Here Are The Chesterfield Kings - the group's 1982 debut LP
"It was supposed to be this rare thing, like those Hideout
recordings from the '60s."
By Devorah Ostrov
Formed in 1978 by upstate New York record collector, Greg Prevost, the Chesterfield Kings have been rightly credited with igniting the spark which set off the early-eighties garage-punk revival. But instead of cashing in on the trend, in a mind-boggling series of moves the group shifted its allegiance to folk-pop, and then to '70s glam, and then to delta-blues.
With their latest album - Let's Go Get Stoned - the Kings have gone full circle, returning to where it all began with the Rolling Stones. They've been applauded for the precision with which they borrow/swipe material from their heroes, and they've been ripped apart for "going metal." Dee Dee Ramone has penned songs for them, and they've recorded with Johnny Thunders and Mick Taylor.
It's been a 16-year career of ups and downs and identity crises, during which the only constant has been Prevost's undying love for rock 'n' roll.
1983 promo pic by Stacy Zaferes
L-R: Rick Cona, Andy Babiuk, Greg Prevost, Ori Guran, Doug Meech
1983 promo picture
Photo: Stacy Zaferes
Although legend has it that the core original members of the Chesterfield Kings met at a Kinks' concert, Prevost actually met bassist Rick Cona and drummer Doug Meech at the House of Guitars in 1978. He'd been kicking around the idea of forming a band "with a '60s vibe" for a while and when he suggested it to Cona and Meech they liked the idea. But it would be March 1979 before they found guitarist Bob Ames and the group's early lineup was somewhat stabilised.
The Chesterfield Kings initial lineup with Bob Ames
Photo courtesy of Rick Cona via
The Only Real Chesterfield Kings FB page
For a few weeks, they were called the Cutdowns, "but we were really into the Northwest sound," says Prevost, "the Sonics, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Coupons... There was a band called the Viceroys; we were looking for a name like that. And I had collected all these ads for Chesterfield Kings cigarettes..."
During a temporary lull while the Cutdowns transitioned into the Chesterfield Kings, Prevost received an interesting offer. He'd tracked down guitarist Sean Tolby from the long-defunct Chocolate Watchband for an interview, during which they discussed the possibility of a reunion. "Sean was really psyched about it," he says, "but then I talked to (vocalist) Dave Aguilar, who was a professor in Colorado, and he didn't wanna do it."
Greg Prevost - 1985 San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
In early 1980, Cona switched from bass to guitar and 16-year-old bassist Andy Babiuk joined the group. Hailing from the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit, Babiuk had started working at the House of Guitars and lied about his age to get into the band.
"He said he was 18," notes Prevost, "but he was really organized and had a great place to practice!" (This was the basement of his parents' church, where the band would continue to rehearse for several years.)
In October, after one show as a foursome (opening for local faves New Math), Orest "Ori" Guran was added on organ and rhythm guitar. "Ori had taken piano lessons," says Prevost, "so he could play a cheesy Vox organ pretty well. But we also wanted someone who could play guitar, so Andy gave him a six-month crash course lesson."
Prevost also points out that Guran fit the image of the band: "He looked cool. He had good hair, so it was easy to make him look like us." This was important, because whereas Prevost's earlier bands had adopted a "sloppy, Stooges/ Blue Cheerish" look and a "noisy '70s punk/New York Dolls" sound, the goal of the early Chesterfield Kings was to duplicate the look and sound of a mid-sixties garage-punk band.
Just why, in an era dominated by disco at the one extreme and new wave/synth-pop at the other, anyone would choose to emulate the Music Machine is a mystery on a par with why anyone would want to call their band Echo and the Bunnymen.
"I had collected all these ads for
Chesterfield Kings cigarettes..."
With the first "classic" lineup complete, the Kings entered Rochester's Sandcastle Productions to record their first 45, a faithful rendition of the Brogues' "I Ain't No Miracle Worker" b/w "Exit 9," originally by the Heard (not to be confused with the sort of well-known Herd led by Peter Frampton). Self-produced and released in 1981 on their own Living Eye label, all 1,000 copies of the single sold out.
