Bleecker Bob Plotnik 1942-2018

The record club gains another member. Word came today that venerable NYC icon and record store owner Bob Plotnik had sadly passed on. Bob’s store, Bleecker Bobs, was known worldwide for many decades for not just having an amazing selection but also for its legendary cantankerous owner. And while the tales spun by seasoned record buyers have centered on their treatment by Bob, surprisingly there are a small handful who did befriend him and dodged the majority of the wrath he inflicted on others.

My own experiences in his store were actually very limited as 1) his stuff was usually overpriced and 2) I was very aware of his rep. Still, it was kind of a kick to quickly pop in, scan his garage punk bins, realize I didn’t want to pay that much and scoot out before you got tagged.

In all honesty, my own interesting Bob moment came many, many years later and had nothing to do with his temperament. On April 15, 2001, Joey Ramone succumbed to lymphoma after a long widely-publicized 7-year battle. Having grown up listening to the Ramones, it was a sad moment for me. One that seriously marked the all-too-real passage of time.

The following evening while wandering downtown, I made a spur of the moment decision to walk by CBGBs. Purely as a gesture of respect. To my surprise, I was not the only one with that idea. Turns out a small group of punks had set up a small altar right in front of the club. I watched people singing, giving offerings and took a few photos for my own files.

Shortly after midnight, a private ceremony inside the club let out and guests began leaving the club. Spotting photographer Roberta Bailey, I quickly ran over and asked her if she minded me taking a photo of her in front of the club. Once that was accomplished I looked around to see if there was anyone else I could cajole into a shot. That was when I ran into friends Billy Miller and Miriam Linna. Having just left the service, they stopped and chatted with me for a short while.

All of a sudden Billy goes “Hey Bob!” and goes over to chat to a leather-jacketed Bob Plotnik quickly making his way through the throng of people in front of the club. Now, as anyone can tell you, Billy could charm the pants off of anyone. This moment was no different. Expecting a curt brush off, I was surprised to see Bob turn around, smile, and extend his hand. Billy being Billy, just grabbed Bob by the shoulder in a playful embrace.

Just at that moment someone to the left of me, also with a camera, pointed it at the two of them. Instantly recognizing a golden photo op, Billy swings Bob toward the camera all the while still embracing him. Within a half a second I also had my camera up and pointed it at this most unusual scene. Clicked the shutter, and wound up with this shot. A testament to the amazing Billy Miller, a man who could tame a cranky record store owner using just his smile. RIP Bob. RIP Billy. It’s getting to be a crazy party up there.

Billy Miller, Bob Plotnik
Norton Records’ Billy Miller and Bleecker Bob Plotnik in front of CBGBs April 16, 2001.

New Offerings from Crypt Records

As if there wasn’t enough merch on Boston’s Real Kids, Crypt Records label owner (and local boy made good) Tim Warren just released a couple of more deep digs into the Real Kids archives. See You on the Street Tonight and We Don’t Mind If You Dance deliver even more unreleased raw live material. And all this just mere weeks after the release of the super deluxe, Live at the Rat booklet/CD package. While the tapes on the two new CDs are sourced from early audience recordings, the sheer ferocity and passion of the performances are undeniable.

Manna from Heaven. The upcoming releases and Tim’s note.

Led by the master songwriting of John Felice, the Real Kids produced classic track after track throughout the mid to late 70s Boston punk scene to mostly local acclaim. Even though they did gain a cult following as the 80s wore on, they never really achieved the same level of recognition as other bands. This is something that the fine folks at Crypt and Norton have long sought to correct. While the Real Kids still occasionally perform (with Felice the lone remaining member), nothing really matches the intensity of their early years when the band burned with an unrestrained fury. Sadly, original members Alan “Alpo” Paulino and Billy Borgioli are no longer with us as both passed away from sudden medical issues within the past few years. That along with the ailing Felice’s tenacity makes the Real Kids musical journey all the more poignant.

Speaking to Tim a month ago, he emphasized how incredulous—and criminal—it was that the Real Kids never got their due. And as if to prove it, he blasted the test pressing of this release. “Isn’t this fuckin’ AMAZING!” I had to agree. So, to find these CDs in my mailbox a couple of days ago along with a nice note from Tim was a more than just a pleasant surprise.

For neophytes, I recommend checking out the classic first LP available as a remastered reissue from Norton Records. For the rest of us who already have a ton of Real Kids material, keep an eye out for this one. It should be hitting the Crypt mail order site soon.

Also coming soon to this blog, an exclusive interview with garage rock savior Tim Warren himself where he discusses all things Crypt as well as his NYC years. Stay tuned!

Musical Interlude – The Optic Nerve @ Neither/Nor 1986

While digitizing some old cassettes, I ran across this gem of a performance from NYC’s own Optic Nerve. Centering on more folk-rock stylings, the Nerve were unique among the plethora of harder sounding NYC bands. Bobby Belfiore, Tony Matura and Orin Portnoy formed the core of the band throughout its existence, supplemented on drums mainly by Ken Anderson, Greg Clark and Frank Max. This performance is taken from a show at Neither/Nor bookstore on 703 East 6th St.

