Evil I: A History of Punk in Chicago’s Western Suburbs 40 Years in the Making

- Local Chaos

by Austin Paulson

The walls of Brauer House, a bar and venue in Lombard, IL, are plastered with old concert posters of legendary musicians of punk’s past. The names and images take up nearly every inch of the establishment and capture brief but explosive moments in time. The same can be said about Official Bootleg, a collection of songs recorded by a short-lived hardcore band, Evil I, that formed in Lombard during the early 1980s. The recordings predate many classic hardcore and metal albums of the era, but until 2021, they hadn’t received a proper release outside of a small number of cassette tapes. I recently met with two members of Evil I, guitarist Craig Gentle and drummer Craig Stulgin, at Brauer House to reflect on this now 40-year-old demo and early hardcore punk in Chicago’s western suburbs.

photo credit: John Wooten

The current widespread notoriety and success of punk in a technologically-inclined era overshadows the small word-of-mouth driven communities upon which the genre was founded. This isn’t the same scene taken for granted today, but a truly distinct form of music that required fans to know who to ask and where to look. Even in its infancy, hardcore punk began to flourish on opposite sides of the country, with bands like Black Flag and Germs on the west coast and Bad Brains and Minor Threat leading the charge in the nation’s capital. However, hardcore punk in the more conservative-minded Midwest posed to be a challenge with even smaller numbers and limited access to shows. With only so many venues, like the now defunct Exit and Space Place, a handful of bands were able to carve out a community for themselves. Fans in the Chicagoland area often had to rifle through publications like the Chicago Reader and Illinois Entertainer or gaze at telephone poles riddled with show fliers to stay up to date on local happenings. Even with the occasional house party or garage jams in the suburbs, young punks were still finding ways to get in front of people to make noise.

Like most bands, Evil I began with a couple of passionate, like-minded people coming together to make sense of their instruments. Gentle recalled meeting Stulgin early in high school during a Glenbard East hockey game. “I heard he played drums, and we started playing together at my house pretty soon after.” Stulgin, a self-taught hard rock drummer, remembers a lot of trial and error in the early days of the band, saying, “It was just a lot of jamming in the beginning. I was into a lot of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I had never heard of the Sex Pistols or the Misfits. I didn’t have a lot of punk beats to pull from either. To this day, I still love heavy music, but when punk came in, it was fast. I got the best of both worlds.” Soon they enlisted their classmate Mike Patocka to play bass during their jam sessions. Stulgin remembers those days fondly, recalling, “People would come hang out in the garage and it would become a show in itself at times, trading instruments with each other.”

Originally named Juvenile Delinquence, the band just needed the right singer to complete their sound. After trying out a few candidates, it was in Carol Hasegawa, a cellist who attended Columbia College for acting and music, where the band found their missing piece. “She put everyone else to shame,” Stulgin told me. “Carol was probably the only one of us who could actually read music,” Gentle adds, “and she became our vocalist.”

photo credit: John Wooten

Gentle describeed their first show, a local house party, as a successful performance for the band. However, without regular opportunities to play in the suburbs, Juvenile Delinquence were often forced to make trips to Chicago. “There wasn’t much of a scene out here at the time. It felt like we were downtown every weekend. Misfit’s had a night during the week where they featured new bands.” Gentle highlighted a show at the former Rogers Park club, saying, “PBS was filming a rockabilly thing for Soundstage and they all came over to the show. Imagine playing for Richie Cunningham. They all begged me to play ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, but I wasn’t having it. We only had like 11 songs and they turned off the lights during our set. We finished playing, they kicked on the jukebox, and everyone started dancing.” As a band from the suburbs, breaking into Chicago’s tight-knit punk community was difficult at times. Gentle noted, “We loved bands like Life Sentence and Articles of Faith, but we didn’t have a lot of contact with people in Chicago. It was pretty political back then.” “We weren’t guys with mohawks or pants tucked into our military boots, these look-at-me types,” Stulgin added. “We were just kids from the suburbs who play heavier than you.”

Not every show was an uphill battle as opportunities did arise for the band, including a show where Juvenile Delinquence opened for the Dead Kennedys at Club C.O.D. just a few blocks from Misfit’s. Gentle recalled, “I called them from my mom’s house and got a hold of their manager. They were about to leave for a tour with the Necros from Detroit, so I had to get a tape to them quickly. They listened to it during the tour and the manager contacted the local promoter.” Stulgin laughed, “I had a 102 fever that day and I almost didn’t do it. He just kept saying, ‘It’s the Dead Kennedys, you have to play!’ I was drenched in sweat after that show.”

