INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY BRYAN LATHROP
It’s cool to see how music and skateboarding can flow together. Chuck Treece has skated on the road while playing with bands like McRad, Underdog, Bad Brains and Urge Overkill. Growing up with guys like Tom Groholski and Steve Herring, Chuck became part of the underground East Coast scene and carried it through in his music. With stylish layback roll outs and killer bass riffs Chuck has redefined his own style in his own way. So check it out, one of Philly’s finest, Chuck Treece.
“ONCE EASY RIDER CLOSED DOWN ALL OF OUR FRIENDS WENT TO CHERRY HILL. EVERYONE IN THE TRI-STATE AREA WAS GOING THERE TO SKATE. THAT’S WHEN I MET YOU, TOM GROHOLSKI, PUPPETHEAD AND PAPO. THAT WAS A MOVIE IN ITSELF RIGHT THERE.”
Yo, Chuck. Let’s get first things first. Where were you born?
I was born in Wilmington, Delaware on May 30, 1964.
What was it like growing up in Wilmington, Delaware?
It was cool. I grew up in a little neighborhood called Dunleith and then I moved out to Newark. That’s when the craziness started. I saw these two kids zipping down the sidewalk on skateboards. I was like, “I want to try that.” So I bought a $15 plastic board, went out there, scraped my knee and I’ve been at it ever since.
When was that? Was that in the mid ’70s?
Yeah. I was 13, just going into junior high. Skateboarder was still going as a publication. Skateparks were still around. It was about two years before Cherry Hill opened.
What were you riding in Dunleigh?
We were riding the neighborhood streets and the curbs in front of my house. There was a shopping mall right in front of this development called Meadow Woods and I used to skate there with Tony Sanatoro and Joey Wasniki. Then a skatepark called Easy Rider opened. It was a wave-type park with banks and small bowls, but that was when everything came together. That park had one of the first half-pipes they built in a park with flat bottom. It was about five feet of transition and five feet of vert.
Nice. Was that the first time you’d ever seen a concrete skatepark?
I’d checked out a magazine or two, but it didn’t really hit me until I went to the park and saw all these other dudes that were way more advanced than I was. I started getting the magazines, because there were guys in my local park that were cranking airs and doing handplants. When I was 14, I wrote Stacy Peralta a letter. I’d read one of his interviews, so I wrote him a letter. He actually wrote me back and told me about Jamie Godfrey and Mike Jesilowski. We’re talking about the beginning days of the original Bones Brigade, when the East Coast side was Alan Gelfand and Mike McGill.
Were you blown away that Stacy wrote you back?
I was freaked out. I remember what it felt like writing that letter as a child. I was so stoked on his interview. I’d read other interviews with Peter Griffin and Rick Blackhart, and they were cool, but for some reason, Stacy put it down right. It totally opened my mind. I was already into music and felt like skateboarding was a whole other format that I could get into. I also saw that skaters were listening to edgier music. What really tripped me out about Stacy were those old Ray “Bones” Rodriguez ads. Those ads were cool. As soon as the Beamer came out, I had it. I had fiberglass splinters in my arm from carrying my board. Every time you did a board slide, the board would shred up.
[Laughs] So Stacy wrote you and made the connection. Did you know how big of a deal it was?
I was totally blown away. Instead of typing the letter, he wrote me back in his own handwriting. It was great for someone of my age. I was humbled that he was writing me, but he was also filling me with information on a scene that I was just starting to get into, let alone being accepted into. He was the first West Coast guy that said to me, “Yeah, we’ve got stuff going on out here, but you’ve got some guys in your area that are amazing.” That’s when he started dropping names like Jamie Godfrey and Mike Jesilowski. Once I met those guys, I knew what to expect. The first time I saw Mike, he was doing board slides more than halfway around the egg bowl.
When did you first hear about Cherry Hill?
My mom would take me around to the parks that we found out about. One day she said, “I found this skatepark called Weber’s Wave over in Jersey.” It was right down the street from Cherry Hill. It was like the banked park we had in Delaware. I was skating there and this guy was like, “If you really want to skate a good skatepark, you should drive down the street and check out Cherry Hill.” So we went down there. I was just like, “What? Look at this park, mom!” It was so state of the art for a skatepark. It was amazing.
