Luke Abbey was the drummer for Warzone and Gorilla Biscuits; two of the most important bands to come out of the New York Hardcore scene in the 80’s. With Warzone, he was a part of a band that exemplified the gritty, street-smart vibe synonymous with the Lower East Side. In Gorilla Biscuits, he was an important cog in the more light hearted direction the scene was heading. The group’s’ merger of poppy hooks and mosh-worthy tunes was a template for future generations of Hardcore Punk bands including everyone from 90’s favorites like New Jersey’s LIfetime to present day bands such as Title Fight.
Luke sat down with Green Room Radio to talk about the glory days of CBGB’s, the differences between touring in the 80’s compared to now with the revamped Gorilla Biscuits of today and the hair raising tale of tearing his rotator cuff in mid-set a few years back in Chicago.
WHEN THE BANDS YOU WERE IN SUCH AS WARZONE OR GORILLA BISCUITS WENT OUT ON THE ROAD, WERE THERE ANY PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS ABOUT THE BANDS THAT YOU HAD TO DEFEND OR LIVE UP TO?
Not generally; at least in my time. Actually, it was kind of the opposite in most places I toured in that being a New York band was overwhelmingly a positive thing. There were probably a few people here and there who grumbled about New York’s reputation but nothing that ever amounted to anything. Maybe it was just the era that I did the majority of my touring, but during the mid to late 1980’s the New York scene was pretty much on fire and packed with good bands.
YOU WERE PRETTY YOUNG WHEN YOU STARTED GOING TO SHOWS AT CBGB’S. ANY MEMORIES FROM THOSE DAYS?
I was twelve years old the first time I went to CB’s. I had no idea I needed to be sixteen and fake ID’s wouldn’t have done me any good anyway as I looked like I was about ten. That first Sunday I tried to get in on my own at first, then getting some older punk to say he was my uncle, then snuck in twice I think and got kicked out both times. I made a permanent enemy out of Karen Krystal, who was Hilly’s wife and checked ID’s at the door, and she never forgot me. At one point she thrust her beak about an inch from my face and told me that I would never, ever, get inside the club until I was sixteen. So for a few years every Sunday was pretty touch and go; though I often managed to sneak in through the back or even under someone’s coat. I think the best breach was when I was playing in Warzone and we were going to get up and just do four or five songs on a show we weren’t officially on. Ray (singer for Warzone) literally just picked me up under his arm like a football and rushed the door straight to the stage. It was so packed out Karen had to wait till we were finished to come find me, but by that time I was hidden under a big pile of bombers and flight jackets. I would peek out and see her snooping around for me. Although I must say that when I finally turned sixteen, I came down to a show I didn’t even wanna see just to get stamped officially and she relented with a pretty genuine smile. Guess she was tired of the cat and mouse bullshit too. But boy did I have to suffer missing out on some good shows and settle for hanging out by the door.
WHEN GORILLA BISCUITS WENT OVER TO EUROPE, WERE PEOPLE READY FOR THE WHOLE STRAIGHT EDGE THING? I KNOW I’VE HEARD STORIES ABOUT WHEN YOUTH OF TODAY WENT OVER AND GOT A LOT OF SHIT.
We didn’t really get much grief to speak of due to being Straight Edge that tour. You know as a band, despite our personal choices and the groups we often played with, don’t think we necessarily pushed the Straight Edge agenda as far as a lot of our contemporaries. The European scene was pretty different back then too. A lot more political minded and definitely had more of a classic punk vibe. And as long as we played fast they were cool. For the most part I think people were more stoked that we were a New York hardcore band above anything else. Being straight edge was almost a non-issue. There was certainly a contingent of kids who knew who we were and what we were about, but it wasn’t anything like playing a show in Connecticut or DC or something.
WHEN GORILLA BISCUITS OR WARZONE WENT OUT ON THE ROAD IN THE LATE 80’S, WAS THE THREAT OF THE WHOLE WHITE POWER SKINHEAD THING STILL IN EFFECT?
Nothing I really recall with Gorilla Biscuits. I did go on a tour with Youth of Today in 1988 and there were a bunch of shows that summer where any number of racist skins or guys would show up and try and get a rise out us. But it usually amounted to nothing. Mostly a lot of yelling and people flipping each other off and a couple of idiots sieg heiling. Although I do remember Atlanta being pretty dismal where there were a lot of guys who just stood on the edge of the pit and would basically sock anybody who tried to dance.
I know there was always crap going on in Pennsylvania down around Bethlehem or Allentown. Maybe the Airport Music Hall? And either Wally’s Place or Oliver J’s – I get the two mixed up. There were some all out brawls there between New York guys and the white power goons.
