Interview: Billy Philips of URBAN WASTE & MAJOR CONFLICT
Major Conflict on stage at CBGB. Photo by Vinny Lotito
It's a damn shame Urban Waste never got to release anything beyond that sole 7"; it's unfortunate that for so many people, those 8 songs are the only things they know; and it's a downright crime that a lot of folks don't know that Billy Philips was the original singer for Urban Waste. I'm not gonna front-- I had to be schooled on this fact by Wendy Eager of Guillotine zine fame, but do a little research and you'll find out how vital a member of the early NYHC scene this character was-- first in Urban Waste, then in Major Conflict, before disappearing from the NY scene. We planned the Major Conflict reissue with Dito, andI wound up getting in touch with Billy after that came out. He lives in Florida now and has a family, but he kindly agreed to do this interview after he found out how much people are still interesting in his bands and the history he helped create. I still get emails from people asking about Urban Waste and Major Conflict, and while I've found out a lot about their history, I'm not able to give any first hand accounts. Hopefully this interview can start shedding some light on the elusive history of those bands.
We all know how rare Urban Waste interviews are, even though they've played two reunion shows and Johnny Waste communicates with fans of the band via the internet from time to time. About a year prior to the one-off reunion at CBGB's, Matt Smyth did an interview with Johnny Waste that later appeared on Barebones Hardcore which you can think of as a companion piece to this one.
MATW: You were one of the original group of kids that came out of Queens to start what was pretty much a renaissance of hardcore punk with groups like Urban Waste, Major Conflict, Kraut, Murphy's Law, Armed Citizens, Gilligan's Revenge, the Mob, etc etc. Please explain how you found out about hardcore punk and how you got involved in the scene.
Billy: You forgot Reagan Youth! We owe Doug from Kraut a lot of thanks for his Queens Hardcore involvement. He was my life long neighbor and took me to his rehearsals and then to my first show at A-7 Club. I was probably 14 or so. He also helped write Urban Waste's first song “Airborn Ranger.” I started going to A7 and Max's Kansas City with Doug and Jimmy G. I would miss school to hang out downtown and go to the Rat Cage to hang with HR from the Bad Brains. I’d seen Harley in his first band when he played drums and still have old pictures of him playing drums. He was 13 years old. There weren't too many people involved in hardcore back then.
MATW: How did you get hooked up with Urban Waste? The lore has it that early Urban Waste and Major Conflict practices occurred in Johnny Waste's bedroom in the Ravenswood projects. How did that go down? What was it like?
Billy and Johnny Waste in Urban Waste at A7
Billy: Me and John [Dancy, Urban Waste drummer] were in the same class and he invited me over to Johnny's house. We started playing songs; John was bangin on just a snare drum and a cymbal and Johnny had a cheap guitar. I screamed out of my old JVC radio with the microphone hooked up to it! Johnny got his first amp from my school teacher. He took me and John over to his house to pick it up.and dropped it off for us. He was cool. We drove the ghetto crazy!! They hated us at first and even smashed the window a few times. Once with a tree trunk! We continued to play and even louder! Eventually the Hated Ones (a Queens Gang) started to hang out with us. Johnny’s home became the meeting ground for everyone who wanted to hang out... Johnny was a good guy and a friend to everyone. John had a gift for drumming and was the best that I ever heard. When he played with his first drum-set, it was like he played them his whole life!! He had a gift and no one could replace him. Ya know, one thing that the kids need to know is that Major Conflict was Urban Waste in my eyes. It was like an allstar band; you combine the two and you have Major Waste!
MATW: How did Major Conflict come about, and how did Johnny Waste and John Dancy wind up getting involved with Major Conflict as well?
Billy: I started Major Conflict with Dito. Me and Dito first practiced in his bedroom.Ray was our first drummer. I can’t remember what happened to him, but he was a great guy and always funny to be around. [Ray Parada went on to play in Abombanation in the mid to late 80’s. –DS] Later John and Johnny wanted to join the band. They just loved to play. It was just meant to be. I first met Dito at an Urban Waste concert in the Ravenswood projects in Queens. Jonhnny had his mom get us the projects meeting hall. They had no idea what they were in store for! I started singing “SKANK,” skanked my way into the crowd and bumped into Dito. He made a fist! I said, “Shit, man, your alright!” After the show I went up to him and asked if he and his friend wanted to go downtown with us. After that we started to hang. I went over to Dito’s house and he had a Gibson. I asked if he could play that guitar, he replied, “somewhat.” I said, “Hey I'll be over tomorrow and well see what we can put together.” We decided to do tha band and got some words and music together. I then asked him if he wanted to be in my new band. Major Conflict formed after that. We tried different drummers but no one was like John. We all hung out together already and we just realized that Dito was the missing link.
Major Conflict in the studio. Phot by Karen O'Sullivan
MATW: What were some of the other bands or people that you ran with back then? Are there any particular bands from that time you'd want to make sure people now knew about?