Located in what was once the wastelands between Ave C and D, Neither/Nor was a launching point for much of the literary talent in lower Manhattan during the mid-80s. The bookstore occupied the ground floor of an old, dilapidated loft building, which amazingly survives to this day. No small feat considering that directly opposite the building in the 80s one would have found just open lots strewn with rubble.  Neither/Nor not only served as a artistic oasis for the community, it also nurtured future talents such as Joel Rose and Nuyorican poet and playwright Miguel Piñero.

The Optic Nerve went on to have one of their songs immortalized on the Children of Nuggets box set alongside the likes of The Cramps, Lyres, The Hoodoo Gurus and other equally important contemporaries. At Neither/Nor though, they were just another local garage group scraping by and playing their hearts out to a small, but passionate, fanbase.

California Dreamin’

It didn’t take much to push me. Especially after seeing images and reading about Burger Records‘ yearly festival Burger Boogaloo for several years.

When it comes to music festivals, pretty much everyone I know is unanimous in skipping the hassle of the big organized festivals. While my own tastes seemed to follow groups that have traditionally played in tiny clubs or smaller venues, it was only recently the phenomena known as the “reunion” shows has forced me to slightly reassess that preference. Normally, I doubt anyone can pass up seeing a favorite group one more time, but that dedication is sorely tested once you have to do it alongside 25,000 people.

The Fuzztones supporting The Damned in England. July 6, 1985 (courtesy Link2Wales.com)

Garage music in general has never really translated well to these settings. Not too much money to be made from 100-person festivals in 1985! However, that was just in the U.S. Not so oddly, our friends across the Atlantic thought differently. Bands like The Headless Horsemen and The Fuzztones, both of whom regularly played to crowds of 50–100 people in NYC, were invited to play huge European festivals. Even more impressively, on bills that drew tens of thousands of people.

And while the U.S. “alternative” festivals eventually caught on in the early 90s and attracted some amazing talent though the years, garage punk really wasn’t what brought the masses.

That all changed with the unlikeliest of people.

Poster for Little Steven’s Festival.

While the classic rock strains of Bruce Springsteen is enough to send the most seasoned punk fan running, not many would expect a person immersed in that world to champion garage punk. Little Steven Van Zandt, longtime guitarist for the Springsteen band, however, took on the thankless task of promoting the genre via his radio show. While I do tend to question some of the criteria which Steven uses to label music “garage,” there is no question that his heart was in the right place. More impressively, Van Zandt also put his money where his mouth is by helping organize a sponsored garage music festival in NYC in 2004. While he did succumb to having to book popular indy rockers The Strokes to bring people in, for the most part 90 percent of the acts were  groups from garage music’s past and present. Needless to say he lost a ton of money…

But, I digress. I’ll cover this event in further detail a future column. It truly deserves its own post. For now let me just say that, at that time, the idea of a “good” punk festival that did not put promoters in hock and did not fall into the trap of becoming this unstoppable merchandise-fueled juggernaut seemed difficult to impossible. Since then, thankfully, things have changed. Many other mavericks have organized smaller garage music festivals both here and overseas to much more success.

Burger Boogaloo Lineup 2018

Burger Boogaloo is one of those success stories. While I believe this is its ninth year, the festival has lost none of its original spirit. And just as important, it has managed to attract followers who are just as protective of this. Not only is the talent is top notch, but the environment is also oddly familial. With older and younger fans all pretty much congregating in this massive “be-in” for lack of a better word. The festival credo, “Gather all ye outliers, weirdos and rebels and celebrate the spirit of rock and roll,” pretty much sums up the whole ethos. Prices are on par with other festivals, but for that, you get not just great music but also a great day (or days) out. Much respect to the organizers, Total Trash Productions, for proving that such things are still possible. I mean, even The Damned’s Captain Sensible amusingly noted from the stage, “Hope to see you guys soon…What a nice festival!”

This year’s festival did not disappoint. Quite amazing considering that the previous years headliners were original punks, The Buzzcocks, Iggy Pop, X and Redd Kross. Mighty big Docs to fill if you ask me.

The location was, as it was in the previous year, Mosswood Park, one of the smaller city parks in Oakland. Many pointed out to me that the city has changed quite a bit, but still it runs into the same issues that many urban areas have to grapple with. Unfortunately, in this case, this meant moving some homeless encampments out of the park for the weekend. Something which caused a bit of a stir in the news. To sooth the critical attention, festival goers were encouraged to donate to the homeless organizations in attendance at the festival. Certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

The Pleasure Pier stage in the early AM.

The two main staging areas for the acts, The Toxic Paradise stage and the larger Pleasure Pier, were on opposite sides of the park. While in between you had your usual festival staples such as veg and non-veg food options, vendors and the ubiquitous porta potties. What it didn’t have was massive amounts of humanity. Food and drink were easily obtained and even the bathroom lines were pretty reasonable. People were generally in a good mood, and even seeing entire families in attendance made me think this was just a typical weekend outing—that happened to have live music.

Without going through the entire lineup, I’ll jut say that the experience was a fantastic one and every single person in the place, both onstage and off, seemed genuinely happy to be there. That was even obvious during the sets of the few harder punk bands. No scuffles, no one was hurt and once the group finished…you just saw smiling people leaving the area.

