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As one of the founding members of the Los Angeles punk band X, John Doe was one of the most influential figures in American alternative rock during the early '80s. In 1990, he stepped out as a solo artist, blending the uncompromising spirit of punk with country, folk, and roots rock flavors to create music that had a personality of its own without losing touch with the sensibility of X. Possessing one of the richest and most expressive voices in American punk, Doe's vocal abilities were adaptable to the diverse roots rock sounds of 1990's Meet John Doe and the more introspective singer/songwriter approach of 2000's Freedom Is … Doe indulged his interest in classic country music on 2009's Country Club, recorded with Canadian roots rockers the Sadies, and 2016's The Westerner and 2022's Fables in a Foreign Land showed him comfortably transitioning into a contemporary folk artist with a keen eye as a songwriter. John Doe was born John Nommensen Duchac in Decatur, Illinois on February 25, 1953. Doe spent time in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Maryland and earned a degree at Antioch College in Baltimore before he relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1976. Doe was interested in poetry and was attending a poetry workshop in Venice, California when he met a fellow aspiring writer named Exene Cervenka. Around the same time, Doe, who had played bass in bar bands before moving to California, had answered an ad in a local newspaper from a guitarist eager to start a punk rock band. The guitarist was Billy Zoom, and when Doe brought Cervenka to a rehearsal to show off some poems he thought would make good lyrics for a song, the band that would become X began to coalesce. With the 1980 album Los Angeles, X became the most talked about band in Los Angeles, thanks to the off-kilter harmonies of Doe and Cervenka, the supercharged rockabilly guitar of Zoom, and the clattering rhythms of Doe and drummer D.J. Bonebeak. Four more albums would appear between 1981 and 1985 before Billy Zoom left the band after Ain't Love Grand -- an experiment in pushing their music into a hard rock/metal direction, which failed to give X the commercial breakthrough they desired. (Doe found time during this period to record with a pair of side projects, the acoustic country-folk combo the Knitters – which also featured Cervenka and Bonebrake – on 1985's Poor Little Critter on the Road, and Chris D.'s group the Flesh Eaters, popping up on their 1981 masterpiece A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die.) In 1987, X returned with the album See How We Are, introducing new guitarist Tony Gilkyson, and while the album received positive reviews, it once again failed to break the band to a larger audience. After bringing out a live set, 1988's Live at the Whisky a Go-Go on the Fabulous Sunset Strip, the band split up. By this time, Doe had been dabbling in acting, appearing in Oliver Stone's Salvador (1986), Allison Anders' and Kurt Voss's noir-ish L.A. scene drama Border Radio (1987), and the Patrick Swayze blockbuster Road House (1989). He had also been playing gigs on his own, and he signed a solo deal with Geffen Records, which had released his debut, Meet John Doe, in 1990. Doe butted heads with the album's producer during the recording sessions, and when it failed to sell to Geffen's expectations, Doe was dropped. As it happened, Nirvana's breakthrough with Nevermind in 1991 led to plenty of major labels taking a second look at many noted underground bands of the '80s, and Mercury Records signed a reunited X (with Gilkyson on guitar) for a new album, 1993's Hey Zeus! Rhino Records' Forward imprint stepped up to bring out Doe's next solo project, 1995's more rock-oriented Kissingsohard, which appeared the same year as Unclogged, a semi-acoustic live set from X. Not long after the release of Unclogged, X quietly broke up, though in 1998, to the surprise of many fans, the original X lineup of Doe, Cervenka, Zoom, and Bonebrake reunited for a handful of shows in Los Angeles. The reunion gigs were wildly successful, and X continued to tour periodically from then on, when the schedules of the members permitted. While acting kept Doe busy for much of the rest of the 1990s (his résumé included roles in Pure Country, Wyatt Earp, Georgia, Boogie Nights, and Brokedown Palace), he recorded an EP in 1998 for the indie Kill Rock Stars label, For the Rest of Us (it included a track Doe co-wrote with Dave Grohl, "This Loving Thing"), and he reissued it in an expanded, album-length version in 2006 as For the Best of Us. In the 2000s, Doe devoted more time to working as a solo recording artist, offering a casually personal sound on Freedom Is…, released by the SpinArt label in 2000. For 2002's Dim Stars, Bright Sky, issued by Artist Direct. Doe recorded his first acoustic album as a solo artist, though he brought in a number of guest stars to help, including Aimee Mann, Jakob Dylan, Juliana Hatfield, and Rhett Miller. Doe signed with the respected roots music label Yep Roc for 2005's Forever Hasn't Happened Yet, a low-key but forceful set with appearances from Dave Alvin, Neko Case, and Grant-Lee Phillips. Doe stayed with Yep Roc for his next two albums as well, 2007's A Year in the Wilderness and 2009's Country Club, where he was co-billed with Canadian roots band the Sadies. A new solo album, Keeper, recorded at the Way Station and New Monkey studios in Los Angeles and featuring guest appearances from Patty Griffin, Jill Sobule, Smokey Hormel, Don Was, and Howe Gelb, appeared in 2011. The album featured the rocking lead-off single "Never Enough." In 2012, Doe teamed up with his X harmony partner Cervenka for Singing and Playing, a low-key album featuring new songs as well as interpretations of favorites from the X catalog. In 2014 Yep Roc released The Best of John Doe This Far, a collection of highlights from his solo career. In the spring of 2016, Doe found himself looking back and looking forward; he released a new solo album, The Westerner, while also publishing a memoir. Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of LA Punk offered an inside look at the scene that produced X, with contributions from a number of his musical peers. A second autobiographical effort, More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk, appeared in bookstores in 2019. In 2020, X released their first album of new material since 1993 (and the first studio effort with Billy Zoom since 1985), Alphabetland, which was hailed as an exciting re-creation of the band's powerful original sound. Doe and Exene Cervenka were invited to sing vocals on the song "Destroying Angels," which appeared on the expanded edition of Garbage's 2021 album No Gods No Masters. Doe returned to his solo pursuits with 2022's Fables in a Foreign Land, an upbeat and stripped-down exercise in folk-rock that included an acoustic version of "Destroying Angels" with Shirley Manson and Exene Cervenka contributing backing vocals. It was Doe's first LP for Fat Possum Records, which had issued X's Alphabetland.
© Mark Deming & Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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