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The Penetrators don’t get too many requests for autographs these days.
But Travis Jackson wanted something else from the early Syracuse punk band, who in the late ’70s and ’80s made little noise outside of upstate New York (and whose 1981 video for “Shopping Bag” was rejected by MTV). A couple years ago, Jackson reached out to Penetrators frontman Jack Penetrator by Facebook, “and pretty much from the get-go he expressed an interest in rereleasing as much as he could of The Penetrators’ early vinyl,” Penetrator says. Through his label Windian Records, Jackson reissued two Penetrators 7-inches—-“Gotta Have Her” backed with “Baby, Dontcha Tell Me” and “Teenage Lifestyle” backed with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Face”—-and flew down the remaining two members of The Penetrators for their first gig in D.C., the headlining spot of a two-night Windian Records showcase at Montserrat House.
Jackson took care of dinner, accommodations, and the backing band—-himself on bass and two others on guitar and drums. Jack and Spike Penetrator were set to fly in that night. “I think perhaps Spike and I were potentially supposed to arrive a little bit earlier, I don’t know if someone’s flight was delayed,” Penetrator says. By the time they both arrived, “it was basically too late for us to rehearse….The next thing we know we’re at dinner, and next thing we know we’re watching the opening act.
“It’s a little tough coming in with a backup band that you had never rehearsed with,” Penetrator says, “but we gave it 110 percent, the show went great.” I was there; he’s not lying.
After the show, Jackson introduced The Penetrators to some fans who were even more enthusiastic than he was. “He had checked out a couple people who actually wanted autographs,” Penetrator says. “Who wants autographs of people over the hill? But he pointed them out. He said, ‘Jack, go over there.'”
As a curator and a musician, Jackson was responsible for some of the scuzziest party music D.C. ever heard. To hear artists like Penetrator tell it, he cared a whole lot—-and the shows he arranged and the vinyl he pressed were his way of showing it. Now they’re his legacy.
Jackson died on Wednesday, Jan. 15 in an accident on Suitland Parkway in Southeast D.C. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, he was working at a construction site when an eastbound BMW SUV collided with a parked truck that had a portable light trailer attached to it. Upon impact, the light trailer rotated and struck Jackson, who was standing next to the truck. Jackson was transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where he was pronounced dead. An Alexandria resident, he was 34.
Jackson’s group The Points didn’t sound much like anyone’s idea of a D.C. punk band—-they played rapid, Ramones-style anthems about girls and partying—-but they made the scene their own in a way few had. Beginning in the mid-2000s, The Points led the way for a miniature resurgence of garage rock in the District. As the band began to wind down in 2009—-it broke up a year later—-Jackson launched Windian, a label that became a home for many of The Points’ peers as well as a crucial source of reissues for lost punk bands. He “was an accomplished musician, ambitious businessman, loving husband and doting father, and he leaves behind a legacy that D.C. will hopefully remember for years to come,” wrote Eric Brady, who worked with Jackson on Windian, in a statement last week. “He loved booking shows for little-known artists, putting out records that he loved regardless of what anyone else thought, and Windian Records will continue that support going forward, in Travis’ honor.”
The Points’ core consisted of Jackson on drums and guitarist and singer George “Geo” White, but others did stints in the group, including keyboardist Rebecca Dye. The group quickly acquired a reputation for raucous shows and onstage antics. “The shows were very, very high energy,” says Stuart Gordon, who played theremin in The Points from 2005 to 2007. “Travis was practically a metronome on the drums, he would just keep going and going and going. The sets were 20 minutes, maybe 30. He would be spent by the end of the set, he just couldn’t keep going, with how we played.” You stood a good chance of getting splattered by White’s fake blood or Jackson’s beer. “Travis did a lot of spitting beer, throwing beer on the snare drum while he was playing, Gordon says. “He liked to have a good time. He definitely was living the party side of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, having a lot of fun doing it.”
The group’s anthem was “Rock ‘n’ Roll No Rules,” a rallying cry that was of a piece with Fight Club, the now-defunct underground skate park and punk venue located in a Shaw warehouse where The Points became the unofficial house band. According to Jen Kessler, a friend of Jackson’s who co-owned the space, Jackson and White “were very involved with any event that we had there, as far as contacting who they thought were up-and-coming local bands. [The bands] would be snubbed from the Black Cat cuz they didn’t know who they were, but they were an awesome band. That was one of the things about Fight Club that we liked. There was never an event there that [Travis] was not involved in.”
Through Fight Club, Jackson and White paid forward the generosity of Kessler and Dan Zeman, the space’s other owner, who had built a rehearsal and recording space for The Points in one of the other warehouses they had rented. “They had no money. I’ve bought him many packs of cigarettes,” Kessler says. “They just wanted to know if they could practice at our place…They were just Fredericksburg boys trying to hang out in the city, looking for a place to practice.”
With Windian, which Jackson formed to release some stray Points material, Jackson released music by the kind of noisy, hooky bands you’d expect to see on a bill with his own band, like Title Tracks, The Shirks, The Cheniers, Maybe Baby, and Richmond’s Ar-Kaics. “The Points were unbelievably supportive of a band I played in with Kerry Davis, Two Tears,” writes musician and studio engineer Nikhil Ranade. “We played shows and then Travis said he was gonna start a label. We all kinda wrote it off at first, but then we saw he was serious…He had the idea and went for it because he loved music so much and just wanted to people to hear all the awesome bands Travis played with and liked. Every time time I saw him he was working on the label. It was inspiring. Still is.” The label’s subspecialty was reissues of music by obscure punk groups. (A third seven-inch by The Penetrators, featuring “Shopping Bag” and “Everybody Needs Lovin’,” is listed as “out soon” on the Windian website.)
Windian stood for “White Indian,” and Jackson, who sometimes went by the nickname Beeronimo and claimed one-quarter Cherokee heritage, used Native American imagery to brand the label. But a poster for the 2012 Windian showcase featuring an intoxicated-looking Native American drawn in an underground-comix style was criticized on social media—-and by me, in a post on this blog. Jackson defended the image—-“I celebrate my heritage loudly, thru rock and roll music and art,” he wrote—-but he eventually changed the poster.
That didn’t stop the shows from being packed, of course, nor Windian from continuing to release great music. Musicians like Amanda Kleinman, of Heavy Breathing and The Apes, appreciated Jackson’s enthusiasm and curation. “This is how I remember Travis: He was an enthusiastic Apes fan for years, and I remember the kids from The Points, maybe from the earliest shows we played,” she writes. “In early 2013, he approached The Apes, and asked if we would get back together and record new songs for his Windian Records anniversary compilation. He said we were one of his favorite D.C. bands of all time. That was single-handedly the only reason we reunited. Because we wanted to make new songs for Travis.”
A FundRazr campaign to raise money for Jackson’s wife and 1-year-old son has collected more than $30,000 in the past week. His funeral took place yesterday, and Brady says a tribute show is in the works.
Ally Schweitzer contributed to this report. Photographs by Anthony Smallwood.