Billy: The people I ran with? We were too many to mention! Bands like Kraut Murpys Law, Bad Brains, Reagan Youth. Jimmy G, Harley, HR, Doug [Holland of Kraut], Roger, Vinny [of AF], Baramore, Greg, Kenny, Oscar, Hugene, John x 4, Tim, Ray, Nick, Louie, Harry, Tim James, Guzi from Armed Citizens, and lets not forget Dito. When the boys from Queens went out to a show we filled a whole train car or two! In my eyes, Astoria was responsible for keeping hardcore going. Back in the days it was falling apart. I hear that I had an influence on Dito getting his start in art. [Dito mentions it in an interview here.--DS] He’s great! I also hear that Roger got started in Hardcore because of Urban Waste! I remember Roger hanging out on stage and screaming in the mic. Jimmy G must have been at every concert. I dedicated a song to Roger as you can hear on the [Major Conflict reissue] CD. You can also hear Jimmy letting everyone know about an upcoming Major Conflict and Murphys Law concert. Greg Ramone also had an early impact on everyone’s involvement from Queens. He had 1,000 records-- no shit!! He followed the Ramones and was cool as shit. Trust me he can tell you some stories, and he’s writing a book too. Greg loved punk and listrened to it from the 1st Ramones record on.
MATW: You left New York in 1983; what were the circumstances under which you left town? Any regrets you weren’t able to keep up with Major Conflict?
Billy: My Dad passed away and things were prenty hard around the home. Dito offerred me to stay with him, but I just needed to get away so I moved to Florida. Hearing about it now, I guess I had an influence on a lot of people back then. I even recently got calls from old friends telling me thank you for getting them into Hardcore. Only, back then, I didn't have an influence in my own life. I never did tell friends how bad I was having it in Florida, being so far from family and friends. The one true friend is Dito. He was the only one that kept in touch with me in 20 years. If he didn't hear from me he made it a point to find me. He’d call my sister Dawn in New York and locate my ass! When my dad died he was the first one that I called and he came right over. When I left for Florida he came over and made sure he said goodbye. He even helped carry my luggage and I remember him putting it in the cab. We both were saying goodbye forever!! I remember telling him then, “If they were only more dedicated, man…” To have a band you have to be loyal, dedicated, and honest. If you break any of these codes you’re finished; me and Dito were both. Missed practices and constantly starting late, sometimes by hours, made me give up with the bands.
MATW: Did you keep up with music after you left? What did you get involved in after moving out of NY?
Billy: I worked hard back then and devoted a lot of time to hardcore. I’ve always been hardheaded and had a bad attitude. I spent most of my time trying to be different, staying away from most people unless they were into what I was into, or did what I did. When I got to high school, they put me in a special conduct class. My homeroom was the library with 4 other kids. My homeroom teacher was the guidance counsellor. We used to have to pick books to read, and I always picked the same books about dogs. She asked “Why do you keep getting on the same subject?” and I answered, “Because they’re not people and I trust them, and one day I will have the rarest and noblest dogs.” That’s my second love besides music and I started working with dogs after I left New York.
Major Conflict: photo by Karen S'Sullivan
MATW: What were some of your favorite places to play in Urban Waste and Major Conflict? Are there any particular shows that stick in your memory?
Billy: My favorite show had to be the show at the Ravenswood Projects with Urban Waste because all of the rap lovers were pissed off!! We gave them something they’d never forget. The Rock Hotel show (where Major Conflict played with the UK Subs) was my second favorite. The people were going nuts to us, jumping off of the baconies and rushing the stage. I was leaping into the crowd and the boys from the neighborhood started a fire. Can't remember how. Damn we were nuts!! I remember me and John had an early joke song we wrote called “Show Me Your Tits.” I felt that the girls would pull their shirts up hearing us scream “Show me your tits!” We played it once at CB's and instead, a girl threw birth control pills all over stage. Some of the crowd starting taking them they didn't know what they were until the women screamed, “They’re just fucking birth control, man!” and everyone started laughing. I can't believe I almost forgot about that. At that show I was so trashed, I whispered in Dito's ear, “Yo Dito, I need help; I can't remember the words to Time is Now” and he laughed. I also remember playing at A7 with Urban Waste and someone tossed a drink at me. I stopped the music and demanded to know who it was. Someone pointed the guy out and I jumped off the stage at him. I jumped off of Nick’s amp into the crowd and landed on a bar table that normally weren't there. I thought that busted my ribs!
MATW: Some of the recent summaries of early American hardcore (like the recent American Hardcore book and documentary) are rather dismissive about New York's contribution to the hardcore scene. What's your take on the early 80's NYHC scene? Any ideas why some of these people might not want to give the NYHC scene more credit?
Billy: Everyone is jealous of NEW YORK. They’ve got to take “the apple” out to be on top! Look at what happened with 9/11! Hardcore is no different, nor is anything else. New York is the apple of the world and some think that in order to be on top they have to eat the Apple!! What about someone like Harley [Flanagan]? He gave his damn life to punk and hardcore. If anyone deserves stardom it’s him! But you’ve got to remember what motivates people; “M&M’S”—like the candy! They only care about Me, Money and Sex and wll go to extremes to cut competition out. Let me put it this way; New York is their DADDY and Queens is the heart of the Apple!