J Strickland entered the industry on the ground floor with a dollar and a dream. After a lot of hard work and networking, he found himself in a position to play a major part in one of skateboarding’s biggest productions. J took that experience and made an independent video that sparked a movement. And from that initial vision, he developed the blueprint for a brand that continues to thrive as one of the biggest and best. After a lot of twist and turns, J currently lives in relative obscurity in New York. Ironically, the next generation of skaters will probably not know who J Strickland is or the significance of his contribution.
48 Blocks: Let’s rewind to the Birdhouse days. How did you end up being the team manager over there?
J: Heath Kirchart and Steve Berra got me the job as TM. I had met them both while working at Tum Yeto being a warehouse mullet turned sales guy. Before Tum Yeto, my El Cajon homie Niko got me a job at KOLORZ. They silk-screened boards, did slick bottom transfers, and t-shirts for a lot of different companies at the time. I shot all the films, cut rubies, etc.
48 Blocks: Birdhouse’s The End was milestone in the progression of skate videos. What was your role in that?
J: I was only paid for Birdhouse TM duties at the time, but jumped right in on the opportunity to help with the making of a skate video of that caliber.
I was the liaison between most of the skaters, the suits, and Mouse. I did a lot of production work, like acquiring the porn stars, the mansion, the monkey, everything that went into those skits. Filming in a bullring for Tony was my idea. They were scared of poachers after the whole Danny Way jump out of the helicopter thing. Mouse got really busy with the gimmick side of the film. He gave me a Bolex. And I filmed a lot of the regular street footage of the ams like Willy and Reynolds, and some vert shit. The first 16 mm trick that I filmed was Reynolds’s frontside blunt kickflip out at San Marcos. I had no fucking idea what I was doing. Atiba hooked me up some tips. Working with that group of skaters at the time was amazing. I really liked working with Jeremy Klein at the time. He’s no joke when it comes to actually making things happen. It was also really fun just skating with Klein and Heath at like ledge spots fucking around.
48 Blocks: You started Baker with Andrew Reynolds because you guys wanted to do something that represented who you were. Around this time you were rolling with the Warner Ave crew. What was the initial influence behind Baker?
J: Well, before Warner Ave there was the Barrio, which was a shitty apartment in Huntington Beach. That’s a whole other story. We found a dope spot on Warner that Andrew and I paid for. Sumner, Boulala, and Grecs chilled. We would always have heads staying there. We had the dope big Jacuzzi. Then, pretty much kitty corner was Elissa, Ellington, Maldonado, Shane Heyl, Copalman, as well as numerous different heads from around the globe. Plus there was Rowley, Brad Hayes, and a grip of other homies who lived close and would always kick it. HB pretty much blows fun-wise. So everybody just did their own thing and stuck together. The whole thing was over sensationalized because there was nothing else like it at the time in skateboarding. Especially at the caliber of skating everybody was doing, as well as raging. Everybody was just having a good time living the skate lifestyle. But at the same time, all contributing to some of skateboarding’s best tricks to this day.
Andrew and I didn’t really discuss shit about actually starting a brand other than it would be awesome to not answer to anybody and hook up the best, rawest skaters with our own shit someday, somehow. Greco, Mike Sepe, and I were the ones who really brainstormed most of the ideas about a brand, like actual product and graphics. Greco definitely has a creative drive unlike most skaters. After the Birdhouse video, I felt I had proven that I was more than capable of doing my own video, and wanted to do my own shit to actually make money. Thus the Baker Bootleg video was born. Greco and Heath were really the only skaters involved in making their parts during the process of editing. Andrew definitely had his end covered as being one of the best skaters in the world. But when it came to the blueprint of the first two videos, or the development of the brand as far as logos and ads, he didn’t have any input except for finalizing his parts. Which I think he definitely has a good eye for.
48 Blocks: Give me one good story from back in the Pissdrunx days.
J: So many! Probably just seeing the beginnig and being part of the whole thing to the hapless demise of it being just another gimmick that 13-year-old kids can now buy at the mall. Seeing the “new” Pissdrunx think they’re so special and original is pretty entertaining though. That’d be a better movie than fucking Wussup Rockers.
48 Blocks: Baker Bootleg and Baker 2G both have a raw feel. Describe your style when it comes to making videos and what influences you.
