By: Mike Abominator
I’m not going to try and hammer down the exact dates and years here. But I want to say that this all took place between the years 1984-1992. Trying to go back into my memory and remember the first time I met Richard C. is all a blur. He started at a local swap meet actually, in the early 80s. This was even before he had the Wild Rags store in Montebello. I was told about this guy who had all the cool metal records and shirts that were hard to find, that had a booth set up at a local swap meet. My older brother, who was my gateway to metal, took me down to see Richard. We jumped in my brother’s old Plymouth Duster and went down to the swap meet. He would take me a couple of more times, and once my friends and I found out about him, we would trek down there as much as we could to get the cool Ozzy shirts, Iron Maiden picture discs, and the latest Venom collectable record. Richard had mentioned to us that he was close to getting his store set up. It would be a real record store in L.A. We didn’t believe him, we were cocky snot nosed kids after all. But one day we went to go see Richard at the swap and he was gone. Most of my friends at the time had gone over and became break dancers and got into horrible electric type music. HORRIBLE SHIT! But I remembered what Richard had said about his store, and my goal was to track him down someday. And remember kiddies, we didn’t have the internet and cell phones. Shit, personal computers were rare back then. So, my journey would be a hard one, but I was determined to find the store and keep my passion for killer music going! The only place we had to get music was a shitty store in the local shopping malls called Licorice Pizza. If you were into Depeche Mode and Thompson Twins, this was your place. But for a pissed off little metal kid, trying to find what that band Possessed sounded like, it was a lame place. And at the time, I hadn’t even heard about Tower Records. When I did, no one ever wanted to go into Hollywood. It was too much of a pain in the ass to get down there.
I also forget as to how I officially tracked the store down a couple of years later. Sorry, drugs and alcohol tend to do that to the ol’ memory! Hahahaha. I think one of my oldest friends Robert told me about a killer underground metal store over near East L.A. I was at first freaked out when I saw the front of the store. It had a bunch of glam clothing and spandex jump suits in the window. I was like “WHAT THE FUCK?” I know that a few of my metal heroes were into dressing like this, but I just didn’t think an underground record store would have a store front that looks like a Motley Crue video from the “Theater of Pain” days. But once I went inside, I smelled the vinyl. Anyone that is a record freak like me knows that scent. And it was a strong one in this store. It was like his swap meet booth, yet on steroids. Around this time, CDs were still a new thing. I don’t even remember if Richard even had CDs at this point, I doubt it. Or if he did, there were only a few. It was a sea of records; it seemed like as far as the eye can see. And a wall of shirts bigger than the Great Wall of China! There were stacks of demo tapes on the counter and also fanzines in boxes on the floor near the start of the record racks. All of the glam/leather clothing goods were off to the right. This section was run by his wife at the time, Valarie. In all my years of going there, I don’t think I ever went over to that section. OK maybe once in a while to scope out a hot glam metal chick that was trying on stuff! Hahaha.
It became a Rite of Passage to bring friends to the store, both old and new ones that liked heavy metal, and watch the look on their face when they walked through the door. Once you walked in, Richard would be at his standard spot, at the front counter, by the phone and cash register. If he didn’t know you, he gave you that look. That look of “what the fuck do YOU want?!” I became pretty cool with Richard after a few trips to the swap and then his store. Once he remembered me, he would always bust my balls “Ohhhhhhh Mikey Fuckin Nelson is back.” It became a tradition to pack a bunch of kids into one of the parent’s cars, and make a trek down to Wild Rags. Even when I moved further away to from Los Angeles to Orange County, I had to continue the tradition. It was like a secret society. If you found out someone who knew of Wild Rags, you became instant friends. Even if you didn’t like them, or they weren’t very cool, at least it was another ride! Hahahaha. Back then, it was RARE that kids had cars. Sometimes, we would even ride the bus. But that took forever, and holding records and a bag full of shirts on a bus for a few hours SUCKED! But we made due. This was the place that I found out about Possessed, Bathory, Hirax, Sepultura, Hallows Eve, Carnivore, Razor, Onslaught and so many hundreds of others. There were also so many crazy collectables of tour programs, rare shirts, posters, 7 inches and other killer stuff by the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Motorhead, Venom, AC/DC, Slayer, Metallica and others. Getting demo tapes by Master, Massacre, Morbid Angel, Necrovore, Genocide, Napalm Death, Fear Of God, Death, Cryptic Slaughter, Mefisto, Merciless, Mayhem, Sadus, Messiah, Sarcofago, Obscurity, Wehrmacht, Slaughter Lord, Morbid Saint and bands like that was a regular occurrence. You could find something and ask Richard to put it on, IF he liked you that is! Hahahaha. Don’t even get me started on the shirts! A MASSIVE selection of shirts was always on display. Official tour concert shirts, total bootlegs and obscure demo band shirts! ARGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
So over the next few years, I must have gone to Wild Rags almost a hundred times. It seemed like me and my buddies went, or at least tried to go down there, every weekend. I managed to score a job through an underage work program through my school. It was actually a really cool job at a local county park right across the street from my house. I was a junior park ranger and I made pretty good money for a high school kid. Once I started getting even deeper in the metal underground, most of my money I made went to demos, records and shirts not only at Wild Rags, but also through the mail to bands from all over the world. I would still write to all kinds of bands, labels, zines, distros etc… But when I didn’t want to wait for the old fashioned snail mail, I would go down to Wild Rags and just get it there. It also became a contest between me and a couple of my buddies to see who could get the hardest to find records, who would find the new demo band first, who got the better shirt, hahahaha, REDICULOUS right? Well we were dumb kids. I know Richard was happy when we came in, I know he loved our money! Hahaha. But we developed a friendship with him as well and would be in there for hours bullshitting and talking metal with him. I had a school project about people who ran small businesses. I talked with my Mom and she agreed that Richard would make a good choice for my project. So one Saturday I went down there and asked Richard if he would be interested in being interviewed by me for my project. He was totally cool about it and we spent a few minutes talking about how he started and how it was to run a small business. It was after this talk that Richard asked me if I wanted a job working for him at Wild Rags Records. I accepted. The next 6 months would become a WILD time to say the least!
Once I accepted the job, I then had to figure out how to get to the store. You see, at the time, I lived up in Brea, a small city in north Orange County. Wild Rags was in Montebello, just outside of East L.A. So it would be quite a journey to get there on my own. For a bit, I rode the bus. I had to catch a bus that would cross into different counties, which was not far from my house at the local mall. The ride would take 3 hours. So I would have to get up super early and get to Montebello by the 11am open time. I would work until 7pm. I would then usually get home a little after 10pm. It was a long day but I really didn’t care, it was a killer job. Right around the same time, I got the opportunity to join the grindcore band Phobia. They needed a bass player for a couple of local shows, as well as a show up north in San Jose and also some jamming for the “Return to Desolation” EP. There would also be a local show after that with Assuck, who were doing a full U.S. Tour. I got REALLY lucky at this time and had enough money to start looking at getting myself a car. I had saved quite a bit of money from my park job program (which had ended once I graduated high school) and I was also a small time pot dealer. My brother also offered to help me out if I needed a little extra cash to get the vehicle that I wanted. My Mom had a connection at a local dealership, so I was all set at this point. I grabbed a ford truck that looked cool and I was on my way. Being young and stupid, this ended up being a big mistake. But you live and learn.
The main problem that was this truck was a gas guzzler. And since my job was in Montebello and Phobia jammed in Santa Ana, I did quite a bit of driving. At times I would have to pick up a couple of guys in the band, and of course it was trips to Mission Viejo and Huntington Beach for me. But I didn’t care! I loved it and just went on my way. I would later realize that all of my money was going to gas and Wild Rags! Hahahaha. Shit I think Richard payed me in records one time, at my request! He would laugh and ask me “are you sure?” Let’s get back to the job at hand folks. My first day there, Richard showed me around the store. Of course I already knew the layout, since I had been going there so many times already. I said hello to his ex wife Valarie in the glam/slut section. She was always nice and cordial to me. My main job at first was to organize all of the bins. Make sure the shirts were properly folded. The zines were stacked nicely, ready to read. He then started showing me how to take the inventory from the back, up to the front, to make sure the CDs and records were all in place. Once I got the hang of all that, I would answer the phone and help out the customers with what they needed. Obviously it was pretty easy after the first day.
It was a small store and it was pretty dead at times during the early afternoons. But there were always some real characters that would come in. And it was always funny watching Richard fuck with them. I must have a million stories about this place and time, but I will keep it to a few. One time this guy came in, he was a TOTAL douche. He looked like a Mexican Jeff Spicolli from Fast Times….. Anyways, he came in and asked “hey bros, do you have any denim Guns & Roses jackets?” And Richard straight up told him “you know what, why don’t you turn around, walk out the door, go down the street, and go to Miller’s Outpost you fucking asshole because I don’t carry that shit here!” BAHAHAHAHAHA. Some people would just walk through the door and Richard would just start saying “OHHHHH FUCK! NOT YOU AGAIN!” and start busting their balls. He would say “hey Mikey, we have another idiot that has come in to suck up my air conditioning and not buy anything!” Good stuff! If he knew the person wasn’t going to buy anything, or he felt that, he would ignore them. Or if he knew they weren’t going to buy anything, and he didn’t like them for some reason, he would just tell them to “get the fuck out!” It was funny as shit to me. Of course he had his loyal customers that would come in and drop their pay checks on stuff. Assholes like me! Hahaha. Fellow underground music freaks. These people would become my friends as we shared that bond of the underground. And my friends at the time would always come in to harass me and Richard. It was one big ball busting session. But it was cool because we would put on killer music and get serious and talk about bands and shit.
