After the sudden death of D.C. rocker Vance Bockis was reported earlier this week, I contacted Rick Ballard, who grew up around D.C. and now runs the L.A. label Acetate Records, about writing a remembrance. Here’s what Ballard sent back:
When I last spoke to Vance Bockis a few short weeks ago he had an infectious optimism in his voice. He was excited about an upcoming gig in September with his band The Factory, excited to get back in the studio this fall for the first time in over two decades and couldn’t wait to share some of the new songs. He had me just as eager to hear the new material as he was to share it. We discussed a new release for The Factory in 2013 and what we could do to promote it. Vance and I were equally thrilled to bring new music from The Factory to the public.
A few days ago, I got an unexpected phone call from Scott Sartorious letting me know that Vance had passed away the night before. There is only one word to describe that moment. Devastated.
As a kid growing up in Northern Virginia, I would drive into D.C. to catch bands at the Bayou, DC Space, 9:30 Club, and the Roxy—-that’s where I first saw The Factory. They had the swagger of the Stones, the sneer of ’77 punk rock, and the slick cool of Motown, and while they were a tight and very musical band, it seemed they might crash and burn at any given moment. Frontman Vance Bockis was the headmaster, a snarling combination of James Brown, Stiv Bators, and Tom Waits. He poured his heart and soul into the songs that cat was cool.
In those days, The Factory were their own worst enemy. Drug addiction, bad timing, and blown opportunities… it’s all well documented. Their career was cut short, another casualty of excess, and they broke up in the early ‘90s. Fortunately, the story didn’t end there. Twenty-five years later, I was able to reconnect with the band and release their original 1985 recordings as a self-titled album on Acetate Records. This was a very proud moment for me personally, and for the label. In response to the release, the band started putting the pieces back together. The Factory began gigging, immediately booking high profile shows with Slickee Boys, Michael Monroe, and Kix to name a few. They were amassing a new generation of fans and had a full album’s worth of new material. It was inspiring to watch the band and Vance, now over four years clean and sober, get back to playing form. Even more inspiring was that sobriety had not seem to take that edge off of Vance, he was mad for living and as enthusiastic as ever about what the future held for the band. This is what makes the news of his untimely passing so heart-wrenching. He will be sorely missed but not soon forgotten. RIP Vance Bockis, thank you for all you gave and may you have a safe trip to the other side my friend.
Photo by Mike Ratel, courtesy of Acetate Records