Ed Colver lived all the way out in Covina but never missed a show, traveling as far as West Hollywood and Orange County in his reliable Honda Civic, armed only with a cheap 35-mm camera and 50-mm lens and flash — “no long lens, no autofocus,” he said.
Considered by many the godfather of L.A. punk photography, Colver shot the cover image for the Circle Jerks’ 1980 album “Group Sex” in Marina del Rey at a mock wedding for punk scenemakers Michelle Gurber Bell and Ron Henley.
Located at the time between the on- and off-ramps of the Marina (90) Freeway, Marina del Rey Skate Park was essentially “a bunch of swimming pools with no water in it,” remembered Circle Jerks drummer Lucky Lehrer, whose band informally shared a stage that day with The Adolescents.
“I didn’t have my drums,” Lehrer said. “Here’s a crowd and here’s our friends. So we played three or four songs. Someone got the idea: Why don’t we take a picture in one of these swimming pools?”
Lehrer, who stood with Colver looking down at the fray, recalled the challenge of “trying to herd a bunch of [drunken] punk rockers,” but the promise of being on an album cover helped.
Given his subjects, Colver said he was understandably nervous perched atop a ladder.
“It was really unruly. It was nuts,” Colver remembered.
Colver said he almost lost his legs in the parking lot that day. While sitting sideways in his car loading his camera with the passenger door open, “a drunken clown named Reno” backed up his van, nearly slamming the door on him.
Later, “When I initially saw the cover, I thought, ‘Wow, that looked great!’ I liked it,” Colver said.
He was less crazy about how the photos on the back turned out.
“Hated the pink,” Colver said. “I thought it looked New Wave-y.”
In a handshake deal with a friend of Lehrer’s exchanging a pound of pot for a producer’s credit and time at Byrdcliffe Studios on the MGM lot (today Sony) in Culver City, the Circle Jerks recorded “Group Sex” (14 songs totaling 16 minutes) with Byrdcliffe’s owner and sound engineer co-producing.
It was only the second album on Lisa Fancher’s Frontier label, which also broke T.S.O.L., The Adolescents and Venice’s Suicidal Tendencies.
According to Fancher, Lehrer initially balked at the idea of her releasing the album: “Lucky said, ‘No girl’s putting out our record!’”
But after Lehrer consulted with others, including The Runaways’ ringleader Kim Fowley, Fancher negotiated a 50/50 deal with the band.
“I’ve never had investors or partners,” Fancher said. “It was DIY all the way.”
With support from KROQ tastemaker Rodney Bingheimer, the record quickly sold out its initial 5,000-copy run.
Colver was also on-hand to photograph the first live Black Flag gig featuring Henry Rollins (or, as Dukowski refers to him, “vocalist No. 3”), and took the cover photograph for the band’s first LP, “Damaged,” depicting Rollins smashing a mirror with his fist.
“They told me what they wanted to do,” said Colver, who shot the image at Rollins’ Koreatown apartment. Colver said he smashed the mirror with a hammer, put masking tape behind the pieces and employed red India ink as faux blood on Rollins.
The zeitgeist didn’t last long: Rollins soon left Black Flag, the Circle Jerks’ Lehrer left music to pursue law school, Hetson gradually diverted more attention to Bad Religion, and Colver went on to shoot covers for major label releases by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M.
“We knew we were making raw music and expressing real emotions. We didn’t know we’d be inspiring musicians or that, 30 or 40 years later, we’d still be talking about it. Ed [Colver] was there fortunately,” Lehrer said.
“People thought this punk thing was a fad,” said Colver, 65, who was featured in 2012’s Annenberg Space for Photography exhibit “Who Shot Rock ’n’ Roll.”
“Turns out it wasn’t. It was part of history, absorbed by the pop culture. It’s never gone away, you know.”