Venice is history, identity and home for original Suicidal Tendencies bassist Louiche Mayorga, now leading his own band
By Michael Aushenker
When founding Suicidal Tendencies bassist Louiche Mayorga arrives for coffee at the Waterside Marina del Rey shopping center, he’s wearing a T-shirt, baggy shorts and a baseball cap emblazoned with “VENICE” in big, bold letters.
But this isn’t cheap image short-handing. Those six letters mean the world to Mayorga. Venice is where he grew up and still lives, where he experienced euphoria and heartbreak, where his seminal punk band formed, where they fired him, and where he came back to front his own outfit, Luicidal. It courses through his veins.
On Sunday, Luicidal opens for San Fran- cisco punk stalwarts the Dead Kennedys at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. The journey to that gig has been a long one.
Mayorga formed Luicidal in 2011, teaming up with former Suicidal Tendencies homie Ralph “R.J.” Herrera on drums, vocalist Mando Ochoa and guitarist Marty Ramirez.
He gave this band its tongue-in-cheek sobriquet because Luicidal performs highlights from Suicidal Tendencies’ first three albums: their career-making self-titled debut, “Join the Army” and “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today.” Luicidal also performs originals off its self-titled debut, released last October on DC-Jam Records.
Herrera and Mayorga played on the second Suicidal Tendencies album together. A Santa Monica native, Herrera said his rhythm-section chemistry with Mayorga has not diminished since their “Army” days.
“We always locked in pretty well as a bass-and-drum unit,” said the Playa Vista resident, who’s been tight with Mayorga since they attended John Adams Middle School and SaMo High together.
‘Our own scene’
Mayorga played bass with Suicidal Tendencies from 1981 to 1988, collaborating with frontman Mike Muir, guitarists Grant Estes, Jon Nelson and Rocky George and drummers Herrera, Amery Smith and Sal Troy.
“We had our own scene,” Mayorga said. “We worked differently. That first record, we were just putting it out for our friends.”
In 1983, Lisa Fancher signed Suicidal onto her Frontier Records, a fertile incubator of West Coast punk already home to the Adolescents, T.S.O.L. and
the Circle Jerks.
“I remember thinking, ‘if we could get the production to sound like the Adolescents…’ Then we got on their label and did better,” Mayorga said.
Photographer Glen E. Friedman produced that first album, on which Mayorga co-wrote four songs, including the album’s (and the group’s) biggest track, “Institutionalized.” He also helped pen “Memories of Tomorrow,” through which thrash kings Slayer acknowledged their L.A. punk influence by covering it in 1996.
“My favorite album is [the first album], even though I didn’t play on it,” said Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, who played bass in Suicidal Tendencies from 1989 through the mid-‘90s.
Metallica drew upon punk as an early influence, and Trujillo considers the band’s debut “groundbreaking” and “important,” combining various styles
“The grooves had a great feel to it,” Trujillo said. “Then there were these really bombastic, fast sections that had
a great energy and impact. It’s a very unique style that was very true to how we grew up with the skaters and dressing in
a way we were comfortable with: Dickies, shorts all the time, Vans, Converse. I still dress that way.”
With its first-person autobiographical teen angst, “Institutionalized” struck a chord with disenfranchised youth.
“I’m looking at the audience and they’re going nuts!” Mayorga recalled of playing the song live.
“They were around for quite a while before I signed them,” Fancher said of the band. “That record didn’t sell right off the bat. It was a slow burn.”
Yet Hollywood took notice and Fancher accompanied the band to Florida for their appearance on a “Miami Vice” episode.
“It was really kind of trippy,” Herrera recalled of their two days filming a nightclub scene. “We were just kind of laughing. Just like the Grammy nomination [for 1990’s “Lights, Camera…Revolution!”], for years TV stations wouldn’t even say our name and now we’re nominated for a Grammy.”
As Don Johnson’s pastels charmed mid-1980s America, Suicidal flew high, playing packed, anarchic shows that even caught the notice of rival L.A. punk brethren.
“Suicidal Tendencies’ impact can’t be understated. The band was alternative to what was alternative,” said Lucky Lehrer, founding drummer of Frontier label mate the Circle Jerks.
“In Venice, you really had a melting pot of African-Americans and Hispanics and Caucasians and Asians and Samoans and people from the islands, you know what I mean? It was really very diverse. A cultural statement, too,” said Trujillo, who attended Culver City High School. “Suicidal always meant ‘go for it.’ It wasn’t about killing yourself, it was about living. That’s why a lot of the surfers and skaters adopted this band. Not just in L.A. but all over the world.”
Members of Suicidal Tendencies didn’t fraternize with the other punk bands.
“We were so into our own thing, we didn’t really care,” Herrera said. “We were always viewed a little different about the way we looked, the way we sounded.”
