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 and 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 and 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 to 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.

Memories of the Mod Scene with Bill Luther

Bill, then and now.

It gave me great pleasure to have a chat with New Jersey native, record collector, DJ and fellow scenester Bill Luther. Bill was around during much of the early heyday of the mod/garage scene and gave me his thoughts about those times from a distinctly NJ point-of-view.

SSA: Thanks Bill for taking a moment to share your memories of the NY/NJ Scene in the mid-80s. First off, when did you find out about this and who introduced you?

Mod Fun’s first 45 (1984)

 BL: My whole awareness of what was going on in New York City came because of Mod Fun. Their lead singer Mick London used to guest DJ on a local College radio station in Princeton near where I grew up and I read a lot about his band in local music papers. I got in touch with him through the radio station and eventually went to see them play live at Princeton University in 1984. In fact, their debut 45 was always being played on the local college stations WPRB and WRSU. Through Mick, I became aware of what was going on in New York City and by late 1984 my friend Rudie and I began making pilgrimages there to go to gigs that Mick would tell us about and sometimes even mail us flyers for.

Except for the bands that made their way to NYC, I have to say I’m totally in the dark about what happened across the river. Can you tell me more about the New Jersey Mod scene? Was there bleed over from Philly? I also recall that skinheads were pretty active around that time as well.

I lived in a part of NJ that was closer to NYC than Philly so other than The Ravens I didn’t know of anyone from Philly in the 80’s. But I had a small little community of sorts with the Wojciechowski and Grogan brothers just one town away. We would all make these road trips to the Big Apple which, barring traffic, was an hour and change away. Later, after the Dive in ’87 we met loads of people from Harrisburg PA where there was a great scene with a whole lot of amazing bands like The Pallbearers, The Cool Italians, and The Cellar Dwellers. The latter two played the Strip and Tramps quite a few times. Skinheads were around at ska gigs and this NYC mod band called The Scene had a really big skinhead following, not the racist sort but there were young guys who—being skinheads—thought it was their duty to try and act like hard cases. That wasn’t fun. Especially because I was never a Fred Perry, porkpie wearing cookie cutter mod, so I avoided those gigs.

Where there any groups that you recall that never made that trek that you regret not getting a larger audience?

Lord John’s BOMP! LP (1986

There were a lot of bands in my area of Central New Jersey but they were all bedroom bands, basically bands that played at parties or in people’s basements or shitty makeshift clubs. There were two really good bands in New Jersey who I don’t think ever really crossed over into New York. One was band called Lord John who had a very new-wavy Echo & the Bunnymen kind-of-feel about them but they were definitely very psychedelic and an excellent band both live and on record. They played The Strip once and did an amazing gig at The Mind’s Eye at Tramps with the Captain Whizzo Lightshow which was perfect for them. And from the same area of central New Jersey there was a band called The Laughing Soup Dish who unfortunately I never got to see live but they made an amazing single for Voxx records called Teenage Lima Bean that was a cross between the Pink Floyd and 13th Floor Elevators. I don’t think they ever made it to New York City either. And then there was a band who inspired both of those bands called Secret Syde who were very dark and hard but basically reminded me very much of The Prisoners from England but without a keyboard. Unfortunately I never got to see them live either because they sort of imploded by the time I came onto the scene.

A little known fact is that a small scene also occurred at the Bicycle Club in NJ. That was über-fan Martin Splichal’s basement wasn’t it? Can you tell me what that was like? Did any bands of note play there as well?

The Bike Club was started in Martin’s parents basement in Red Bank New Jersey in around 1985 with the PA system borrowed from the Woiciechowski Brothers (who at the time had a mod band called The Thursday Club). Martin had several bands including my own band The Phantom 5, The Thursday Club (whose members, brothers Dave and Bob, would later form The Insomniacs), Mod Fun as Lobster Fun (after Mod Fun had broken up!) and then a couple of other little local bands. I believe a band called a Shock Mommy’s played there once consisting of some former members of The Laughing Soup Dish; and Mick London once did a solo gig there! And that stayed happening for until Martin’s parents sold the house, it maybe lasted a year but definitely less than two.

Can you tell me how you wound up playing in the Tea Party and Phantom Five? What was the chronology there?

