Thursday, 27 April 2017

It Was 1980! The Specials Were Doing Their First US Tour & We Were Publishing The First Issue Of Idol Worship: An Interview With Sir Horace Gentleman

Devorah interviews Sir Horace Gentleman
for the first issue of Idol Worship
Photo: Vicki Berndt
Originally printed in Idol Worship #1, May 1980

Interview by Devorah & Joey

The Specials were in the Bay Area awhile back, playing their "special" brand of reggae to packed halls. After we'd attended several of their shows, Sir Horace Gentleman was nice enough to let us interview him after the show at the S.F. Warfield Theater.

IDOL WORSHIP: Did you expect this big of a response in America?

HORACE: Not at all. I was very worried, because reggae doesn't seem to have taken off here. I kept imagining that someone would come up to us and say, "It's alright, but your rhythm guitarist is playing a beat behind."

IW: How would you define the type of music you play?

H: It's dance music, based on early Jamaican music, which is SKA.

IW: Is there a large reggae or ska scene in England?

H: There is now. We just had a number one single in the singles charts!

Chrysalis advert for the debut album
IW: Which one?

H: It's a live EP which was recorded on our last tour, with "Too Much Too Young," "Guns of Navarone," and a medley on the other side.

IW: What size halls do you guys play back in England?

H: On our last tour, it was these size halls (Warfield) and bigger - but without seats in! That was one of our prime considerations, that there would be no seats on the dance floor and that there would be no restrictions as far as age.

IW: Where did you get the band's name from?

H: We used to be called the Automatics, and then the Coventry Automatics because we heard of a band in London called the Automatics, and they had a record deal. We were offered some gigs on tour with the Clash in England in 1978, and the day we were to do the first show, we got a letter from the London Automatics' lawyer saying, "You are not to use the word 'Automatics' in your name or else you will be sued." So, we had like four hours to sort of change the name. We just threw some names around in the van and decided about five miles from the gig that it would be the SPECIALS.

IW: How long did it take before everyone said, "Hey, this is great!"

H: About March or April of last year it started to get good. We finally got "Gangsters" released - we released it ourselves, by an organization called Rough Trade.

IW: When did Chrysalis pick up the group?

H: After "Gangsters" was released. We met Rick, who's our manager, and he got our record out to the DJs. In England, there's a late-night show, done by a bloke called John Peel. He plays independent singles and new wave stuff four nights a week, and he played "Gangsters" a hell of a lot! Then it crossed over to the daytime DJs, and then it became one of the DJs "Records of the Week." Then we did some gigs in London and people began to take some interest, and then the record company thing started. Chrysalis was just the best of the bunch. We said, "We want our own label; we want to sign other bands onto this label; and we want TOTAL CONTROL over it!" It really got silly towards the end. WEA were ringing us up saying, "This Chrysalis deal, we'll double it!" It was BONKERS!

IW: How did you decide to do your promotions in black and white?

H: We were blessing the '60s, sort of the mods and skinheads. It's not just the mods and skinheads, but a complete mixture of styles. Black and white was kind of like pop art and op art. All of the mods used to have black and white checks on the handlebars of their scooters, so the black and white checks came in that way. Black and white was very simple. Plus, as far as the LP cover goes, it was cheaper. We could have had a full-color sleeve, but the album would have cost a bit more.

IW: Is it true that you guys don't like the London scene? That you want to stay in Coventry?

H: Yeah. Brad, our drummer, is the only one who lives in London. I tend to get complacent. The reason I don't want to live in London is because one day I looked in the paper and saw I could go to see the Talking Heads at the Hammersmith Palais, the Jam at the Rainbow, the Bodysnatchers at the Windsor Castle, and so on... But I get really complacent. So we all live in Coventry, where NOTHING happens. But when something does happen, it great! It becomes a major event. I like it there. There are people there who know me as a van driver, which was the job I had before I joined the band. And they keep saying, "When are you going to get a decent job?" That keeps your feet on the ground, which I think is important.