J: Yeah I am definitely proud of all my videos for remaining cult status and the effect they’ve had on skaters. Not to mention the longevity of Baker’s image. They definitely weren’t overproduced. Baker Bootleg was made in this dude Jeff Cranford’s apartment in Burbank on an avid for $1000 and two plane tickets for Andrew and I to go to Stockholm for the world premiere so Boulala could peep it. He was barred from the states at that point.
Baker 2G was made in my room in Hollywood straight up all or nothing style. Some of the music is digitized from cassette tapes. I was laying out the ads, cover, rigging up the Key Club premiere, ounces and ounces of dro, Heinekens, the whole deal. Out skating and filming till four AM, Beagle entertainment for days, two unforgettable trips to Oz to film Dustin. No fucking suits involved in the process.
As for outside influence, I would have to say early hip-hop videos and 90’s underground graff videos that were just raw as fuck. As far as skate videos, I was super psyched on all the early videos that came out, Powell, NHS, Sick Boys, Savanahh Slamma, etc.
Then the next generation came, Mike T, Jake Rosenberg, Socrates, Ty Evans, Dan Wolfe, Dave Schlosbach, and Kirk Dianda. I was at the Plan B Questionable premiere at the La Paloma when I was younger. I just remember getting goose bumps watching that shit. The older heads were most of my favorites at the time. And then, there was fuckin’ Pat Duffy. I was hooked on wanting to be part of the skate-video magic. When it came time to make my own shit, I really didn’t care about the industry standard or what other heads were doing. I just wanted to make sure that it made an impact with the level of skating that I was filming and the raw street feel. I wanted it to be remembered in the sea of garbage skate videos.
48 Blocks: You started up your own deal with Bootleg skateboards after Baker had been going for a year or two. What sparked that decision?
J: Bootleg was actually conceived on the Baker summer tour in 2001. I realized that now that Baker was so popular that every crumb snatcher in the book was going to latch on and try to get some. Shit was ridiculous. There were more grown men Pissdrunx homies than Baker Ams on that trip. We even had to have Patrick O’dell drive his own car, sorry Pat! This was when he was known as the Osiris photographer, not Baker’s number one fan. We had one scrub that wasn’t on the team who was on crutches with a blown ankle taking up space in the van just so he could get free meals everyday. Shane Heyl was there just for fun along with Trainwreck. So we all shot around the idea of how dope it would be if there were a Chocolate type company for Baker. I thought it would be dope to have a company for all the shit heads and different skaters outside the PD thing and keep Baker just the best dudes. Plus, I thought it would be a good opportunity for Shane Heyl to do something besides leech off his friends, family, and girlfriend. He had a lot of great ideas and the mouth to hype it up. So I hooked it up for him to be the dude to run it. I got home, met up with some super dark dudes, and made it happen. Weird side note, Shane and I met with Bob Denike in Santa Cruz to officially start the company on Sept 11, 2001. Shane had a never-ending budget, and all he did was buy Grey Goose and use his mouth to hype shit up. Oh wait! He helped get one, repeat one, ad done. He also got paid more than all his pro friends.
48 Blocks: Baker was out of Blitz and Bootleg was out of NHS. You obviously had history with Blitz because of Birdhouse. What happened there?
J: There wasn’t a falling out at that point. There was friction due to the fact that I got raped on my videos under the guise that I should feel lucky that I worked for Tony Hawk. I had already been working outside of Blitz on my own with Baker 2G, freelance filming, and developing and executing all the Baker skateboards, as well as other creative shit with Mike Sepe as 2cents productions in semi secrecy. My whole blueprint was to try and keep Baker the main OG pros and turn the ams pro over a few years and have this tight unit. I figured the second company could be out of a different distributor to be able to absorb the real cost of supporting such a huge crew of skaters, their homies, and the new jack hanger ons that seem to still come by the loads when shit starts popping. It was also an opportunity to steer more clear of the whole tight pants rocker shit with more diverse skaters like Pete, Elissa, Scott Kane, Mosley, etc. Eventually, the plan was to have twice the video budget and twice the video distribution network to create a first in skateboarding, which was to be Baker Bootleg 3000 the video. Plus, part of the deal is I had the best advertising space in skateboarding (the back cover of Thrasher), which I could’ve used for the collab video. With NHS, I finally got to feel what it was like to be respected as an artist from the distribution company. NHS treated all the Bootleg skaters, Mike Sepe, and myself exceptionally well under the circumstances.