After two years of writing and playing with Juvenile Delinquence, Patocka eventually parted ways with the band. As Gentle noted, “It was different when Mike left. He was with us early on, so we felt we should change the name.” After some brainstorming, the newly named Evil I brought in Dave Lyons to fill the vacant spot on bass. “It just made sense. Dave was always hanging out with us during the jam sessions in the garage and he already knew all the songs.”

During the winter of 1983, the group headed to the Blue Room, a basement studio in Elgin, to record a demo tape. Gentle remembered, “We were probably Evil I six months before we recorded the demo. I don’t remember how we found the place, but we were certainly pressed for time and paid a good bit in gas to get ourselves there.” For $300, the band had three hours to record their material. “I don’t remember much about that day other than we just seemed tighter than normal,” Stulgin said as he described that day. “We just really gelled and everything clicked.” With a handful of mics, the session was recorded mostly live into a four-track recorder. After the session, they emerged with a demo that was every bit fast, raw, and honest. “We had it all recorded and mixed that day. I left that basement with a tape in my hands,” Gentle added. The music they had written was tight yet chaotic, perfectly serving as the backdrop for lyrics that addressed everything from conformity to man’s best friend. “That’s just how we wrote, it was all sincere. It’s the stuff that makes people relate and feel a certain way that connects.”

“I had a double TEAC [Cassette Deck] that we would use to record, but it could also just record from one tape to another. I put tape after tape in there”, Gentle said as he described the band’s necessary DIY approach. “Carol and I bought sheets of stickers and wrote Evil I with magic markers. I remember we went to see Minor Threat and MDC at the Central American Social Club to hand out tapes at the show. Our car didn’t make it to the show, but we still did.”

photo credit: John Wooten

The tape was passed around at local shows, but unfortunately, Evil I didn’t last long after it was recorded. Gentle said, “Dave left a few months or so after to go to school and we just couldn’t lock down a bass player.” After Evil I, members played in other bands over the years while also starting families and pursuing careers. Craig Gentle played with electricity for ComEd for nearly 30 years and still actively plays guitar. Craig Stulgin helped operate his family’s owned tavern and worked for an electrical contractor for 24 years. Carol Hasegawa relocated from Chicago’s suburbs to Seattle. Dr. Dave Lyons is a professor for the school of Design and Informatics at Abertay University in Scotland, where he currently resides.

Decades after Evil I disbanded, Dr. Lyons rummaged through his garage where he stumbled upon the demo tape of his former band. He listened to the tape and decided to publish a portion of the recordings on his personal YouTube channel.

Barry Steppe, formerly of the Willow Spring’s punk band Negative Element, saw the video and forwarded the demo to Chris Gilbert, owner and operator of the Chicago label Alona’s Dream Records. Gilbert specializes in overlooked, archival releases and previously compiled a collection of unheard Negative Element demos and their Yes, We Have No Bananas EP on vinyl.

It wasn’t long before Gilbert reached out to Lyons and Hasegawa through social media to discuss a proper physical release of the demo through the label. Hasegawa was able to contact Gentle through his daughter to get the ball rolling. “It’s been a surreal experience,” Gentle affirmed. “We have not thought about this music for the past 30 years or so.” The two Craigs, who began jamming together in their early teens, reconnected after nearly 15 years apart through the opportunity to release their former band’s music.

As they near the 40th anniversary of that winter’s day in Elgin, Gentle and Stulgin reflect on songs they wrote together and coming up through hardcore punk in Chicagoland. Stulgin joked, “I don’t think we knew how good we were.” Gentle responded, “If someone can enjoy something that I did, that’s really cool. It was never about money or anything like that. I have no regrets about the way it came out. We are very humbled by this whole thing.” The release has received positive reviews from streaming services like Bandcamp and several publications, national and abroad. Official Bootleg is a timeless collection of songs that not only serve as documentation of early hardcore in Chicago’s western suburbs, but a record that rivals current acts in hardcore and metal. The record is available now for digital purchase on the Alona’s Dream Records website.

Gentle and Stulgin joined Local Chaos on February 26th to discuss all things Evil I and play some of their favorites from the Chicagoland area and beyond.

photo credit: John Wooten
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