Band highlights? Where to begin. Personal favorites were of course The Mummies (who pretty much have never done a bad show in their existence) as well as garage trash punks Traditional Fools, Italian glam rockers Giuda, SF’s Flakes, and Japan’s pop punks Firestarter.

As far as the pros: Both DEVO and The Damned delivered tight sets, which was even more impressive when you consider that both acts have been around (in some manner) for a bit over four decades. Something The Damned especially had fun mocking. Captain Sensible: “Eh, not bad for a bunch of old farts…oh no, I mean you guys…not us.” Dave Vanian, after Sensible donned a banana suit and gave an unexpectedly long song intro: “I keep looking at him and all I see is an old fruit.”

As the last chords of Sensible’s guitar (on Jello Biafra no less) faded into the cold, humid Oakland night, it was hard not to feel a vicarious sense of accomplishment for everyone involved in the project. No bones about it, this was a difficult thing to do. And the fact that it appeared so easy on the surface just reinforced that hard fact.

Many thanks to David Greenfield, Greg Gutzbehal, Aya Cuzner, Jim DeLuca, Real Boss Hoss, Laurent and Sunny, Lisa and Suke and the myriad of folks and bands who made my time spent in California pretty damned Neat, Neat, Neat.

Oakland Happenings – The Burger Boogaloo Opening Party

Oakland, California is definitely one of those places that can get easily overlooked. Sure, it had Berkeley and a storied history of social activism, but it tends to get forgotten in favor of its flashier next door neighbor, San Francisco. However, for many years, it quietly served as the home base for the garage music scene in the Bay Area. All the things that brought the New York music and art scene to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn are at play here.

Of the many happenings in this fair city, Burger Records’ yearly fest, Burger Boogaloo, has been one of the highlights of not just the Bay Area but also the rock music community in general. This year’s line-up proved no less impressive an array of seasoned veterans and hungry up-and-comers. Devo, The Damned alongside, The Rip Offs, Japan’s Firestarter, Italy’s Guida, and on and on.

OctopusPoster
Poster for DJ Sid Presleys’ Opening NIght Party

Starting this year’s celebration, however, was DJ Sid Presley‘s opening night meet and greet at the Octopus Literary Lounge. Presley, the nom de plume of impresario David Greenfield, has been one of the leading forces of bringing talent to the city. A charming fellow, his optimism easily evident in even a small chat with him. Not only are his shows immaculately curated: He also has some of the best posters I have seen in quite a while.

The Octopus Literary Salon is quite an interesting venue. Smaller than I expected, it’s a small storefront in downtown Oakland. As Presley related, the promoters of Burger Boogaloo approached him and asked him to organize an opening party. However, once he secured the small space (which doubles as a cafe during the day), much to his surprise things started moving quicker than expected. Several of the bands he asked to perform asked him if it was OK to bring along friends. Some touring in the area from abroad. Before he knew it, he had secured an international line-up of talent.

Opening the show were The Teutonics, followed by SF’s own The Ogres, featuring a member of The Phantom Surfers. They were quickly followed by Spain’s Ramona and France’s Jon and the Vons. Closing up the night were Boston’s Muck and the Mires. The atmosphere was celebratory, and the vibe was one of good fun and camaraderie. A hallmark of the Oakland scene.

As if to prove my point, on my way out I noticed a member of The Teutonics talking to friends and fans. Walking over I enthusiastically mentioned how much I enjoyed their show and to look for pics on my blog. Before I knew it I was quickly handed a 45 and profusely thanked in a similar fashion. I’d be remiss not to give this fine band a plug. Although this single isn’t on Bandcamp yet, do drop by their page here and sample the other musical offerings.

Next post will wrap up the California coverage and its back to our usual NY fare.

Muck and the MIres

Jon and the Vons

Jon and the Vons

Jon and the Vons

Jon and the Vons

The Ogres

The Ogres

The Ogres

Ramona

The Teutonics

The Teutonics

The Peter Stuart Interview – The Tryfles Pt. 1

Several years back when the idea of creating something out of what I had accumulated crossed my mind, I agonized over how to go about presenting it. In fact, I agonized so much that it turned into the proverbial monkey on my back. Should I put up video? What about sound? How can I arrange the news clippings? The only thing that was fixed were what bands I felt were important to highlight. Through the years, that focus turned into who the members were that were in these bands. Figuring that they would be able to tell their story much better than I could. This idea morphed into the blog you are now reading.

When it came time to speak to former band members, Peter Stuart was at the top of my list. Not only for the fact that he was an astounding bass player but also for the fact that The Tryfles led to yet another beloved NYC garage-punk band, The Headless Horsemen. With Peter’s involvement in both, it’s not rocket science to guess who played a key role in driving both these well-loved bands.

With that in mind, I found myself at vintage guitar headquarters Retrofret on a recent weekday evening to have a chat with the maestro himself. This portion of the interview will center on the beginnings of the penultimate NY garage band, The Tryfles, and eventually work its way through the creation of The Headless Horsemen.

SSA: Peter! Let’s start at the very beginning.

The Tryfles first and only single with the original line-up. (Photography by Monica Dee, John Fay by Lisan Sieroty Lema)

Peter Stuart: Sounds good to me! I’ll start the whole Tryfles thing by saying that John Fay’s ambition for The Tryfles was that we make a record that’d be worth a lot of money someday. This was John’s stated mission. So, while I don’t know what The Tryfles 45 is worth nowadays, it’s certainly worth more than the $3 that it cost us when it was made!