The Mick London produced Phantom Five EP (1986)

I formed the Phantom V with the Grogan Brothers: Larry and Chris and later their youngest brother Vince. It was just an idea to knock some stuff around. I met Larry through his fanzine “Incognito”. We both had fanzines and lived literally a town away from each other. Despite this we were completely unaware of each other’s existence until coming across each other’s fanzines in a record store in New Brunswick New Jersey run by Jim Babjak from The Smithereens. I finally met Larry for the first time at a Mod Fun gig at the Dive in 1985 and we became friends immediately. The Phantom 5 started playing in around 1985 but we never really played any actual real gigs mostly the Bike Club and this pay-for-play place in Rahway New Jersey called the mod Art Studio where lots of other bands played, coffee houses and even a youth club!!. I left the Phantom Five at the end of 1986 a few months after our E.P. on Mick London’s Making Tyme label. I’m not even sure why to be honest with you but within a few months of leaving I got together with Dave and Bob Wojciechowski whose band The Thursday Club had recently fallen apart. Mike Sin and I had been looking to form a Merseybeat influenced band for quite some time and Dave was a prolific songwriter so he and Bob had quite a back catalogue of originals to work with and no band so it was almost like a ready-made band! We played NYC once on a week night at Tramps with the Optic Nerve and the rest were just lame gigs at their college in New Brunswick. I stayed with them until almost 1988 and then a year later they became The Insomniacs.

There was a definite separate NY/NJ contingent but despite some differences in tastes we all seem to co-exist in relative calm. Possibly the whole “us” vs “them” mentality. I’m sure you got hassled as much for what you wore as many of the NY people did!

Mods outside the Dive. Photo courtesy of the Bill Luther collection.

The really interesting thing is the whole us/them thing in New York only actually came from really hard core mod people that I met in NYC 1985! They seemed to regard us as sort of hicks and were especially hostile when Mod Fun started to become more Sixties Paisley psychedelic and less Jam/two-tone shoes. It was ridiculous because theres about 20 mods in all of New York City and Northern New Jersey. 10 of them hated everyone from New Jersey and anything not Jam/2-Tone etc. Pretty laughable in retrospect. We used to joke and call ourselves psych mods because that’s what they called us as an insult and took it as a badge of honor and we’d call them Jam mods. I think I recall detecting a certain level of snobbery among some of the New York garage scene people at first but I think once everyone got to know each other things were alright. I was pretty socially awkward back then and I was not extremely outgoing and there were people that I would see around for years before I ever got around to actually learning their names like you, Jeff Shore several other people among them! It wasn’t snobbery with me, I think it was just being completely shy and socially awkward!

I remember seeing the scooters and parkas when I used to go to Mod themed shows at the Dive. That really impressed me. I always wondered how they got through the Midtown/Holland tunnels…

Any of the mods I knew with scooters all lived in Northern New Jersey so it was relatively easy for them to get into Manhattan via the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel. I don’t think I knew a single mod in NYC with a scooter! I lived in central New Jersey and there was no way in hell I was going to ride a scooter all the way to New York City. I took my Vespa to Hoboken once and it was like Death Race 2000 getting there!

It bears repeating how hostile NYC in general was to not just the music but pretty much everyone who looked different. It’s hard to comprehend when you look back. What about that brawl that occurred outside the Southern Funk Cafe, next to the Port Authority? Do you mind putting that incident down for posterity?

Former location of The Southern Funk Cafe

The Southern Funk Cafe legend, interesting story. This was recently the subject of a roasting I received at my surprise 50th birthday party last year and its semi-legendary. Larry and Chris Grogan and I were standing in front of the Southern Funk Cafe in like September of 1986 which was around the corner from Port Authority on 42nd St. We were drinking beer in front of the club out of paper bags directly across the street from a seedy SRO hotel called the Holland Hotel. A cocky young African-American gentleman sauntered past Larry and slapped him in the stomach and said something to the effect of “Hey fat boy ” or something like that, words were exchanged and then Larry and this gentleman wound up in a brawl. Chris attempted to break it up and then, well, without sounding racist it basically turned in to ” jump on Whitey” and several people from the welfare hotel across the street basically came over and started beating the shit out of all three of us. I jumped in to help out and wound up with a nice goose egg on my head after getting bounced off the hood of a Cadillac. We got our asses kicked but we gave as good as they did and I think it was honestly 8-10 guys against the three of us. Eventually the cops showed up and basically said either everybody goes their own way or everybody goes to jail. It was pretty funny until I got home and realized this wasn’t a brawl with the jocks in my High School lunchroom this was the real world! Luckily, that never happened again. To be honest I don’t think I went to many gigs there after that, because I don’t think there were really too many more happenings, but it certainly wasn’t avoiding it out of fear.