IW: What kind of music do you guys like to listen to?

H: When I'm off the road, I listen to anything but reggae, blues and ska. No, that's not true. Everyone has very individual tastes. I'm into sort of old Tamla-Motown. I don't know what the other people listen to.

IW: How does the English scene differ from the American scene?

H: The English scene picked up a lot faster. If a band is good it travels very quickly by word of mouth. London is like the nerve center of England. Perhaps in America, it's split a bit between New York and Los Angeles. I don't know if you'd agree with that or not.

The Specials with SVT at Tresidder Ballroom
Stanford, California - February 15, 1980
IW: Yeah. Have you guys done any TV shows, like Top of the Pops?

H: Yeah. We've done TOTP and the Whistle Test.

IW: Did you hear what happened when they played your record on American Bandstand?

H: "Gangsters"? Someone said it was too punk!

IW: Yeah. Some girl from Texas said, "It's too punk! I can't dance to it!"

H: "Can't dance to it," that's ridiculous!

IW: That's what we said!

H: That's funny. It makes me laugh.

IW: Are you going to do any American TV shows?

H: There was a rumour that we might do a Saturday Night Live. They want us to do it sometime late in March, but we'll be heavily into recording schedules then, so I don't know about it. Stop asking me serious questions! Ask me some silly questions now!

IW: What's your favorite breakfast food?

H: Peanut butter on toast! Makes me very anti-social to the rest of the band.

IW: What brand of shampoo do you use?

H: The cheapest. Do you have a car? Could you give me a lift back to the hotel?

IW: Sure, but we have to take a bus to get to the car. We can lend you a quarter.

H: Alright, then.

IW: Is it hard for all seven of you to get along on the road?

H: Yeah! No, actually it's nice, because if you're fed up with a particular person, you can go talk to someone else. There are three sort of cliques in the band. There's the blacks, the low-life humans, and the sensibles. Blacks are sort of like the marijuana culture. Roddy, although he's white, is a black because he's into the marijuana culture and he's sometimes a low-life human, too. I tend to be king of the sensibles, although I have become a bit low-life of late.

IW: Did you get to see Alcatraz?

H: Only briefly. I didn't get to take a boat out to it, which is annoying. I bought some lovely postcards with a view of Alcatraz saying, "Lovely time, wish you were here."

IW: Well, you can go to Trafalgar Square and write us a letter about it, and we'll go to Alcatraz and write you a letter about it. We can exchange tourist t-shirts.

The bus ride to the car - Horace sits with Idol Worshiper Sue
Photo: Vicki Berndt
H: Yeah, awful Beefeater t-shirts! That's one of the nice things about coming out here. I can be a total tourist! The other week I was paddling in the Pacific and the connotations of me living in England and paddling in the Pacific was like, something tremendous! Although it was freezing and people thought I was stupid.

IW: Do you enjoy touring?

H: Well, I haven't much choice, have I? Yes, I do! I never thought, two years ago, that I'd be stomping around America. I've always wanted to come to America.

IW: How did you get the name Sir Horace Gentleman?

H: It's like the reggae names. Everyone's got funny names. Brad's name is Prince Rimshot, sometimes.

IW: Where do you guys get your suits?

H: Second-hand stores, mostly. Now some band members have money and have been known to buy full-price suits. I disapprove of that whole-heartedly. The suit I wore tonight, that grey one, cost me six quid - $12. I got some lovely button down shirts in a Goodwill store the other day for $1.89 each. I bought six! This girl that works at ... was just telling me about that store, but their suits are $40. That's 20 quid!

IW: The thing is, the stuff they have you already own. That's why they stock it, so we can look like our favorite bands!

H: When we started out, we were dressing like our audience, sort of like skinheads. Now that we're getting popular, people are beginning to dress like us.

IW: How did you like working with Elvis Costello on your record?

H: Fine! It was alright.

IW: Are you going to work with him on the second album?

