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.