I was blown away the first time I ever listened to him. Sometime in 1985, in Mrs. Johnson’s Algebra II class my friend Karl passed me a cassette containing a song called “Manic D.” by the Washington D.C. hardcore band, Beefeater. I was a heavy Hendrix fan, Karl knew it, and the cover by Beefeater piqued his interest in the original — so we swapped.
I got home, popped it into my Sony Walkman, donned my headphones and was skeptical. I was 15 and considered myself a purist about all things Jimi. Of course, the first thing I tuned into, looking for a reason to discount it, was the guitar player.
Any musician who understands song structure will tell you, that song is not an easy one to pull off. It’s got such a jagged and circular rhythm, lots of moving parts. And as I sat there listening, I fell in love with the guitar work of the legendary Fred FREAK Smith.
In a music genre and scene known for its eccentric personalities and raw, loud, and fast, emotive bands and personalities, FREAK made most of them seem like normal nine to five rat-racers.
“’Fred didn’t fit in the world,’ says Ian MacKaye, founder of Dischord Records, the label that released the music of Smith’s first and best-known band, Beefeater. ‘He lived the way he wanted to live.’
MacKaye’s earliest memories of Smith are of seeing him out at shows, where he was a distinctive figure, a ‘boisterous’ African-American man in a mostly white scene, with a look more commonly associated with heavy metal than with punk at the time — leather vests, motorcycle boots.
‘He was pretty striking-looking, even back then,’ says Beefeater lead singer Oman Emmet, who then went by the name Tomas Squip.” -NPR, 2017
Fred was murdered on a Tuesday night. It was August 8th, 2017 when his body was discovered behind some softball fields in Las Palmas Park in the San Fernando Valley. Despite cash rewards offered for information, and tireless investigative work by law enforcement, the case remains unsolved:
“Thanks in part to the efforts of L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who took an early interest in Smith’s death when she learned his backstory, there is still a $10,000 reward for any information leading to his killer. ‘He paved…