Like I mentioned in the previous post, cross-pollination was one of the things that made the NYC scene thrive. Despite the limited exposure that all the bands received, a small network formed in the East Coast of those “in the know” who were only too happy to share info, tapes and the like with other like-minded souls.
Thee Cellar Dewellers were one of those bands. Located in the small town of Carlisle, PA way off in Central Pennsylvania, the band was certainly off the beaten track. However, their proximity to Harrisburg enabled them to form connections that eventually led to them playing in NYC as well as other larger cities like Washington D.C.
I spoke to founder Jim Baetz about the NYC connection and what led to them making their NYC debut.
SSA: Thanks for your time Jim. Can you tell us the progression of the group from a local PA band to a touring band?
Jim Baetz: Here is a bit of a timeline. We somehow got in touch with Dino Sorbello from the Blacklight Chameleons in mid-1986. He is a Central PA native. I’m really not sure how, but he was the NYC person we were first in contact with, as far as I can remember. Probably close to that time, we reached out to Larry Grogan and Bill Luther because they both had fanzines we had read. We had put on a few shows here ourselves and had The Blacklight Chameleons play with us. That was October of 86. While The Headless Horsemen are listed on the flyer, they didn’t make the show. I believe PA’s The Cool Italians performed in their place.
Then, in March of ’87, NYC’s Secret Service, NJ’s Phantom V, along with The Cool Italians and Thee Cellar Dwellers played a local show here. This was about a month before our first Mind’s Eye show in April of 87. In total, I think we only played shows in NYC three times. Once at the Strip with the Phantom V and I believe, two Mind’s Eye shows. There is actually some video of us playing the first show with the Blacklight Chameleons. I will need to dig this up and have it transferred to DVD. I believe I still have it.
SSA: What were your impressions of playing NYC at the time? I’m sure the NYC bands were more than eager to have you come over and play.
JB: It was really exciting to do the shows there. New York was where you wanted to play and doing a Mind’s Eye show was about as good as it could get. Joey Ramone was at the show we did with The Cynics and The Blacklight Chameleons, but I believe he showed up after our set. I said hello and he seemed like an amazingly nice guy. As expected, he had plenty of people around him. That show was a blast. We were friends with both The Cynics and Chameleons—Ivy and Ann had set it up that way. They figured the night would have a great vibe. I feel they got that right. We did have a really strong night and a lot of fun after the fact.
SSA: You also mentioned you played The Strip. Now that must have been quite a different experience! It was more of a CB’s, dive-ish sort of place.
JB: The Strip was a little less fun. But still a good time. We played with the Phantom V. Unfortunately, I don’t have many memories of playing that show. Not sure how good we were or anything. I do remember the place being very old. But we did have fun because a bunch of friends showed up. We always ended up having a good time wherever and whenever we played out.
SSA: Did you have a chance to catch any other NYC shows?
JB: We attended a few Mind’s Eye shows and very likely others. Especially if the Cynics, Blacklight Chameleons or The Ravens from Philly were playing. We loved playing in NYC, but we actually played more often in DC.
SSA: Thanks so much for your thoughts, Jim. There is so little information out about Thee Cellar Dwellers that any sort of info certainly puts the era into better focus.
JB: Thanks for being interested, I am still a bit surprised when people are interested in any of the bands I have been involved with!
Despite the strong NYC reception, Thee Cellar Dwellers existed for only a short while longer. A single exists on Get Hip Records but is now out of print. In addition, songs were also compiled for a full-length release, however, the deal sadly fell through. Seeing this as an opportune time to move on, the members went their separate ways soon after. Jim into a power-pop band called Needle Jack, Mike Schultz to college and the remaining three (Mark Ebling, Susan Mackey, Eric Ebeling) forming The Omega Men.
However, back in 1987, you’d be hard-pressed to find any more deserving band to support the mighty Cynics. The proof is in the track below. Also, as an additional bonus, Jim graciously provided a demo that never made it to vinyl. Huge thanks to William Luther who graciously provided the amazing live shots from a February 1987 gig at an American Legion Hall in Mechanicsburg, PA. seen up top, and below.