H: No, I don't think so. We're going to use Dave Jordan, who's the engineer on the first album and does our sound onstage.

Chrysalis advert for The Specials appearance on
Saturday Night Live
IW: Are there times you wish you had just stayed a van driver:

H: Sort of the split second before the plane's about to land and sometimes one or two minutes before I go onstage. I get a bit nervous all the time, but that's all. If I can cope with a hangover in Los Angeles, then I'm alright!

IW: What do English people think of Americans? Do they have any stereotypes?

H: Yes, of course they do! We get the tourists - like the fat bloke with the Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, three cameras and a hat! Or else those suits with the massive checks!

IW: Plaid!

H: I suppose you have the stereotyped Englishman - the pinstriped suit, bowler hat and umbrella, going, "Awfully, awfully nice to see you." It works both ways.

IW: Did you do any Midwestern shows?

H: Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City...

IW: How did those go?

H: Oklahoma City was really funny! The Police were meant to do two shows there, but they pulled out of the gig because of Sting's voice and Stuart Copeland's back. So, we ended up doing one show in Oklahoma City - actually, it was in Norman, which is just outside of Oklahoma City in a 600 capacity theater. I was really worried about it being a "redneck" state and the announcer saying, "I'm sorry, all you Police fans, the Police aren't playing and now here's a band from England that you've never heard of, that doesn't play rock 'n' roll!" I was really worried, but we went on and it went great. It was nice getting back to an audience that had never heard of us before, grabbing them by the throat and saying, "You will dance!"

IW: I noticed at Stanford that a lot of people don't know what reggae is, or how to dance to it, but they enjoyed it anyway. Even if it wasn't the punk rock they expected.

H: Yes, they sort of pogo slowly. Dancing to reggae is really fascinating, it's a lot slower... (Here Horace gives us a lesson in skanking.) You've got to see people like Neville and Lynval do it. Reggae is on the second and fourth beat, that's where the bass drum goes and that's how you dance to it.

Full-page advert
Trouser Press magazine May 1980
IW: How long have you been playing the bass?

H: Do you have a lot of room in your fanzine? I've got quite a nice story. When we were doing those dates at the Music Machine with the Clash, on the last day I spoke to Paul Simonon, who's quite a shy bloke, actually, and he says, "I really like your bass playing. How long have you been playing?" I said, "I've been playing for eight years, but only seriously for the last three years." He turns around and scratches his head and says, "Yeah, I wonder when I'll start taking it seriously." Which was the prefect answer from one of the Clash.

IW: Do you get much time to look around the cities?

H: We had a couple of days off in Los Angeles and it was really nice. I got to put my feet in Cary Grant's footsteps and I got to see the Hollywood sign, and all that!

IW: Did you go to Disneyland?

H: Yes! It was amazing! We went on Space Mountain and the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House... It was great!

IW: Did any movie stars come to see your shows in Los Angeles?

H: Randy California from Spirit came on the last night, and was seen dancing, but was probably drunk. I did get to meet Rod Stewart's bass player...

IW: Was Andy Warhol there when you played New York? [One of the IW editors has an Andy Warhol fetish -- Other Ed.]

H: No, but Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson were going to come to the gig in New York, but only if they could stand in the sound booth. We said, "Either you're in there with the punters, or forget it."

Here Horace gathers up his clothes and we all catch the bus back to the car. On the bus, Horace clears up a misunderstanding...

IW: Is it true you guys don't like the Clash? I saw you tearing up the cover of the magazine with a picture of Joe Strummer on it at the record store.

H: NO! NO! That's not true at all! The reason for that was because they were giving them to us for nothing. They had to rip the top off so they could send them back as damaged. Christ, the Clash are great!

The Specials - logo
On the ride to the car, we pass Haight Street, which Horace was excited to see, since he was somewhat of a hippie a few years back.

