Texas has always been well represented in various forms of music. In the 80’s
if you turned on the radio, you would think the only music coming out of Texas
would be Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Fabulous Thunderbirds or Timbuk 3. But
mainstream radio never gets it right. and the few times they do, it is 20 years
after it is relevant. So unless it is pirate radio, the place you find the pure
uncut shit is in the sweaty house parties, record stores or two or three venues
that would cater to a certain kind of music: punk rock. HARDCORE PUNK ROCK.
Most people you ask would have their own opinion of when AMERICAN HARDCORE punk rock started. But for me, it was with the release of “Pay to Cum” by the Bad Brains in 1980. The unofficial salad days of Hardcore was 1980-1985. There is a laundry list of bands that jumped on that wave from the Eastern Seaboard to the Pacific Northwest. With NO support from record labels, established venues or radio, unless it was an independent station that was creatively “borrowing” the signal from an existing tower, it was totally D.I.Y. from start to finish. And those bands grew, survived and existed from the absolute bottom floor. Scratch that. They started below the basement in the friggin’ sewer. If you’re a hardcore fan, you know there is no end to bands that have repped their city since those early days. But then and now the Austin Texas flag bearers were MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) and the Offenders. This piece is about the Offenders, more specifically the only guitar player to lead the band since their inception in 1978. His name is Anthony Johnson, a.k.a Tony Offender. I tried to reach out to some friends and loved ones to find out some things about Tony to greater understand some of his history. What led to his eternal impact on the music world both locally and globally? His musical contribution has affected and influenced anyone who has ever heard him or watched him play.
Born Anthony Johnson in November of 1957, he spent most of his youth in Augusta, Georgia. During his high school years his father was serving in the U.S. Army. Duty called and the family moved to a military base in Germany. After a couple of years there, they returned to the U.S. This time the family was stationed at FortHood in Kileen Texas. This is where he would meet future drummer Pat Doyle and bassist Michael “ Mikey” Donaldson. From there it was a short trip down to Austin, Texas, where he called home for the rest of his life. In 1980, he began working at the historical landmark Paramount Theater on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. He would work there until he retired as the Maintenance Manager for the theater some thirty years later.
During the next some 32 years he would share a daughter, Natalie, and a son, Alex, with longtime partner Laura Croteau. Laura is herself an Austin icon and a legend. Laura has dabbled in many trades, including co-owner of the independent record label Rabid Cat records. The grass roots label had the prescient vision to appreciate some local talent that before hand was known only the lucky locals and a handful of others. Austin heroes the Offenders and Scratch Acid, just to name a couple. Laura has been a “mover and a shaker” in the Austin realty world for the twenty- some years I have known her. Most currently she is known as Austin’s (my opinion) most avid Roller Derby uber fan. Laura and Tony shared parenting Natalie and Alex (two burgeoning legends making their own history now) from the day they were born. One of many things they learned from their father was the love of music. And for the entirety of Tony’s life music would be his medium, reaching countless ears around the world.
Tony was a long time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Perhaps because knowing your past eventually affects and shapes your future (My opinion).
After a long battle with lung cancer, Anthony “a.ka. Tony Offender” Johnson
passed away with his family at his side in May of 2012.
A week later family, friends, fellow musicians and fans of all ages gathered in his honor at local hot spot The Scoot Inn. http://www.facebook.com/
On Saturday June 9th, 2012, friends and family gathered again at a local cemetery. Always true to his roots, and in the same way he lived his life, Tony’s ashes were shot out of a Civil War cannon over the final resting place of fellow Sons Of Confederate Veterans and their loved ones.
At their inception in 1978, it was just Tony on guitar, Mikey Donaldson on bass and Pat Doyle on drums. No singer yet, just three guys finding their “sound”. That sound was a cornucopia of influences brought to the table by all three guys. Pat, a self-described 16 year old “hesher”, recounts having his eyes opened by the gamut of styles Tony and Mikey shared with him. Tony was a “superfan” of Jimi Hendrix, Leslie West and Richie Blackmore. For Mikey it was bands like Rory Gallagher, Mott the Hoople, the Dolls and Johnny Thunders.While in Killeen Pat credits Tony’s job at Renaissance Records for giving them “an almost unlimited conduit of British and bootleg stuff” to widen their range as well. Pat recalls ” Way way back in ‘78 when we practiced covers as a 3-piece, (no singer yet) in Tony’s little efficiency in Killeen, we’d hang out afterwards and listen to Tony’s stories about the Austin punk “scene,” and how Iggy, the Sex Pistols and Ramones were rapidly changing the rock’n’roll landscape for that up and coming generation”. Since there was no scene of any kind in Killeen, they knew the musical future they craved was happening just down the road in Texas’ capitol city, Austin. In 1980 the trio was in Austin, acclimating to the “big city” and when they were ready to add a singer, Austin local J.J. Jacobson would answer the call. Drummer Pat Doyle recalls : “Together we created a unique metallic sound in the Offenders.” And realizing they really had something going on, they were quick to take the stage.