Warzone unavoidably attracted a lot of guys with sketchy politics, but nobody in the band dug that and Ray did his best to shut all that down. Still, I can recall having to be in places with people who I’d really wished hadn’t been there.
THE U.S. TOUR YOU WENT ON WITH GORILLA BISCUITS IN ’89 WITH BOLD WAS A LONG ONE. ANY MEMORIES YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE FROM IT?
Yes, that was a long one, but super fun for the most part. Gorilla Biscuits had never really gotten west of Ohio or south of D.C, so it was exciting to finally get the band moving around the country. We had some good dudes traveling with us, especially this German skinhead named Stefan who came to roadie for us and was an absolute riot and pleasure to tour with. Along with Bold, we did a ton of shows with Insted, Underdog, and Swiz too. Had some serious fireworks battles with the Insted guys that were just phenomenal.
Despite the length of that tour, we did miss playing huge swaths of the country, had a number of cancelled dates, and some pretty crazy routing too. I remember us pulling up somewhere – maybe South Carolina and walking up to the club and Bang Tango was on the marquee for the night. The only real bummer on that tour was that the release of Start Today had gotten delayed, so while that was theoretically what we were touring on, only a handful of people had actually heard it. It finally came out the day we played Chicago and the show that night was just over the top. Seemed that every single kid there had gotten it and spent the whole day listening to it before that gig.
WITH THE RE-FORMATION OF GORILLA BISCUITS IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM THE TOURS AND SHOWS YOU’D DO IN THE LATE 80’S OR EARLY 90’S?
For me it’s primarily the way my perspective has changed. My scene connections and active participation have diminished over the years, so when I’m not on tour now or at a show, I’m almost wholly removed from hardcore. Whereas when Gorilla Biscuits was first active, Hardcore was day in day out for me. I have a different kind of appreciation these days. I mean I absolutely love playing drums – and to have the opportunity to perform in front of fantastic audiences virtually every time we get on stage is a privilege that isn’t lost on me one bit. And seeing and speaking to both kids and grown-ups who still love to be there and get into the shows is amazing. There are more obvious differences such as the size of venues we can fill, playing at festivals, and being able to travel all over the world. It’s also been important for us to try and only play shows that have no barriers too. It doesn’t go down 100% of the time but we’re able to make it happen in most cases. That’s a seemingly small issue which in reality has accounted for a lot of the success of our performances. Without that physical ability for the band and audience to interact, hardcore loses one of it’s most essential qualities.
As to what kids are getting out of the shows though, there seems to be that same inspiration and enjoyment that’s always been there. By and large, I still believe in the attitudes and philosophies we promote. As far as I’m concerned there’s no shelf life on good music and good times.
WHAT WAS THE ABSOLUTE BEST SHOW YOU PLAYED WITH ANY OF YOUR BANDS?
I don’t think there’s one that stands above every other. But I can list a few that certainly are up there for various reasons.
The first time I played CB’s for sure is one. That was with Warzone and it was the band’s first show back after their brief break-up – so I was treated to a kind of double bonus. The crowd excitement was through the roof, I’d never played a show that came close to being as well received, plus it was CB’s and I was drumming in my favorite band.
Probably the first time Gorilla Biscuits got back together in 2005 and played one of the benefit shows to try and keep CB’s open. We weren’t sure how it was going to go over nor had we played together as that line-up in almost fifteen years. But when the horns came on and we kicked into “New Direction” it was unforgettable. We had no plans beyond that single show actually, but almost as soon as we finished I
knew we had to do more.
In more recent times, Gorilla Biscuits set at the Groezrock festival in Belgium a few years ago; simply because of how massive it was. And from my experiences at festivals, it’s usually been a core of fans up front in the midst of a sea of people who are just kind of checking you out, but at this one the entire place was into it.
And I’d have to also include the last time we played in Austin at Fun Fun Fun Fest a couple of years ago because it was the first time all my kids were old enough and in the right place at the right time to see the show.
ON THE FLIPSIDE, WHAT WAS THE ABSOLUTE WORST SHOW?
I know I’ve had bad ones where I’ve been super critical of my own performances, but probably when Gorilla Biscuits played in Chicago three years ago at one of the Revelation Records anniversary shows would be what I’d call the worst. My arm and shoulder were already in bad shape but I didn’t realize to what extent, and just a moment into the second song it felt as if I got shot in the arm. Turns out my rotator cuff had torn right then, along with several tears in my biceps. I just powered through everything for the next hour with my right arm glued to my side as much as possible, but it was blindingly painful. Total tunnel vision. And by the time we finished my biceps had essentially dropped down to the crook of my elbow. Took a pretty extensive and expensive surgery and almost a year of rehabilitation before I was really playing again. So yeah, that sucked!
Opening photo by Tim Owen; Courtesy of Double Cross XX