Founding Antiseen guitarist Joe Young died Wednesday morning of a heart attack outside his southwest Charlotte home at age 54. Young and the band, which has an international following and tours internationally, celebrated its 30th anniversary in October.
Young had complained to his bandmates recently of having chest pains while performing on stage, but his death came as a shock to friends and fans. The group had just returned from shows in the Northeast and played Tremont Music Hall as recently as late April with its new drummer.
Although he grew up in Lenoir and ran Lenoir’s Repo Depot record store for 10 years with his younger brother, Jeff, Young was a fixture in the Charlotte music scene. He worked at The Milestone Club (where he met Antiseen singer Jeff Clayton at a show featuring Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols), at Repo Records on South Boulevard, and most recently at Repo’s recently reopened store on Commonwealth Avenue.
“I put up an ad for a typist for a fanzine I was doing called ‘The New Breed,’ ” Clayton says, recalling his first interactions with Young. “He came by my apartment and said he’d be happy to type for us. I had this vision for this band where we had two guitars kind of like the Cramps. Joe may have been the first one I asked.”
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Young accepted without actually knowing how to play guitar.
“He ... had me give him a quick lesson, and he bought a guitar and amp,” says Jeff Young, who lived with his older brother for all but six of his 51 years.
“I think the very first one we ever wrote together … Joe just started stealing a riff Jeff had written,” Clayton says with a laugh.
The Young brothers grew up listening to family in Lenoir play bluegrass music. Jeff Young says his brother was an athletic kid who played baseball and basketball and, as a teenager, sometimes preferred to watch sports over taking out the car on a Saturday night. His first concert was the Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Doobie Brothers, and Nate Romberg in Clemson. Joe later took Jeff to see Seals & Crofts at Carowinds for $2 a ticket.
Joe Young discovered the Ramones, the Clash and the Sex Pistols while working at a record store after graduating from high school. It wasn’t long after that he moved to Charlotte and started the band.
Antiseen became a notorious and sometimes controversial voice in Southern punk rock. The shows were wild and bloody, and Young’s signature buzzing chainsaw guitar was as much of a fixture as Clayton’s rugged growl and larger-than-life persona. The band toured Europe and the U.S., opened for its heroes, the Ramones, recorded with GG Allin, released a large catalog, threw legendary anniversary concerts and was the subject of a tribute record featuring artists such as Hank Williams III, Chaos UK, Blowfly and Zeke covering its songs. The band’s history was chronicled in a 2003 book.
In 2000, Joe Young ran for the N.C. House as a Libertarian and in 2001 ran for the Lenoir City Council.
“A lot of people don’t realize he (initially) won for City Council and they had to do a recount,” Clayton says. “All of a sudden, the candidate that had been in that position for years won.”
Joe and Jeff Young returned to Charlotte in 2013 after closing their Lenoir store and helped Jimmy Repo reopen his Repo Records here.
“The night before he passed away, he and I were talking about it being almost a year since we’d moved,” Jeff Young says. “He said he didn’t miss Lenoir at all, and one of the best things he’d done was move back to Charlotte.”
Antiseen’s immediate shows have been canceled. Clayton is uncertain what the future holds for the band.
A memorial service will be held at Tremont Music Hall at 3 p.m. May 18. He is survived by his brother, wife, Anitra, uncles and aunts in Lenoir, and his bandmates.