(The Kings recorded two other 45s on Living Eye, although only the third - a remake of the Barbarians' "Hey Little Bird" b/w "I Can Only Give You Everything" from the Troggs/Them/ MC5 catalog - was released. The second single was shelved for several years due to a "slightly off 12-string" in a cover of the Grodes' "I Won't be There.")
The first Chesterfield Kings' 45
"I Ain't No Miracle Worker" b/w "Exit 9"
Released 1981 - Living Eye Records
"We were working on that album forever," groans Prevost. "We had a miserable time trying to get the sound we wanted. We tried everything... We recorded all the music in this basement where we practiced and this crazy guy recorded us on a two track! That's when Armand came along and said, 'Look, you guys are having a problem. I'll help you to put it out.'"
Schaubroeck, co-owner of the House of Guitars and a semi-legendary figure himself (perhaps best known for the album Everybody Would Love To See Armand Schaubroeck Dead), not only supplied the backing to put the Kings in a proper studio, but an independent label (Mirror Records) with distribution, which allowed the band to expand on their limited-edition concept.
"So, we took this primitive two-track machine and tape into this big studio," continues Prevost, "and dumped it onto a 24-track, then we added the vocals to that. That's why it sounds so bizarre!"
Every year the Chesterfield Kings sent out Christmas postcards!
This one featuring Doug, Andy, Greg, Rick and Ori
had a hard time in the post, but it's one of my faves!
Greg Prevost and Ori Guran
1985 - San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Although they turned down the Bomp! contract in favor of staying with Mirror ("We had already said we were gonna do it with Armand," says Prevost, "and we had almost finished recording the album"), the Kings did take part in Shaw's promotional show at NYC's Peppermint Lounge. It was their big-city debut!
"We drove down in a couple of station wagons with all our junk," recalls Prevost. "We were on a bill with the Slickee Boys, the Wombats, and the Hypstrz from Minneapolis. And right after that we got this underground kind of following. Everybody who came to see us was wearing striped shirts and pointy boots, and the girls were wearing short skirts."
In 1982, the group's first album hit the record stores. All fourteen tracks were covers of obscure gems from the mid-sixties, although much of the material originally recorded in the church basement - including the Electric Prunes' "You Never Had It Better," the Blues Magoos' "One by One," and "We're Pretty Quick" by New Mexico's the Chob - had been dumped. But the songs which did make it onto Here Are The Chesterfield Kings didn't lack for esoterica.
The NYU Program Board
gets wild with the Chesterfield Kings!
Prevost's leaning towards the Texas garage sound was evident in four choices - besides "99th Floor," there was "Fluctuation" from the Shades of Night, "Won't Come Back" from Zachary Thax, and "Come With Me" from the Exotics. Two others, "Satisfaction Guaranteed" by the Mourning Reign and "Time to Kill" by the Harbinger Complex, represented the Bay Area.
As Creem magazine pointed out in its feature on the band: "The songs are carefully picked from 250 numbers in the Kings' revolving repertoire, and chances are you haven't heard all of them, even if you have every single volume of Pebbles."
1988 promo photo courtesy of Andy Babiuk
Back row: Andy Babiuk, Doug Meech,
Mike Pappert. Front: Greg Prevost
The Chesterfield Kings visit the Golden Gate Bridge
and strike a pose from the Beau Brummels/Baytovens catalog
OF ROBUST ORIGINALS & FRUG ROCK DELIGHTSWith its front cover design lifted from a Fantastic Baggies' LP, and a back cover all but photocopied off December's Children, the Chesterfield Kings' second full-length offering - 1985's Stop! - presented both a minor change in direction (to a poppier, sometimes folky style) and a major progression for the group as fully two-thirds of the tracks were originals. But Prevost doesn't necessarily see either of those as good things: "A lot of people tell me they really like Stop! but I don't know why."
