Johnny Strike, frontman of iconic San Francisco punk group Crime, died Monday evening after a long bout with cancer, according to his publisher Michael Lucas. He was 70.
Strike, born Gary John Bassett, formed Crime in 1976 and that year released what’s widely considered the country’s first independent punk record, “Hot Wire My Heart.” A fixture of the city’s first-wave punk scene centered around Mabuhay Gardens, Crime became known for wearing cop uniforms, a look immortalized by photographer James Stark. In 1979, Crime performed inside San Quentin Prison, a show released by Target Video.
(Columnist Herb Caen noted the group when the authorities requested that Crime refrain from impersonating the police, as Michael Goldberg recounted in his late-1970s profile for New York Rocker.)
Known for a serrated, thumping sound and gruff vocals, Crime was ambivalent about the label “punk,” referring to themselves instead as “San Francisco’s First and Only Rock ‘n Roll Band.”
Between 1976 and 1980, Crime released only three 7” EPs, but demos and live recordings circulated widely via bootlegs in the ensuing years. The full-length compilation San Francisco’s Doomed appeared legitimately in 1991, and was reissued and remastered in 2004. Another compilation of unreleased recordings, Murder by Guitar: 1976 to 1980, appeared on Kitten Charmer in 2013, and was re-released the next year by local archival label Superior Viaduct.
Crime reunited and performed widely in the 2000s, releasing an album and an EP of new material. In recent years, Strike also played in Naked Beast with Crime’s Hank Rank and Joey D’Kaye. The group released an eponymous album in 2017.
Later in life, Strike was also productive as a novelist and short-story writer. His first novel, Ports of Hell, appeared in 2004 with a blurb by William Burroughs. Strike’s more recent books were published by Bold Venture Press and Rudos and Rubes.
Longtime friend Mike Stax remembered Strike as more than just a musician: "Johnny was a really thoughtful and sensitive guy with a sharp sense of humor and great taste in music, film and literature," he wrote on Facebook. "I learned a lot from him."
Lucas, who published Strike’s fiction via Rudos and Rubes and played in a later Crime lineup, said Strike requested not to have a memorial service.