In the end, Richard was a music freak, a big fan like us. He had that same passion that we did. Richard had some stories himself. And he loved metal, but also liked all kinds of different stuff music wise as well. Now there were always talks and rumors of Richard being a rip off and a dishonest person. Let me state on the record that the man NEVER ripped me off, or did me wrong. It was tough at times because I was there when the issues between him and Sadistic Intent started. It got so ugly. I was friends with Sadistic AND Richard, so I just tried to stay out of it. To this day, I don’t even know the whole story. It was just both sides, out of anger and frustration. Shit gets crazy and emotional at times with bands, ESPECIALLY with money involved. But there were pissed off people here and there that would pop up. Every once and a long while, a customer would complain that they didn’t get their package. That would be usually the post office’s fault though, I mean I helped to package the orders myself, I would remember sending the order to that customer. His mail order business was HUGE! That is where he made his money and was able to keep going and keep the store open. The list of people was impressive that got a monthly newsletter. Not only was it huge, but it was almost a “who’s who” of the metal underground. I’m not going to lie, I got some addresses from this list and started writing bands myself. Shit, he even felt bad for me at times since my truck was such a gas guzzler, he would buy me lunch here and there when I was broke. He even stopped letting me get paid in records and told me that I needed gas money to get to work! Hahaha. He also lent me money when I needed it and would just take it out of my paycheck. The “rip off” tag was confusing to me. Now I do know some credible people and even friends that say they were ripped off by Richard. But I wasn’t there when the original deal was made, or the contract signed. I don’t know the whole story. So I stay out of all that. All I know is what I myself experienced.
Another funny thing happened one time. The store itself got busy and Richard wanted to hire someone to help with the basic stuff like getting shirts for customers and helping out over in the ladies section. He hired this local girl. She was about as smart as a brick. And slow as a Thergothon song. In reality, she just got in our way. She also had the personality of a refrigerator. It was frustrating dealing with her to say the least. Richard had enough at one point and she really fucked something up. So he just straight up told her “get the fuck out of my store, you are fired!” She started crying and ran off saying something about her paycheck. I think she was owed just for that day, who knows, but Richard told her “you are lucky that I even ever payed you! You are an idiot and you deserve nothing!” hahahaha, awww fuck. It was fucked up, yet funny as fuck. Come on, I was an asshole kid with an attitude (not much has changed! Hehehe) Well, about an hour or 2 later, she came back with her boyfriend and the guy was pissed off. He started cussing Richard out. Yelling about her paycheck and how Richard was an asshole. Richard stood his ground and cussed back and yelled back. Valarie and I were just watching this unfold. And it was hilarious. Richard then told the dude, “why don’t you go outside to the alley in back and I’ll be out here to kick your ass!” The guy said OK and left the store. Richard grabbed his bat, told me to stay there and watch the store. He then went out back to fight the guy. Valarie came over and told me “well just stay here Mike, Richard will be back.” I think I said “FUCK THAT I WANT TO WATCH!” Oh and a funny thing that Richard told the guy on the way out to the alley was he told him “hey asshole, try not to suck any dicks on your way out there OK!” BAHAHAHAHAHA! That is a genius insult that I use on my buddies to this day! Hahaha. Anyways, I get to the back alley and I see Richard chasing this idiot with a bat and the girl and yelling. They both got scared off. I think Richard might have hit the guy once or twice. But I was laughing my ass off watching this. Richard turned around and saw me. He then yelled at me “hey asshole, what are you doing out here?!?! I told you to watch the store!” So I ran back in and I was laughing so hard that he started laughing, and so did Valarie. We all had quite a laughing fit for a while on that one. One of the funniest things I ever saw!
There were normal days at the shop. I got a kick out of answering the phone and it would be Black Winds of Blasphemy, or assorted members of Impetigo, Nuclear Death, Order From Chaos and even others that weren’t on the label but were just fans who ordered stuff like Euronymous from Mayhem. I had actually became pen pals with Euronymous back in the late 80s. But I finally talked with him on the phone when I was in Phobia. We were up in the San Jose area staying with our friend Freeway (Immortal Fate, Autopsy, Abscess) and it got a little packed at his house. We ended up staying over at another guy’s house named Justin for one night. Justin is the one that got me into Impaled Nazarene and Immortal when they had demos out. He played us the “Tol Compt…” advance that Mikka the singer had sent him, months before the album came out. Justin also helped start Necropolis Records and was friends with a lot of the 2nd wave black metal people of that time. Euronymous was one of them. So Justin called him and then handed the phone over to me. We chatted for a while and kept in touch through letters and the occasional phone call. So when he would call Richard up, who he was also friends with, and chat with him about mainly older stuff still in stock. Before things started getting weird over in Norway with all the church burnings and killings, Euronymous was just a normal, down to earth metal head. He did stat to cut everyone off and take a lot of that black metal stuff very seriously. His attitude towards everything trickled down to the others that looked up to him and you know all the shit that happened next. But it was always cool talking to these people, who I obviously looked up to and admired. I think in the end, all of the “famous” people who would call the store were just normal “down to earth” metal heads.