Later on, we meet up again at the Mabuhay, where Horace, Brad, Terry and Jerry were watching the Go-Go's, who'd opened for them in LA. After advising him against the Mab's fare, Gwen, Spike, Vicki and Sue took the famished bass player to Zim's for a late-night snack. Everyone laughed as he showed us his Roddy Radiation imitation. (Suck in your cheeks, bend your ears out, and say, "Bollocks!") And the wire-rimmed glasses Horace wears offstage are fake! He picked up several pairs in Seattle so he can "look like a professor on a lecture tour rather than a pop star." We also got clued in that one of the Clash is married! It seems that several years ago, a member of the group married a European girl for several hundred pounds so he could buy his first guitar and she could get British citizenship. (When the Clash were here, this story was confirmed by sources close to the group - they're still married, legally, but he "hasn't seen her for years.")

Finally, in the early morning hours we dropped Horace off at his hotel to get a bit of rest before his 7am flight, and these IWers headed home with some memories of a very Special night.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Syl Sylvain Talks About The Teardrops (And The Dolls And The Criminals)

Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops released in 1981 (RCA)
Originally published in do-Wop #2, 1981

By Devorah Ostrov
Vicki Berndt took the fabulous photo of Sylvain!

"In America today it's like... well, like beating your head against the wall," says Syl Sylvain from beneath the covers in his Los Angeles hotel room. "They just want a lot of hype. They want to see the Plasmatics or something."

Syl arrived in Los Angeles on tour to promote his new band, the Teardrops and his new album, Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops. Although so far all the shows (New Orleans and Texas) have gone well, Syl hasn't been pleased with the advance publicity - or lack thereof - for the tour and the album.

"They (his label, RCA Records) don't seem to realize... Even though we're a brand new act, we don't need a hype-type advertisement. But you still gotta tell people that we're around! That's why we came here. If it were up to them, we wouldn't have even come out here."

Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops RCA promo photo
L-R: Danny Reid, Syl Sylvain, Rosie Rex
He continues, "They see us as an East Coast-regional sort of band. We just want to entertain period. We're not trying to entertain kids just in New York, or anything like that. We want to go anywhere that they want us."

Even RCA's refusal to support a Teardrops' tour couldn't stop Syl from doing it anyway.

"You know how we got out here?" he asks. (We'd heard something about driving across the desert in a Chevy Chevette.) "After RCA passed on the tour, we got a couple of vehicles and decided to make the trip. Somebody STOLE the car like three or four days before we started out! But this fan of ours had moved out to New York. She doesn't drive her car, so she lent it to us. That's how we made the trip - in her little Chevy Chevette!"

It should be added that a few days later, while in San Francisco, the Chevy Chevette wound up in the middle of a Teardrops vs. Cholos war outside the hotel and came out of it with a smashed front windshield. Syl seems to have the worst luck with cars!

Syl was born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt on February 14, 1953. He grew up in Paris. "I always had a hard time," he giggles. "People were making fun of my clothes even when I first got over here. I had brown shoes and brown shoes were like, 'Whoa!' And now I have green shoes and green shoes are, 'Whoa!' Back in the Dolls, I used to wear roller skates and 'suiciders' (platform shoes so big you could supposedly jump off them and commit suicide), and that was 'Whoa!' too."

Sylvain Sylvain circa 1981                                           Photo: Vicki Berndt
Speaking of the New York Dolls, here's a bit of history: Syl was going to school in Queens, NY with his best friend Billy Murcia (the Dolls' original drummer - he died while the group were doing some shows in England, before the first album was even recorded) and Johnny Genzale (Thunders), when he decided to form a band.

"The name Dolls is mine," he states, despite some stories giving Johnny the credit. At first Syl actually tried to kick Johnny out of the group as he was "a bit of a hard-on." But Johnny came back, proved his worthiness, and wasn't sacked after all. David Johansen was introduced to the band by the same friend who later introduced Syl to Rosie Rex (who became the Teardrops' drummer), and the New York Dolls were born!