Minds Eye, April 16, 1987. Full Set List: Try It (The Standells), Those Lies You Told, I Can Only Give You Everything (Them), Hang Up (The Wailers), Psycho (The Sonics), She’s Coming Home (The Blues Magoos), Five Years Ahead of My Time (The Third Bardo), Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (The Standells), Can’t You See, Hey Little Bird (The Barbarians), Dwellin’, Around and Around (Chuck Berry), Doin’ Me In (Gonn), You’re Gonna Miss Me (The 13th Floor Elevators), You Got No Choice, ENCORE: I Can’t Control Myself (The Troggs).
While Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco had the distinction of being the epicenter of psychedelic lifestyle and musical culture in the 60s, it’s pretty easy to forget that it not only existed but flourished in other parts of the US as well. Most famously exemplified by the myriad of Texas psych bands such as Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators and Houston’s Moving Sidewalks.
New York also had their fair share of such bands, such as the outstanding Blues Magoos. However, for the most part, they too occupied a small niche. Most likely since NYC was regarded by many in the music business as the penultimate soul/pop music town. Nevertheless, the faithful continued to plug away like lysergic sirens hoping to draw more converts into the fold.
Come the 80s you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in NYC dedicated to this genre. Then you had South Central PA native, Dino Sorbello who singlehandedly gave the long-dormant psychedelic genre a kick in the pants.
As a youth, Dino liked the Doors and older Kinks stuff as well as “some band called The Beatles…” The summer of ’76 proved to be pivotal as his Harrisburg pal Billy Synth (and compiler of the famous Psychedelic Unknown compilations) turned him onto 60s garage and psych. Coinciding with the burgeoning punk movement downtown, Dino eventually found himself driving into Manhattan with pals to catch bands.
The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 made Dino move permanently to NYC. Seeking to establish himself in the music he loved so much, the choice was easy. “I grew up with this stuff, it’s the time/era I came here to live in.”
Together with the late Wendy Wild, Dino started a band called the Mad Violets in 1982. The band was one of the few that proudly displayed its psychedelic influences for all to see. They were, as Dino puts it, “scratchy, frenetic, but truly a psychedelic, pop, garage, going-for-it rock and roll band.” One of the standout tracks on the outstanding second volume of Voxx’s Battle of the Garages compilation, Psylocibe, presents all of the bands’ strengths in a compact four minutes. Although becoming a favorite in the early days of the Dive, the band broke up at the end of 1984.
Dino’s next project was The Blacklight Chameleons, which came to fruition in 1985. As Dino adds, “Our original 4-piece did the first Voxx EP. We often played the Dive as well as other venues. Somehow, we dumb-lucked ourselves into an issue of Vanity Fair with Mary Ellen Mark herself taking an amazing photo. We used the magazine as our demo and got gigs all over the place! The usual lineup changes happened, but eventually, we landed Sharon Middendorf as our singer. We ended up playing in California a lot and Florida too. That lineup recorded the second album Inner Mission. Then, aliens kidnapped everyone and left me here to start a new group, Laughing Sky, because, you know, they were laughing when they flew away with my second band in a row.”
The Chameleons did make a stronger mark than The Violets by putting a more public face to the 60s scene. Not only did they perform frequently at Ivy Vale and Anne Doenas’ psychedelic light-show party, the Mind’s Eye, but the attention also got them on the cover of High Times magazine.
In an interesting footnote, Dino also played in the reunited version of the NYC 60s psychedelic band, The Third Bardo. Best known for their iconic song “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time“, which wound up on the critically acclaimed compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. When I asked Dino about this he said, “I did play with The Third Bardo! They were legends to us in the 80s … like could they really exist in real life? But I met them at a Stony Brook show and joined them as thereminist when they heard I played one. I played with them on a local radio show on NYU and about half a dozen shows in the NYC area with them before they again returned to a scattered state. I was hoping to get them to record a new album, but that alas that didn’t happen.”
The bands Laughing Sky and Tripwave followed through to the 90s. Dino’s recent projects continued to mine the psychedelic plane by combining keyboards, guitar and theremin. Together with partner Jynx Lynx, the two-piece combine covers (such as Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”) with originals and entirely remake them into trippy, atmospheric sound tapestries that combine Jynx’s ethereal vocals and keyboards with Dino’s overdriven sounds on guitar and theremin. It’s a unique mix, but it works.