SSA: Can you touch on how each of you guys met? I know you were friends with future Fuzztone and Headless Horseman Elan Portnoy since high school.

PS: John Fay and I were the basic nucleus of the group. Ellen O’Neill and Lesya Karpilov were both friends of mine that I sucked into the band afterward. As far as groups go, The Tryfles were very much a designed band. Much in the way the Byrds were. In fact, Roger McGuinn is my hero because he designed, or, I should say, he “picked” people. He didn’t intentionally select great musicians: He’d say, “Oh, that’s an interesting person,” or, “I just met this guy on the beach. He has a Beatles haircut, and he plays the bongos: He’s my drummer.” He’d put together a band of personalities, not a band of musicians. And The Tryfles were absolutely a band of personalities. It was intentionally set up that way.

Initially, I was friends with Ellen’s brother and sister who I had both met in the late 70s. Oddly enough, at a high school gig where one of my bands played. In fact, not only did they all go to school there, their mother even taught there! Through family connections, I met Ellen, and we began hanging out in the early 80s. She’d been kind of a teenage hanger-on throughout the late, late 70s rock scene. By the time I met her, she was attending college but still heavily into music. We would often end up going to gigs together. Not as boyfriend or girlfriend but more like good pals. We built our friendship on this.

John was going to high school at the time. I forgot where he went, but he went to one of those quirky private schools. He’d been in the early version of The Outta Place with Orin Portnoy, and I think Shari Mirojnik. He, Orin and Shari had a band called The Disturbed.

The Tryfles. January 1984. 1st promo photos taken in Ellen O’Neill’s apartment. Art by Lesya Karpilov. (Courtesy of Peter Stuart)

SSA: Was this around 1982?

PS: Yeah, around that time. Elan Portnoy was the one who first introduced me to John Fay. In fact, Jordan Tarlow, Elan and John all went to the same high school. As you noted, I had already been friends with Elan for years. In fact, we’d played in a couple of bands together. Once Elan introduced me to John, we hit it off right away.

SSA: The meeting of two like minds. What were you doing musically around that time?

PS: At the time I was playing in blues bands. It’s funny because while I’d get them to do some stuff that I like, I had to play endless Muddy Waters jams. Now, I love Muddy Waters, but I really don’t like white kids playing Muddy Waters songs unless they’re really good at it. And these people weren’t really good at it!

SSA: That’s pretty funny. So, while you were active musically, you still weren’t doing the music you liked. Why the inertia?

Peter Stuart onstage with the Tryfles. (Photo by Greg Gutbezahl)

PS: You know when you get into a lull in life? Well, that was where I was at that moment. I’d been in a band in 1979, 80 that looked like we were going to get signed. We had a publishing contract and everything. And, as the way it often does, the whole thing was torpedoed by our guitar player, my best friend, who just balked and quit.

So, instead of being in this signed band making records, I was working at a record store. I was in this miserable fat period of life, just buying bass guitars and feeling sorry for myself. And I couldn’t seem to meet anybody who wanted to do what I wanted to do, which was play 60s rock ‘n’ roll.

That was when Elan happened to bring John to my record store. He and I started to talk about records and how we both owned a Danelectro bass. We immediately bonded.

SSA: That was the connection.

PS: That was the connection. We start talking, and I found out he was into doing the same thing I wanted to do. And, god, I must have been 22 or 23, and he was around 17. John was actually going to graduate high school in the summer of 1984. His family was then planning to move to Seattle.

One day I convinced him to guest in a silly 60s frat rock band I was playing in called Life of Leisure. He came up, did a couple songs, and it was the best we ever sounded. So, after that show both of us had the same idea: “Screw these guys. Let’s start our own band.”

John Fay of The Tryfles onstage at The Dive. (Photo by Greg Gutbezahl)

Around the same time, John kind of got kicked out of The Outta Place. More accurately, they had reformed without him. You know, I love John like a brother, but he was not the easiest guy to get along with sometimes back then. I know Orin was also not the easiest guy to get along with either. My impression was that there was a bit of friction there.

[John Fay later elucidated a bit on this period: “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of ‘street smarts’ and Orin and Sherri did, which I think was necessary. Additionally, I also had to deal with control freak parents that wouldn’t allow me to play out—it might have been the first gig but the band didn’t have Andrea Kusten or Mike Chandler yet . . . So that spelled the end of that. This is where I think the friction mainly lay.”]

As luck would have it, right when he and I start hanging out, The Outta Place started playing at the Dive. One day John tells me, “Hey, this band I used to play in is playing at the Dive. Ya wanna go?” While this sounded intriguing, my initial reply was “So, what’s the Dive?” This was how we first saw The Outta Place with, I believe, The Mad Violets on the same bill. That first visit to the Dive happened in October or November 1983. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact date. But, I do remember that, as soon as John and I walked in, we were immediately transfixed. Both of us thought, “This is kind of cool.”

SSA: Getting back to Ellen, how did she get involved?

