There are few brands within the skate industry that have a more notorious and convoluted allure than World Industries. Almost two decades since its heyday, the brand that pretty much invented and embodied skateboarding’s tightrope walk between childish shenanigans and cutthroat business practices, birthed Wet Willy and Flameboy, started Big Brother magazine, and seeded Jackass, remains as interesting and elusive as ever. That’s why anytime we get a chance to talk to someone involved in Rodney and Rocco’s World we jump at the opportunity to learn a bit about how such a seemingly shitshow of an organization could be so successful.
So we tracked down JD, the guy who used to work reception at the old World Industries office back in the early-90s to see what insight he could give us. Turns out it was just as chaotic there as you’d always imagined it’d be, but don’t take it from us, just check out what JD remembers about those hazy days when he’d have to answer the phones and explain why World boards were such shit.
As far as your role at World Industries, what was your job title?
My job title was basically “Answer the Phones Guy” [laughs]. We worked in a little office park in Torrance, California and it was a 2 story office. I was on the first floor with a little desk by the front door, so anyone who came through the front, I was the first person they’d see. Rocco and Rodney and the art department had their spaces upstairs. The warehouse lobby and my desk were the only things downstairs. I guess you could call it customer service.
I answered phones, weeded through sponsor me tapes… but the answering the phone part became a real drag because at the time, although we were selling a lot of boards, the boards were not high quality. So I had phone call after phone call from irate mothers screaming, “I just bought this deck for my child and I spent $85 and they rode it one time and now it snapped in half! We want a replacement!” And I had to be like, “Well, you’re not going to be getting a replacement,” because the general line within the company was “Your kid needs to learn how to skate better.” So there was a lot of answering phone calls from angry kids and parents like, “Fuck you, World sucks!” or, “Fuck you, Rocco sucks!” Just tons of that type of call that really got old very quickly. I felt like, “What am I doing?”
Were you prepared or had any idea what World Industries was all about?
When I first got there, although I didn’t know it immediately, they were having some fun with me. I remember the first week that I worked there, Rodney [Mullen] came down and he had this stack of papers saying he needs me to fill them out, and it was some sort of IRS tax form, and I remember being like, “I don’t know anything about filling out these forms,” but it was my first week there and I thought I had to do it, so I did what I could with it and brought it back up to his office. I remember when I gave it to him he was laughing and I could tell that it was all just a goof on me. I was being tested when I first got there, getting put through the ringer to see if I could hang.
I was from the South, so I had a thick accent and I had long hair at the time and didn’t look and act exactly like all the other people at World, so they were giving me the business there. But it didn’t take long before everyone welcomed me in. It was funny when I had the realization that all these guys were just fucking with me.
Rocco’s mindset was all about pushing buttons and what he could get away with. So he was like, “Let’s tweak this guy a bit and see if he can handle it,” and I was cool with it cause I’m not one of those guys that get offended really easily, so when I finally had the realization, I was more like, bring it, let’s see what you got. Gimme some more.
What was the work environment like over there?
I knew that it was a company that was sort of seen as pushing boundaries, but I had no idea what the actual work environment was going to be like once I got there. World was already generating a lot of energy and was a pretty big deal and it was relatively chaotic. There was a lot of manic creative energy flying around on a daily basis that made it seem like sometimes there was no real direction and a lot of stuff was just going on at all the times. You’ve got skaters coming in and out of the warehouse and Rocco and Rodney running up and down the stairs, Rocco yelling at Sal [Rocco’s brother] and Sal yelling back… It was a lot of that on a daily basis, but it was obvious that they were making a huge imprint on the industry.
Rocco could see that he could market his company in a way that if it appealed to a kid and seemed like something parents wouldn’t like, the kids would automatically be attracted to it. If this is going to piss my parents off, then I’m into it. Rocco, from a marketing stand point, he thought like a kid. That’s what his vision was, or at least how I saw it. He was able to put himself in the mind frame of a kid with the marketing and art, and that stuff sold itself. Kids see some of the graphics and they’re like, “Yeah, I want that!” It sold itself in a lot of ways.
Did Rocco treat you about as good as he did the riders?
We didn’t have any of those types of parties, we were basically just the office team. The shopping sprees and all that, that was all stuff that was saved for the riders. Crazy shit would go on. Hiring strippers for 14 and 15 year old skater’s birthday parties. I remember walking upstairs, and in one of the offices there’s like 25 skaters in there watching 2 chicks down on the floor banging. Like, woah! [laughs]
Ass to Ass?
Yeah. I just remember thinking… Somebody’s mom’s wouldn’t be too happy about this. [laughs] Stuff like that.
Were you the first point of contact when lawyers called with cease and desist stuff?
