The Guilty Bystanders, Punk Rock Band
Gary Mueller and John Vamossy
Special Guest: Joel Rash, Legendary Local Promoter
July 7, 2021
1983 was a pretty good year in the music world. Michael Jackson was riding high with the soon-to-be greatest selling album of all time, Thriller. Prince still had 1999 and Little Red Corvette rocking the airwaves. New Wave was riding high on the MTV play list with acts like Men At Work, Modern English, and Spandau Ballet. Rap was coming of age with songs like Apache, What People Do For Money, and acts like Kurtis Blow, breaking big. Rock & Roll was rocking hard with Def Leppard’s monster smash Photograph, and Quiet Riot urging everyone to Come on Feel the Noise, harkening a new era of heavy, heavy metal and hair bands to come.
But in Flint, something else was picking up steam—an organic home brew of punk that would take on a decidedly Vehicle City vibe. And leading the way was a group of guys called The Guilty Bystanders. The band’s members would ultimately include Steve and John Vamossy on bass and vocals respectively, Gary Mueller on guitar, Lee Conquest on bass, Shawn Wharton on drums and Steve Reddy on guitar. They would go on to legendary status and in the 80s, personified Punk music in Flint.
Punk was not new, or new to Flint in 1983, which had already ridden the wave started by The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and others. But in Flint—a flourishing petrie dish for rebellion, (indeed, it celebrated it)—it found a willing tribe of mavens and maniacs hardwired in their bones to play it, sing it, love it, live it, and most of all support it.
Doug Earp of Wyatt Earp Records, and Ben Hamper (yes that Ben Hamper of Rivethead fame) were selling the records and playing them too. Hamper’s Take No Prisoners radio show, blasted out of the bowels of Flint Central High School’s own radio station, WFBE, was offering punk bands a public forum and a megaphone to get it out. Earp was selling it, and a local impresario Joel Rash, was soon promoting it. The Guilty Bystanders were soon to be joined by other local bands like Political Silence to create moments for a genuine musical movement that would burnish the 80s reputation as one of innovation and barrier-breaking.
Walking in to the El Matador bar on Harrison Street in downtown Flint (formerly Uncle Bob’s Diner) patrons would be met by something a little more wild than the hotcakes and cup of Joe they were used to when the place was a sleepy downtown lunch counter. By June of ’83 it was catering to a decidedly younger crowd. The beers were 50 cents, ID and age verification were not a thing, and the music was often Punk, featuring slam dancing and a mosh pit.
From this scene the Guilty Bystanders stood at the vanguard, with Rash soon coming in as Flint’s own version of a Punk Barry Gordy (albeit decidedly paler and younger). From this well spring of creative energy a legendary status has emerged. Revered by fans of the genre to this day, both the music and the music makers are local icons. Not that they would have wanted that. Kind goes against the Punk ethos. But sometimes fate drives your future, and when you’re a legend you just have to go with it.
Guilty Bystanders Gary Mueller and John Vamossy are joined by Joel Rash to chat with Fish about the band, the scene, and their story. It’s a special piece of Flint’s estimable music history, and it’s right here on Fish and The Flint Chronicles.
Images courtesy of Joel Rash