The "beginning of a downswing."
Stop! released in 1985 on Mirror Records
But even that review can't convince Prevost that the album represented anything other than a "loss of focus" and the "beginning of a downswing."
Declaring that to this day he prefers doing covers, Prevost implies that the band was under pressure to come up with original material. "Everybody was saying what a bunch of dummies we were, so we had to start writing stuff."
Meet the Chesterfield Kings at
Revolver Records - July 19, 1986
If Stop!, as Prevost believes, was the "beginning of a downswing," then with Don't Open Til Doomsday (released in 1987), the band hit rock bottom.
Before they started working on their third album, the Kings underwent their first big lineup adjustment with the departure of Guran. "I was really bummed when he quit," says Prevost. "And it really killed Andy because they were best friends."
Walt O'Brien, Guran's replacement, was found in a rival garage group called the Insiders. O'Brien joined the Kings in time for their second trek to the West Coast in 1986 and the recording of Don't Open Til Doomsday, but it was a turbulent time for the group.
"The band was falling apart," states Prevost matter-of-factly. "We didn't know how to deal with Ori leaving. It really messed us up. The feeling we'd had of being pals and hanging out was gone."
|In the studio with Dee Dee Ramone recording "Baby Doll"|
Photo: Armand Schaubroeck
Don't Open Til Doomsday - released in 1987
The cover photo was based on an episode
of The Twilight Zone
Prevost acknowledges that there was "a lot of conflict over what we were gonna sound like." And he cites friction from within the group as well as from without.
Referring to his (then little-guessed at) love for '70s glam rock, Prevost confides: "Personally, I wanted that record to sound like Slade. It doesn't sound anything like Slade! But that's what I wanted."
Record release party for the
Chesterfield Kings' EP "Next One in Line"
December 6, 1991 at the Penny Arcade
He was replaced by Mike Pappert, who had heard the group needed a new guitarist "through the grapevine." Pappert was from a local group called the Ravens, which played in a style similar to the Kings, and although Prevost had never seen or heard Pappert's band, he notes that the guitarist "knew the songs, and had the right look and the right equipment." There was no time for a trail run before the band left for Europe; Pappert joined immediately.
On the surface, the tour - which took in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Holland, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France and England - was successful. Their early singles and first two albums had made the Chesterfield Kings big news in Europe and all 56 shows sold out. But onstage, the band half-heartedly churned out the old material to audiences unprepared for their new direction.
Andy Babiuk - 1985 San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Other than contributing to New Rose's Laserock 'N' Roll compilation ("Time Will Tell") and a Kinks' tribute album ("Live Life" and "Rosy Won't You Please Come Home"), the only Kings' release during this period was Night Of The Living Eyes.
Offering an assortment of rarities (including the long-lost second single and a rehearsal outtake featuring Schaubroeck on vocals) and live tracks which documented the group as it was between 1979-1983, Living Eyes symbolically nailed the coffin shut on the Chesterfield Kings Mark 1.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? KISS!?
The Chesterfield Kings & The Cynics
Maxwells - January 17, 1987
A one-off show in Berlin further allowed them to test out such newly-penned originals as "Branded on My Heart" and "Teenage Thunder." In the year since Doomsday, the Kings had continued moving towards a heavier sound and now carried it off with confidence - although audience reaction was mixed.
"We got some guys saying, 'What you're doing is perfect,'" notes Prevost. But he also recalls one disgruntled fan wailing, "Who do you think you are? KISS!?"
Once back home, the guys thought about extending "Pills" and "Angeline" into an EP which would also include two originals, but before any further recording commenced, drummer Meech unexpectedly split the group. He was replaced by Mike Pappert's brother, Andy, but just two months later the Chesterfield Kings were once again on the brink of demise.