Bill Luther’s fanzine, Smashed Blocked

I’d love to hear about your fanzine Smashed Blocked and how that came about. How many issues did you put out? The fact that it wound up in Teal Triggs’ controversial 2010 book, Fanzines as a Mod artifact was pretty surprising.

My fanzine Smashed Blocked was directly influenced by seeing Mick London’s fanzine Start. My friend Rudie Rosinski and I started a fanzine called Stranger Than Fiction (named after a song by the British neo-60’s band The Times) but after some minor disagreements I decided to go and start my own. Smashed Blocked ran intermittently from 1984 to 1986 with a brief return in 1989 and again in 1994. It was fun, ragging on bad records, not spelling properly, bad grammar, last minute crap written in pen before going to press. Fun stuff!

I know you had a great friendship with scenemaker Ron Rimsite from the late great Venus Records. He, along with a few other characters, really made the scene very special and entertaining. I think there are probably as many stories about him than, say, J.D. Martignon. What’s yours?

Ron Rimsite
The dapper Ron Rimsite. Photo Andy Peters, courtesy Iron Leg Blog.

Ron Rimsite was my Guru! Like everyone I met Ron through Mick from Mod Fun. I immediately connected with Ron and he rather generously made me several cassette mix tapes which to this day I still treasure. These turned me on to a host of obscure British Sixties as well as European and Australian music. Many of the cuts were from Ron’s extensive record collection. Whenever we would go to Venus records Ron would always point out cool records and more times than often when we would check our bags we would leave the store to find he had slipped a few things in there.  Everyone I knew in my world (except for Larry Grogan, the Mod Fun guys, and Mike Sin) seemed really put off by him. We were the only ones that actually really loved Ron! My favorite Ron story was probably the last time I ever saw him. I had a massive house party in a large old Victorian duplex that I was living in at the time in Lawrenceville, New Jersey around 1992. Ron drove down and showed up with a handful of 45s from his collection, handed them to me and said “I didn’t bring snacks, will this do?” And Ron was his usual entertaining and sometimes gregarious self . I remember a lady who shall remain nameless talking to him and Ron standing there and not even feigning interest and saying things in his nasally North Jersey accent like “Wow, that’s amazing” while staring off into space without blinking and the gal was completely oblivious and just kept on yakking. At the time I didn’t realize that a lot of the 45’s he gave me actually were quite valuable which made me appreciate him even more when I realized how generous he was. I’ve always wondered what happened to Ron because quite honestly he is really musically responsible for the music fan I am today. True story. If you out there Ron, I love you man!!

As a Latino who loved rock and roll, I know I felt a bit out-of-sorts in the general populace, but the garage folk and the mod folk were always very open and welcoming. I know my African American buddy Larry M. also felt similarly. It was one of the reasons we hung out as much as we did at these places. A sense of belonging—by NOT belonging.

I have a funny story about Larry M. I had an African American co-worker of mine who wanted to come check out the Dive so I told all of my friends that “hey this friend of mine from work is coming out tonight, he’s as black guy in a probably be wearing a peacoat his name is Keith if you see him you know introduce yourselves to him”. Well Keith never showed up but the funny thing was Larry did and he was wearing a peacoat because he had just gotten out of a Maritime Academy so all these friends of mine were walking up to him asking him if he was Keith and that’s how we met Larry! I really don’t recall ever seeing any sort of weirdness although it must have been very weird for Larry because I don’t think I really saw anyone African-American at the Dive before. Some of the mod/ska gigs in New York City were completely the opposite in fact what always interested me was most of the mod scene in New York City was made up of non-caucasian people!

Your scene days came to a close as you left for the army, but not your passion for the sounds. Its one of the things I can say about most of the people I knew during that time. We all moved on to separate lives yet there is still that passion in the music. Thanks Bill!

The re-issued Mod Fun 45.

