Four decades after the inception of X, one thing is clear: X was not only one of the most influential bands to crash out of the punk movement of the late ‘70s, but their music continues to be sonically groundbreaking. Songs written during the group’s inception are as relevant and inventive today as they were in 1977.
X were the quintessential L.A. punk rockers before they grew into a world-class rock & roll band and live band; however, enthusiasm for their unique, intelligent and humorous work never quite reached critical mass. Formed in 1977 after songwriter and bassist John Doe (b. Feb. 24, 1956) met (and later married) Exene Cervenka (b. Feb. 1, 1956) at a Venice poetry workshop, with rockabilly veteran Billy Zoom (b. Feb. 20, 194?) on guitar and D.J. Bonebrake (b. Dec. 8, 1955) on drums, the band garnered an immediate following.
"Discovered" by ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, he took the band into the studio for the recording of Los Angeles in 1980. It was curious, at a time when punks were supposed to hate hippies, that X's merging with an ex-Door was not only tolerated but earned them stature as California's preeminent punk band when the record earned across-the-board raves. 1981 saw the release of the similarly punked-up Wild Gift, while their 1982 album, Under the Big Black Sun, began what would be a long career in merging hard rock, country, and folk into their fiery mix. The band successfully began to mix in their populist politics with an eye toward matters of the heart. As the band began to reach wider audiences, both Doe and Cervenka enjoyed outside careers in the arts — he as an actor in films like Great Balls of Fire and Roadside Prophets, and she as a poet and spoken-word artist, collaborating with Lydia Lunch and Wanda Coleman.
In 1983, the rootsy songs on More Fun in the New World lent themselves to acoustic performances which the band had taken to trying live. They took it one step further on their side project, the Knitters (with Dave Alvin) which yielded one Slash album, Poor Little Critter in the Road, in 1985. Ain't Love Grand was a harder rock album in 1986 and was followed by Zoom's departure. He was momentarily replaced by Alvin, but for recording purposes, the band recruited Tony Gilkyson (formerly of Lone Justice) for See How We Are, the band's most decidedly hard-rock record in the catalog. Gilkyson stayed for the recording Live at the Whisky A Go-Go in 1988 before the band took some much-needed time off, although they never broke up. In the interim, Doe and Cervenka had since divorced, and the pair continued to work as solo artists, releasing Cervenka's Old Wives Tales (Rhino, 1989) and Running Sacred (1990) and Doe's Meet John Doe for Geffen in 1990.
By 1993, the band got together for the recording of Hey Zeus!, a collection of new songs, but the response was underwhelming, and it was back to solo work. Doe released Kissingsohard for Rhino in 1995. Exene also released Surface to Air Serpents for the 2.13.61 label, as well as a reading of the Unabomber Manifesto, after changing her name to Cervenkova. During their frequent hiatuses, X would occasionally appear in Los Angeles and San Francisco and during one stay, recorded a live album in San Francisco in 1995, Unclogged, and self-released it.
Cervenkova's latest project is Auntie Christ with Bonebrake and Matt Freeman of Rancid. Gilkyson also works as a solo artist. X also appeared in three films: Penelope Spheeris' punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Urgh! A Music War, and a documentary of their lives and times, The Unheard Music. Beginning in 1998, founding member Billy Zoom returned to the fold for a series of on-again/off-again shows and limited touring; a pair of 2004 Los Angeles concerts were recorded and videotaped for Live in Los Angeles, released both as an audio CD and video DVD in the spring of 2005.