Part of the record label’s sleuthing involves contacting and gathering information about some of the most important regional punk artists of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s this continuous quest that keeps owner Greg McWhorter—with help from his wife of 19 years, Kim—consistently revealing quality reissues from some of the area’s most legendary punk groups.
Dubbed the “archaeologists of punk rock” by the Controllers’ Johnny Stingray, McWhorter’s independent operation is the go-to stop for local punk originators. You may know of names like the Sex Pistols, Black Flag and The Clash. But what do you know about San Bernardino’s The Reactors? Have you heard Riverside legend Jackie Shark? And why is Sunnymead’s White Flag so important to the punk scene?
Answers to the aforementioned can be found via the efforts of McWhorter, who has been based in the Inland Empire since 1985. In fact, Artifix has been consulted by movie makers and museum curators to answer questions and provide information on Southern California punk. His encyclopedic knowledge, thirst for history and passionate efforts as a collector only bolster his credibility.
BEHIND THE LABELS
Artifix is actually McWhorter’s third foray into record label ownership. His first label, C.U.R.S.E. Tapes, was a cassette-only roster operating in the late ‘80s. Despite the fact that his tapes weren’t hot sellers, McWhorter was excited about running a label.
Using loans, he embarked on his next label while in college in the early ‘90s, after his discovery of a thriving local punk scene centered around Spanky’s, a downtown Riverside venue. There, McWhorter met local bands like the X-O Toxins, Brother Vibe (which later became Alien Ant Farm) and the Voodoo Glow Skulls. The X-O Toxins was his first release under the new label, dubbed Signal Sound Systems Records.
“I ended up spending twice as much on the record as I could’ve if I had known what I was doing,” he recalls. “[But] from that, I got the bug. I said, ‘I like doing this. This is fun, this is cool.’ I get to work with bands that I like. I’m actually putting out a product. It’s something that I’ve put my creativity into to put together. I really loved the idea of taking a lot of elements and creating a total experience, a total package.”
McWhorter released early recordings from Riverside ska-punk vets Voodoo Glow Skulls, selling thousands of copies by word of mouth, plus titles from local reggae-funk punks Applekore and Chino’s BHR. In total, the label had 14 releases in its catalog. However, McWhorter pulled the plug on this second label venture in 1994 for a variety of reasons—finances being one of them.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
After settling into his record label-less life for nearly a decade, McWhorter was again bit by the album-making bug in 2002. But this time, he put a new spin on the operation. “Instead of dealing with new bands, I said, ‘Let’s focus on the other love of our life, which is history,’” says McWhorter. “My wife and I are both history buffs, I love the history of California, movies, books, anything pop culture I love the history of. I’ve been an armchair historian my whole life.”
Fusing his interests with his record making know-how, McWhorter opted to seek bands from punk’s earlier years, unearth and re-package their out-of-print recordings and bring their music back to the foreground. This label, McWhorter’s third, was dubbed Artifix Records.
McWhorter’s first release was a collection of largely unreleased material from the Absentees, which sold well. And the good fortune continued. “I did a second release, White Flag’s complete 1982 recordings on CD,” he says. “They were local and I wanted to do it for them. I was happy to do it for them. That went pretty well, too.”
After successfully releasing music from Kaos (featuring members of the Controllers) and with help from his wife—whose roles include layout assembly and photography—McWhorter found that this third label time was the charm. “We were getting really gratified,” he says. “We’re like, ‘Wow, we’re able to find stuff that we didn’t even know existed.’ And we’re really like bugging the bands, digging through the closets.”
Artifix fast became a bona fide reissue label. But things didn’t happen so quickly, as the investigative work was significantly longer than the album-making gestation periods of most labels releasing new recordings. Some albums took as long as three years to complete.
“I had to tell a distributor that for our releases, we don’t have a set release schedule,” McWhorter says. “Our releases are events, not releases. They’re unique events. And some of our releases take years in the making. We never know when we’ll have everything in place to get a release out, so we can’t make a set schedule.”
One of McWhorter’s important finds was Los Angeles’ The Bags. After some serious hunting, Artifix was able to re-release the band’s historic seven-inch record. And after more digging and waiting, the label compiled a full-length of recordings from the historic punk band.
