Jimbob's Journal
The Dirtbombs
by Jim Harris


They were my first band. We formed in 1958 (when I was 11), and played until 1965. We were best friends and did everything together. There were no girlfriends, no social interests really outside of our life as Dirtbombs. We had a theme song, and we had uniforms - blue sweatshirts and French berets - that we wore constantly. We were so strange that all of the other kids in school pretty much left us alone.

Originally called Danny & the Dirtbombs (after Danny & the Juniors), we eventually dropped the "Danny" part, since there was no one by that name in the group. With the advent of rock and roll, the garage band was becoming so much a part of teenage life that Sears was selling guitar amplifiers right next to the refrigerators and lawn mowers. Armed with one Silvertone amp and three Zim-Gar Japanese guitars from Leonard's pawn shop, we set off to make musical history. The lineup was Me - rhythm guitar, Dave - lead guitar, Ray -percussion (bongos, pots, a hat box, and a cymbal), and Billy on bass and bugle.

Dave was the brooding anti-hero. His nickname was "Hundig", from a character in German mythology. Dave had an inexplicable fascination with Wagner's "Ring Cycle" of operas. Quite strange, since, other than that one significant aberration, he had no aspirations to any culture higher than Looney Tunes. Almost immediately after the formation of our group, he began writing his autobiography, "Sweat Over Strings". I don't think he ever got beyond the title.

Ray had the most high-powered, insane sense of humor of anyone I ever knew. He was always acting out some bizarre parody or other, and no one and nothing was safe from his scathing scrutiny. This was my first inkling that all drummers are crazy.

I guess I was funny too, but mostly I really loved the music.

Billy was at the bottom of the pecking order, the only rank and file member in a group full of officers. We made him do all the grunt work, like documenting our every move in photographs for posterity. Why he put up with us, I'll never know for sure, but looking back, I can see that he was both the smartest and the frailest of us all. I think he felt safe being part of the group.

We had only one paying gig, a cub scout banquet, and after that artistic triumph, we decided that we had nothing left to prove on stage, and would henceforth devote our time to recording. I had a big German reel-to-reel tape recorder with drive belts that kept breaking. No multi-tracks then, not even stereo. It was full of noise & hiss but it sounded great to us.

Our improvisational tracks invariably began with one of us announcing a nonsensical title, e.g., "Arctic Monkey Wrench", usually thought up immediately after the tape started running, followed by an angelic 4-part acapella falsetto chant, (the prelude), then exploded into a cacophony of shrieks, pots, and bugle calls (the fanfare), and settled into a long, frenetic, incessant interchange of two totally unrelated chords (the development). The piece would end when we all started laughing, a belt broke, or the tape ran out (the finale).

We also had preconceived songs, of which Dave & I were the composers. We wrote about absolutely everything we did or saw, and were fiercely competitive with each other. When he came in with the darkly Freudian "Do Not Enter", I countered with the whimsical "Left Turn Only". Sometimes he would learn a popular tune and tell me that he wrote it. For almost a year, I thought he wrote "Willow Weep for Me", until I heard it on the radio. Our favorite group was the Beach Boys until the Beatles arrived, which was really near the end of our existence as a group. When we heard the fab four, we were blown away by their familiar sense of fun & irreverence. It was after all, the dawning of an age.

We drifted apart after high school. I was the only one to stay in the neighborhood, and the only one to remain a musician. These days, I'm always looking ahead, trying to finish the next piece before the tape runs out, but the Dirtbombs were the soundtrack to my wonder years, and hardly a day goes by that I don't look back and smile.

Back to Essays