Spot, record producer who captured the fury of 1980s punk, dies at 71

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Spot, record producer who captured the fury of 1980s punk, dies at 71
A lifelong jazz aficionado, he changed course to produce bands like Black Flag and Hüsker Dü for the influential SST label.

by Alex Williams

NEW YORK, NY.- Glen Lockett, an influential record producer who, working under the name Spot, helped define the jet-turbine sound of American punk rock in the 1980s, recording groundbreaking albums by Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Minutemen and many others, died on March 4 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He was 71.

His death, in a nursing home, was announced in a Facebook post by Joe Carducci, a former co-owner of SST Records, the iconoclastic Hermosa Beach, California, label where Lockett made his name. Lockett had been hoping for a lung transplant in recent years after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis, and he had spent most of the past three months in a hospital after a stroke.

As in-house producer for SST from 1979-85, Lockett controlled the mixing board on landmark recordings that helped bring American punk from deafening gigs in garages and basements to the mainstream — the college-radio mainstream, at least.

He produced or engineered more than 100 albums for SST, including classics such as Black Flag’s “Damaged” (1981), Descendents’ “Milo Goes to College” (1982), Meat Puppets’ first album (1982), Minutemen’s “What Makes a Man Start Fires?” (1982) and Hüsker Dü’s “Zen Arcade” (1984).

In part because SST had limited budgets in the early days, but also because of bands’ wishes and Lockett’s production philosophy, he typically opted to record live in the studio — all members playing at once — with minimal studio effects, instead of the widespread industry practice of recording one instrument at a time and using overdubs and effects such as digital delay and outboard reverb.

As a result, he was able to translate to vinyl the raw, immediate howl of punk that, in a live setting, sent bodies crashing and elbows flying.

“Our first time in the studio with him was for our first Minutemen record, ‘Paranoid Time,’ a seven-song, seven-inch EP, in July of 1980,” Mike Watt, the band’s bassist and co-founder, recalled in an email. “He recorded and mixed us that one night. I think we started at midnight and ended a few hours later.”

“Spotski,” Watt added, “always was about trying to capture what was us, like with this record — kind of like a ‘gig in front of the microphones’ trip, where he big-time said he didn’t want to get in the way of us trying to bring what we had that made us what we were.”

Lockett’s sensibility dovetailed with the attitude of SST, which rock critic Byron Coley once described as “archly xenophobic,” referring to the label’s revulsion for the highly processed sounds being stamped out by the major labels in the hit factories of Los Angeles.

“There was a general dismissal of what rock radio had become, so Spot was bent on capturing what the band was putting out, without softening, buffering or tampering with it,” Carducci said in a phone interview.

The label’s storm-the-barricades ethos might not have resulted in chart-topping hits, but SST made waves in the industry, growing from “a cash-strapped, cop-hassled storefront operation to easily the most influential and popular underground indie of the ’80s,” as music journalist Michael Azerrad wrote a 2001 article for The New York Times.

Although he was committed to the punk cause — an avid roller skater, he used to wheel around Los Angeles hanging flyers for gigs by SST bands — he never let the do-it-yourself minimalism espoused by many in the genre limit his musical scope.

He was a skilled guitarist who also played clarinet, banjo, mandolin, drums and even bagpipes; he often joined Minutemen onstage, Watt said, to play his clarinet during the band’s jams between songs.

Before he fell into the nascent Southern California punk-rock scene in the late 1970s, Lockett had been performing, recording and writing about jazz for a local newspaper in Hermosa Beach, home of the Lighthouse, a nightclub long considered a mecca of West Coast jazz.

A musical omnivore, he later developed a fascination for traditional Irish music and started a small label of his own, No Auditions, for which he recorded a number of eclectic, Irish-inflected solo albums after he moved from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas, in 1986. He was also a photographer and published a book of his work, “Sound of Two Eyes Opening,” in 2014.

“It seems that the whole history of punk rock, and especially the stuff that happened in LA, is based on a lot of myths,” he said in a 2018 interview published on the Red Bull Music Academy website. “There were a lot more influences and ideas about life and culture that most people either don’t have a clue about, or aren’t really all that willing to accept.”

Glenn Michael Lockett, who later dropped an “n” from his first name, was born July 1, 1951, in Los Angeles, the youngest of two children of Claybourne Lockett (who went by Buddy), a furrier who later worked as a clerk in the post office of the Ambassador Hotel, and Cynthia (Katz) Lockett, an office manager at a local music academy. His father had served in World War II as one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Lockett is survived by his sister, Cynthia Cyrus.

Growing up in Leimert Park in South Central Los Angeles, Lockett developed an early love of post-bop jazz.

He got his first guitar at 12 and was soon playing along with British Invasion, Motown and surf-rock hits. As his musical vocabulary developed, he eventually became fascinated with the musically ambitious progressive rock of the early 1970s. At one point, he also unsuccessfully auditioned for genre-hopping rock auteur Captain Beefheart.

By the mid-’70s, however, Lockett, like a lot of future punk figures, had grown weary of prog, with its pomposity and self-consciously elaborate compositions and arrangements. After he helped friends build a recording studio called Media Arts in Hermosa Beach, he began recording jazz groups, and was inspired by the direct and unfiltered studio approach of the combos he recorded.

Jazz musicians “didn’t want anything fancy,” he said in the Red Bull interview. “They just wanted to get the things down, and they didn’t care if someone played a bad note or not.”

That spirit carried over to his next musical chapter, which began when he was working as a waiter at a vegetarian restaurant. It was there that he met Greg Ginn, who would later be a founder of both Black Flag and SST Records.

Despite their differing musical influences, Lockett would occasionally jam with Ginn and the other members of a band called Panic, which later evolved into Black Flag.

When a Black Flag concert at a park in nearby Manhattan Beach erupted into a melee, Lockett knew he wanted to produce the band. “That show was just so crazy,” he told Red Bull Academy. “I said, ‘I got to record this band before they get killed.’”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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