P.S. As if that wasn’t enough to convince you of the man’s dedication he also single handedly financed a reprint of the first Mod Fun 45 which you can pick up for a mere bag of shells here. I also encourage everyone to check out Bill’s blog on awesome 60s sounds. Anorak Thing.

Say it Ain’t So

FROM JAPAN WITH LOVE: Famous underground artist and Norton recording star, Rockin’ Jelly Bean makes a pilgrimage to the Norton Record Store, October 2016.
RJB shows off his art work to an amazed employee.

If it’s one thing you can be sure of in NYC, it’s change. News came recently from Ms. Miriam Linna that the Norton Record Store in Prospect Heights will be moving to another location. You can read her announcement here. In the meantime, if you have never been to the store, what are you waiting for?? Pick up some wax and run into some colorful characters. This certainly is not your average record store!

Thats the Bag I’m In: A Chat with The Senders’ Philippe Marcade

The ageless Philippe Marcade.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I had the good fortune to sit down with the legendary, musician, frontman—and now author, Philippe Marcade recently. Here is a small transcript of our chat.

SSA: As someone who has been in the underground music scene in NYC for quite a long time, I wanted to know when you first heard about the garage scene in the 80s. Was it because of The Dive?
Philippe: From its beginning in New York, I always felt that Punk Rock was very rooted in Garage. The Dead Boys did a pretty good version of Little Girl by Syndicate of Sound, Wayne County did the Barbarians’ Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?, The Cramps did The Crusher by The Novas and Primitive by The Groupies. But I think I first got aware of the 80s full tilt Garage Revival hanging out at Midnight Records on 23rd Street in 1984 and discovering bands like The Chesterfield Kings and The Fuzztones.

From your book, I know you dug many of the same sounds that many of us were into. Except years earlier! Were you surprised that a group of younger bands were now heavily getting into this period of music?
No, it seemed logical after the Rockabilly and Rhythm & Blues revival (The Stray Cats, The Blasters, Buzz & The Flyers, etc…). The years were moving on, only 20 years after!

Everyone has a Billy Miller story. What’s yours?
I think it was in 1997. The Senders were recording some demos at Coyote Studios in Brooklyn. I had brought a video camera and was filming some of our session when Billy walks in, shakes my hand with a rubber hand (!) then says “Do you want to film something cool? Come with me!”. He then leads me to the studio next door and there is Miriam banging on her drums while Cordell Jackson is playing some incredible diabolical instrumental. I got a minute of it on film. I even got Billy’s rubber hand..! You can see it on YouTube! I will always miss Billy. He really was such a great guy.

You must have a J.D. Martignon story as well. Brooklyn’s Bananas fanzine did a wonderful multi-part profile on him a few years ago that showed what a varied individual he was (Part 1, Part 2). I mean, besides being really ornery and difficult!
I liked JD a lot. He was a real sweet guy though, indeed, he could be moody.. I didn’t speak to JD for a few years, then, one day, I discovered he was on Facebook. I wrote him a message. He answered me with a message that was quite strange. He sounded a bit depressed. He was shocked to have just heard that Willy (from the band Da Willies) had passed away. His message ended with the words “Me, I’m stuck here, surrounded by records covered in dust. Here today, dust tomorrow.” Two days later I found out JD was dead too. I was truly shocked by that. I couldn’t stop thinking about his message for weeks.

While the Dive was certainly a fun spot, much of what I recall is unfortunately clouded by a heavy doses of alcohol. But, I do recall the cabaret-style setup and that it was the intimacy of the place that really made it special. The audience and the performers were as one. I missed the whole Max’s era, but I imagine that it was similar.
Yes, very much so. Everybody knew everybody else. It was indeed very “intimate”. And very fun.

It’s funny because while I do remember the characters, there is a whole group of other cool people who also hung out at the Dive that escape my memory. Like, Howie Pyro for instance.
How could you possibly forget Howie ?! He’s a pisser!

When the Dive closed, there was a short lull in the action. Soon though Gare and Deb Parker’s Strip took over as the spot to be. Followed by Ivy and Anne’s Minds Eye shows. The Strip shows were extraordinary because of the great bands that came through and played in a ramshackle old rummy bar. Do you have any amusing memories of that period?
I loved playing at The Strip, and I loved Gary and Deb. Alas, I can’t recall any special anecdotes there, though.

Bowery Rhythm Kings and The Senders at The Continental Divide. October 24, 1988.

