The Original OC Punk/Surf Power Trio
Named after the chemical defoliant so chillingly used by the USA in the Vietnam War, Agent Orange were one of a number of bands formed in the highly active “So-Cal” hardcore scene of Fullerton, Orange County, comprised Mike Palm (vocals, guitar), Steve “Soto” Rodgers (bass) and Scott Miller (drums). However, Rodgers left early in their development to form another local punk attraction, the Adolescents. His replacement was James Levesque.
The band’s first important supporter was KROQ disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, who was fundamental to the promotion of many similar outfits. Their debut release, the Bloodstains EP, was the only one to feature Rodgers, and its title track was the first song the fledgling band wrote. Afterwards, they signed to prominent local label Posh Boy Records, run by Robbie Fields. The subsequent debut album showed the band rising above the usual three-chord bluster of hardcore with a melodic approach that recalled 60s surf instrumental bands (the Ventures being the most obvious influence). However, the band stormed out of the studio near to the album’s completion, complaining about being “produced’ and Fields’ behaviour in general, leaving engineer David Hines and Jay Lansford (of Simpletones, Stepmothers and Channel 3 fame) to finish off the recordings. The Bitchin’ Summer EP was one of the first skate/surf punk crossover items, with three energized surf guitar instrumentals establishing the band’s future direction. Various problems delayed the next release until the trio signed with Enigma Records for 1984”s When You Least Expect It … EP, which saw a conscious and largely unsuccessful attempt to accommodate a more disciplined, polished sound, a mistake compounded by a pointless cover version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love’. However, all the elements came together for 1986”s This Is The Voice – the overdriven guitar mesh now allied to first-rate songwriting and delivery. This time the cover of “Dangerman” was fine, but subordinate to the Agent Orange originals. Levesque had been replaced by Brent Liles (ex-Social Distortion) the previous year.
Agent Orange remained largely quiet during the early part of the 90s save for a live album. Palm returned in 1996 with two new members and a studio album, Virtually Indestructible. Their 2000 release was a mixture of new recordings and re-recordings.