On June 20th, 1980 they played their first live show at Austin’s legendary club Raul’s. From the first click of Pat’s drum sticks to synch the band, it was on. Almost instantly anyone there must have realized they were witnessing the birth of a band that would blow away not only the always jaded Austin crowd, but a band that would would rock the hell out of listeners around the world and forever put Austin and Texas on the map of the then infant style know as American Hardcore. With Pat on drums and general havoc, Mikey working his Rickenbacker bass in the undeniable style of Lemmy Kilmister providing the low end decimation, Tony Johnson commandeering his Tobacco Burst Les Paul like a weapon; a well oiled weapon with the safety OFF that he would fire into the crowd from the stage at breakneck speed (and that weapon fucking KILLED!!!!!!!) and J.J. Jacobson pacing, jumping and covering every inch of the stage and belting out lyrics with the guts, heart and intensity that the music demanded, the Offenders instantly cemented their place in Rock and Roll history. And like one of the bands that shaped their “sound”, the Ramones, the boys would forever carry and be known as the last name OFFENDER from that day on. Tony Offender, Mikey Offender, Pat Offender had made it to Austin; and after enlisting J.J. Offender to the cause, the stage was literally set. They rocked the house then, and every time time they have taken the stage since!
Of course, Raul’s was just the start. For the next 6 years, the Offenders would go on to release several singles and full length records (remember those?) both individually and on compilations. The band would also take their show on the road to support some of these releases and to show people outside of Texas that when it came to hardcore, the Offenders could not be overlooked.
The Offenders my space page their discography from 1981 to 1990: http://www.myspace.com/
Pat Doyle adds: ” We only did re-issues after that. There was the reissue “Died in Custody” on Grand Theft Audio released in 2000, in which (most) everything was digitized from the old magnetic tapes. Kangaroo Records did some reissues around 2004-05, a CD called “Wanted by Authority,” and reissued vinyl versions of the “I Hate Myself” and “Endless Struggle” records. In 2010 the Danish label Just4Fun released “Offenders Anthology, 1981-1985.” Unfortunately the J4Fun release is partially mislabeled and inconsistently mastered. “Died in Custody” is a much better digital version, but you can’t beat that old vinyl sound!! I don’t anticipate ever releasing this stuff again in my lifetime. Reprints perhaps.”
The Offenders played a show with the original line-up in the summer of 1986 at the local Austin festival “Woodshock”. But it would be 16 years before the first line-up would share the stage. When I talk about what an amazing time it was for local music at the time, Woodshock featured among many bands: The Offenders played, followed by a set from the bands Scratch Acid followed by the Butthole Surfers!!! Several bands played before the Offenders and after the Buttholes, including a sunrise set by Austin’s infamous cowpunk band the Hickoids! I was there and that festival changed me personally for life. Yeah, Texas music fans have had it real good for a long time now!!!
After that show, the band splintered and went their own ways. Mikey Offender
went to San Francisco, and ended up playing with Texas transplants M.D.C. as
well as the S.F. band Sister Double Happiness featuring Austin’s treasured
singer/songwriter Gary Floyd. He returned to Austin for about a year. During
that time the original Offenders line-up rallied together to play a big re-union
show on March 8th, 2002. One week later, the Offenders were added to a Relapse
Records showcase. Frontman JJ Jacobson ended up on the wrong side of “Johnny
Law”, and the boys had to scramble in the 11th hour to find a replacement on
vocals. Long time Austin musician and die hard Offenders fan Jeff Martin
answered the call. Jeff Martin was a long time friend and jam mate of Tony O.
Jeff was also a Killeen to Austin migrant (stationed at Fort Hood while serving
in the U.S. Army). Though a long time Offenders fan, Jeff wouldn’t officially
meet Tony until 1991 (see Jeff’s memories below).
But the March 8th show was the last time the original members would grace the stage together. Fate struck a low blow in September of 2007 when Mikey Offender passed away. Pat has since played in a few choice bands, most recently with the band Ignitor. Ignitor features metal masters Jason McMaster, Stuart Laurence, Beverly Barrington and Brandon Bigelow along with Pat on drums.
Pat also jams with El Pathos
Tony went on to play with Not For Sale. Tony played the guitar for the rest of his life with bands like Not For Sale and Roger’s Porn Collection
and passed it on by teaching his son Alex to play the guitar. His daughter
Natalie is also an Austin “scene-ster” who loves to plan the trips when the
family travels, and is currently continuing her education in a field she has
After Tony passed away, Pat and JJ enlisted Austin giants of the music scene Craig Merritt on bass and Jeff Martin on guitar to create “Died in Custody”. D.I.C. plays all Offender songs, and though no one will ever replace Tony and Mikey, Craig and Jeff are the best you can get!