The Trfyles first live gig. January 13, 1984, at the Dive supporting The Outta Place. (Courtesy of Peter Stuart)

PS: So, after John and I hooked up, I introduced him to Ellen. The three of us went to see a screening of The Monkees’ Head at her college. John and Ellen immediately hit it off. At that point, she was just getting into playing drums. In fact, I actually helped her buy a drum kit. I remember riding out to Queens on the subway with her on the day she bought a beautiful Rogers kit from this cranky old guy who lived in a basement full of drums. Unfortunately, she had no clue how to play it! But, I’ll give her this: She sat down, and within six or eight weeks, she could keep a beat enough to back a band.

By this time, John and I had already had our first rehearsal of what was to become The Tryfles with my drummer friend Richard Matthews. Now, Richard was a Keith Moon fanatic that thought there were only two drummers worth listening to in the world. Keith Moon and Elvin Jones. So, you have Richard, and then you have John, who is a really, really good, tight rhythm guitarist. Then you had me, stuck in the middle. Needless to say, it just didn’t work.

I told John that I had a friend who’s just starting to play drums and was really eager to be in a band. No frills, just basic stuff. The next time we went to the studio we invited Ellen. And lo and behold, it actually started to sound like something.

First page of a family tree outlining the first two years of the Tryfles. (Courtesy of Peter Stuart)

[At this point Peter hands me a few mimeographed sheets labeled “Tryfles Family Tree.”]

And here is The Tryfles Family Tree. It was made sometime in 1986 for a fanzine, whose name escapes me. It perfectly charts where we were at that time. Can’t ask for more than that, can ya?

We did only one rehearsal with Richard’s Keith Moon-style drumming. Which, if we were better, might have worked. However, Richard was also a difficult person as well. So, we ended up making the right decision. With three intense male personalities, the band would have been doomed from the get-go.

When Ellen sat down and started drumming—”Boom, bang, boom, bang, boom, bang”—she was perfect. Her strong desire to be in a band enabled her to succeed where technically better drummers couldn’t.

Nevertheless, we still sounded thin. That’s what made me think of Lesya Karpilov, who I worked with at the record store. Now Lesya is really, really brilliant, a bit wacky and the most intense personality that I had ever met. I totally fell for her the second I met her. My first impression was that this girl is a rock star. Her whole persona was just so spot on. Ironically, I ended up having to convince her to join.

Now, keep in mind that this is a high school girl of 16, who had already stopped attending high school and was working in a record store. There was nothing that could phase her. She already had this persona.

Lesya Karpilov and her Vox Phantom, played by NY Doll Johnny Thunders on the “Old Grey Whistle Test”. (Courtesy of Peter Stuart)

SSA: What was her persona? Tough girl?

PS: It was this whole cooler-than-anyone rock chick. Chrissie Hynde was her role model. The whole eye makeup and hair thing. At the store, both of us would sit behind the counter and sing along to records. I was pleasantly surprised to find out she really had a good voice!

Thinking about our band situation, I approached John and Ellen and told them about this girl who I work with who I think would really make this band. Immediately Ellen said, “I don’t want to be in a band with another girl,” and John said, “I don’t want to be in a band with another guitar player.” I basically told them that we’re were going to try this anyway.

So, Lesya comes in, and she and Ellen hate each other instantly, and she and John hate each other instantly. But in an odd way, they all realized that BANG! The Monkees. Two girls, two guys. The look was perfect, and it sounded like something as soon as we started playing. It was just one of those times when everything jelled. We were rough as shit…but it worked.

SSA: Thus, The Tryfles were born. Was this around the time of the Dive video that Anthony “Tony G” Gliozzo shot? I seem to remember you telling me this was the second live gig by the band.

A flyer from The Tryfles second gig immortalized by Anthony “Tony G” Gliozzo on YouTube. (Courtesy Peter Stuart)

PS: Yes, in fact, in that video you linked to on your site, you’ll notice that the sound is a bit strange. It’s almost like you can’t tell that it’s “He’s Waiting” by The Sonics. The reason for that is, between the time we rehearsed and the time we got onstage, we somehow were not in the same key! I’m playing in F, and the rest of the band is playing it in E.  It’s the most discordant thing musically possible.

In many ways, it’s apropos that The Tryfles are immortalized this way. If this isn’t a Tryfles moment, I don’t know what is. Four people up there playing their hearts out…in different keys.

Stay tuned for Part II! Extra special thanks to Peter Stuart for his time and ephemera and West Coast operative Greg Gutbezahl for his photos. Visit Greg’s photo site here!

NY Garage Heads North

Given its proximity to the northeast, Canada has always provided (and still provides) a way for local musicians to perform outside of the country. In the heyday of the garage revival, bands like The Gruesomes, Les Breastfeeders, and King Khan (among many others) continued the legacy that mid-60s bands like The Haunted and The Ugly Ducklings began.

What Wave fanzine, based in London, Ontario, was one of the handful of fanzines that sprung up in the wake of the 80s revival up north. Besides offering the latest on live gigs and LP releases, What Wave was unique in that it also provided limited edition cassette tapes in issues.

I’ll let editor Dave O’Halloran take over here and explain how his fanzine came about:

“What Wave zine was started by Al Cole in the late 70’s/early 80’s and he did the first 4 issues. He was burnt out, needed a change or something. He offered it to us in the fall of 1984.