The second wind of the Senders came at the perfect time when The Dive and The Strip shows were starting to wind down. The Continental residency became the natural place for most of the scene people to gravitate to. Looking back, it felt like the natural outgrown of Gare and Deb’s idea of combining 60s/70s trash/punk/garage/roots sounds.
It’s an actual fact that I, personally, started the scene at the Continental Divide. Haha! I wanted The Senders to do a residency, somewhere, in the East Village. One day, noticing that they had a “jazz night” on Tuesdays at the Continental Divide (which was a restaurant at the time) I walked in and asked Alan Roy, the owner, if he would be interested in doing a “Rock night” or “Blues night” once a week too. He seemed to like the idea and decided to give The Senders a Monday night spot and see how it goes. The first Monday, we had about four people there, but the next week we had about twenty and the week after that about sixty. We called our Monday nights The Sender Thing. We really got into it, booking the opening bands ourself and by doing this we creating a scene. Within a few months, the Continental Divide was a Rock club. Alan raised our pay three times, although we hadn’t asked for anything. He also had a bigger stage built. These were the most fabulous times for the Senders. Our Monday nights became very successful. It was completely packed week after week. We teamed up with great bands, like The Raunch Hands, Da Willies and The Waldos. It was just so much fun.

The Continental was a great place …even though I never ate there (maybe that was a good thing!) I recall someone telling me how Johnny Thunders was banned because he tried to make off with a chicken from the kitchen. As a good buddy to Johnny, was there any truth to that rumor?
It’s a true story. I was there that night. I see Johnny come out of the basement (where there was an ice-box) looking like he was pregnant!! He had three frozen chickens under his shirt! One of the barman noticed that too as Johnny made his way towards the door. He was busted!!

Employee Althea at the CBGB’s Pizzeria. Courtesy MySpace.

Also, I have to ask, how did you wind up making pizza at the short-lived CBGBs Pizzeria? My pal was always fond of saying how no one could flip a pizza like you could.
I was badly in need of work to pay my rent. When I saw that they were looking for a pizza maker at that new CBGB Pizza joint right next door to the club, I went to ask Hilly Cristal if I could work there. “Can you make pizza?” he asked me. I answered him “They call me Phil ‘Pizza King’ Marcade!! I can make the best pizza you ever had!!. He told me to come the next day, make a pizza and, if it was any good, he’d hire me. In truth, I had never made a pizza in my life!! I promptly went to the pizza place next to the Continental Divide (where they knew me quite well) and asked them if they could teach me. They did! I practiced all day. The next day, I impressed Hilly with my (brand new) pizza making skills and got the job. I hated that job, though. As it turned out, I got fired for giving a CBGB t-shirt to one of the Butthole Surfers!!

Haha! Manhattan certainly was an amazing place. While it is easy to be nostalgic, it’s also important to remember that the very same atmosphere unfortunately took a whole lot of amazing people. Its rare—and wonderful—to meet someone who went through it all, and made it through.
So many friends died. I feel like I’m 95 years old, sometimes. I’m really 62, but it’s strange and sad to feel like one of the last survivor of the Titanic or something.

Thanks for the chat Philippe. Your book is a smashing read and I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone with even the slightest interest in the punk scene in NYC pick it up, like NOW.
Thanks Jeff. If the readers don’t know already, it’s called Punk Avenue (Inside the New York City Underground 1972-1982). It came out this May, from Three Rooms Press.

I’ll Take Paris: Philippe Marcade and his Senders

The New York punk scene has long roots. There’s the stuff everyone knows about like CBs, the Ramones, Blondie, Television…etc., etc. Then are the things that totally fly under the radar for all except a lucky few. The Senders were one of those things. Living, loving, and performing alongside all the hottest bands of the time, one could not have been faulted for missing them. That is, until you met lead singer Philippe Marcade or saw his group play.

Thankfully, Philippe recently released a fascinating and amusing book chronicling his early punk years called Punk Avenue. Amongst the really hairy tales (that you really have to read to believe) Philippe narrates with an equal amount of tenderness and sincere affection for the characters in his past. Part chronicle, part confessional, the book radiates the sort of warmth and good humor that Phil was always known for.