A lot of people doubted Baker from the beginning. Like, it was going to ruin Andrew’s career and be all my fault. Even Ellington had cold feet until the cash was flowing. That’s why he wasn’t in Baker 2G or part of the OG lineup. So when it came time to pull the trigger on a second brand, I knew the hassle it would be with Blitz. And also that Baker was so huge and I was just treated like a shitty outsider production artist with no stake in the company. Everything with NHS was upfront and not shady. So it pretty much confirmed my whole deal with Andrew and Blitz was pretty sketchy for how much I put into it creatively.
48 Blocks: For a while Baker and Bootleg seemed to be under the same roof. Then, there was a split where they separated.
J: First, let me just say Robin Fleming is NOT a skateboarder and never has been. I gave her the pass into the industry that she’s still riding off. Andrew was VERY hesitant. She was friends with Greco’s industry-insider girlfriend, who was a real problem at the time and always in our business. Not to mention helping perpetuate all those dudes’ drug problems. I was getting pretty bummed on Andrew. He hadn’t come through on his promises he made over and over about me owning a piece of the company. He also wasn’t backing me up at all with the way Blitz treated me as some fucking random employee.
As I mentioned before, the ball was rolling on my master plan. Sepe and I were very busy trying to create board graphics, etc. I was getting a two-year plan together to put together a video with both companies and both distributors. Shit was getting hectic. At the time, Andrew wasn’t really acting like a boss so to speak. There was lots of production work and opportunities to pursue. So I needed someone to jump in and know what’s up and handle shit. Then, after lots of resistance from Andrew and everybody pretty much, I hired Robin. She seemed to know enough from being around people in the industry. It was dope at first. She jumped right in and took the reigns on the day-to-day important shit like making sure ads got places, samples got to me and ok’d , dudes got checks, etc. I finally was getting to concentrate solely on creative / marketing shit, and not every single detail of running a skateboard company.
Then I hired a girl I knew from San Diego to work on making dope softgoods, especially to work with Greco on making some dope non-factory gear. Greco definitely had good ideas. Then, I got sideswiped by the Swedish freestyler with the whole fake Pissdrunx Greco rip-off Howe clothing thing, which he totally kept secret from me until he tried to get Greco to endorse their fucking shitty gear. So I was getting kind of heated seeing how sketch people can get. Also, around the time I had previously helped Ellington film his handboard invention and offered to have Swedish Freestyler help get him a deal with Tech Deck. The handboard deal went through and the Sweedish Freestyler tried to acquire a 10k finders fee from tech deck without my knowledge or even offering to buy me a beer for bringing something to him that I’m 99% positive he somehow has made dough off of. These were the type of things that were building up, and getting me very sketched out.
At the time, NHS opened my eyes to the fact that a distributor can treat the creatives and skaters proper. All the Bootleg dudes were paid more than Baker dudes. Shit, Shane Heyl was paid better than lots of pros. A certain little buster started getting salty. Dudes should’ve been salty at the suits at Blitz, not me and the Bootleg heads. Plus, I saw Andrew was pretty much not the homie I thought he was. I never got shit on paper after a year of getting paid a moderate production artist’s salary with no benefits, no company card, nothing. I had to make a big deal and demand to be paid what I was worth if I was to have no stake in a company. I just saw the bad side of skateboarding taking over because there was so much dough flowing.
48 Blocks: Bootleg had a strong team with Eldridge, Maldonado, and Elissa as pros and ams like Scott Kane, Nick Trepasso, and Ryan Nix. You guys came out with the Bootleg vid which got a good response. Then, all of a sudden, Bootleg went down. What happened with Bootleg and NHS?
J: The OG bootleg team was Trainwreck, Pete Eldridge, Elissa Steamer, Scott Kane, Anthony Mosley, Brian Michaud, and Ryan Thomas. Everything was tight. The trouble started when Wreck got down as a Pissdrunk since the rest of them were halfway to rehab.
As for Maldonado, I’ve always loved Mike for two main reasons, loyalty and respect. He got neither from Drew and Robin. So once dark mommy and Drew started shitting on Mike in order to make room for their new little cute kids to turn pro, I just looked out and hooked him up. It was a very bad move financially for Bootleg at the time. But fuck it, it was never my own money. His story deserves to be heard.