Issue of What Wave #10 1986. Courtesy of the What Wave Archives.

I was reluctant as it sounded like a lot of work. My wife Rena, an English teacher, though was all for it. We had just come back from NYC and were just amazed at the bands we’d just seen; The Fuzztones, Pandoras, Tryfles, Slickee Boys, Fleshtones (we were HUGE Fleshtones fans and still are!) and so many more. I remember going to Venus Records and Midnight Records and just flipping out over the 60’s comps and 80’s garage combos. We felt like we were in a wasteland in colonial London Ontario Canada.

So, with a bit of convincing from Tony and Gerard of the Montreal band Deja Voodoo, Rena and I took over What Wave. We started with issue #5 in the fall of 1984 and went right through to 1996 with issue #22. Starting with issue #10, almost all came with either a cassette or a 7″ record. It was our way of getting the music out to the fans. Once we started including cassettes, the zine started to sell quite well for awhile.

Whenever we went down to NYC, we’d bring a full suitcase of WW zines and trade them at Midnight Records for records. The suitcase would always come home full of vinyl!! Records we couldn’t find in Canada as owner J.D. Martignon used to bring in all kinds of cool stuff.

Once we had kids though, starting in April 1990, things really slowed down….just not enough energy, and time. Additionally, a lot of the bands were moving towards grunge and CD’s began taking over. The few issues that we were able to squeeze out between our daughter Erika’s birth and 1996 began having longer and longer breaks between them.

We did do a last edition (#24), The History of London Ontario Combos, that came out in 2012 in conjunction with Graphic Underground: London 1977-1990, a celebration of the posters, zines, and ephemera of London Ontario up to 1990. This was an actual curated museum exhibit and brought a lot of attention to that era of music and art. There is even a museum gallery book by curator Brian Lambert called Graphic Underground: London 1977-1990 in which there is a chapter on WW zine….some of our posters are in there.”

While going through some old cassettes I actually found a few tracks from one of Dave’s compilation tapes, labelled “Live in London“. The song that caught my attention was a Headless Horsemen track with none other than future journalist Celia Farber on drums.  According to HH bassist Peter Stuart, this show was during the band’s first tour of Canada. Dave was kind enough to send a few images from his archives  as well as a few additional thoughts.

Ticket from The Headless Horsemen 1986 Canada Tour

“That whole show was recorded at Key West, London Ontario 7/25/1986 and yes, Celia was on the tubs!! I was told it was a great show by my wife Rena who attended, took pics and did the recording. Also playing on this show, Link Protrudi and the Jaymen! The next night, the HH were in Hamilton (between London and Toronto) where I finally got to see them for the first time and Rena the 2nd. I distinctly remember meeting the band before the show and one of them remarked (I think it was Peter) that I looked just like a guy from the Creeping Pumpkins….musta been my bowl haircut!  There’s a live recording from that night as well, but I don’t see any images in my files and don’t remember Link Protrudi playing that night either.”

So, here is the Headless Horsemen from back in 1986 playing the Flamin’ Groovies classic, Shake Some Action. Many, many, thanks to the What Wave Archive and What Wave editor Dave O’Halloran and his wife Rena.

The Tale of the Midnight Tapes

As has been mentioned several times, there were very few labels that really supported the fledging garage punk sound of bands in the 80s. For sure Greg Shaw’s Bomp/Voxx Records made great strides in showcasing straight ahead rock and roll in all its various forms. But amongst labels that dedicated themselves purely to garage sounds, only our European friends really were at the forefront. Germany’s Glitterhouse and France’s Eva were among the few that delivered manna from heaven for the dedicated on a regular basis. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it took a transplanted Frenchman to make the first strides in releasing garage music from NYC.

JD Martignon
J.D. Martignon. Photo courtesy of Dave Herrera.

J.D. Martignon’s Midnight Records located on 23rd street between 7th and 8th Avenue, was the place you went to to pick up those aforementioned imports (as well as to hang out with other likeminded souls.) While the stories surrounding J.D. are the stuff of legend and enough to fill several posts, I’ll like to stick to one recent Midnight-related tale.

It all began with J.D.’s untimely death in September 2016. While his passing didn’t seem to warrant as much as an obit, many blogs did make note of his major contribution to the NYC garage music scene. I too jumped at the chance to post my favorite J.D. image taken way back in 2009.

Fast forward to August 12th of this year. While perusing through various Facebook posts one evening I ran across an odd mention by pal (and gracious blog subject)  Bill Luther about an auction. As a record collector, it didn’t seem too surprising coming from Bill. What was surprising though was what was up for auction. The estate of J.D. Martignon was auctioning off not just some rare collector items, but many of his one-of-a-kind master tapes as well. Knowing several of the musicians who were involved in creating these records, the first thing I thought was to fire off an email to several mentioning the auction.

One grouping of the Midnight tapes as originally seen on the auction site. Fuzztones, Vipers, Cheepskates, and Backbones amongst the visible.

Within the space of several hours, word spread quickly amongst the Midnight bands. Various ideas began to be formulated in a attempt figure out the best way to handle the situation. After all, this would be the only chance many would have to reclaim their property. If anyone was to profit off of these tapes, it made sense it should be the people who actually created the music.