New York Dolls promo photo
L-R: Arthur Kane, Jerry Nolan, David Johansen,
Syl Sylvain, and Johnny Thunders
Syl wasn't only responsible for the Dolls' name, he was also largely responsible for their appearance. Before the Dolls, Syl had been a bit of a fashion designer. In fact, he made the first pair of lamé jeans! And he designed the silver lamé jumpsuit which he wears on the back cover of the Dolls' debut album. He describes it as "the wet look before the wet look came in."

When I asked Syl to tell me the sleaziest story he could about the Dolls, he hesitated and explained that everything they did came naturally. But he didn't have any problem when it came to the sleaziest person involved with the Dolls - Malcolm McLaren!

"Malcolm used to say he was our manager," says Syl. "Well, that's the sleaziest story I've ever heard! Anybody that could've gotten us red pants could've been our manager!"

The red pants he's referring to are the "Red Patent Leather Commie Party" era red pants. Since the Dolls were never politically inclined, it's interesting as to how Malcolm, the Dolls, and the red pants became involved in that infamous performance.

"It wasn't as much of a political thing as people think," states Syl. "Like I said, it started with one pair of red pants. Then everybody said, 'I want red pants!' And then... 'Let's get the red shoes.' Then, when it was all red, Malcolm's great idea was, 'Let's hang up the red flag now.' David thought that was a great idea and basically they were the only ones who liked it."

Syl's first solo album
Sylvain Sylvain released in 1979 (RCA)
Syl continues, "David wasn't my spokesman, but people would look at that show and think, 'Well... Johnny and David are the leaders of the band.' They said that today in the LA Times - that I was a sidekick in the Dolls! And that now I have such a good band, that I'm still a sidekick!"

Shortly after the Dolls broke up, Malcolm approached Syl about becoming the lead singer of a group he had just formed called the Sex Pistols (imagine that for a moment).

"He kept telling me about these kids (Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock) who hung out at his store, and how he could get them to do anything he wanted. It just sounded to me like another Dolls, and I didn't want to be part of another thing like that. I didn't want to be a politician. I wanted to do something musical."

After turning down Malcolm's offer, Syl went to Japan and continued to work with David in the David Johansen Group. He also formed his own band called the Criminals.

Unfortunately, although the Criminals were one of the best bands playing New York at the time, they were doomed because people were overly concerned about what was punk and what wasn't; what was cool to like and what wasn't.

Criminals 45 "The Kids Are Back" b/w
"The Cops Are Coming"
"To the kids, we had a jazzy sound," explains Syl. "But back then ('77/'78) they just wanted like, Television or Patti Smith - a real punky, anarchy sort of group. Then, uptown, the business people said, 'The Criminals? Forget it! That's punk and we want disco.'"

After the Criminals broke up, Syl released a great self-titled solo album, then almost a year later he formed the Teardrops with Rosie Rex and Danny Reid.

"Our show is all history," comments Syl. "We even do a couple of Dolls' and Criminals' numbers. It depends. If people call out stuff and they know things, we'll do it for them."

Of course, Syl has his own definition of the Teardrops' bopping sound: "We call it Puerto Rican- reggae. You know, the record company didn't like that. They said, 'We won't be able to sell that.' And I said, 'With the advertising you put out last year, I need something that's going to self-advertise!"

What was the advertising like last year?

"It wasn't! That's why I was trying to get it this year. The name Teardrops is such a great name and you know, like with all great things - you make it up, you put it together, they take it, and they take things out, and then they put it out. That is life as it is right now."

Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops 
L-R: Rosie Rex, Syl Sylvain, Danny Reid
The Teardrops' album is, needless to say, terrific! As Syl puts it: "It's dancing, romancing music!" He adds, "That first album is very influenced by my years in the Dolls and what happened afterwards. This album is very influenced by what's going on with me now! The music is growing a little more. But basically, it's still me!"