None of that ended with me cause I was in no position to make any sort of final decisions, so people would call and say I’m such and such from this law firm, and we would get stuff in the mail. But Rocco was so forward thinking, and they were selling boards so quickly, that by the time the cease and desist stuff would start rolling in, he had already moved on to another graphic. We’ve already sold all those boards, and you’re telling me to stop selling them, but they’re already all gone, and now we’ve moved on to something else. He got a lot of those cease and desists that didn’t apply anymore because we were moving at such a rapid pace and coming out with new graphics constantly. It was obvious to me that this was a new model that hadn’t been done before.
”I remember walking upstairs, and in one of the offices there’s like 25 skaters in there watching 2 chicks down on the floor banging. Like, woah!”
That was the appeal. It wasn’t the same old formula, and it was new and raw. I mean the boards sucked ass, but the graphics were cool… The construction of them was piss poor.
And there came a time when Rocco and everyone realized that. We knew we had a problem with whatever wood shop they were being made in, but there was a period of time where that didn’t really matter from Rocco’s standpoint because we were selling boards anyway.
And I mean literally, from a customer service standpoint, when we would get complaints, we would say, “No, that’s not a manufacturing defect.” We knew the boards were crap, but I was told to tell people, “You will not be getting a free board as a replacement for the one you just broke.”
From those standpoints, there was a lot of stuff where he was forward thinking, and you could respect what he was doing as far as turning things upside down in marketing, but then there are things like that, that bothered me a little bit. Like dude, that’s really not cool. I can see that this board is ass, but you’re telling me to tell this kid’s mom that that’s they way it’s supposed to be?
As far as the team over at World Industries, when you first started there, who would you see come around?
I grew up in the 70s, so my guys were Alva and Hosoi. That was my foundation for skating and the industry. I was obviously aware of other pros, but the ones that had a wow factor when they walked in, the biggest was obviously Gonz. I remember when he walked in I’d be like, “Wow, that’s fucking Gonz right there,” And I would see him roll around doing ollies in the parking lot and be like, “Wow, that’s fuckin’ Mark Gonzales skating in the fuckin’ parking lot right outside by my desk!”
Jesse Martinez, Jason Lee, and Natas were all there on a regular basis. Mike Carroll was there a lot, and then younger guys who I wasn’t really aware of like Daewon, Guy, Daniel Castillo. They were all kids at the time, so there was sort of the old guard and then the new school guys on the team. Sometimes it would be like recess at the local school, and all the young kids would come in at once and it would be pandemonium. They’d be running around, watching videos, getting boards, it was chaotic.
Were there any skaters that you couldn’t stand when they came through the door?
Nobody that I have this longstanding “I don’t like this guy” feelings towards, but like I mentioned, the younger guys that would come in, they could be annoying. When I first started working there, I was sitting at my desk and Sean Sheffey came in and I was on the phone with somebody and he was just standing there, and I hung up and he asked me where I was from. I said North Carolina, and he was like, “Oh, y’all still lynch niggas over there don’t you?”
I was shocked, I didn’t really know what to say. I was like, “Nah man… that’s not what the South is like these days. We’ve moved way beyond that.” Then we actually had a conversation for a little bit and I told him like, “Listen, man. The South has dealt with that history and we’ve moved beyond that and we don’t have any of that stuff going on over there now.” So we had a meeting of the minds and it ended up being really cool.
And then Jason Lee, from the very first time I met him, every time he would come in he would say something to me but in a real thick redneck accent, like, “Hey, man. Can you mail this thing for me?” For the first week, it was sort of funny and then it got really old to where one day I said, “Dude, you got a fuckin’ problem with the way I talk?” And he was like, “No, man. Just fucking with you.” And from that point on we didn’t have any of that, so there were just a couple of moments where it was obvious that they were just fucking with me a little bit and trying to see where I come from, but no, there weren’t any skaters that I had any specific issues with at all.
You were there when Big Brother started, right? How did that change the office?
I wasn’t privy to any of the conversations or business meetings about what we were going to do, I would just show up to work and whatever happened happened. One day, I showed up and there was a guy named Jeff Tremaine there, and I was like, “Who’s this dude?” And Rocco was like, “This is Jeff, we’re going to be starting up a magazine.”
The video editing room was upstairs, and that sort of became Jeff’s office. I would be downstairs and get the mail and we would go up at the end of the day to watch sponsor me tapes kids had sent in. We went up one day and we got a video from Johnny Knoxville, who obviously wasn’t Johnny Knoxville at the time, but his sponsor me video was basically just him having his friend taze him, so I remember that being the genesis of Johnny and the whole Jackass thing.
Later, Sal and me and another Latino guy who worked in the warehouse, we would play basketball in the back and have some serious games. Chris Pontius [Partyboy] would call and be like, “Let me talk to Rocco!” And I’d have to be like, “Dude, you don’t understand. You can’t talk to Rocco…”. But Chris, through multiple, multiple calls, ended up getting on the phone with Steve Rocco’s brother, Sal, and what comes to be is that Sal challenges him to a basketball game and Pontius is like, “OK, we’ll be there on this day” and such and such.