At one point the Foundations Forum would come to town. It was like an industry party for record labels and their staff and bands. All of the major metal labels would be there. Richard would show up and have a booth set up and do promo for the label. Well the day he went was the one day of the week that Wild Rags was closed. He called me up and told me to come down and hang out at the store. So I met him at the store and he was in the back office with the back door open with a full, huge cooler of beer. So we just blasted music and talked shit and drank beer for a while. A few closer friends would always stop by the back office on those days off and come hang out. And on this day, there were quite a few that came by. It almost became a party. When the store was closed, we would usually set up inventory or go to the storage facility up in Monterey Park to get stuff to stock the store. I also became infamous for being the “zine reviewer”. I would go take a dump and bring a fanzine or 2 (or 4) with me while I handled my business, hahahahaha. Richard got pretty pissed off at me for that.
Since I was in Phobia at the time, the guys in Relapse considered me “part of their family”, since Phobia was signed to Relapse back then. Now Richard and the Relapse guys DID NOT get along AT ALL. The Relapse guys would send faxes over that said “Dear Richard Head”. And Richard would get all riled up and threaten to kick their asses. At one point Richard was going to let me go because he was tired of them throwing me in the middle of their arguing. It was all dumb business stuff that I wanted NO part of. Plus I didn’t play on any of the Relapse stuff that Phobia did. Freeway and I were supposed to be on “Return To Desolation” but I quit and Freeway started jamming with Autopsy. I never had any personal issues with Relapse, but I told Richard and Valarie that I work for Wild Rags, not Relapse, and I just wanted to stay out of it.
Richard had been around the music scene for YEARS. He had told me about seeing The Rolling Stones when he was a kid, and hanging out with Jim Morrison. Another person that I remember calling the store was the legendary rock and roll character Kim Fowley. He was known for managing The Runaways and also working with Blue Cheer and Kiss. He was a very nice guy, very strange in the normal sense, but very cool. Pretty much anyone who was in a band or had a fanzine, label or distro back in the day was in some sort of contact with Richard. One of the funniest things I also saw was when that Foundations Forum was in full session, the store would get A LOT of visitors from the metal scene. Paul Speckman of Master was there telling all kinds of kids to buy the Master debut album! Bahahaha. He was like “HERE! BUY THIS, KID! IT’S AWESOME!” One kid even said “wait a minute, you have that band logo tattooed on your hand!” as he was pointing at Paul’s Master tattoo across the top of his hand! Bahahahaha. CLASSIC! I could go on and on. There are those who have nothing but bad things to say about Richard and Wild Rags. Like I said, I’m even friends with some of them. I cringe and try to change the subject when this comes up as I consider Richard a friend, or always did back then. I haven’t seen him since the mid 90s. But he was always cool to me and never ripped me off.
He helped get the name out there and establish bands such as Behemoth, Dying Fetus, Sigh, Morgion, Emperor, Necrophobic, Thergothon, Gorgoroth, Vital Remains and Internal Bleeding. He put out some ESSENTIAL releases by legendary bands such as Impetigo, Nuclear Death, Blood, Order From Chaos and Blasphemy. And some of his classic and forgotten releases by bands like Goddefied, Hexx, Necrophagia, Bloodcum, Hellwitch, Unholy, Centinex, Recipients Of Death, Funeral, Inverted, Mangled and others are well sought after for big money on ebay and other sites. In reality, ANYTHING with the Wild Rags logo on it is considered a collectable and is worth quite a bit. Say what you want about him, many have. And I’m not picking sides here, leave my name out of it. But this guy and this label did some pretty amazing things and the goods that he had for sale got me through most of my childhood and into my adulthood. And I will say this with 100% conviction: THIS WAS THE BEST JOB THAT I EVER HAD! BAR NONE! I got to hang out all day and talk shop with an old school dude, listen to shit like the Nihilist demos, read and get info from all kinds of killer fanzines (while on the pot of course!), flirt with the cute girls that would come in from Garfield High School, grab a killer pastrami sandwich from across the street, talk on the phone to my heroes. Not a bad time at all for a teenage kid! Hahahaha. Mainly this is just a true story. My view of how it was back then. If you went to the store, especially in the “hey day” when I worked there, it was a pretty special place. WILD RAGS CULT ETERNAL!!!!!!
One of those ads that we all got back in the day. Looking back at it, just LOOK at some of those albums!