Things Are Perfect Now: The Unlikely Resurgence of The Outta Place

The Outta Place
The Outta Place at 240 West. June 30, 1984. Photo courtesy Tom Bessoir.

When it comes to the things you never expected for 2021, getting a new record from NYC’s Outta Place was certainly tops among the list. Even more so after the passing of venerable frontman Michael Chandler a few years back. The fact that there was even a Cavestomp reunion in 2007 was in itself a bit of a miracle.

The Outta Place at their only full reunion at Jon Weiss’ 2007 Cavestomp. Courtesy Cavestomp.

Still, when Cheepskates member and unofficial Cryptkeeper of all things Dive, David John Herrera, mentioned he had received a copy of the Outta Place’s new record in the mail on social media, it piqued my curiosity. I asked David if he would mind writing a few things about the release for our followers.

“Man it sounds so good. Totally primitive man! I have to get the record. I have all their other records. Tomorrow I can plug my phone into my car and blast it! Thank you for sending it.” Ognir – 80s NYC garage/psych scenester

In referring to a Master he had studied, Pablo Picasso once stated, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

When the Outta Place began to take shape in 1982, their ages were 15, 16, 18, 19, and 20. And unlike most of the “Garage scene” groups of the time, the core of the band only knew of songs they spun on 60s compilation LPs titled “Boulders,” “Nuggets,” and “Pebbles” as well as other records by lesser-known bands of that era. They had no knowledge of 70s hard rock nor did they care to. Hence the music was being produced from the heart. They weren’t trying to sound like the 60s, they were (musically) living it.

The Outta Place promo shot.

In the early spring of 1983, they arrived at an NYC rehearsal studio I was working in. Though their sound was still rounding out, it was unmistakable that they were all on the same wavelength. The rhythm of the drums, bass, and organ was just throbbing, and the razor-like guitar was cutting through every lead. Vocally the singer approached every song with wild abandon, and it was very apparent that “these kids were onto something.”

I had just moved to New York four or five months earlier, and all of us quickly became friends, friendships which last to this day. So when SHAKE SOME ACTION! found out I had received a copy of Outta’ Place’s new LP titled “Prehistoric Recordings,” they asked if I would write a review. On first listen the music and sound practically transported me to another time. Not the 60s but the 80s. We all used to play at a wild club (around the corner from the same rehearsal studio) called The Dive. The drinking age in NYC had just gone up from 18 to 19, and so the age of the patrons was all over the map (not to mention the fake IDs). And when the Outta Place played a show there, along with the garage/psych crowd, which had come to call the club
home, much younger friends of the band were everywhere.

The Outta Place’s 2020 release, Prehistoric Recordings. Art by Bastian Tröger.

This new batch of recordings is a real treat. The first six tracks were selected from over 100 hours of reel-to-reel rehearsal tapes, and the second track “What ‘cha’ talking” is the only original composition to which the entire band contributed. The remainder of the tracks were recorded “Live at The Dive.” All are covers, but I always felt the song “Dirty Old Man” resonated because of their general age. “We’re Outta’ Place” is a rewrite of a song originally titled “We’re Pretty Quick” and a “bonus track” is a rework of the “Batman Theme.” For me, the song “Blonds” stands out because of its clean sound and late singer Michael Chandler’s harmonica solo (uncredited), but generally the entire LP just rocks.

Back in the day, there was a scenester named Ognir who, during a radio promo for a six-band garage/psych NYC show, was referred to as “Your caveman host.” He is the one credited with dubbing the Outta Place New York’s “Caveteens” and is quoted at the beginning of this review. Below is one more of his reactions to the new LP:

NYC’s own caveman, Ognir. Photo by Orin Portnoy.

“Hey man just played the Outta’ Place in my car. All I can say man is wow, it’s still primitive after all them years! Love it. Brings back all them cool years at The Dive. Tell Orin thanks again. Just made my day.”

You can pick up a limited-edition vinyl version of the new record at Italy’s Area Pirata Bandcamp page HERE. For more things Dive-related, please visit David’s webpage filled with some neat photos and recollections from those days. If you’re looking for more vinyl, you might also want to visit Orin Portnoy’s Discogs page which features records from The Outta Place, The Bohemian Bedrocks, and The Lone Wolves.

Give Him a Hand: A Chat with Mike Mariconda

Airborne Mike: The Raunch Hands at Maxwells.

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

Mike Mariconda mixing it up in Italy. Courtesy Fabio Rizzo

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

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

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

Ad for Venus Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back From the Grave Vol 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business card size handout. Courtesy Dawn Eden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raunch Hands Gig Postcard

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

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

Give a Hand to a Raunch Hand

Michael Chandler of the Raunch Hands
Michael Chandler of the Raunch Hands at The Palladium.

My first exposure to The Raunch Hands came at club directly across Roseland Ballroom on 52nd St called 240 West. As the show was sparsely-attended, it was not a surprise to find out that the club closed soon afterwards (eventually finding  a new life—albeit briefly—as the Lone Star Cafe Roadhouse.)

However on that night, the main attraction was a brash punk-y roots-y band that truly exemplified the term Rhythm and Booze. While the “cowpunk” genre was already on its way out, what made this band stand out was the howling, skinny, lead singer. The band was rough, and sloppy with an intense energy that burned. Upon inquiring, I found out that this was actually the bands first performance and that singer, Michael Chandler, was formerly a member of the famed Outta Place. That night began what was to become many a night spent catching this amazing group.

Through the years as Chandler went through different projects, he always remained humble, charming and a great person. The guy seemed invincible. Well, unfortunately that was not to be the case. Last year Mike was diagnosed with a rare form of neck cancer that necessitated aggressive treatment. Needless to say expenses mounted up. Which brings me to the point of this post.

If the music of Michael Chandler and the Raunch Hands, or Outta Place ever meant anything to you. Then, its your time to give back. Please visit Mike’s GoFundMe page and say thank you. Thank you for the smiles, the fun and the great times that his performances always accompanied.

Michael Chandler’s Cancer Recovery Page