It was his connection to The Bags that led to McWhorter’s involvement in an exhibit at the now-closed Claremont Museum of Art. The show, titled “Vexing: Female Voices from East L.A. Punk,” found McWhorter loaning pieces to the gallery in 2008. (McWhorter notes that frontwoman Alice Bag is a pioneering Latina punk musician.) “They had a whole wall dedicated to us with our records,” he says. “The records were there as part of the show.”
“Vexing” was eventually shown in Guadalajara, Mexico, after receiving an NEA grant. “Our label is very proud to be a part of an actual art gallery installation ‘cause this is what we wanted to do all along,” McWhorter says. “We wanted to share not just the music with the public, but to share the artwork or the history with other people who are also interested in documenting this stuff.”
Through a connection from Pat Fear of White Flag, Artifix was also involved in the making of The Germs film, What We Do Is Secret. The McWhorters were on the set for almost a week and ended up as extras. “I also helped with costuming, because they knew that I knew the period’s clothes,” McWhorter says. “And simple things, like even getting the buttons right and the fliers right. For the most part, they wanted it to be fairly accurate.”
McWhorter even licensed a Bags song for the movie’s soundtrack. “It was a very interesting experience, and I felt like, wow, our label is doing something worthwhile to help present history and get it out there,” he says. “We were glad to be able to do that and help with the film.”
“A COMPLETE EXPERIENCE”
McWhorter is also involved in journalism, writing for Record Collector News, Ugly Things (a ‘60s rock magazine) and longtime national music mag The Big Takeover. And all this has come about because McWhorter’s heart, brain and ears are tuned into seeking the punk history of Southern California.
“Our first love is the Inland Empire and if I could do anything for the Inland Empire punk scene that would be my first priority,” he says. “But, Los Angeles and Orange County are definitely my second priority. I’d say between Huntington Beach to Los Angeles to San Bernardino and the High Desert, those areas are the areas we’re really scouring the hardest to bring people what’s left from the punk era.”
One such find is the Reactors, a band that according to McWhorter started in 1978. The band’s seven-inch record was released a year later and had since been out of print. That is, until Artifix reissued the EP some three decades later.
“The first punk band from this area was a band that started in late 1977 called Rabies,” says McWhorter. “They were from Riverside and as far as I can tell from everything I’ve read and seen, they’re pretty much the first punk band in the IE unless you include Claremont.”
Members of the band eventually formed Jackie Shark and the Beach Butchers, releasing a seven-inch single in March 1978. This is currently scheduled as the next Artifix reissue.
“All of our releases, we try to put as much information as we can, depending on what information exists,” McWhorter says. “We try to include as much history, liner notes, lyrics, photos and fliers as we can. All of our CD releases are 12- to 16-page booklets with information. Even [for] our seven-inches, we usually try to put some kind of historical insert. We try to make sure that the history of the band is represented along with the music. When you buy one of our records, it’s a complete experience.”
And people are taking notice of the Artifix experience. Bill Plaster of Alta Loma-based Dr. Strange Records says the Artifix titles are popular with his customers. “Honestly, many of his reissues are some of the best-selling releases we’ve had,” Plaster says. “The Bags LP sold over 70 copies and The Eyes is up around 50 in no time. Oh, The Reactors is another great selling release as well.”
The support even extends from those on his roster, including White Flag’s Fear. “I think it’s incredible that somebody takes the time to preserve a vanishing part of history,” he says. “He’s doing the world a service and I think he’s doing a very good job. He’s very conscientious about doing it right, making sure that photos are correct, titles are correct, credits are correct and artwork is correct, so, I’d say he’s doing a vital service and he and Kim and the family do it well, they do it out of respect and love. And that’s the best reason to do something, not because they’re making tons of money off of it, but because they know it matters.”
“I often wished that somebody would do this over the years,” says The Big Takeover editor/publisher Jack Rabid, “and then here comes Greg and he’s doing it. He saw a need and he’s filling it, and that’s my kind of people.”
“It’s funny, I had this vision all along,” says McWhorter, speaking with the seasoned hunch of a true investigator. “I remember telling my wife back in the late ‘80s, saying that there’s going to be a time when punk was going to be remembered. [At that time] people hated punk, nobody wanted to touch it, deal with it, and I told her, just wait. I told her that punk’s going to have its day. I knew it was going to come around.”
For more info, check out www.artifixrecords.com.