Interestingly, the auction house was a very reputable one. Rago, located in picturesque Lambertville, NJ. According to one person it was even featured regularly on  Antiques Roadshow. While it was reassuring to know that they were on the up and up, it also made the possibility of a bidding war that much more likely.

Another lot of the Midnight tapes. Vipers, Absolute Grey, Hoods, Mod Fun amongst the tapes.

After much discussion it was agreed that an organized effort was needed. Former Vipers guitarist, Paul Martin, empathizing with the plight that his former cohorts faced, agreed to be the point person. As a business owner, Paul had access to solid legal advice and began exploring ways to retrieve the Midnight tapes before they went up for auction.  After a few days of hang-wringing silence (where even the tapes disappeared off the site) some good news materialized. If a contract was produced as proof of ownership, then the tapes would be happily returned to each individual band.

A few days ago Cheepskates member and Midnight artist Dave Herrera posted an update on Facebook. There, on his table, were several of his original master tapes. Mission accomplished.

Cheepskates tapes back home.

Can’t Help But Get Older: The Headless Horsemen hit 30!

To people familiar with the history of the NYC garage scene, its hard to not know about The Headless Horsemen. The band, which began as an loose supergroup of Fuzztones and Tryfles members have been a mainstay of the NYC 60s beat scene for, well, about 30 years. In fact their histories are so intertwined that in a future 2-part post I will cover the genesis of not just the The Tryfles but also the Headless Horsemen.

Art by Greg Gutbezahl

For now though, I urge anyone in the NYC vicinity to head over to Brooklyn Bowl this Sunday November 5th to take part in the bands 30th Anniversary celebration. Among the special guests are The Animal’s guitarist Hilton Valentine, and the great Roy Loney from the Flamin’ Groovies. Opening are Orlando, Florida’s The Belltowers, making their very first NYC appearance. To commemorate the event, former Dive denizen, photographer (and now  creative director) Greg Gutbezahl created an astounding flyer. You can see some of his early work in the flyers section of this site.

Here is a clip from the vaults of The Headless Horsemen playing the late, great Continental Divide on February 9, 1997. A mere 10 years into their 30 year stint. And let me tell you…they STILL sound like this. Everybody shake.

Give Him a Hand: A Chat with Mike Mariconda

Airborne Mike: The Raunch Hands at Maxwells.

Gritty New York. You hear that term so often that its already become a worn out cliché. Nevertheless, out of the hundreds of bands that can rightfully claim the title of being one of those “gritty” NYC bands, The Raunch Hands were one of the few that encapsulated the whole dirty, sloppy, happy, sadness and madness of this little burg. Sure The Ramones did the same, but by the mid-80s, the “punk” musical climate was changing. Songs were speeding up and becoming more aggressive. Worst of all macho jocks had started to notice and transform the quaint pogo-ing at gigs into full fledged testosterone fueled slam pits. Into this world the Raunch Hands were born. Carrying a youthful swagger they mined the soulful R&B underbelly and spit it back out in a maelstrom of booze and good times. If the city was going to hell, might as well have fun doing it. Not only did they bring the party, the Hands also did what few other NYC groups were able to do. Get recognized throughout the world and yet, remain purely an underground band. Mssrs Chandler, Mariconda, Tchang, Sulley and Brnicevic (not to mention later members Edison, Crowley, & Linzell) kicked up an unholy mess that has yet to be equalled.

Mike Mariconda mixing it up in Italy. Courtesy Fabio Rizzo

I had a chance to chat with Michael Mariconda, guitarist of the RH, about those early years gigging in NYC.

SSA: Thanks Mike for taking a few moments to contribute your perspective on the garage scene in NYC. Naturally, my standard question for everyone is, how did you first hear about the scene?

MM: Basically, by getting the job at Venus Records in 1983. I was in contact with a lot of  musicians that were coming in looking for records of Garage Punk. The post-punk  new band scene was stale so all these great reissues started coming out. What do you do when the next crop of new bands suck? Go and listen to old records…and that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t rare to have Jeff Conolly and The Lyres, members of The Vipers, Fuzztones, Chesterfield Kings, Lux and Ivy, Greg Shaw and even Billy Gibbons dropping by to see what was good and for sale. Also people like Tim Warren, Billy Miller, Bruce Planty and our drummer Vince Brnicevic were working on their first volumes of 60s punk comps (all influenced by Nuggets but with much wilder and obscure bands) – Back From The Grave, Hipsville, Open up Your Door and What a Way to Die– all at the same time.

Ad for Venus Records

And Venus was where my pal who was well known in collector circles brought me. How did you get that gig? I recall you already knew quite a bit about music. In fact the reason I bought a Stones 45 from you was because after playing it, you mentioned (correctly, I might add) that it had a hotter mix than the LP version.

I was lucky I got that job as there were a lot of applicants. I tried to sell myself to the owner  as knowing something about 50s R & B which I thought could be a market to sell to the Garage scene rather than just having another guy who was into Garage working there. Scott Curran hipped me to the idea of different mixes between mono and stereo LPs and French EPs or 45s pressed in various countries all sounded a little different. Added up to buying the same record 3 or 4 times.

The Raunch Hands on the Scott and Gary show. Episode 5. Courtesy Scott and Gary.