This was very evident at the book release party at Poisson Rouge in downtown Manhattan on May 2nd. It seemed as if every friend Phil ever had was in attendance, as well as many others whose lives also centered around the punk scene in the late 70s.

Legs McNeil and Philippe Marcade.

The evening started with a small discussion moderated by Legs McNeil that discussed Phillipe’s music career and touched on a few amusing recollections. But the main draw was the musical lineup. Starting off with Brooklyn’s Daddy Long Legs, the night continued with The Waldos with guests like Andy Shernoff, Dee Pop, Danny Ray, J-F Vergel, and Shige Matsumoto. Closing was of course Philipe doing the “Sender thing” with The Rousers backing him up. When Philippe came onstage toting a bagful of colorful party streamers to hand out, it was obvious this show, was going to be a memorable one.  Aided by guests like Lenny Kaye and The Willys’ Lynne Von, it did not disappoint.

Outside the Continental Divide 1989. As seen on the back cover of the Live at The Continental Divide LP. Photo: Frank Linder.

The Senders left a small footprint on the NYC garage scene as well. When they reformed for their second run in the late 80’s, their hard-driving R&B rock was naturally noticed by New York’s garage rock aficionados. The Monday residency at the then-new Continental Divide quickly became the place to be on a Monday night. Not only did they host an amazing assortment of supporting acts such as the aforementioned Waldos, but veteran scene bands like The Headless Horsemen and the Raunch Hands also made appearances.

I wholeheartedly encourage anyone interested in NY’s punk scene to pick up Philippe’s book. It deservedly belongs next to your copy of Please Kill Me and New York Rock. Keep tuned to this space, interview coming up!

Long Live the King

This is my first post in a long while here. There is a reason for that. A little over six months ago we lost a huge part of what I believe made the New York music scene as special as it was to many of us. And to be quite honest, celebrating this time and period in the mid-80s garage scene is quite hard without paying some sort of homage to this man.

On November 13, 2016 we lost record collector, fan, and musician Billy Miller. Billy took his pure love of rock n’ roll and created a world in which he and many, many, others could live in and enjoy. Starting very humbly with just a fanzine and an unending passion, he forged a path produced by his own fevered vision of a world where unsung musicians were lauded and rewarded with long-overdue praise.

So while it was well known amongst his closest friends that he was battling cancer, it was nevertheless a shock that to hear of his sudden passing. Since then, many many writers much more eloquent than myself have shared their views of his passing. All touching on some part of his life that made his very presence a pleasure to thousands around the world. From the New York Times obit, to Billboard magazine all the way to Lindsay Hogg’s impassioned blog post on his Next Big Things website. Its all covered.

So what could I add? Not much really. Just preaching to the choir at this point. Nevertheless, I am sure I feel the same hollow feeling inside that others do when they think about Billy. A feeling that cannot begin to match the one felt by his loving partner Miriam Linna. Loss is never easy. In fact, while the garage scene tends to focus on some aspect of loss…it is only because we never really understand it. Its a deep, shared, experience that humanizes all of us. Billy knew this. In fact, I am sure, somewhere, Billy is looking down and hoping we start a band…cause thats just the kind of guy he was. RIP good sir.

 

The Ramones Come Home

The Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum.
The Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum.

As a kid growing up in Briarwood, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens, I never really felt that I was a “New Yorker”. Despite being within the geographical confines of NYC, it seemed like another world. When compared to the mythical OZ across the river, all we really had to mark ourselves as New Yorkers were The Mets and the ’39 and ’64 Worlds Fairs. Any excursion to Manhattan was even labelled as a trek to the “city”. So, with this mindset, my pals and I would often take a 30 minute walk to Forest Hills to satisfy our young wanderlust. It was one of the few places in our world where you could hang inside a record store, see a movie, and grab some fast food (a rarity at the time!). Little did we realize that merely a few blocks away, four guys were cooking up something that was to change…well, everything.

It was only as an adult that I began to grasp how inconceivable it was that everything that I held dear about music, came to existence a few subway stops away—in Queens yet! So, I couldn’t have been more pleased this past summer to see that the ultimate garage punk band, The Ramones, were honored by an exhibition at the Queens Museum. As I told a few people, the exhibit served as a way to not just honor the band but also honor the spirit of the fans, the borough and even New York City. It was wildly satisfying on so many different levels. Even if it did oddly make me feel like a living fossil.

