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DC punk rocker John Stabb dies after cancer battle

John Stabb was featured in the 'Salad Days' documentary about the D.C. hardcore punk scene. (Photo by Jim Saah)

WASHINGTON – John Stabb, one of the original members and most charismatic fixtures in the Washington, D.C., punk rock scene, has died of stomach cancer.

Stabb, whose real name was John Dukes Schroeder, died after a 112-day battle with cancer, according to his wife Mina Devadas. He was 54.

Government Issue, with Stabb as its singer, formed in 1980, and was one of the first hardcore punk bands to release a record – “Legless Bull” – on upstart Dischord Records.

Stabb, known for his flamboyant stage outfits, was at sartorial odds with other early D.C. bands, which were often dressed in leather jackets and ripped jeans.

Stabb had a look and stage persona that he often described as “The Clown Prince of Punk.”

“We started out doing the hardcore thing…and people thought we were this super hardcore band that was angry and frustrated with the world, but we always had a sense of humor, compared to SOA with Henry (Rollins) and Ian (MacKaye of Minor Threat,)” Stabb told The Vinyl District . “They were really, really angry bands – and we wanted to mix the anger with humor.”

Danny Ingram – a longtime friend and bandmate – said he was impressed by Stabb’s dedication to the D.C. music scene.

“None were more hard-working nor entertaining as John. Over the last 36 years, lots of us have taken breaks for family, for jobs or simply just to take a break,” said Ingram. “John never quit.”

“My first recollection of him was hearing him sing a very fast and very short version of ‘Stepping Stone’ at Unheard Music Festival,” in 1980, said Skip Groff, owner of Yesterday & Today Records, in Rockville, Maryland.

Stabb was a frequent customer at Groff’s store, which in the 1980s was staffed by many performers in D.C.’s scene.

“He was enigmatic and quirky,” Groff said, about Stabb’s stage presence.

Another record store owner, Bobby Polsky of Smash!, on M Street in Georgetown, said Stabb was always friendly.

“He would bring GI records and t-shirts by and would ask about new bands,” Polsky said. “He was always interested in local bands.”

Stabb, who has recently been performing with History Repeated, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in February.

Friend Kevin Young started a GoFundMe page – “John Stabb ‘Boycott’ Cancer Fund” – which has raised more than $50,000 in two months.

Ingram said Stabb was aware his cancer was terminal.

“They moved him to a hospice Sunday, and he said his goodbyes to me on Tuesday,” Ingram said. “I knew this was gonna happen. And I prepared myself for it. But it’s still a shock.”

A previously scheduled Sunday night benefit show for Stabb at Black Cat will go on, said Devadas in a Facebook post.

“I believe that John timed his passing as his gift to us all, a chance to be together to comfort, connect, and love on each other big time,” said Devadas, who has regularly updated concerned friends and fans of her husband’s fight for his life. “His last words were, ‘I love you.’ I know he meant it to be for us all. We love you.”

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