‘A very humbling experience’
Then, in 1988, the bottom fell out for Mayorga.
After piercing popular culture like an ice pick, Mayorga was unceremoniously ejected from the band, replaced briefly by former No Mercy bassist Ric “Rancid” Clayton (who had designed Suicidal’s logo and T-shirts), followed by Bob Heathcote and eventually Trujillo.
Herrera chalks up Mayorga’s firing to being young and wild: “The drinking, the partying, the travel. It was tough. There were some lapses of playing and concentration on stuff.”
Mayorga said he felt anger and depression in the wake of his departure.
“It was a very humbling experience,” Mayorga said. “I had to work, my kid was coming. For a while, I couldn’t even hear my music from back in the day. It brought back negative feelings.”
Today, any bad blood between Mayorga and Muir is “water under the bridge,” he said. “I was buck wild too back then. They made that decision. That’s what it is.”
A year after he was fired, Mayorga assembled Horny Toad, featuring singer Caviar, guitarist Moises Casillas and drummer Troy, playing psychedelic rock/ska/Rastafarian fusion as a reaction to his firing.
“I turned my back on the whole heavy punk scene,” said Mayorga, whose Horny found some MTV success with the song “Shiver.” Second album “Cheese” included Herrera and keyboardist Anthony “Brew” Brewster of the House of Vibe All-Stars, a resident band at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica.
In the 1990s and 2000s, however, Mayorga found himself adrift in the music industry. Across two decades he worked for Fishbone as a stagehand, even getting recognized and accosted for autographs during their shows. And when Fishbone performed their cover of “Institutionalized” with Rocky George, Mayorga began longing to be onstage again.
Made in Venice
Mayorga traces his Mexican-American heritage back to New Mexico, where his great-grandmother ran a bed-and-breakfast where, according to relatives, “Pancho Villa use to roll,” he said. His grandma Lupe bought a house near Venice Boulevard and Santa Monica in 1941.
Coming up in Venice in the 1970s, the influence of gangs was prevalent and complicated the lives of two of Mayorga’s older brothers. However, a love for music — Steppenwolf, Parliament Funkadelic, Rick James, Chic — kept teenage Mayorga’s nose clean.
In 1976, “The Song Remains the Same” played at the Criterion on the Third Street Promenade.
“When the Led Zeppelin movie came out, it was over,” Mayorga recalled, smiling.
Then punk broke, with the Buzzcocks, Devo’s first record and The Clash playing concerts at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium impacting Mayorga. He formed High Voltage, a local metal cover band that the Argonaut profiled in a late 1970s article.
Despite his interest in music, Mayorga enrolled in Santa Monica College as a respiratory therapy major. It was there during registration, in 1981, that he met Muir, who recruited him for this new group he was assembling.
Trujillo ties Suicidal Tendencies’ success to its original line-up.
“What came after that was very special, too, but Lou has always been an amazing player in my mind,” Trujillo said. “I hear the intricate technique and feel and presence. He may be an underrated player. So many people love the early stuff. Bass was an important aspect in Suicidal Tendencies. Obviously, Mike and I took it a different direction but Mike loves the bass guitar.”
The Song Remains the Same
Mayorga laughs about the whole surreal enchilada that’s been his journey.
As it would turn out, Suicidal Tendencies wasn’t the only high-profile outfit to fire him. Weed-obsessed rap group Cypress Hill hired Mayorga for its backing band on a festival tour and Mayorga made the mistake of saying yes to some very potent herb they offered him right before a concert (this was Cypress Hill, after all). When Mayorga took to the stage before a sold-out stadium filled to the end zones, rapper B-Real launched into one song while Mayorga laid down bass for another.
“I was super stoned and I forgot that they had changed the set list,” Mayorga said.
Through it all, Mayorga has kept largely on good terms with friends and bandmates.
“He’s always been a funny guy and a good friend,” Herrera said. “Lou’s been
a brother to me, and I’ll back him for whatever he needs help with. He’s been there for me and he’s been there for a lot of people.”
“Whenever we would get together, there’s something incredibly crazy going down,” Trujillo said, laughing.
He recalls a Venice backyard party, circa 1989.
“Every five minutes, there was a fight,” Trujillo said. “At one end of the backyard, a fight breaks out. That one dies down and five minutes later a fight breaks out on the other side. This kept going on to the point where I was like, ‘Man, I’m out of here!’ Lou was trying to mediate it. A lot of those guys were his friends. “
So as Trujillo leaves in his car, “Lou picks up a friend and the guy he was holding up cold clocks another guy right in front of my car, out in the street,” Trujillo said, laughing. “That was just the environment. It was crazy times and fun, but also incredibly violent. Lou, he’s an original.”
Luicidal plays at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at The Roxy Theatre, 9009 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. $30. Call (310) 278-2447 or visit roxy.com.