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Planetary Pebbles, Vol. 2: Exitos A Go Go - 60's Teenbeat South of the Border

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #3, Spring 1999

My friend Julie Dodgshon and I teamed up to write this CD review for Teenage Kicks - but first we had to take a course in Spanish For Beginners!

Various Amigos
Exitos A Go Go - 60's Teenbeat South of the Border
AIP Records (1998)

There are two interesting things about this CD, and neither is the music. Dubbed "60's Teenbeat South of the Border," Exitos A Go Go presents over two dozen garage, psych, surf, and pop-inspired bands from such unlikely locales as Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, and the Canary Islands. And that's the numero uno point: At a time when most of America couldn't tell the Shadows of Knight from the Standels, farfisa-powered garage punk was spreading like wildfire through the Latino culture. The liner notes, lovingly penned by the legendary Phast Phreddie (readers of famed 'zine Back Door Man will know him well), are the second reason to pick up this CD.

For the most part though, the 26 songs (many of them sung in English!) are derivative imitations of their American and British cousins. Chile's Los Sicodelicos provide a Searchers-worthy tune with "Solo tu Nombre Puede Cortar las Flores," while Spain's Los Canarios revel in simplistic bashing ala the Troggs with "3-2-1-Ah!" Mexico's Ruben Y Sus Emociones go for the soulful styling of the Temptations using a riff lifted from "Get Ready" for their "Mari y Juana."

Los Hitters and Los Temerarios both picked up on the California go-go/surf craze, while Los Romancieros had the lock on the spaghetti western soundtrack scene. Argentina's Los In were reportedly big stars in their home country, but their version of Love's "My Little Red Book" ("Mi Pequeno Libro Rojo") is lounge-band weak at best. And Uruguay's Los Shakers are so into the Beatles that their "Don't Ask Me Love" might as well be a Revolution-era cover.

While there might not have been a riot on Tequila Sunrise Strip, this CD does prove that there was mucho fuzz and wah-wah action south of the border. And for that, we say, "muy bueno!"

Devorah and Julie

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Rox Rocks From Hayward To Japan!

Rox with vocalist Dyan Buckelew - center.
Dyan left for a solo career after the group returned
from Japan. She later married Rick Derringer.
Originally published in East Bay Band Calendar, December 1979

By Devorah Ostrov

They're not the Runaways and they're weary of the constant comparisons to that heavy metal outfit. "We try to interest the audience with our music," says Rox bassist Toni Falconio. "We can't avoid the fact that we are girls, but we hope that the audience will like our music and not just us."

And upon a listen to these East Bay rockers, the only comparison to be made is that both bands are all females. Rox - consisting of Falconio, vocalist/guitarist Nina Markert, keyboardist Gere Fennelly, and drummer Christie Nehlick - are all highly accomplished musicians, each with several years of musical experience behind her. There's a toughness in each one, a defensiveness that comes from having to prove herself in a male-oriented field where females are only tolerated.

It became a running joke that while they rehearsed at Pearl Studios in Fremont, neighborhood boys would appear at the door wondering who was playing such hard-core rock, and would be quite taken aback to find GIRLS behind the instruments.

In fact, according to Markert, the only people who don't accept Rox on the level of comparative male bands are, "guys who don't want girls to make it because they don't want us to show them up."

Cover of the "American Kan Kan" 45
Although recognition has been slow for them in the Bay Area, a recent seven-month tour of Japan found the girls on a level with most top American bands, playing to packed halls, being chased for autographs, and being hounded for TV commercials.

Rox (spelled Roxz before the tour) had been together for less than a year when a representative from Shinka, Japan's largest music publishing company, saw them perform at San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens and signed them to a Japanese contract.

In Japan, the girls were well taken care of, with all their expenses paid for by Shinka - including chauffeured transportation - and they were given heavy promotional advertising, such as a "shopping tour" of Japanese malls, several TV appearances (only two of which were "dubbed," the rest were filmed live), and dozens of radio interviews.

And, of course, at each promotional stop the fans would be waiting.

