During the early to mid 1980s The Refuzors were A-list Seattle punk rockers. They were one of the best live bands around. Uncompromising, edgy and raw. They could have been lumped in with alot of hardcore bands from that era but for one thing. The songwriting, mostly by guitarist and vocalist Mike Refuzor set them far ahead of other great hardcore Seattle bands. And they were always unexpectedly fun. The Refuzors started out as a trio, and it’s probably their original line-up or Mike Refuzor (Mike Lambert) Bass and Vocals, Danny Refuzor (Danny Barton) on guitar and Roach Refuzor Dan Bradshaw) on drums that is most memorable. Other incarnations included Ward Refuzor (Ward Nelson) on guitar, Al Dams, Mike Purdon on bass and Renee Refuzor (Renee Vazquez) doing some of the vocals.
The Refuzors were good at creating controversy-but some of it was also the cause of the press. In a revew of the band local rock critic (at the time) printed her views of The Refuzors (and Mike specifically) of being neo-Nazi, white supremecists and fascists. The comments were made in the widely read but now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Her pronouncement wasn’t based on the lyrics or outward signs of Nazism. The Refuzors never associated themselves with the neo-Nazi or white supremacist movements. Hackett based her opinon on their dress; the all black, all leather uniform that many punks adhered to in the early 1980s. The result of the public accusation led Mike to write one of his best songs, “White Power”. And of course, once more the media went wild. How could any major band write such a song?
The fact is the song’s lyrics make clear that they did NOT support white supremacy. The lyrics start:
People may say things about me.
Some of them things are true, some are lies
With the power of the press you labeled me a Nazi
I bet you can’t even look me in the eyes
Later in the chorus Mike sings;
I never said White Power
I never said White Power to you
I’m sayin’ it now
You put those words in my mouth…
A studio version of the song was included on the near-legendary “Seattle Syndrome” compilation, but it seems as of this writing there are only very poorly recorded live versions of the song available on the internet. Aside from the inclusion on The Seattle Syndrome The Refuzors released a cassette-only project in 1987 titled “Q. Why Do It, You’ll Never Get Rich A. Cuz I’m A Refuser” as well as Idol Records’ i987 release of a compilation called “Flashback”.
Other controversies were totally staged by The Refuzors themselves. For instance swinging a dead cat into the audience while playing their song “Splat Goes The Cat” to an all-ages audience. The mainstream press was not amused. Rock critic Regina Hackett took another stab at denouncing the band. She publicly accused Mike Refuzor of not having morals, while Mike countered “The cat was already dead anyway”. No matter. The fans loved it and it has become local Seattle lore-and one of the most memorable antics in the city’s rock history.
The Refuzors never made it out of the confines of the Seattle/Portland alt vortex. They probably never made a penny, but they Refuzors were the real deal. Totally without guile or bullshit, their lives and music were undistinguishable. They were hombres, outside the lines, with fiercely loyal fans. By the late 80s, though, the band slowly unraveled from drugs, alcohol and limited recognition outside the Northwest. They called it quits in 1989. It’s a typical story, but it’s without a typical ending. Read on.
In the early to mid-90s Mike had met the proto-punk, psychedelic “creator of Flower Power” Sky Saxon formerly of “The Seeds” (Pushin’ Too Hard, Can’t Seem to Make You Mine) Sky was currently living in Seattle after going broke near the height of his career, ending up on the streets, and later joining a “The Source Family” in Hawaii and re-naming himself “Sunshine”. Mike palled around with Sky, did a few shows together as The Wolf Pack and took part in the kind of over-the-top-escapist drug use that both were known for
In 1993 Mike put The Refuzors back together, although with a completely different line-up that included several members of Seattle’s “The Accused”. The reconstituted band recorded two sides for the now defunct Seattle label ‘Bag of Hammers’. The songs had been long been in The Refuzors repertoire and results were spectacular. The single Think I Lost My Faith b/w Jim Jones’ might just be the true missing link between the brilliant NW underground punk scene of the 1980’s and the equally brilliant, but over-hyped ‘grunge’ of the 90’s. Unfortunately ‘Bag of Hammers’ released only 800 copies of the single and without any promotion it went nowhere. An additional 200 of the singles were pressed on clear vinyl, making it a true rarity.
Meanwhile Mike sank lower and lower, eventually ending up on the street and in the 2000’s he suffered a mild stroke and lost some of his sight. Without support from his old friends and fans he ended up nearly forgotten by music fans who thought “grunge”
Both ‘Think I Lost My Faith’ and ‘Jim Jones’ along with the 1981 release “White Power” have upfront drums & bass that was typical punk of rhythm section. But The Refuzors weren’t above a heavy guitar sound and the occasional solo. Mike’s vocals were torn, ragged and raw, but not like every other cookie-cutter hardcore vocalist. This was real pain. It’s not fake suburban angst. There was a beautiful, passionate cruelty at work here. These songs are a brilliant mix of writing and delivery. Stuff that makes people want to howl and cry and bang my head at the same time. It proves the theory that the greatest bands in the world will probably never be heard, or at least only heard by a few. Most will never make it outside their garage door. Luckily The Refuzors were able to be an important, influential part of the 80s Seattle music scene.
The Refuzors may never end up onstage again. Mike is somewhat disabled, and living the life of a hermit, although he’s spotted around town now and again, and has even appeared onstage with The Fags, and with his good friend Charlie Thunders of the band “Thankless Dogs. Sadly, Roach Refuzor (Dan Bradshaw) passed away in early 2015. I don’t know if The Refuzors were some of the ‘Shoulders of Giants’ grunge bands stood on, or if they were just garage-bound guys that got stepped on and tossed aside when the music biz smelled cash. It doesn’t matter. They were brilliant, beautiful, caustic and heart-wrenching in their honesty. Maybe one day they’ll receive the belated respect that’s been overdue for many years.
-Dennis R. White. Sources: Stephen Tow, “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011) Garage Punk Hideout Forum, June 25-27, 2009, Discogs.com, Charlie Thunders, Mike Refuzor.