John Doe: Survivor

Why X is the last band standing.

Thirty-five years is a long time to do anything, especially play punk rock. But John Doe is unapologetic—in fact downright proud—to still be fronting seminal L.A. punk band X, celebrating three and a half decades with a West Coast tour that includes a Saturday stop at Showbox at the Market.

"I think we all love it," he said in a recent phone call. "At this point we're the last band standing—certainly out of the L.A. bands and out of all the punk-rock bands, the last one that still plays loud and hard."

X is part of the legendary class of '77 that included the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and The Clash. But the band had no delusions of grandeur as it pioneered a new sound, marrying the rockabilly-tinged guitar of Billy Zoom and the dissonant but captivating harmonies of Doe and singer Exene Cervenka. "We definitely knew that something was happening and there was an artistically diverse scene," Doe says, "but we were too busy being there trying to get up for work."

The band seemed poised for a commercial breakthrough after Rolling Stone and others named 1981's Wild Gift the record of the year and the band signed with Elektra Records, making X one of the first underground acts to ink a major-label deal. But despite a ton of critical acclaim and some limited commercial success, X never broke big. "I suppose for some of us on different levels [it was a disappointment]," Doe says. "On the other hand, it's worked out all right. We still have credibility that a one- or two-hit wonder would not. I always thought we were too weird to break through."

Some might say it's time to hang it up after all these years, but don't tell that to the thousands of new fans who discovered the band thanks to its South American tour with Pearl Jam last summer. The bands will hook up again this summer for a European swing. And if people want to turn out to see an aging "icon," that's just fine with Doe.

"I saw Chuck Berry in 1973, something like that. It certainly wasn't his prime . . . but he was fantastic, and I'm forever grateful I got to see him," he says. "When you see someone [when you're] 17 or 18, and there's a thousand people or more and you realize you're part of something a little bigger, maybe, then you realize this is good and this is fun. It encourages you to continue."

music@seattleweekly.com

Josh Kerns co-hosts Seattle Sounds with SW music editor Chris Kornelis at 3 p.m. Sundays on 97.3 KIRO FM.

 
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