"We had some fans that would follow us to radio stations and wait three hours just to see us," says Markert. "And when we'd drive away they'd chase our car!"

Rox post-Japan tour L-R: Christie Nehlick,
Gere Fennelly, Toni Falconio, Nina Markert
(Photo originally used in the East Bay Band Calendar)
"At concerts, they would throw all these little superballs onstage and streamers and balloons," adds Falconio. "They have guards standing in the aisles to make them sit down, but you know, if they didn't, it would be total insanity."

Not bad for a band that got its start just two years ago by taking first place in the Hayward Battle of the Bands with a set consisting of Kiss' "Detroit Rock City," Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak," and Montrose's "Rock the Nation," during which Falconio slipped and fell and Markert's guitar got out of tune.

While in Japan, Rox recorded an album (half in Japanese) called Tantrum (only available by import), and two 45s - "American Kan Kan" and "Okay Boys," written for them by Japanese songwriter Tokura.

They weren't allowed to record their own material because "the company didn't think we could sell anything." But, according to Markert, it was the other way around. "You should have heard it ('Okay Boys') before we rearranged it. We were pulling our hair out saying, 'We can't rearrange this. It's too far in the pits!'"

As for the album, Nehlick says they're happy with their playing but that the production "could have been a lot better. When we went into the studio the Japanese producer said, 'Use this amp, use this... this... this...' Next time we go in, it will be nice because we'll know how to use the sound the way we want to."

Rox pose with Abba for a Japanese music magazine!
Although the album won't be released in America, it supposedly shows a totally different Rox. With the Japanese idea of hard rock being the Bay City Rollers, the girls were force to record songs in the commercial pop vein.

"Not pop like power pop," states Fennelly, "but pop like puppy pop." Quite a change for these rockers whose sets include tunes by Van Halen, the Scorpions, Cheap Trick, and Led Zeppelin as well as their self-penned heavy metal numbers.

Still adjusting to the culture shock of not being chased down the street anymore and just recently returning to Bay Area stages, Rox wish to dispel any rumors of their demise. They are still together and rocking harder than ever!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Last Time I Talked To Joey Ramone

Our friend Dan Hill from England joined the
Teenage Kicks staff for this escapade. Here he is doing his
best Lisa Robinson impression with Joey Ramone!    
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Originally printed in Teenage Kicks #3, Spring 1999

Interview by Dan and Devorah
Story by Devorah Ostrov

"We're riding out tonight
To case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road..."

"Surreal" was how Joey Ramone described the sixth annual roast-and-jam benefit concert for Thunder Road, the Bay Area-based treatment center for drug addicted teens.

Participants in this year's event included SF Mayor Willie Brown (the roastee), actor Don Johnson (the roaster), Boz Scaggs, Al "Year of the Cat" Stewart, and John Wesley Harding - along with Joey and his cohort Daniel Rey (ex-Shrapnel guitarist; co-writer of such Ramones' faves as "Poison Heart," "Pet Sematary," and "I Wanna Live;" producer for the Ramones, the Misfits, White Zombie, Green Apple Quickstep, D Generation, and a bunch of other stuff he can't remember). If you factor in the aged and wealthy audience, you'll begin to get an idea of what Joey meant.

In fact, the night was filled with weird moments: Dan and I sitting outside Bimbo's 365 Club watching the limos jockey for space; Joey (wearing a t-shirt reading Keep Music Evil) shaking hands with Mayor Brown, both looking pleased as punch; Dan having his picture taken with the Mayor on one side and Joey on the other; Joey and Daniel Rey (backed by the Bimbo's house band - which included ex-Movies bassist Robin Sylvester and Tubes/ Grateful Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick) tearing through the Louis Armstrong classic "Wonderful World," as well as "I Wanna be Sedated," and a cover of the Stooges' "1969" while the aforementioned aged and wealthy audience looked on in stunned terror; and finding myself discussing the Groovie Ghoulies with John Wesley Harding. And then I overheard the following introduction being made: "Joey Ramone ... Boz Scaggs."

