stands for ‘Surf out’. You have to surf out when you skate, dude.” We took as much of surfing as we could to the pools. We’d just go with the flow.
In the late ’70s, when the parks closed down, were you guys getting into backyard pools or were you skating backyard pools when the parks were fully going?
We were doing both. We were down for whatever. If someone found a pool, you’d show up and the next day, and there’d already be 20 guys there.
Was that your first experience with backyard pools, in Arizona, not in California?
Yeah. It was in Arizona.
What was the first backyard pool that you rode?
The first backyard pool that I went to I didn’t have the proper board. I had one of those Alumi-flex things. I hadn’t been able to talk my mom into getting me a real board yet. I was doomed from the start. I gave it a go, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
Did you have the “Tarzan” outfit on?
No. I left that at home. The second pool was called the Arm Pit. It wasn’t that good, but I learned to carve in it.
Were you stoked because you were riding something that was not made to skate?
Yeah. It felt more real. We wanted to ride the most challenging stuff. If you could get good at that, then you were good. When the parks closed down, the band started up. We started driving to California all the time. We’d always stop by Colton on the way. It was closed, but you could sneak in through a hole in the fence. We had some great sessions there. The security guard would drive by and everyone would lie down in the bottom of the snake run.
When it was open, I remember Chris Miller and Christian Hosoi were skating the snake runs there. It was pretty much just a bunch of ‘S’ turns in a row. Instead of following the turns, they would just blast over each hip. They’d just go straight through it. They’d do doubles sometimes. This one time, a bunch of us kids were lying down underneath them as they went over us. Being the new kid, I got at the very end where it would be most likely that I’d get nailed if they didn’t make it. I was just lying down and watching Miller and Hosoi go over. It was pretty cool. They were both little kids back then, too.
Did you get to talk to them?
I think the first pro that I ever talked to was Neil Blender.
What was that like?
That was cool. That was when Colton was still open. Someone found out that JFA was there and they put on one of our CDs. They were playing “Pipetruck” on the P.A. Neil looks at me, and goes, “Hey, man. Do you hear that song? That’s my band.” I was like, “Right on, man. Cool.”
Neil is a trip.
He’s cool. I always admired his skating. He could blast.
Yeah. He’s the man. Let’s go back to Arizona. What was the music scene like when you first got there? What were you listening to?
We listened to all kinds of stuff. We were listening to Devo, The Clash, Sex Pistols. There was an album called “Can You Hear Me? Live at the Deaf Club”. It had some live Dead Kennedys and the Offs on it.
Killer. What was happening in Arizona at the time?
There were some local bands, but they were all stuck in 1978, English style. We were more hyped up on the skate thing, so we used to give them shit. They were like, “Stupid skaters!” What happened next was that I acquired all this wood from the midnight lumber yard to help build this ramp out in Scottsdale. I ran into Mike Cornelius out there one day. He was skating it. He was cool. The next night I snuck out of my window to go to this party where some bands were playing. Don was in a band called the Deez back then, and they were playing. Mike came up to me and said, “Hey dude. We’re starting up a band. We’re all skaters. We need someone that can scream. Can you scream?” I looked at him, and then I screamed right in his ear. He was like, “Okay. You’re in.”
So you became the lead singer?
I was the lead screamer. They didn’t want me to sing. Every time I tried to sing, they were like, “No. Don’t try to sing. Just scream.”
Who came up with the name?
Originally, we were called The Breakers for our first show that we played with the Crowd. Then we found out there was a band in California called the Breakers. At that time, all of the guys from the skateparks, all our friends would wear green bandanas with JFA written on them on their engineer boots, because they were our friends. They were Jodie Foster’s Army, because we had a song called “JFA”. So when it came time to change our name, we were like, “I guess we’ll just be JFA.”
How did you come up with Jodie Foster’s Army? What was it about Jodie Foster? Was it some sarcastic thing or was there more to it?
It was a satire on the whole thing that happened when John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan. Our guitar player Don was hanging out with someone who said, “Jodie Foster has her own gun club now.” Don was like, “No. She’s got her own army.” That inspired him to write the song about it. Then it became the name. Since then, a lot of people have come up with other things that it could stand for, so that’s okay. It’s whatever you want it to be.
Has there ever been a time that you actually talked to Jodie Foster?
About the time we did “Preppy” for the “Rodney on the ROQ” compilation, Rodney used to hang out with her. He gave her our first EP, “Blatant Localism.” Supposedly, he asked her what it was like to have her own army and she said it was “neat.”
[Laughs.] Right on.
After awhile, I think she soured on it. She probably got tired of the controversy. She probably wants it to go away, but we’re still here.
You’re a constant reminder.
You have to love her. She’s a great actress, and a beautiful woman.
So you started Jodie Foster’s Army. I remember reading about you in “Thrasher”. It was rad, because it was the first album that I saw with a skateboarder on the cover. I remember thinking, “This is skate rock.” When “Thrasher” labeled you a skate rock band, did you think that was cool or were you like, “No. We’re rock n’ roll?”
Well, the whole point of the band was to be all skaters and play music that we wanted to hear when we skated. We were sick of hearing the hippie music at the skateparks and pools, and in people’s boom boxes. We wanted to hear fast stuff. Back then we were into early Black Flag pre-Henry, Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Germs, TSOL, Flyboys and the Damned. That’s the kind of stuff we were jamming on. It’s cool to see that stuff come back today. People are still into it, because it’s still good.
You formed JFA in the early ’80s. From there, were you in school? Did you say, “Okay, mom. I’m going on tour with my band.”
Yeah. I was 14 when the band started. Luckily, my mom was cool. She knew Don and Michael. She trusted them to look out for me, so she let me go on tour.
What kind of tours are we talking?
At first, we’d do three-day weekends to LA, San Francisco and maybe Tucson.
What were those gigs like? Did the word get around that a skate rock band was coming to town?
At that point, skate rock wasn’t even a thing. There wasn’t even a term for skate rock. There weren’t that many bands doing it. We didn’t know of any other bands that were doing it, until we heard the Big Boys. We were stoked on that. All our friends would come to our shows and we’d go skate their pools. They’d set us up. We’d skate the abandoned parks. We’d blow off sound check and show up right before it was time to go on and just play. It was all good.