Artist Spotlight: Jourgensen / Barker / Connelly / Rieflin (or; The Ministry Industrial Complex) [Part 1 of 10]

I know, you’re thinking, “Ten parts?! What in the actual fuck?”

But it’s over fifteen “bands”, and over 70 musicians (and three Hollywood directors).

This was a huge undertaking, but before reading please know these three things:

1.) Al Jourgensen is not a reliable narrator. There’s only one other person on Earth with the power to absolutely fling bullshit with such reckless abandon, and he ascended to the highest office of the land. If Jourgensen were a little more right leaning, he’d have been hired as Press Secretary.

2.) Jourgensen has made enemies with practically every person he’s ever met, with 5 known exceptions. Beat Poet William S. Burroughs (1914-1997), LSD Guru Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996), Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra (they did have a falling out, but have since reconciled), Skinny Puppy’s Ogre (see Jello Biafra), and Rigor Mortis/Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia (RIP, 1983-2012). So, I’m going to try to keep his shit talking to a minimum (who am I kidding?).

3.) This is not at all comprehensive. This is a tangled mess on par with last year’s Christmas lights… only worse. So, I’m going to stick mainly to Jourgensen, Barker, Connelly, and Rieflin.

That being said, read on!

Even Uncle Al Came From Somewhere

Al Jourgensen was born Alejandro Casas in Havana, Cuba in October of 1958. When Fidel Castro’s regime took over, his family fled to the United States. In 1964, his mother married a stock car driver and mechanic, and both her and Al took his surname. Jourgensen went to college at University of Colorado, University of Northern Colorado, and eventually University of Illinois at Chicago. After College, he worked as a radio DJ before deciding to pursue a career as a professional musician.

Special Affect

Jourgensen joined up with Special Affect. The band had already released one EP, and then their guitarist quit, and Jourgensen was his replacement. The band featured Frankie Nardiello (My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult) on vocals, drummer Harry Rushakoff (Concrete Blonde), and bassist Marty Swanson (who went on to tour with Alice Cooper). The band released one album, Too Much Soft Living, which was advertised as a soundtrack to the movie with the same name, except that the movie didn’t exist. Nardiello would use this same joke with the first Thrill Kill Kult album.

After Special Affect, Jourgensen decided to focus more on production, but was still fooling around with making music. Wax Trax!’s Jim Nash and Danny Flesher hired Jourgensen to play guitar in Divine’s live band, but that didn’t last. Instead, Jourgensen used a reel to reel and a drum machine to record a post-punk song that was called “I’m Falling” (which would see release on 2004’s compilation Early Trax and again on the 2014 remix/remaster of Twelve Inch Singles). Nash and Flesher went wild, and wanted to put out a record by this new project he was calling Ministry.

Jourgensen began assembling a band. He enlisted John Davis and Robert Roberts as keyboardists, and drummer Stephen George. Roberts was a multi-instrumentalist, and Davis was a friend who was not a musician, Jourgensen said, “get a keyboard and see what happens”. They auditioned several vocalists, but not fit the bill, so Jourgensen decided to do it himself.

Jourgensen threw together “Cold Life”, and Wax Trax! wanted to release it as their third single. Much to everyone’s surprise, the song charted at number 45 on the US dance charts in 1981. European label Situation Two put out the single in 1982. The group went there to do press for the single, and when they returned, they were presented with an offer from Arista Records.

The Blackouts

Meanwhile, Seattle’s The Blackouts were playing post-punk and touring the United States. The band was comprised of singer/guitarist Erich Werner, bassist Mike Davidson, drummer Bill Rieflin, and Roland Barker on synths and saxophone. After an EP and a single, Davidson left, and was replaced by Roland’s younger brother Paul Barker.

After The Blackouts recorded a single for European label Situation Two in 1982, they moved to Boston. Their manager, Patty Marsh would soon be involved romantically with Jourgensen. Jourgensen would eventually be called upon to produce their EP Lost Souls Club. The band would move to San Francisco, but soon they would break up, and their last EP would be released in 1985 on Wax Trax! Records.

