Mike Magrann (vocals, guitar), Kimm Gardner (guitar), Larry Kelley (bass), Mike Burton (drums)
Channel 3 originated in the suburban gateway community of Cerritos in South Los Angeles, an area traditionally associated with dairy produce, in 1980. They were formed as a consequence of Magrann and Gardener’s friendship, which dated back to the second grade. As Magrann later acknowledged: “Channel 3 was a band formed around friendships. If we weren’t playing guitars together, we’d probably be bowling or robbing Laundromats together.” By the advent of high school, they were frequent visitors to Hollywood, catching LA punk legends at the Whiskey and Starwood. But they were equally influenced by traditional rock ‘n’ roll (they regularly covered the Who’s ‘My Generation’) and Brit-punk (999, the Clash etc). Their songs too betrayed a less ‘literal’ punk rock schematic, with lyrics penned by Magrann, an English major, while both friends would attend Long Beach State University (‘We are influenced by Hemingway!’, Magrann once spluttered to Flipside fanzine).
With Kelley and Burton, the most permanent of four early drummers, providing the rhythm section, their first demo tape was passed to Robbie Fields of Posh Boy Records via Cathy Conway, a mutual friend. It led to a contract before they’d played their first gig proper at the Cuckoo’s Nest. “You gotta admit, the man has an ear for new things!” Magrann later told Punk Fix. “Just being on the label in those days would guarantee a certain amount sold, and the ability to tour, which is what we loved.” For Field’s part, he saw Channel 3 as natural successors to the departed TSOL. “In those heady days of early ’81,” he wrote on the Posh Boy website, “it was as if there was gold lying in the street just waiting to be picked up.” Channel 3’s first release was an eponymous 12-inch EP in 1981 that comprised re-recordings of those demo tracks. Taken from it, ‘Manzanar’, which raged at the treatment of American citizens of Japanese origin in the Second World War (Magrann’s mother suffered at the titular internment camp), was played heavily by premier UK tastemaker John Peel. Released in the UK by esteemed second wave punk label No Future as part of the ‘I’ve Got A Gun’ EP, it is arguably the finest recording to grace the imprint. The sheer coiled musicality and tension of all three tracks was in stark contrast to a third wave of punk that seemed listless and shambolic in comparison. “The European popularity was a complete surprise to us,” Magrann told me in 2002. “We started receiving fan mail from the UK before we were even aware of the No Future release. We were puzzled as to why we connected with the British folk, but our sound was always closer to classic ’77 punk than the hardcore SoCal (South California) skate sound of our peers.”
Fields then asked them to record a full-length album, Fear Of Life. Tracks like ‘You Make Me Feel Cheap’, with its peppy female backing and poppy arrangement, ostensibly betrayed inclinations towards securing a more mainstream audience. But, as outlined in Mike’s piece elsewhere, it’s Fields who has to take the credit. He co-wrote the female vocal sung by DJ Rodney Bingenheimer’s girlfriend Maria Montoya which turned the song from garage rock into Motown junk, the Vandellas meets the Vandals. “Kimm and Mike were still willing to listen at this stage of their relationship with Posh Boy,” Fields, never knowingly undersold, later reflected. After The Lights Go Out was a more ‘mature’ effort, though interest in the UK had by now dissipated, whilst other former supporters were perturbed by the inclusion of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Stupid Girl’ and a shift away from the group’s .
Jay Lansford (ex-Stepmothers and Posh Boy production intern) joined on bass for the 1983 tour in support of After The Lights Go Out, and was present also for Airborne, as Channel 3 were scooped up, alongside peers TSOL, by Enigma. But they got lost in the shuffle after Capitol bought the label out. Despite three of the four tracks being co-written with Lansford and an accomplished attempt to renovate their sound, featuring folky harmonica in parts, it alienated their traditional fanbase. They did, however, get to play support sets to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and had Jane’s Addiction open for them. Last Time I Drank moved in a more trad-rock direction, signposted by their cover version of Aerosmith’s ‘Lord Of The Thighs’. This time, as the band’s arch online biography noted, the record even had saxophones on. Ignore the appropriately titled Rejected, almost immediately disowned by the group. The band returned to action in the 90s, their first European show resulting in the release of a live album by German label Lost & Found in 1994. But the album you should really check out is 2002’s Channel 3 release on Doctor Strange, which is far more in keeping with the band that recorded these classic, bratty punk rock tunes.
And they have continued to gig, with a current line-up seeing Magrann and Gardner joined by Anthony Thompson (bass) and Alf ‘Fredo’ Silva (drums). Magrann, again in 2002: “Unbelievably, we’re playing to more receptive crowds than ever, finally getting some punk rock respect, damn it! We kept a purposefully low profile in the 90s, though we still practiced and wrote, and the timing all seemed to come together for the new push. Sure, we hear a few grumblings about all the old man bands trying to cash in, but believe me, the money is not at a motivating level - it’s a cliche, but we’ll do it till it ain’t fun.”