Nothing really happened with NHS. Bob Denike gave Bootleg the college try to turn a profit. One thing I respect Bob, Jeff, and everybody at NHS for is they respected my wishes to let me handle all the beef with Baker / Andrew. Meanwhile, people that worked for Blitz that actually don’t work there anymore were on a war path against me and Bootleg and talked mad shit to distributors, shops, etc. Saying that I was just trying to rip off Baker, so they fired me! That never happened, period. The funny thing is how everybody at Baker / Blitz loved when I talked shit in the fine print in Baker ads. But once it turned on them to basically just stop using all my art that I created that they did not pay me for, they got all butt hurt! Straight up, Bootleg lost out to Baker because of backstabbing shit. It was like fighting my own creation, which I knew was a losing battle obviously. The thing that’s lame is it hurt the riders on Bootleg the most like Elissa Steamer and Pete, who were supposedly friends with those dudes.
48 Blocks: Talk about the incident with Trainwreck’s footage for the Transworld video where Lee Dupont made you pay 10 G’s for the footage.
J: Ask Jaime about that one! I guess he wasn’t selling enough Zero logo boards and tees all those years and needed money for all that he spent on Wreck! I took it as they were just biting my style trying to get paid like I did with Heath’s footage which happened to be right before this. I would say the beef was more on Jaime and his camp about all the dudes leaving Zero. Dude had to blame somebody besides himself for those dudes leaving. His people—who shouldn’t have been in my business, period—were the ones talking the most shit. They were saying that I was this evil pied piper leading kids to their dooms, and ruining their skate careers. I found it amusing that dude was tripping so hard. I know where he comes from, and what the whole Zero deal is really about. NHS paid no problem once the particulars were sorted. The money was actually gonna go to Wreck anyway as a signing bonus. So in the end, they fucked Wreck over, not me personally.
48 Blocks: Are you sitting on any old footage that didn’t go to anything?
J: I have loads of unseen footage, double angles, and lots of never-used material. I’ll probably never put it out, skateboarding is hella soft these days. If I do anything, I want to do a skate-related raw ass movie about real skaters’ lives.
48 Blocks: After Bootleg you broke out to New York. What have you been up to out there for the past few years?
J: I’ve lived in NYC since 2003. Bootleg bit the dust in the end of 2004. I cruised around the country with my dog a few times, lived in Toronto for three months, stayed in Philly for a while at Getz’s crib, then moved to NYC. I love it out here. Fools aren’t fake as fuck like in LA. People are more genuine with respecting you or not. A huge plus is there is actual real culture out here. It’s super rad seeing so many East Coast legends around. I mean you can see Ryan Hickey, Chris Keefe, Jeff Pang, and Rodney Torres all in one day. There’s more to the world than just skateboarding, which skaters in NYC seem to understand. There’s a lot more 24-hour transit to anywhere and everywhere you would ever need to go, and completely different cities are so close.
48 Blocks: Do you have any plans to do anything in skateboarding again?
J: Skateboarding needs more bad guys like me at this point. So who knows? Holla if you wanna throw me a bag of money!
48 Blocks: Being that you helped create Baker—and it’s one of the biggest brands in the industry now—do you have any regrets about the way everything worked out?
J: My only regret really is thinking Andrew Reynolds was actually a real friend of mine. I really believed in the kid, and thought he appreciated all the work I put into the company. He could’ve at least been a man about the split. But instead ran to mommy, and hid letting some fucking kooks deal with it who didn’t put any blood, sweat, or tears into Baker. Considering that they tried to change the look with some half-ass shitty attempt then went back to my ad style, dropped pro models with my OG brand logo re-appropriated shamelessly, and now just a fucking “A” from my OG logo for one of skateboarding’s best-selling pros. Baker is MY look, MY creative direction (minus all the shitty board graphics they been dropping over the years). So in that regard, I’m proud of the fact that Baker is number one. And some of the kids on the team are dope. And I’m actually cool with a handful of them. No matter how many stairs Drew frontside flips, and acts like he’s a creative genius, it will not take away the FACT that Mike Sepe and I made that company’s look. Which is still going strong years later.
I saw Andrew in NYC. Instead of knocking his teeth back, I gave him a chance to make shit right. I was cool to dude. He was too busy to discuss shit as he had little mullets hanging on his coattail. I gave him my number. Dude never called. So, I guess I know where we stand. Dude needs to cough up some Baker money, or at least be a man and tell me face-to-face why he thinks it’s cool for him to run my look so hard, and copy my video style when he mad Baker 3, word up. I got a right to be hostile!
48 Blocks: Any last words that you want to say to the people reading this?
J: Fuck the police! Take it back to the streets! Thanks to all the unknown underground skaters out there keeping it real.