Just before Joey sat down with us, an enthusiastic onlooker in a tie-dyed t-shirt exclaimed, "I am SO happy! It was beautiful! And the Sheriff is beside himself right now! Joey Ramone!" The Sheriff he was referring to was, of course, Michael Hennessey - the Sheriff of San Francisco and apparently a big Ramones fan!

Teenage Kicks: How did you get involved with Thunder Road?

Joey: I found out about it about nine months ago. I got asked by Matthew (King) Kaufman. And I said, Yeah, I'd do it. It's for a good cause.

Here's Dan again! This time he's flanked
by Joey Ramone and SF Mayor Willie Brown.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Teenage Kicks: Have you ever played to a more bizarre audience?

Joey: The Ramones did some kind of computer thing... Bill Gates was there. But those guys are all fans, ya know. Actually, the range is pretty broad.

Teenage Kicks: You should've seen the people's faces!

Joey: I did! It was kinda funny earlier, we were doing our soundcheck and these people were sitting at the tables - and the whole room cleared out! But the kids stayed. That kind of brought it home, meeting the kids. It's about them.

Teenage Kicks: The only other rockers the program mentions are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I guess they donated some money...

Joey: It's nice. Most people only think of themselves, so it's kinda nice when somebody's doing something. Why not? Ya know what I mean?

Teenage Kicks: How would you describe this evening in one word?

Joey: Surreal!

Teenage Kicks: Are you still doing your DJ gigs?

Joey: Yeah, I've been doing some DJing. People give me their shows... I take over their radio stations. I call them "radio coups." I've done a few. I did DC, and Boston, and Asbury Park, New Jersey. I was hoping to get a show of my own. I got promised by this guy in LA, but the station changed. They got a new program director and he didn't feel the same way. They went Top 40, or something.

Teenage Kicks: Do you play whatever you want?

Joey: Yeah! Or I wouldn't fucking do it! I like to turn kids on to music that they should be exposed to. They might have heard the names, but not the music - like the Stooges and the MC5. And then I play new bands that I like - like D Generation and the Independents.

Teenage Kicks: One of the songs you and Daniel Rey did tonight was "1969," which you covered on the Iggy Pop tribute album (We Will Fall, 1997 Revolver Records).

Here's Miami Vice star Don Johnson and Joey Ramone
But where is Dan?
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Joey: Yeah. I recorded that with Daniel on guitar, and Jerry (Only) and Dr. Chud from the Misfits on bass and drums. We did a benefit in LA on Thursday - me and Daniel with 22 Jacks backing us up. D Gen played... Everybody that was on the album, for the most part. For me, it's kind of a passion play. You do it because you're a fan.

Teenage Kicks: And the proceeds from the album go to AIDS research?

Joey: Yeah. It was fun because it was a reason to do a Stooges song and it was for a good cause.

Teenage Kicks: What else do you have coming up?

Joey: Me and Daniel co-produced the Independents, and we're working on a new record for Ronnie Spector. I wrote some of the songs. There's a song called "Bye Bye Baby" that's done as a duet. And she's doing Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory," and "Don't Worry Baby." Brian Wilson wrote it for her, but Phil (Spector) wouldn't let her record it because he didn't write it. That would have been the follow-up to "Be My Baby." And Dee Dee's got a new album out; I wrote a song with him.

Teenage Kicks: Are you still on good terms with the other Ramones? I heard you and Marky getting into it on Howard Stern's show...

Joey: Mark's got a problem, ya know. And... that's about it.

Teenage Kicks: What about Johnny?

Joey: We... communicate.

Teenage Kicks: Any chance of a Joey Ramone solo record?

Joey: Yeah... I've got stuff I'm working on. But the last thing I wanna do is go back on the road. I need some time to stand back from it. I'm doing the projects that I like. After 23 years of touring, I'm taking a break and doing what I wanna do. 💕