When it was announced that The Ramones would have a street naming ceremony in Forest Hills on October 30, I knew there was no way that I could miss this. Actually, I had also attended the dedication of Joey Ramone Place near CBGBs way back in 2003. But this ceremony seemed much more personal in a lot of ways. For one, it was finally on home turf.

Dedication of Joey Ramone Place at the corner of Bowery and 2nd St. November 30, 2003. Speaker: Arturo Vega.
Crowd at the dedication of Joey Ramone Place at the corner of Bowery and 2nd St. November 30, 2003. Right: The Ramones Creative Director, the late Arturo Vega.

Bracing for a crowd that I thought would rival the Manhattan ceremony, I was surprised to see only about 100 mostly older die-hard fans milling about the front of Forest Hills High School. Maybe it was the time. 11AM on a Sunday morning did not endear itself to anyone even remotely used to sleeping in on the weekend. Nevertheless, spirits were high as fans happily chatted while Ramones tunes played in the background.

The ceremony started off with the usual speeches from the assembled politicos and school executives. Each (oddly) describing their personal Ramones memories.  But the real treat was hearing from a select group of people closely associated with the group. Tour Manager Monty Melnick, Band Manager Danny Fields, Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh, ex-Cramps drummer Miriam Linna, and even The Damned’s Capt. Sensible all shared an anecdote or two, but also spoke about how deeply the band mattered to them. You couldn’t have thought of a nicer way to close off the first part of the ceremony. After the speeches, the street sign was summarily unveiled. And, while it was nice to see, I couldn’t help but feel it was almost anti-climactic. Just having the band acknowledged and held dear by so many was the real kicker. Gabba gabba we accept you one of us.

Clockwise from upper left: Danny Fields; Jeff Shore, Mark Kahn, Pete Ciccone, Ramona, Miriam Linna and Jeremy Tepper; Mickey Liegh.
Clockwise from upper left: Danny Fields; Fan Jeff Shore, The Anything People’s Mark Kahn, Rat Bastard/Vacant Lot member Pete Ciccone, Ramona, Miriam Linna and World Famous Blue Jays/Diesel Records owner Jeremy Tepper; Mickey Leigh.
Capt Sensible
Captain Sensible speaks to the assembled crowd.

ramones_rsd__87565-1461190812-1280-1280Vinyl Junkie Alert: Miriam Linna, who along with Billy Miller own the outstanding imprint Norton Records, recently released a piece of Ramones history that collectors would find well worth their time seeking out. As part of Norton’s offering for Record Store Day this year Norton pressed up a limited run of  100 7″ copies of The Ramones 1975 demo for Judy is A Punk on clear blue vinyl. And as if to make the single even more interesting, the cover image is a rare shot of the boys actually smiling. Obsessives take note!

Attack of the Jersey Teens Part II — The Phantom Five


While we’re on the subject of New Jersey garage/mod bands of the 80s, you really cannot forget the Phantom Five. While they never got to play the Dive, the group did play many of the most well-known venues of the time like Tramps, CBGB, and McCarthys/The Strip. In fact, they even ventured as far out as Bethlehem, PA and Nyack!

phantomv45Started in 1985, by the brothers Grogan, Larry(D), Vince(B) and Chris (G) soon joined forces with pal Bill Luther and recorded a fantastic EP titled Great Jones Street in late summer 1986. Put out and produced by Mod Fun‘s Mick London (in an actual garage no less!) the EP showcased the bands great knack for catchy garage punkers. The Five were also unique in that while many groups strived for a calculated image, these guys were more than content to just let the music speak for itself. They were the very epitome of an actual mid-60s garage punk band. In 1987, John ‘Bluesman’ Rahmer replaced Bill Luther.

Tunes were recorded for a second EP that was to have been released on Stepford Husbands’ Dave Amels label, Cryptovision in 1987. Unfortunately, plans fell though and the EP never came out. The band soon called it quits with the various members moving on to other projects. Chris formed the Grievous Angels, Vince joined Gigantic, Bill the Tea Party (pre-Insomniacs) and Larry returned to doing zines.

These days Larry remains a fan of music, moving into collecting and DJing as well as tending to his fantastic soul and pop culture blogs. Former member Bill Luther also a collector and DJ, maintains his own 60s related music blog as well. —Many thanks to Larry Grogan for invaluable info.