“I started playing music with Jynx after her band Bombshell broke up, she was playing solo shows and would have various guests playing, including me.” When asked what his goal was, Dino responded, “There’s no ‘goal’ other than to really be able to play the theremin as an instrument with a voice, instead of just sound effects. Jynx writes some pretty great songs, and I get a few of mine in there as well. We have plenty of room to be psychedelic and groove with the electric 12-string too. Seems like lately, with our new second CD out, Real Surreal, we’re getting pretty busy.”
As if Dino’s musical talents weren’t enough, he was also one of the few people at the time who embraced video in its earliest years and took it on himself to create a long-running Manhattan cable access show.
Tripwave! has been running on Manhattan cable since 2001 and, according to Dino, has been on the air in LA and Seattle/Canada too. He added, “Anyone in the world can watch it by going to mnn.org on Thursday nights at 11 p.m., EST, and selecting CH. 4. There’s a lot of one-of-a-kind videos I shot myself, psychedelic music past, present, and future, with nature footage.”
With the recent passing of psychedelic icon Roky Erickson, Dino plans on airing some performance videos he shot of his friend. The shows occurred in Pittsburg soon after Roky’s brother Sumner took over conservatorship and began nursing him back to health. A process most famously documented in the 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me. As Dino noted, “I got to take him to Eat’n’Park for breakfast and even ran a big catfish grill for him on the roof deck one evening. I told him all about the NYC scene.”
It seems somehow fitting to end it here. With the image of the master of 60s Texas psych happily chatting with the disciple of 80s NYC psych, over a plate of eggs. Who says that there is no order in the universe? To keep abreast of all things Dino, visit his website tripwave.com.
Life is pretty surprising. If you would have asked me a few years back if this site…or even this blog … would ever have gotten past year two I would have cut you a look similar to the one famed 70s TV sitcom in-law, Aunt Esther used to give to her equally infamous brother-in-law, Fred Sanford. Dated TV references aside though, it truly is a joy to find people kindly giving their time to keep this blog going.
Tim Warren is one of those people. Founder and sole proprietor of Crypt Records, Tim is one of those rare collectors who has dedicated their entire lives to making sure that people around the world share the same excitement that still drives him day-after-day. Working on an almost fanatical level over 30 years ago, Tim single-handedly was responsible for tracking down long-forgotten singles that even original 60s band members had little use for. Crisscrossing the country by car for months at a time, when the only means of communication was a pay phone and a stamped envelope, Tim amassed a catalog of killer songs that truly exemplified the wildest side of mid-60s teen fervor. The iconic Back From the Grave series of compilations were the fruits of his labor. Other comps followed that centered on exotica, greasy R&B, and assorted oddities but always with the Crypt level of quality. Even a stint of “modern” bands such as the New Bomb Turks, Nine-Pound Hammer, the Wylde Mammoths among others saw a home on Crypt Records as well.
Fast forward three decades later and I find myself sitting in Tim’s apartment in Berlin. Alongside us, Tim’s doggie Roky quietly relaxes while a Real Kids test pressing cranks in the background. Apologizing for the volume of the record, Tim quickly pulls the needle off and ushers me into his home studio where we hunker down and listen to some live Raunch Hands material at an equally loud volume. As the cuts whizz by, I can’t help but be drawn in by Tim’s enthusiasm. ‘Ya gotta listen to this…isn’t that CRAZY!” We have a few laughs at the sheer outrageousness of some the tracks and then settle down for a chat.
SSA: Tim, thanks again for giving me some of your time. It took a little work to find you. You know nowadays everyone seems to be on Facebook, which is great for tracking down people but is a bit of a double-edged sword.
Tim:Everybody is on Facebook, but I’m not. Nevertheless, when I was doing the Real Kids research it became a necessary evil. One of it’s saving graces though was how it enabled me able to track down a guy who made live, reel-to-reel, tape recordings of many classic Boston bands at his loft. Stuff like DMZ, Real Kids, Unnatural Ax, all these bands, playing all the time at this guys loft. Amazing, right?
On Facebook I met this fellow who knew Real Kid Billy Borgioli’s widow. At first, I was a little hesitant of his connection, as many of these music-related friendships are very fleeting. To my surprise he turned out to be the nicest,most sincere fellow in the world. In fact, he had paid Billy’s widow thirty-five hundred for Billy’s old guitar that was only worth only about twenty-five hundred. Just a prince.