Did you see Jes and Jamie skating?
When I first walked in, there were a couple of guys riding. It was a mellow session, and that made me want to ride even more. I didn’t get to see Mike and Jamie skate until I started sessioning there by myself. As I got older, I was going up there with a bunch of friends from Delaware. Once Easy Rider closed down all of our friends went to Cherry Hill. Everyone in the Tri-State area was going there to skate. That’s when I met you, Tom Groholski, Puppethead and PaPo. That was a movie in itself right there.
Hell, yeah. How did that skatepark affect your life? Were you addicted?
We were blown away by Cherry Hill. Once we realized we had the big egg bowl to ride, it made us all step it up. There were locals shredding. Then we realized that skating was about to take another leap in its intensity level because of this amazing skatepark. At first we were like, “Whoa!” Then we were like, “Holy shit! You could really get hurt here.”
[Laughs] Did you take some good slams there?
[Laughs] Hell, yeah. That’s when I was wearing regular cloth pads, no caps on the knees. I didn’t get Rectors until I learned vert reverts in the halfpipe at Cherry Hill. That’s when I realized that I should get better pads.
Did you have any interaction with the pros that came through Cherry Hill?
The first time that I saw any pros skating, besides the locals like Mike Jesilowski, was when Brad Bowman and Bert LaMar came to town. They were just ripping. Tom [Groholski] was talking to Brad. By that time, Tom was already ripping and we were just starting to be friends. The people I connected with were the Variflex team when they came to town with Allen Losi, Steve Hirsch and Freddie DeSoto. I had started figuring out whom I liked in the mags. I was getting into Stacy Peralta, Shogo Kubo, Bob Biniak and Marty Grimes. I was into the Variflex team, too. Meeting Steve Hirsch was pretty cool.
What were you thinking about the Variflex vibe?
I thought of them as the first real tech skaters, especially because Eddie Elguera was on Variflex and he was crushing everybody. He was a full robot skater. Freddie DeSoto was on Variflex, and I identified with him because he was also black. I didn’t let that get to me in skating, but it was good to see those dudes around. Marty Grimes was the only other black skateboarder that I knew about. After that, it was Freddy. He was rad. He could do Andrechts and big airs.
Were you thinking about getting sponsored?
Tom and I had been talking a lot and hanging out. The way we approached Madrid was that Tom said, “I’ll help you write a letter, Chuck.” We were all skating together and going different places and it felt like it was time to represent what we were doing to these companies. Once I got in, I got Tom in. Then you were on Zorlac. The first person that was supposed to be sponsored was Steve Herring, but that didn’t work out with GandS. That bummed me out, because we all looked up to Steve. You and Steve were ripping. You guys showed me how to ollie up on a curb and do slappies. When we did that Jacksonville trip and Monty Nolder saw Steve skate, he was into it.
Steve got all pumped and then the sponsorship from G&S didn’t come through. I was like, “We’ve got to change that.” I was thinking, “If this crew of people is going to make it, we’ve got to make it on our own accord, from our hometown and on our own strengths and talent.” We loved Cherry Hill and that was a big thing to us. Most kids didn’t have a park like Cherry Hill to skate. We were already on our way to being more than sponsored if that park would have stayed around another few years. Undeniably, we had the talent.
Why were you so stoked on Madrid? Was it the Mike Smith thing?
I think so. We really got into Mike because of his style. When the big version of Thrasher was still around, Mike got a double-page photo, and we were tripping on that whole vibe. We approached Variflex, but they were a big company that was trying to compete with Powell. They weren’t trying to take on any small East Coast people. For some reason, Madrid was just kind of open. Then it was Gullwing and OJ wheels for Tom and me. It seemed like everything just worked out after that. It was cool that we started with Madrid, a smaller company, at first.
Definitely. Mike Smith was punk.
Yep. The Smith grinds.
How did it make you feel to get sponsored?
