How my middle-aged buddy went from broke to joining his hero's punk band
Mike Hodsall was ready to give up on his rock star dreams. Then he heard D.O.A. was hiring.
This story was first published in January 2019.
The crowd at Doc Willoughby's, a bar in downtown Kelowna, B.C., scares me.
They range in age from university to pensionable and are whipped into a frenzy, bowling each other over like pins; it's closer to mixed martial arts than dancing.
I'm in the middle of it all trying to record sound for the CBC, worried about my recording gear. And teeth.
Taking centre stage is 62-year-old Canadian punk icon Joe Keithley, the leader and founder of D.O.A. Keithley and his rhythm section plow through 20 songs in the time it takes to wash your car.
"I'd say an eight out of 10 for energy," said Keithley with a chuckle after the show.
Eight out of 10? What does 10 look like?
It looks like another night at the office for Keithley (whose stage name, excuse the asterisk, is Joey Sh*thead) and D.O.A. The longest-running punk band in Canada and one of the oldest in the world, still working a circuit Keithely blazed 40 years ago.
But, I'm not here for Keithley. I'm at Doc Willoughby's for my buddy Mike Hodsall, D.O.A.'s new bass player.
'It chooses you'
I met Mike at a prenatal class 15 years ago and we bonded over our love of music.
"When I was about six or seven I remember kids in the neighbourhood had hockey sticks and wanted to go play hockey out on the street. I flipped my stick over to play air guitar," Mike told me. "That was a pretty good indication where I was going with this."
The only band that made Mike any money was his AC/DC cover band, which he treated like hard rock comedy. He played lead guitar, cow suit and all.
No matter — Mike loved every second of it.
"Every time I look at my amps, I get excited. I pick up a guitar; I get excited. It's in you. It courses through your veins," he said. You don't get a say in it. It chooses you, I guess."
But then, about five years ago, I began to worry about Mike. The AC/DC cow suit gig was growing tired. A cross-Canada acoustic tour he planned fell apart before it even started. His dream of touring the world was fading.
"It was at a very dark low point," said Mike. "I felt like giving up, and that was a first."
Mike Hodsall had a dream. It was stomped into the dirt.
That's where Joey Sh*thead comes in.
In 1977, Keithley was a bored kid from Burnaby, B.C., who dropped out of law school and formed a rock band.
Their first gig was a wake for logger killed by rogue log. They were fired after four songs.
The second was supposed to be a four-night stand in another logging town. The owner fired them after one.
Perhaps they should have learned to play their instruments first — perhaps not. This was 1978 and a new kind of racket was invading our shores, à la the Sex Pistols.
People always ask me 'What did you start out as?'. I say to fight war, racism, greed and sexism.Forty years later, what are we fighting? War, racism, greed and sexism.- Joe Keithley
Keithley formed D.O.A. with his buddies Randy Rampage and Chuck Biscuits (also not their real names, but printable).
"We went into a studio, recording four songs and mixed them in like six hours. Three weeks later, we had 500 singles," said Keithley.
One of those singles, the profanity-laden "Disco Sucks", became a minor sensation. It propelled Keithley into his life's work: spreading his message across the world, in any dingy club, squat or converted slaughterhouse that would have them.
Then those dingy clubs became big stages in front of tens of thousands of people.
"For 20 years I thought: 'Ah, so I'm a troublemaker'. Then I began to make a little money and thought, 'I'm a professional troublemaker'," Keithley remarked.
D.O.A.'s songs are loud, political and frenetic, but they resonate with legions of hardcore fans, many of whom are still with them today.
"People always ask me 'What did you start out as?'. I say to fight war, racism, greed and sexism. Forty years later, what are we fighting? War, racism, greed and sexism."
D.O.A. hasn't ever had a song on commercial radio or been nominated for a Juno. But Keithley kept going, churning through six guitar players, nine bass players 11 different drummers.
Getting the gig
D.O.A. was never in my record collection, but my buddy Mike revered them and had opened for the punk legends many times.
"I always looked up to Joe and D.O.A. because they were the band that took on the world," Mike said.
Just as Mike was about to give up on his dream, following his failed cross-country tour, D.O.A. had an opening. For a bass player.
Mike had never really played bass professionally. So he went to his basement and banged out every D.O.A. song he could — fast.
This landed him the gig as the band's ninth bass player. And, Mike cracked, "their fifth best."
"I was just trying not to grin so much because I was just so happy to be in there... looking over and seeing Joe Keithley, one of my heroes since I was a kid," beams Mike.
From punk rocker to politician
Like Mike, Joey Sh*thead also had a dream. But his was unusual for a punk rocker.
For half of his career, Keithley has been kicking at the door of B.C. politics, hoping to take his punk ideals to a new audience. He's run for provincial and municipal office six times, and this November he finally squeaked into the last seat on Burnaby city council.
"Taking action, kicking ass and trying to change things — the punk rock ideals are all there," said Keithley. "I think people know that and that's why I got voted in."
For Mike, Keithley's new career is a little more complicated. It means less touring and more city hall budget meetings.
"I'm very happy for him and I'm really happy for the people of Burnaby. It's unfortunate for me because I make a living playing in D.O.A.," he said. "That's going to affect my income quite a bit."
But Mike understands that for Joey Sh*thead, his political career is just as punk as the band.
"An incredible adventure"
At a different D.O.A. show in Portland, Oregon, the crowd is slightly more subdued than Kelowna. I'm not as scared for my equipment or my teeth.
I'm standing next to John Rourke, who's seen D.O.A. 10 times and is mouthing every word of the songs, which is remarkable considering they come at us with the ferocity of a jet engine.
"I am so happy he got elected to public office," said Rourke of Keithley. "Theoretically that's what punk is all about. If you're a true punker you should be wanting to make a change and advance things forward. Joe sings about it, lives it. He's a total inspiration to me."
As for Mike, he's relishing the time he has left on stage with a punk rock legend.
"It's been an incredible adventure. I've played in over 30 countries with D.O.A.," he said. "That's like winning the punk rock lottery. It's been an amazing experience."
To hear the full documentary, tap or click the Listen link at the top of this page.
Bob Keating is CBC's reporter in southeast B.C. and an admitted music 'geek'. He was never a real punk rock fan until producing this story for The Doc Project.
This documentary was co-produced with Acey Rowe, and edited with Veronica Simmonds.
- An earlier version of this story stated that Joe Keithley formed D.O.A. with Dimwit and Chuck Biscuits. In fact, the band was founded by Keithley, Chuck Biscuits and Randy Rampage.Jan 15, 2019 11:24 AM ET