This fellow had rescued two big scrapbooks from the Borgioli’s (each band always has one guy with a scrapbook.) And within that scrapbook was where I first saw this list of songs. June 21, 1976… June 22, 1976. Two 7 1/2″ reel-to-reels and one 4 3/4″ reel-to-reel. All these live songs on tape. It got me thinking, who had recorded this? That evening I mentioned it to John Felice and he tells me that he thinks the tapers names were Dale and Monica. Unfortunately, he could not recall their last names.
Two weeks later, I’m talking with Jim Felice, John’s brother on the phone. Twenty minutes into our conversation I ask him ‘who are these people?’ I had emailed everybody in Boston by this time. Dale and Monica, loft on High Street, parties there with bands playing. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Nothing. Then, near the very end of our call, Jim suddenly exclaims “Gabriel! Dale Gabriel. His nickname was Gabe.” Dale Gabriel? Boom!
SSA: You found him.
Tim: I had found him and I immediately called him the next day
Tim:“Yup, that was me” Dale told me the next morning “I recorded all those bands on my reel-to-reel deck” blah, blah blah… “a Studer reel-to-reel deck too…great quality.” And I’m eating this up like crazy. Suddenly his tone changes and he reveals that two months ago, he had to downsize from a house to a condo. And as part of his downsizing efforts, the tapes ended up on the curb as trash.
At this point I’m thinking, I re-joined Facebook on April 9, 2017, specifically to reach out to people. Hating myself for doing it all along. And while I did send out requests for info on the mystery taper, I often got wrong information and ended up tracking down people months later that had nothing to do with those tapes. All I kept thinking was if only I had found him in April…
SSA:You would have…
Tim: I would have flown over to Boston and driven down to his home in Virginia Beach, VA and had Boston rock-and-roll history out-the-ass. I would have had, 20 albums let’s say, 20 albums of unreleased, live, bad-ass, rock-and-roll from Boston from ’76 to ’78. God. And to think that that shit was so casually discarded. I even emailed the waste transfer station with an image saying that this was what the reels would look like and that I was willing to pay a $5000 reward for them. Immediately they write me back saying that everything goes straight into the incinerator. You could have heard me scream in Germany. I just wanted to kill myself. Just fuckin’ kill myself. Cause, Christ, you know it’s history, that’s fucking history in a big way… crazy, crazy, crazy.
SSA: Getting back to the New York scene, can you tell me a bit about The Bad Music Seminar?
Tim: Oh boy, what a disaster! Pete Ciccone (Rat Bastards, Vacant Lot) and I decided to put that one together. As we were both obsessive Milkshakes and Mighty Caesar‘s freaks, our idea was to bring over Billy Childish believing that people would just show up. Yup, (laughs) we lost 45 hundred on that. We flew in The Gravediggers from California as well as outsider artist Jack Starr from Texas. Jack had just had an album released on Norton Records so we had him backed by the A-Bones. Perfect, right? It sounded like the Velvet Underground.
Tim: I wish I had the live tape of that. We probably have the reel-to-reels somewhere. I remember Billy Childish yelling “Hey, Peter Frampton!” to our sound man. He kept calling him Peter Frampton because the poor guy sported long, golden locks like Frampton.
Anyway, we brought the Caesars in and the idea was to have them come in and record. At the same time, record The Rat Bastards, The Gravediggers Mike Markesich (who authored the TeenBeat Mayhem! book) and The Double Naught Spies. That was the plan, and then as a bonus have these bands play live.
Tim: Pete chose half the bands, and I chose half. And, then we tried to find a space that ended up being Shelter Studios on W37th St. I had seen this article about Shelter Studios that described it as some sort of large techno loft smack in the middle of the garment district.
Jeff: It was a pretty rough spot. Most of these music studio-type places in that area were not equipped to handle large groups of people. The elevators alone were only made for three or four people.
Tim: It was insane.
Jeff: I had heard a rumor about Thee Mighty Caesars getting ahold of your credit card and going to town with it at Peter Lugers. Any truth to that?
Tim: No, no, no, no, no. Here’s the here’s the real story. This is the funniest shit ever. We had the band recording in Coyote Studios in Brooklyn when two of them, the bass player and the drummer, had to leave a couple days before Childish. Williamsburg back then you know was a wasteland. There was like, one deli in, 10 square blocks.
