One of the defining moments in professional skateboarder Mike Vallely's life came while he was a student in New Jersey in 1984. A group of new friends handed him a tape, introducing him to punk-rock music and a band that would change his life.
The first song he heard on that Black Flag tape was “Rise Above,” from the legendary punk band's debut album “Damaged,” which is widely considered one of the most influential punk records ever made.
While he was blown away by the song, at the time Vallely had no idea exactly how much the music would come to influence his life and what the song would signify during a dramatic moment on stage decades later.
Throughout his career as a professional skateboarder, Vallely was a musician as well, performing in several hard-core punk bands. Now he's ready to hit the road on tour with Black Flag. It's a trip he's taken before as the band's tour manager, but this time the Long Beach resident is taking on a much bigger role, as the band's new lead singer.
“I always say in 1984 I discovered punk-rock music, but I really discovered Black Flag,” Vallely said as he sat in the kitchen of his tidy hardwood-floored home in the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach shortly before the band's North American tour was set to start. “It was an amazing moment, a life-changing moment.”
“Mike is the perfect front man to capture what Black Flag was, is and will be,” said guitarist Greg Ginn. Ginn founded Black Flag and is the only original band member in the group.
Although Vallely has performed with Ginn before in other bands and on the Black Flag stage, this tour will be the first time fans will be able to see him performing as the official lead singer.
While it's a dream gig, it comes with a few challenges.
The band has gone through a handful of lead singers, with Ginn as the only constant musician in the lineup. That includes a failed reunion with a former lead singer.
“(Mike) has a huge challenge up ahead. The previous incarnation of the band with the last singer didn't pan out and I think a lot of fans feel like the Black Flag name has been dragged through the dirt, a little tarnished,” said Brandon Geist, editor in chief of Revolver Magazine, which covers rock and heavy metal.
“He has to prove he can front that band and brush some of the mud off the Black Flag name and return that shine to that band. But if anyone can do it I think he can because he loves Black Flag, there's no bull---- to this, this guy just loves this band.”
Black Flag was formed in Hermosa Beach in 1976 by Ginn with lead singer Keith Morris, Raymond Pettibon on bass and David Horvitz on drums. Since then there has been five lead singers, including Henry Rollins, who joined at the age of 20 in 1981 and is considered by many to be the band's most memorable front man.
Vallely first saw the band perform with Rollins in Trenton, N.J., in 1984. It was the 14-year-old's first concert ever.
“The music was like a door opening, hearing it was a door opening for me,” said Vallely. “Seeing the band was sort of the over-the-rainbow moment where it goes from black-and-white to full-blown color.”
After seeing the show, Vallely, now a father of two, went on to join his first band.
While his skateboarding career took off he continued to perform with several bands, including Mike V and the Rats, which opened for Ginn for a few shows as the guitarist prepared for a benefit concert that would include a Black Flag reunion, the first since the band's breakup in the late 1980s.
It was during that opening-act gig that Vallely met Ginn. They remained friends after the tour and later joined up with a band called Good for You.
When Ginn decided to try to reunite Black Flag with Ron Reyes, another former lead singer, in 2013, Vallely decided to help out where he could, which would be as stage and tour manager for the band. It was during this tour that Vallely said things started falling apart between Ginn and Reyes, which led to a turbulent tour that all came crashing down during a show in Australia.
During the song “Down in the Dirt,” at a moment when Reyes would launch into a rehearsed rant, Vallely and Ginn felt Reyes was instead about to launch into a public attack of the band. So Vallely said Ginn stopped playing while he walked onstage, grabbed the microphone, pulled the plug and told Reyes to leave the stage.
With the audience still there expecting a show, and not sure what had just happened, Vallely plugged the microphone back in, invited a couple of singers from other bands who had been on the bill that night to sing with him and then launched into the song “Rise Above,” the first Black Flag song he heard at the age of 14.
“I just turned around and the most obvious song to me was ‘Rise Above,' we're going to rise above this bull----,” he said.
The event led to various news reports about the Black Flag lead singer being fired onstage midshow.
There was a lot leading up to that moment, Vallely said, but it wasn't a planned takeover of the job on his part.
“No matter what I say, the story and the way it's always going to be viewed is that I stepped onstage, kicked him off and became the new singer, so I might as well just own that,” he said. “In a way, in that moment, that's when Black Flag became Black Flag again.”
When: 7 p.m. May 21.
Where: House of Blues Anaheim, 1530 Disneyland Drive.
Information: 714-778-2383, blackflagofficial.com
When: 8 p.m. May 31.
Where: House of Blues Sunset Strip, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.
Information: 323-848-5100, blackflagofficial.com