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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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?
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, Iactually 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.
[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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Meand New York Rock. Keep tuned to this space, interview coming up!
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.
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.
Vinyl 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!
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!
Started 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.
When it comes to discussing the Mod scene in NY/NJ, during the 80s a couple of choice names always seem to come up—Mod Fun and The Secret Service. While those two ensembles certainly lived up to the intense buzz they created, no one back then would have guessed that three of their fans from across the Hudson would form their own group and end up surpassing their idols.
The Insomniacs originally consisted of the brothers Robert and David Wojciechowski who, along with their pal Mike Sinnochi, formed the core of the group for many years. As long time denizens of the Dive, all three were all well aware of and active participants in the mod and garage scenes. Soon after the demise of the brothers’ previous band, The Tea Party, Dave, Bob and Mike began performing newly written material under the name The Insomniacs.
Almost immediately they built up a strong following in the NY/NJ area. That, coupled with the bands incendiary live performances were enough to catch the attention of Estrus records honcho Dave Crider, who signed them to his label in 1994. This 45 produced in 1991 however, is the first single they put out. It showcases the bands strong, hard-edged, 60s flavored pop songs that would garner them acclaim not just here, but overseas as well. Sharp fans will notice that this 45 version is markedly different from the version that wound up on 1994’s CD collection Wake Up! As Dave said “The Estrus version was a totally new recording for the “ghoul” ten inch. It’s much faster as by then we were playing all the time and that’s how we did it live.”
Advance apologies for the snap, crackle, and pop. My copy somehow amazingly managed to survive not only being stepped on, but also having cheap beer spilled on it! A testament to the raucous record release atmosphere at McCarthys Bar that night.
The band still performs occasionally, with new drummer Joel replacing Mike Sinnochi who retired from performing.
Being NYC, many smaller bands from outside the area always made it a point to make the city a stopover. One of those bands, The Mockers, came all the way from Virginia Beach, VA. Details of how I found out about their NYC gig is still a bit hazy…but with a name like The Mockers, any 60s music fan worth his salt would be curious. There was no question where I would be that sunny weekend afternoon in 1987—NYU’s old Loeb student union.
At this point the group was only a few years old and, like most bands at that point in their career, they were hungry to win over the audience. True to form they delivered a perfect 60s-flavored pop set that even made converts of people who just happened to wander into the performance area by accident. After the show ended I went over to head Mocker Seth Gordon and complimented him on a wonderful set. Seth sincerely thanked me and did something that used to be a lot more common among bands and fans. He handed me a demo tape in appreciation.
The 1987 demo version of Outdoor Cafe (which was to eventually make its way to 1995s Somewhere Between Mocksville and Harmony LP) is minimally produced and shows the band as close to live as you can get. Truly a gem of a song, and performance.
Nowadays The Mockers are in the midst of an extended hiatus. However, over the years they did go on to have a long and fruitful career overseas. Big in Japan indeed.
If this site had a patron saint, it would have to be The Vipers. For the short period that they existed, they not only laid the ground work for the scene but also inspired innumerable others to take up the cause. To this day, even garage music fans in Japan know about them. So, to know that the first LP was never properly reissued was truly a crime. One that ex-Viper Paul Martin was happy to take on.
Now the fruits of his labor of love are available for anyone to purchase. How good is this album? To quote Mike Stax in Ugly Things fanzine “The Vipers set themselves apart with superior songwriting chops and a melodic, harmony-based sound that was closer to the Knickerbockers and the Turtles than the Seeds or the Music Machine. While other bands got by on attitude and bluster, the Vipers used finesse, a quality that served them particularly well on Outta the Nest!”
While the disc does not have any extra tracks, the sound was remastered from a pristine original pressing and pressed on heavy vinyl. To say the sound jumps out at you is putting it mildly. Its an amazing job considering the material. A 24″ x 36″ poster rounds out the package.
Garage music die-hards can do themselves a favor and pick up the vinyl straight from the source. Rocka-Rola Records 101A Clay Street, San Francisco, CA 94111. $25 (US & Canada). Paypal devotees & inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org!
While I do not find myself out and about nowadays, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of the groups that are to this day flying the 60s garage punk banner in NYC. First up is these fab Brooklynites. The Above have been around for quite a while and probably take the award for stick-to-it-iveness. Much like the great bands of days gone by they blend a unique, yet familiar, mix of R&B, Soul, Freakbeat, Garage and Beat. I recommend checking out their live shows as they rock like you wouldn’t believe.