So anyway, I’m getting ready to drive them out to JFK for their flight home and they come up to me “Ah Tim, you know we’d really like to get a great meal, at a steakhouse, or something …”
I quickly recalled that every time I go to Coyote or went across the Williamsburg Bridge on my way to the pressing plant in Long Island City, I passed this steakhouse sign. It always made me wonder ‘whats this Peter Lugers?’ And as I’m not in that income level, the name meant nothing to me. So I mention this to the owners of Coyote, Albert and Mike Caiti, that these guys want to go to a steak place. They were like “Well, there is Peter Lugers, it’s really good.”
So, I drive them over to Peter Lugers. And I tell them that I have to head back to the studio and I’ll come back about an hour and a half to pick them up and then we’ll head to the airport.
An hour and a half later I come back, and I don’t see them. Great. Here I am, dressed like a bum, still wearing the same clothes for three days because of this frantic schedule, running around looking for these guys. I hesitantly walk into Peter Luger’s in a fuckin’ ripped shirt looking like something the cat dragged in.
“Excuse me, um, I left three English gentlemen here at the restaurant about an hour and a half ago.” “Oh yes. Come with me.” The maitre’d led me in and there they are, sitting in front of a huge plate of bones with grins a mile wide. “Is, everything OK?” “Yeah! Relax, relax!” And, boom, there’s another hundred and fifty dollars down the drain. Another cash outlay, more bleeding. At first, I thought they were going to lead me into a back bathroom where I’d find them washing dishes or something.
Tim: So, I laid out a hundred fifty for the meal.
SSA: And they got their steak.
Tim: Yup. So, it wasn’t them maxing out a credit card. It was only me looking like a bum, walking into Peter Lugers.
SSA: And just paying them.
Tim: And, paying the bill LATE. When I get back to Coyote they asked me where I took them. I said, “Oh, this place called Peter Lugers.” “WHAT!!!!! That place is really expensive!” It wasn’t that they recommended Lugers, but from my viewpoint, it didn’t seem like a big deal at first. That area was all prostitutes back then. You’d have the Hasidim getting blowjobs in their cars from the crack whores under the Williamsburg Bridge. I was thinking, it can’t be that posh you know, but it is! Hahaha. But I would not have known because I didn’t live on that income level where I could just go out and eat steak for 50 bucks. We were happy with a dollar slice, you know? But yeah that was the story with the Caesars and Peter Lugers.
Tim: But the Bad Music seminar thing, was chaos and a cluster fuck. I mean we tried to get some promotion. I did a mailing to all my mail order customers since you know, there wasn’t an Internet.
In the end, nobody really cared. Nobody. Actually, when Childish got back to England, they recorded there. In reality, the Mighty Caesars had broken up long before the seminar. When I originally reached out to Childish I asked him, “Do you mind just coming over for a one-shot reunion show for two nights in New York?” “Sure.” I followed that up with, “Hey, you guys wanna record an album?” “Yeah, sure.” Boom. So after the gig they went back to England and recorded John Lennon’s Corpse Revisited. Pete Ciccone and I did the Sgt. Peppers dis for the cover with all the serial murders, and put that out
Come October 1988, the Raunch Hands recorded the Payday album. And when the album came out, nobody was buying in the States! Nobody. So I just figured, let’s try out Europe. Hahaha .. twenty thousand dollars later…
I lost a lot of money on that first tour because I bought a van in Holland. I also bought a dual back line, bass amp, two guitar amps, blah blah blah blah, drums, all that shit. And shipped it over to Europe.
SSA: Man, good luck!
Tim: But, hey, it gave the Raunch Hands a second life. They were dead on the fuckin’ vine you know. I was glad I was able to resuscitate their career. They weren’t getting anywhere since it was all grunge at that point. 1988 was the birth of all that Soundgarden and Led Zeppelin imitation stuff. And it was bad. I remember there was a deejay on college radio station WNYU, this English guy. We’re sitting there in the studio and I’m hearing this thing that sounds like Led Zeppelin to me. Awful stuff, but the DJ is falling over himself “Wow, did that sound just like Robert Plant?!” I’m thinking to myself, and…this is a good thing? What did punk rock do for the world? Hahaha. It’s all over! So yeah, that was the climate at the time.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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!
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?
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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!!
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.