For people who aren’t familiar, only two record stores in NYC really became the epicenter of much of the garage scene. There were others, like Freebeing and Bleecker Bobs, but the garage-genre folks tended to congregate at either J.D’s Midnight Records or/and Crackers’ Venus Records. Can you tell me a bit about the characters who worked at Venus while you were there?

I always got along with everyone who worked there, Scott, Bruce, Ron Rimsite, Bobby Cook, John Kioussis and the owner Bill Shor all characters for sure but they all had beefs between themselves and all disliked the owner. But, in general, I always enjoyed the job since the musician in me was learning so much about music. Being there was no internet, the only way to try to find out about this stuff was through magazines and people to talk to.

I remember attending The Raunch Hands first gig at 240 West and quite honestly being unsure what to make of it. Only that I wanted to hear more. If I recall correctly did you play a fiddle at that gig for a song or two? Could be just a hallucination.

Yeah I was playing fiddle and lap steel on a few songs in 84-85. Kinda gave that up as it became too much to carry around and too delicate to play after beating the shit out of the guitar for an hour. And the lap steel got stolen right before a gig and I had no money to replace it.

Those early gigs were pretty memorable in that literally everyone seemed to be trashed, the band, the audience. It just basically turned into the wildest house party you were ever at. There was a particularly memorable 2 set night at The Dive close to its demise that I’ll never forget. In fact, your manager at the time came up to me during the show and asked me why I was taping it!

Memorable? Hehe. I don’t remember too much. Part of it was the NYC 4 am bar closing time. No one had a car so no reason to stay sober. Gave everyone a lot of time to get drunk watching 4 bands. I remember when we started going on last instead of first I really had to pace myself to be in reasonably good condition to play. Chandler never did.

Back From the Grave Vol 3.

Tim Warren including you on Back From the Grave Vol. 3 was a stroke of genius. Although we didn’t know it at the time, he instinctively knew you guys fit perfectly into the whole idea of his comps.

People were pretty shocked there was a new band on there, and it was an instrumental. Crypt luckily picked us up after we got booted off Relativity after the 2nd LP…that got us to Europe and Japan and prolonged the band for a number of years.

Set list for the Raunch Hands show at CBGBs on July 15, 1986.

The Hands stood alone in being the ultimate NYC band in terms of attitude, style and sound. Pretty soon others out side of the city started picking up on it. When did you get an inkling that this was starting to become more than just a local thing.

We never really had a concept when we started because we liked all kinds of music and wanted to try to incorporate all the styles we could. That confused a lot of people. Initially when I joined, the group was doing mostly Tchang and Chandler originals because the group didn’t have enough musical knowledge to try to cover a song, they always sounded terrible so they just wrote their own originals.

Chandler really had the pedigree coming from the Outta Place. His unique vocal spin on your R&B-based tunes really set the band apart from other bands who mined similar influences.

Yeah. We kinda stole him from The Outta Place, who I did like very much. We were fans of black R & B mostly. My favorite band in the mid 80s was Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. We started moving in that direction when Tchang started playing sax, so out went the fiddle and lap steel.

Business card size handout. Courtesy Dawn Eden.

I have to ask you who came up with the “Hello, I am a Raunch Hand” card. The hand gestures on the back are what totally make it. I think I still have my band T-shirt with those graphics on it.

I cant remember who came up with it but it was a great idea..Cool you still have the shirt, I do too but it doesn’t fit-not that I gained weight…it shrank!

Finally, in closing, I have to ask you about Billy Miller. While most people know him and Miriam for the Norton label, I don’t think many know how essential he was to the NY music community.  Especially around the time KICKS was their only main product. Personally, I feel his enthusiastic writing was what drew me more and more into discovering new sounds. And, if that wasn’t enough, he was a super-nice, wickedly clever guy. Everyone seems to have a unique story when it comes to Billy. What is your story?

Not one particular story but Billy was an amazing guy. Funny, easy going, great taste. I was lucky to have been asked to start The A Bones with him and Miriam and Mike Lewis and I was nervous as this was his follow up to The Zantees that had 2 amazing rockabilly guitarists The Statile Brothers so I had some big shoes to fill. I learned so much from Billy, always had the time to teach and share something about great old records. His death was tragic, a long painful one. So not deserved. His contribution to music was massive as was/is Tim Warren’s. Both of them have had a huge impact on my life.

Miriam Linna, Billy Miller, Link Wray, Tim Warren and Mike Mariconda. 1984. Courtesy Mike Mariconda.

To this day it’s still pretty amazing that people all over the world who appreciate garage music, in all its permutations, still fondly remember and appreciate The Raunch Hands. Despite all the good and bad things that happened that must be satisfying in some respects.

Yeah, very happy to see the music is still holding up, reaching new people and sounds a lot more spontaneous than a lot of recordings today.

Raunch Hands Gig Postcard

Thanks again Mike. And please, if the RH ever do another gig in this lifetime…you have to cover Hong Kong Missisippi it’s the ultimate RH song that never was.

We might have tried that at a rehearsal but sounded so crappy we gave up on it! A future RHs gig unfortunately will never happen, I have 2 fingers paralyzed on my left hand and Chandler is having a very slow recovery from his bout with cancer. However, I still continue to produce bands and even have a new project in the works.