So they finally show up and it was basically Jackass. They’re running around just launching the ball. We were actually there trying to play ball, so they were pissing us off. So when I think back and remember, those were the first moments of Johnny, Jackass… I was there when it all started taking seed, so it’s interesting to think of what would have happened if I stayed out there instead of moving back. I probably would have been right in the middle of all that stuff. It makes me think about what my life would be like now…
Big Brother made trading cards as a gimmick, and my first intro to you was through your card. Do you remember them putting yours out?
Well, actually, I wasn’t working for World anymore when they put that card out, I was working at Acme. I got fired from World. They actually came to the office at Acme to take my picture. I didn’t know, they didn’t tell me what they were going to be doing, they just said they needed to take my picture, and then the trading card came out.
Rocco didn’t operate by getting your permission to do anything, he just did what he wanted to do. I had no idea that the card was gonna come out and then it came out. It’s just like on my birthday one year when I was still working at World, they put out these t-shirts that had my face on it on a big 18 wheeler and it said “I drove a big truck at JD’s birthday party” and they just put those t-shirts out, and I was like, “OK… that’s just World Industries.” The shirts were all yellow [laughs].
They would do stuff like that that I would have no clue about, but that was one of the things that once I moved back to North Carolina, people like yourself were aware of me because of the trading card, which was sort of weird because I don’t mean anything in the industry and there are all these skaters that now knew my name.
Was “Jumbo Dick” a name you were given at World Industries or was that given to you prior?
Well, just for the record, that’s more a comment on my personality than it is on my anatomy [laughs]. I had no idea about it, the card just came about. Obviously JD, those are my real initials. My name is Jeff Dennis, so JD is who I am, but then they came out with the Jumbo Dick, I don’t know what the genesis was or where it came from, but they were just having fun.
The card says you got fired… How’d that happen?
Basically, leading up to me getting fired, there were a couple of things that transpired. One of them was when we were still in Torrance, Rocco decided that they would start a mail order, so he came to me saying we’re setting this up and were gonna start taking credit cards for board orders and you’re gonna do that. And he said I’d make commission on top of it, and I had done some sales for Eastern, so if anything, I was looking forward to doing something other than talking to angry moms on the phone all day. So he says that’s what’s going to happen, and I remember coming to work one day and going upstairs where they’re doing the mail order stuff when my desk was downstairs, and there was a girl sitting there taking orders and I was like, “Who the fuck is this?” So I go to Megan and she says that’s Rocco’s sister. She needed a job for whatever reason, so instead of following through with what he said he was going to do for me, he basically said, “Fuck you, I’m going with my sister,” so that pissed me off, obviously.
So then we moved to El Segundo and just, my attitude with answering phones… I had run my limit on that. He said there was room to move up and I hadn’t moved up and I wasn’t very happy about that and quite frankly, my attitude showed it, so I went from when I first started there answering the phone like “World Industries! This is JD, how may I help you,” to toward the end when I just would basically answer like “World Industries, what the fuck do you want?” So my attitude was pretty shitty [laughs]. From time to time, some of the financial backers, who I had no personal contact with, they would call and want to speak to Rocco, and evidently one day one of them called and said, “Let me speak to Rocco,” and I was like, “Well who are you?” And they were like, “It doesn’t matter who I am, let me speak to Rocco.” And evidently it was one of those guys, and I was basically like, “Fuck you,” so I think what happened was I pissed some people off that had a say and they basically said, “Rocco, get rid of that guy.”
”Toward the end, I would basically answer the phone like, ‘World Industries, what the fuck do you want?’ So my attitude was pretty shitty”
But what pissed me off even further, Rocco basically made Megan Baltimore [One of Rocco’s employees at the time] fire me – and she was like my best friend at World – instead of doing the manly thing and coming to me and saying I was acting like a jackass and firing me himself. He made her fire me and he wouldn’t man up with me. I was sort of pissed about it, but I was like, “You know what, that doesn’t surprise me.” That goes right along with what I think his personality is. And I don’t have any agenda against Rocco or World. My life’s good now, his life obviously is good now too, and what’s in the past is past, but at the time it chapped my ass a little bit.
So that’s my version of why I got fired. There could be more details, but I’m unaware of that. But having Megan do it, that was bullshit… for whatever reason, maybe he was busy that day and didn’t have time to tell me or something, but where I come from, that’s a man to man job. You don’t send someone else to do your work.
Bringing in Megan though, I think that it’s good that in all that turmoil that was going on at the time, Megan Baltimore was who kept the ship afloat. Marketing and all of that is all great, but you’re running a business. There’s gotta be some sort of calm in the middle of the storm that keeps the ship afloat and she was that person. If they didn’t have her, I think that shit would’ve sunk like a rock.