One of the longest-lived bands on the Washington, D.C., hardcore scene, Government Issue (or G.I. for short) carried the torch for traditional hardcore punk on their early records, but evolved into something more adventurous by adding bits of metal, new wave pop, and psychedelia.
Frontman John Stabb (born John Schroeder) guided the group through a legion of personnel shifts and several label changes, which made their nine-year lifespan all the more remarkable. Since their demise, G.I. has remained somewhat overlooked in relation to the rest of the D.C. hardcore bands of their time, in part because their music never really fit the proto-emo bent of much of the local Dischord stable. They did have a following in the straight-edge community, although Stabb's stance on drinking was more one of moderation than absolute purity.
Government Issue was born in 1981 out of the ashes of a group called the Stab, from which lead vocalist John Schroeder took what eventually became his stage name (he also went by John Stabb Schroeder on occasion). As the members of the Stab drifted apart, Stabb and drummer Marc Alberstadt hooked up with new guitarist John Barry and bassist Brian Gay, and changed the name of the band to Government Issue. By the end of the year, Gay had left to attend college, and was replaced by Minor Threat bassist Brian Baker, whose band was then on hiatus. Government Issue recorded their ten-song debut EP, Legless Bull, that year, releasing it on the Dischord label; they also appeared on Dischord's Flex Your Head compilation, an important early document of the D.C. scene. Baker soon replaced Barry on guitar, and Tom Lyle joined in late 1981 as the new bassist; when Baker rejoined Minor Threat in early 1982, Lyle took over his guitar spot.
Anxious to release another record, Government Issue left Dischord for the Fountain of Youth label and put out the Make an Effort EP in 1982; the Ian MacKaye-produced LP Boycott Stabb followed in 1983. Brian Baker returned to man the producer's chair for 1984's Joyride, which featured new bassist Mike Fellows; Fellows brought a temporary shot of energy to a revolving-door position that at various points in the past several years included Rob Moss and Michael Parker, among others. Fellows too moved on, however, and 1985's The Fun Just Never Ends also marked a temporary end to G.I.'s tenure with Fountain of Youth. Hoping for better marketing, the band switched over to Mystic and issued two more records that year, the EP Give Us Stabb or Give Us Death and the concert album Live on Mystic. However, they returned to Fountain of Youth for 1986's Government Issue, which featured ex-Minor Threat bassist Steve Hansgen and found Stabb moving in a more melodic, less traditional hardcore direction that drew from the goth-punk phase of the Damned. It also helped earn G.I. a larger-scale deal with Giant.
Longtime drummer Marc Alberstadt subsequently left the group, and Stabb and Lyle finally found a permanent rhythm section duo in bassist J. Robbins and drummer Peter Moffett. With a measure of stability, Government Issue's musical growth continued apace on 1987's You, their first album for Giant (which also reissued their Fountain of Youth catalog). Heralded as their most consistent and well-crafted LP to date, You was a necessarily oblique chronicle of Stabb's stormy and illicit relationship with an underage girl. Released in 1988, Crash was even better received, thanks to arguably the greatest musical variety of G.I.'s career. Despite reaching a peak, an increasingly weary Stabb decided to put an end to the band in 1989, having enjoyed a nine-year run. Lyle embarked on a solo career, releasing the album Sanctuary in 1992. Robbins founded and fronted the acclaimed Jawbox, while Moffett joined Wool; the two later played together in Burning Airlines after Jawbox's 1997 breakup. Stabb reverted to his given name of Schroeder and gigged with several D.C.-area bands throughout the '90s, including Betty Blue, and by 2000 was performing with a moodier post-punk group called the Factory Incident. Stabb later performed and recorded with the band History Repeated, releasing a digital EP in 2015. In February 2016, Stabb and his family announced that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer; the disease claimed his life on May 7, 2016. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi