Word has spread across the Internet these past days about the death of Larissa Strickland, former guitarist for local legends the Laughing Hyenas and vocalist for L-Seven, an area post-punk group that released a single, shining 7-inch EP in 1982. The Hyenas (1985-1995) don't get enough credit, locally or nationally. They did four albums on Touch and Go, and their sound was a shriek and a scowl, murderous ballads and blues music driven mad by punk rock, and Strickland's guitar work was as integral to the Hyenas' end product as ex-Negative Approach frontman John Brannon's unhinged vocals. How she died isn't yet clear, but according to an obituary that appeared Nov. 7 in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Strickland, 46, passed away Oct. 9 at home in North Port, Fla., and she is survived by a husband, sister and brother. Friends from the Hyenas era and before describe how they lost touch with her in the years after the Hyenas' breakup; some fear her history of heroin abuse may have contributed to her death. "She was one of the smartest, funniest people I've ever known and it's sad to say goodbye," L-Seven guitarist Dave Rice says. "But she always loved the spooky and the unknown, so maybe bon voyage works just as well."
We asked a few of Strickland's close friends and admirers for their thoughts on her legacy as both a person and a musician.
Easy Action; vocalist, Laughing Hyenas
I feel terrible about this. I lost a true friend, my first love, my partner in crime. I owe so much to this girl; she's the reason I am who I am today. She was a true artist, an amazing guitar player and definitely a one-of-a-kind person.
I don't think anyone who ever met Larissa or saw her play guitar could ever forget her. She was such a big part of my life we fought the war together, and it was an amazing journey.
I will always love you, Larissa.
Bassist, Laughing Hyenas
I heard the news just a few days ago, and it made me sad. Although I had not been in touch with Larissa for some time, I knew that, as in the past, our paths would cross and we would once again pick up where we had left off. We lived together for many years, and Larissa taught me a great deal. [Both adopted the name Strickland while with the group.] She taught me about music and music history; most of all, she taught me about being an artist.
She was passion.
Fire fueled her in everything she did, from the journals she kept to the art and the music. But nothing trumped her guitar as a way to extend that passion to others. The first festival we played in Germany was huge. The crowd went nuts at the end of our set, but not so much for the band; they went crazy for Larissa. When the hum of her guitar stopped the crowd was bellowing "The blond Jimi Hendrix!" and all of us were excited. Backstage I said "Larissa, that was so good." She slumped down in a chair with a sigh and a smile. "Oh, you noticed.'"
Parliament cigarettes, charcoal sketches and sharing beans on toast with John. Once, Larissa literally talked me out of jail, like she just waved a magic wand.
When Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth, one of his things, besides having been in the Crucifucks and played at the Freezer in Cass Corridor with Negative Approach, Violent Apathy et al., was that he was really into L-Seven and thought they were the best band in Detroit. He also thought Larissa was amazing. L-Seven broke up before SY got to play with them, but Larissa and John came to see us play at the Blind Pig, and I thought I was gonna have a heart attack.
She was beautiful and ethereal, and, of course, Brannon was mythic in my mind as the singer of NA. (I never got to see Negative Approach Kim did, though, when the Process of Elimination tour came through NYC. I was out on tour with Glen Branca; I have nightmares to this day about missing that fucking tour.) Anyway, the next time Sonic Youth hit Detroit, we played with Brannon and Larissa's new band the Laughing Hyenas. I don't remember too much of them, except it was a howling reverb chamber of a room, but I do remember playing our gig, which was weird and damaged, and afterward Brannon asking me to hop into his van to go to the liquor store. I didn't even know the dude and was freaked, but we just bullshitted about Alice Cooper the whole way. It was intense. Sonic Youth then asked the Hyenas to tour with us their first LP was out and we did a run across the USA with them and Die Kreuzen. Fucking maniacal. And every night we got to witness Larissa just killing on guitar. Equal measures Roland S. Howard and some kind of amalgamation of Midwest Killdozer-style slice and shred and Ace Frehley rock 'n' roll righteousness. I remember Lee coming backstage after the third or fourth show and saying "Yeah, Larissa is the real deal." We lost touch, would see those guys once in a while, but shit was getting in their way from time to time obviously. The last time I saw Larissa was when she e-mailed and said she wanted to come and see us open for the Stooges in Michigan (a show that was eventually canceled due to the Blackout), and she did I hung out with her in the parking lot and she was very cool, very amped and apologizing for maybe being kinda crazy in the past. "No apologies needed," I said, "'cus you are the greatest." Was her musicality, her guitar playing, an influence? As much if not more than anybody at that time. Everybody on the scene knew Larissa Strickland was the best.
Larissa was a true original and I’m sorry to see her go. Her whereabouts over the last few years had been a subject of much conjecture among some of us, and I was relieved to hear from a mutual friend that he had run into her not too long ago, and that she seemed to be OK. I was hoping to catch up with her, but there you go. I met Larissa in 1980 and knew right away she was the real thing. One of my first memories of her is of us heckling the 1980 GOP conventioneers from the window of my flat on Jefferson Avenue. We played together in L-Seven for around three years. She was totally fucking punk, but made us listen to Michael Jackson and Rick James records, and could blow the shit out of a Yardbirds or Alice Cooper cover too. To this day I am blown away by her guitar work with the Hyenas. She was just starting to plunk around on guitar with John Brannon when L-Seven broke up, and then two years later she was frigging godhead. Incredible. She was one of the smartest, funniest people I’ve ever known and it’s sad to say goodbye, but she always loved the spooky and the unknown, so maybe bon voyage works just as well.
I met Larissa when I was 17, after the Laughing Hyenas had already made in impact on my life. I was still living in Marquette, and had somehow wrangled the university to pay for the Hyenas to come all the way up and play in our desolate town. I was also able to arrange for my band, Bernadette, to provide support on the bill. I had looked forward to this night for months.
The effects of the Hyenas’ performance that night can still be felt in Marquette. I was beside myself. I’d just played with my favorite band, and they’d almost incited a riot. After the show, we all went out for pizza. At dinner I sat across from Larissa. She terrified me, she excited me. I told her how honored I was to be able to play with she and the Hyenas. I told her she was my favorite guitarist. I gushed like a 17-year-old fan-boy. Larissa smiled. Her eyes were so innocent, so guilty. She told me, "Thank you, that’s the nicest thing I could hear. But you were wonderful too, Michael." She kissed my cheek and I moved to Ann Arbor; we lived together for a while and became good friends. It’s been quite some time since I've seen her and I’ve missed her. I miss her a lot more now. Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]