It felt great to have a board from a company. Then I had to skate that board and do what’s natural and try to represent the company. I had a purpose and that made me really want to try to make it work. It didn’t make me a better skater, because that comes from within. The companies were just trying to harness the energy that we put out. After about ten years, I realized that we were getting free gear and getting paid to travel, but it was all about our initial impact of why we wanted to skateboard. That’s what made it cool. Whatever you put in, you get back. Skateboarding and music are the same. What you put into it gives back.
Were you musically-inclined as a kid?
I started beating on pots and pans when I was two, got my first real drum kit when I was six and performed with my father’s Top 40 band when I was eight.
What instrument were you playing?
I started out on drums. In eighth grade, I auditioned for the band and got first chair. I had all the drum solos. I didn’t read a lick of music, but I could visually remember what the songs sounded like. That was my gift, but I sold my drum kit when I was 14 and decided I was just going to skateboard and listen to punk rock. I still played shows, but I got rid of my drum kit.
What was your parents’ reaction to that?
They were bummed. They thought punk rock music was total crap. My mom really didn’t understand it, but she dealt with it. I was listening to Void and all the DC stuff and my parents were just not having it. When I sold my drum kit in ’82, I didn’t own another drum kit of my own until I was working with Stacy Peralta in ’86. I still played and started McRad, but I learned to play bass and guitar. The punk thing had nothing to do with what I learned in music class, but I took everything I learned from my parents and uncles and applied it to punk rock.
When did you start McRad?
Beech and I, started talking about McRad at the end of ’82. In the beginning of ’83, Greg Norton, the bass player of Hüsker Dü named us.
How did that happen?
After I graduated high school in ’82, I moved to Philly. I already knew Zeke Zagar, Steve Eye and the guys from the Philly scene, but I hadn’t seen those guys since Cherry Hill had closed. I’d gone to a show in Philly and noticed that all the friends that I’d skated with were going to the shows and putting on their own shows. One day, I heard that Hüsker Dü was coming, so I got a chance to hang out with those guys and watch them jam. I went to WKDU and sat around while they did an interview and that night, they were playing at Jeff Jenkin’s place, which was right next to Drexel University. I was talking to the bass player and the rest of my band was there. He was like, “You guys have a band?” I was like, “Yeah, we’re all skaters.” The guy said, “Why don’t you call it McShred or McRad?” We were like, “Holy shit!” And that was it. It was just some little conversation at a punk rock show.
Once you guys got the band going, did you start playing local gigs?
Our first show, we opened up for Minor Threat at Love Hall.
Whoa. What was that like?
That was so stupid. We looked up to Minor Threat and the Bad Brains so much. Minor Threat was the band that all the young kids could relate to. I learned all their songs on drums over at Steve Eye’s place. That’s where the guys from McRad used to hang out. We had a hangout called Skatecore. They turned that into a magazine. That was our Philly crew of artists, musicians and skaters. We were playing on Broad and South where we had all the BYO shows. We were like, “Hey, if this show is happening, what bands can we get on it?” I remember when Minor Threat was coming. Everyone said, “It’s time for McRad to do a show.” And that was it.
How sick was that show?
It was amazing. It was so much fun for us. I was 19. Zeke was 14. The other guys were 15 and 16. It’s weird how much we accomplished from ’82 to the summer of ’84. It was outrageous all the things we got to do.
What was the scene like in Philly? There wasn’t any racist skinhead bullshit was there?
No, not really. The only times we ever dealt with that was when skins would come down from New York. Some of them would try to act like thugs and we couldn’t compete with that, because they lived in the Lower East Side. Back then, the Lower East Side wasn’t like Disneyland, like it is now. It was hardcore, for real. The whole left side and right side thing didn’t really exist in punk rock back then. That didn’t really start until hardcore started getting really political. The whole DC scene was extremely political. I think the white power supremacy thing was a backlash. Punk rock and hardcore was a strong movement. Then, all of a sudden, you had people with all this angst. They picked one band to ignite a cause. They were like, “It’s great to be white and it’s great to be proud.” Maybe the bands didn’t think the audience was that ignorant, but all of a sudden, everyone was into it and it became a problem. It’s weird because white power skinheads would go to a Bad Brains show and pay money because they loved the Bad Brains. Skin color preference is one thing, but if you love music, you love music.