With Sympathy (1983)

Arista Records promised to make Ministry the next Joy Division, and the band moved to Boston to record their debut for the label.  However, Jourgensen was not pleased with how the album had come out, and he was swearing to not promote it.  He sang on the album in faux-British accent, the reason he stated was because his girlfriend at the time was really into the early post-punk out of England. He didn’t explicitly say it was her idea, but he did imply heavily that it was. The band ended up doing about 30 shows. Jourgensen claims that the album was songs that other people wrote, but he is the credited writer on every song of the album. Roberts said that the songs were the songs they’d been playing live, but the record did not accurately capture the band’s sound. Jourgensen has been very vocal about hating the album, so much that when people have brought it to him for signatures, he had destroyed them, literally shit on them, and in the case of CDs he would sign the playable side of the disc. He did joke that he would sign a copy for $1,000, and wouldn’t you know, someone called his bluff. To his credit, he did donate the $1,000 to charity.

For what it’s worth, I think the album is at least half good. It’s not what they are known for, it’s straight up new wave, which is how they opened for Depeche Mode, Culture Club, and A Flock of Seagulls during this time.

After being on Arista and making no money, this version of the band went their separate ways. Al and Patty went back to Chicago, where Al was given a job at the Wax Trax! record store to keep them afloat. Stephen George went on to produce and engineer many top acts, perhaps most notably, R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”.

Assorted Singles (1985)

In between working on new Ministry music, Jourgensen supplemented his record store income by writing jingles for Shasta Cola and Huffy Bicycles.

Ministry put together a few singles for Wax Trax!, All Day b/w Everyday (Is Halloween) and “Nature of Love”. These were songs that Jourgensen had for a while, but Arista was not interested. Both singles became respectable club hits.  Jourgensen, of course, says that he hates “Halloween”, but he’s spent the last few year re-recording metal versions and performing acoustic versions in concert. You can still find radio stations playing it on, you guessed it, Christmas.

Prior to this, Wax Trax! had brought their new signees, Front 242, over from Belgium to open for Ministry. Richard 23 and Jourgensen had hit it off, and decided to do a “dub project” together. Richard 23 had brought his friend along, Luc Van Acker, who had done some session guitar-work for post-punk band Shriekback, and also his passport at the time read “Belgian Megastar” as his occupation (he also had a solo album out on Wax Trax! by this time).

While touring with Front 242, Ministry was touring on their new, aggressive, darker sound. Sire records (subsidiary of Warner Bros.) was trying to get close to Jourgensen to sign the band. After about eight attempts, the label was able to sign the band. Part of the conditions of the record deal was that Jourgensen would get a Fairlight sampler (the same one Faith No More’s Chuck Mosley ruined when he spilled beer on it), which cost $50,000 ($124,687.68 in 2020 money). The sampler actually came with a bottle of champagne. The problem was, that after programming the first screen, they couldn’t figure out how to advance to the next screen. As a result, they just looped what they had, and the Fairlight accidentally contributed to the repetitive drone style of the first single (and later album).

There’s a couple of different stories of how the group came to be called Revolting Cocks, but they all involving inebriation. Either a bartender, after suffering abuse from the crew, threw them out calling them Revolting Cocks. Or, Richard 23 was teaching Jourgensen French, and Richard 23 taught him to call the bartender a revolting cock… and then they were thrown out.

After the 1984 Ministry singles, Wax Trax! released Revolting Cocks’ “No Devotion” single, with the B-sides “Attack Ships…” and “…On Fire”.


Meanwhile, In Scotland, six enterprising young men, led by vocalist Chris Connelly, started their own post-punk group in 1984. Naming themselves Finitribe, they began in 1984, and self-released their first EP that same year. They performed their first John Peel Session in 1985, and evolved into a more danceable and more electronic version of the band.

Next week: more faux English accents and more side projects!