Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Fear bassist Derf Scratch

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Fear bassist Derf Scratch

According to a post on the Anti- label blog (and as reported by Pitchfork), Derf Scratch, bassist for L.A. hardcore band Fear, died last Wednesday of as-yet-unknown causes. In a statement purportedly from his sister, Scratch is said to have died from "cirrhosis, kidney failure, and pneumonia after decades of alcohol and drug abuse" at the age of 59.


Scratch—real name Frederick Milner—founded the band in 1977 with singer Lee Ving, more or less abandoning his job as a realtor (where he worked with both of his parents) and sneaking off to practice while pretending to be out looking at properties. The group released the single “I Love Living In The City” later that year. A band so rough-and-tumble that it would openly goad its audiences into trying to fight them, Fear developed a reputation as one of the most hardcore acts in a city teeming with them—a reputation that was secured once director Penelope Spheeris documented one of their sets in The Decline Of Western Civilization, during which the group duked it out with the crowd before ever playing a song. Decline also featured a scene where Scratch immortalized the phrase, “Eat my fuck.”

As documented in Bob Woodward’s Wired, Scratch became good friends (and coke buddies) with John Belushi, who campaigned to have Fear play the now-legendary performance on Saturday Night Live that was broken up by a mosh pit featuring Belushi, Ian MacKaye, The Meatmen’s Tesco Vee, The Cro-mags’ John Joseph, and Negative Approach’s John Brannon, among others. That appearance also featured the group’s “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones,” on which Scratch played sax. (Anti- says he was “rumored to have possessed a masters degree in music.”) Shortly thereafter, Spheeris’ husband, Slash Records president Bob Biggs, gave the group its first recording deal.

Scratch left the band not along after the release of its debut, The Record, having been fired by the increasingly dictatorial Ving. According to an extensive interview conducted by Mark Prindle (which is well worth reading), it all came down to a clash of egos: Ving was jealous of the press Scratch was getting, a rivalry that came to a head during the filming of the movie American Pop, which featured a cameo from Fear near the end. Ving has stated before that he believed Scratch was a junkie who wasn’t pulling his own weight—though Scratch insists, “I wasn’t any more of a junkie than anybody else.”

Whatever the reason, the band never really recovered from Scratch’s departure, trying to fill his absence with a revolving cast of musicians that included Eric Feldman and Flea. (As of today, Ving remains the only original member of the band.) Meanwhile, Scratch rebounded by playing bass in Allan Arkush's Get Crazy, part of a supergroup that included The Doors' John Densmore and Kid Creole's Coati Mundi, and Malcolm McDowell as "Reggie Wanker."

Since then, Scratch played in various groups (including one with original Fear guitarist Philo Cramer called The Happy), though he reportedly sold his bass, the same one he used to make The Record, to Mike Watt—who, in an interesting side note, played it on The Minutemen’s What Makes A Man Start Fires?—in order to concentrate on guitar and sax. More recently, he had performed under the names Scratch, The Werewolfs, and Derf Scratch And Friends. Here he is performing in The Werewolfs (mistakenly attributed as "Werewolves").