I asked Pat and Jeff to share some memories about Tony. Outside of Tony’s immediate family and JJ, they probably knew Tony best. They were huge sources of information and facts. This memorial article couldn’t have happened without their help. Laura Croteau and Natalie Johnson also helped with key facts and dates. Thank you all. Here are some memories from Pat and Jeff:
Pat shares this:
” I can’t really pin him down with one anecdote. Try this. Way way back in ‘78 when we practiced covers as a 3-piece, (no singer yet) in Tony’s little efficiency in Killeen, we’d hang out afterwards and listen to Tony’s stories about the Austin punk “scene,” and how Iggy, the Sex Pistols and Ramones were rapidly changing the rock’n’roll landscape for that up and coming generation. That was a new word for me, there was no “scene” of any kind in Killeen in 1978. His willingness to accept this new stripped-down sound after spending his formative years as a superfan of Hendrix, Leslie West, and Richie Blackmore was sort of eye-opening for me as a 16 year old hesher. Mikey and his brother Joe were the ones who’d earlier challenged and expanded my taste in “heavy” rock and the more obscure more mature fare like Rory Gallagher, Mott the Hoople, the Dolls and Johnny Thunders. Tony worked at Renaissance Records which provided him/us with an almost unlimited conduit of all this cutting edge British and bootleg stuff. The albeit small leaps of faith required to buck your social groups’ definition of acceptable music like that gave me the confidence to take the next step and join a punk band with him and Mikey. I really have to credit Tony with introducing me to something that ignited a creative spark in me that’s still burning today. Together we created a unique metallic sound in the Offenders, and Tony never wavered in the face of ignorance or criticism of that. I think his steadfast confidence in the face of overwhelming odds, whether in what the band was doing or in his personal trials, was Tony’s finest attribute. I miss him a whole lot.
Jeff shares this:
I met Tony officially in 1991 while working as a receptionist at the old Austin Plasma Center on 34th Street. I vividly remember glancing at this guy’s boots, and thinking well it is Austin , could be, then saw his moustache and knew immediately it was Tony Offender. Nobody looked like Tony except Lemmy Kilmister, and vice versa. I was floored and immediately took the day off so that we could take the bus back to his apartment.
It was soon after meeting Tony, approx. 1992 or 1993. I knew of Not For Sale
because of the classic song “Bread And Bombs” on the seminal “Cottage Cheese
From The Lips Of Death” compilation. Tony mentioned that he was playing lead
guitar with them, and wanted to know if I would play bass. Absolutely, you
fucking kidding me? (I had no bass or amp at the time, but we’ll figure that
part out later). Man, at that time I felt that I was jamming with some of the
most incredibly warm and friendly human beings I ever met. Mike (RIP) and his
wife Stacy (Laura’s partner with Rabid Cat), and Mark (who later joined Burning
Spear I believe – respect!) still stand out in my memory. What I didn’t know was
that, I was secretly being talked about because I didn’t fit in with them. They,
from what I understand, were trying to morph into a world beat kind of band, and
I was trying to punk it up. I had liberty spikes and a studded leather jacket,
and my taste in music mirrored that. I was naive and was just having a good
So one night the phone rings and it is Tony. He immediately starts tearing into me- saying that I look funny, I look like an idiot, my hair is stupid, I suck, you are ruining the band, etc. I hung up on him. I slammed the phone down and wanted to die. I shrugged it off after a while and realized that sometimes your idols are not the people you expect them to be. This was the same night that Social Distortion played at Liberty Lunch and The Dwarves and Henry Rollins played somewhere on 6th. Anyway, I was having a cig outside the club and felt this grip on my shoulder – I turned around and it was Tony. He was covered wet with sweat and told me that he had walked all the way from his apartment to Liberty Lunch – he didn’t want to wait for the bus. He told me that he was sorry, and to never let anyone tell me what to wear, or how to think. He said that I was a good person that didn’t deserve to be talked to that way, and would I please forgive him. That is a prime example of Tony’s character, and it shows what kind of heart he had.
At a last minute SXSW showcase outside Emo’s. Pat called me at 6:00 p.m. that night, and said that J.J. was in jail. Would you please cover for him? I was honored of course and was determined to do my best. Unfortunately, the showcase was some new school dirt metal hippie showcase label thing, and Offenders received no love whatsoever.
Fuck that shit. I was proud though when Ken Lieck of the Chronicle said that I did a better job than that little guy in the Dead Kennedys did, although maybe that isn’t saying too much.”
Thanks Pat and Jeff !!! I , personally, am obviously hugely affected by Tony and his music. I hope this article does justice to Tony, a huge talent and great man, and is worthy enough to shine some light on a life of creativity. The Offenders as a whole have always influenced me and are a huge part of my formative years in the Austin and New York City music scene. I am better for hearing them and all of the other bands they played in. I know my old band Buzzcrusher, featuring Jeff Martin on guitar, would never have happened without the influence of these guys. Thank you guys. Tony, you will be missed and never forgotten.