From East L.A., Staines’ Robert Becerra was a punk-rock legend, to those in the know.

When 15-year-old Jake Rivera told his friends in Boyle Heights that he was going to be the new drummer for the new punk band The Stains, some of the neighborhood people warned him: “Be careful. These guys like to party.”

It was 1981 and Rivera, who went by Gilbert Berumen before changing his name, was still a sophomore at Theodore Roosevelt High School. After school he would go to band rehearsals at Robert Becerra’s house on Third Avenue in Boyle Heights, where the guitarist lived with his mother. By the time Rivera arrived, Becerra had barely started her day and the person she had been partying with the night before was just waking up.

That’s how Rivera met fellow punk-rock musicians such as Scott Franklin of Mau Mouse, Chet Lehrer of Wasted Youth, and Rudy Navarro, another Temple City teenager for whom Becerra had big plans.

“He’s our new singer,” Rivera recalled Becerra telling him.


(Johnny Morgan)

Becerra, a longtime if little-known fixture on L.A.’s punk rock scene, died of liver cancer on Sept. 1 at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights at age 64. He was born in Boyle Heights on December 17, 1958, and was raised by his mother, Carmen Rodriguez, who supported her three sons – Sal, Ollie and Robert – as head nurse at a nursing home. In the ’70s, when many of Becerra’s childhood friends were turning to drug dealing and gangs, he started Stein with singer Jerry “Atrick” Castellanos, bassist Jesse “Fixx” Amezquita, and drummer Tony Romero. (Navarro succeeded Castellanos in 1981 and Rivera replaced Romero).

The Steins blended Becerra’s blistering guitar riffs with amazquite lyrics about living on the fringes of society to create a sound that combined the urgency of punk with the precision of metal — years before new subgenres like thrash or speed metal became popular. Although the band members were all Latinx and among the first – if not the first The First — punk rockers from the Eastside, they saw themselves as part of a larger community of first-wave Hollywood punks that included X, the Plugz, and the Gears.

After punk-rock shows in Hollywood or Chinatown, parties at Becerra’s house would start and go all night. They weren’t strictly parties but epic jam sessions where Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag, John Doe and Xine Cervenka of X or whoever else wanted to come and play.

Becerra would kick off the evening with a few songs by the Ramones — he covered all five nights of the band’s run at the Whiskey a Go Go in 1977 — and then into his favorite tunes by ’70s rocker Mott the Hoople. Hawkwind.

“Robert could listen to a record and turn it back to you note for note,” recalls Rivera.

According to punk-rock historian Jimmy Alvarado, what set Daag apart from their peers was Becerra’s prodigious talent. The self-taught musician could play his instrument in a variety of styles.

“He was heavy into Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and bands like that,” Alvarado said, “but he was also influenced by Andres Segovia and other classical guitarists. It manifested itself in weird ways that he approached the guitar and what he did was more chaotic and crazy. made.”

At a time when punk rockers frowned upon guitar solos and flashy playing, Besserra embraced both, usually stomping around the stage, leaning into the audience, and playing harder and faster than many of the hardcore bands taking over the LA punk scene.

A four-piece punk rock band from LA in the early 80s

The Stains in 1981 are, from left, Gilbert Berumen, Robert Becerra, Rudy Navarro and Cesar Vizcarra.

(Wild Don Lewis)

“He was a genius at improvisation,” said Michael Vallejo, a guitarist at Pico and co-founder of the hardcore band Circle One. “He never played the same guitar solo twice.”

One band that was particularly taken with Becerra’s playing style was Black Flag.

“When we played shows they would come and watch,” Becerra said of Black Flag in an October 2021 interview. “Greg Ginn and Chuck (Dukowsky) and all those guys will come and see us.”

“Black Flag loved Dag,” confirmed Dez Cadena, who played with Flagg from 1981 to 1983 as lead singer and then guitarist.

Eventually, SST Records, which Jean founded, approached Stein about recording an album. In 1981 the band entered the same studio in Hermosa Beach to record its 11-song self-titled debut where Black Flag, Minutemen and Saccharine Trust recorded early material for the label.

The album was recorded after hours to take advantage of the affordability and produced by the late, legendary producer Spot. Becerra’s idiosyncratic style is evident from the opening notes of the first track, “Sick and Crazy.” A voice breaks into a martial riff that will send fans into a frenzy.

Stein's Robert Becerra plays guitar on stage.

Robert Becerra of Staines in 1981.

(Wild Don Lewis)

Stein’s reputation for playing intense shows followed them to Texas, where a local band calling itself Stein decided to change its name to MDC before playing with L.A.’s Stein at Cocco’s Nest in Costa Mesa.

However, Navarro left the band after recording the album, leaving Steins without a singer. When he wasn’t on the road with Black Flag, Cadena spent weekends at Becerra’s house. After Navarro left the band, Cadena entertained the thought of joining Stein but was talked out of it by Spot.

SST, which was engaged in a costly lawsuit with Unicorn Records, had a backlog of unreleased records and focused on issuing albums by active bands that could be counted on to tour. As a result, Stein’s record was not released until 1983. By then they had disbanded, and Besser focused on a new heavy metal project called Nightmare. Aside from a handful of demos and practice tapes, Nightmare never recorded an album.

“They’re going to be inactive for a while or somebody’s going to leave,” Cadena said of Staines. “I wish they’d stayed together so they could tour the country a few more times, record a few more, because Robert’s guitar playing and their music are as important to me as the Germs album.”

Throughout the ’80s, Besser worked a number of odd jobs, including at a gas station, a tattoo parlor and even as a janitor at Breed Street Elementary in Boyle Heights. Becerra married Jenny Kohl in 1996 and they lived in Northern California and then Detroit, before returning to L.A. The couple separated in 2008 to care for Kohl’s mother.

Kohl recalls that Robert would practice all day and when he fell in love with a band he would learn all their songs and play them perfectly. “He never lost his love for music,” she said.

After a couple of reunion shows at the Country Club in Reseda in 1989 and the Vex in LA in 2001 and 2013, the spots faded and their record became a collector’s item, fetching as much as $1,200.

Becerra eventually stopped playing guitar due to poor health. While being treated for cirrhosis of the liver in 2022, he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

“He was very confident and very good,” Rivera said. “He should have been on the cover of Kerang!”

“He was very expressive and it came from his heart,” Kohl said, “which is why he was such a good guitar player.”

Becerra is survived by Kohl.

Jim Ruland is the author of “Corporate Rock Sax: The Rise and Fall of SST Records.”

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