Ori Guran - 1985 San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
A serious blues guitarist with a rep for his wild onstage persona, Rocco would occasionally put together pick-up bands to play the local clubs. Babiuk had seen one such group open for John Lee Hooker, and approached the guitarist about joining the Chesterfield Kings. "We tried him out," says Prevost, "and he was in. We didn't look any further."
Not only did Rocco join the band, he also introduced them to his friend Brett Reynolds, a powerful drummer with a shared enthusiasm for the Stones, Dolls and Yardbirds.
In 1989, the foursome headed to Ontario's GFI studios where, with Rocco's songwriting input and guitarist Richie Scarlet (best known for his work with Ace Frehley) handling production duties, the EP soon grew into a full-length LP.
Paraphrasing Phil Spector to tie in with their recent jaunt to Germany, The Berlin Wall Of Sound album was released in 1990, and the cover photo showed the Kings in all their glam/trash glory (and posed not unlike the Dolls circa '73).
The Kings in all their glam/trash glory (and
posed not unlike the Dolls circa '73).
The Berlin Wall Of Sound - released 1990
And for pure indulgence there was "Coke Bottle Blues," an original tune in the style of traditional delta-blues, which featured Prevost's uncanny imitation of Howlin' Wolf.
Alternate pic from the "Next One in Line" photo shoot
Photo: Staff DeBruyne
Courtesy of: The Only Real Chesterfield Kings FB page
Prevost freely admits that Richie Scarlet had "a lot to do" with the album, especially in helping the band achieve a less anachronistic sound. The Kings first met the guitarist when they played a show near his home in Connecticut. "He came backstage afterwards and we got to be friends," says Prevost. "He has the same mentality as us. He even likes the same TV shows!"
Drunk On Muddy Water - a limited edition CD
"I really like Howlin' Wolf a lot," explains Prevost, "and I was screwing around in the studio, trying to sing like him. Richie said, 'You sound just like a 300-pound black guy! Do that voice on this song!' I said, 'I dunno... it's kind of weird.' But Richie really liked it."
Apparently so did the band, as the song became the basis for their next project: Drunk On Muddy Water, a limited-edition CD (released on the heels of the Berlin Wall album) which featured covers of such twelve-bar standards as "Bright Lights Big City," "Little Red Rooster," and "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man."
It was no secret that the Kings were blues enthusiasts: If you couldn't tell from their list of British influences (Stones, Them, Yardbirds...) whose sound owed a huge debt to American blues, or the blues covers liberally sprinkled throughout their setlists, they spelled it out by dedicating their work to the likes of Jimmy Reed, Chester Burnett (aka Howlin' Wolf), Lighting Hopkins, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
The band's 1989 Christmas postcard
announcing The Berlin Wall Of Sound
LP would be coming out early 1990.
Although the show proved a success, Prevost's vocals were completely lost in the mix. At this point, according to Schaubroeck's liner notes, he suggested the Kings go into a studio and record the songs professionally. Instead, the band opted to rent a club and set up a live atmosphere, playing through two microphones direct to a tape recorder.
"It was really primitive," acknowledges Prevost (who is billed as "Yardbird" for the CD - not because of the band, but because of a Korean War photo of his father marked thusly). However, it wasn't quite as primitive as the liner notes would have you believe: "One take, no overtracks, live and raw...!"
"We did about 30 songs," confesses Prevost, "and we were making mistakes. So, we didn't use the songs with the mistakes."
The Kings took their blues show on a well-received seven-city tour of Canada, after which they settled back into the comfortable routine of not doing much. A cover of Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men" was contributed to the Hodge Podge Barrage From Japan compilation; an EP featuring their own song "Next One in Line" b/w blistering covers of "Talk Talk" and "You Drive Me Nervous" was issued in 1991; and a collaboration with Johnny Thunders resulted in a bootleg EP.
Producer and Ace Frehley guitarist Richie Scarlet with Greg Prevost
During the recording of The Berlin Wall Of Sound LP
Photo: Caroll Prevost
courtesy of: The Only Real Chesterfield Kings FB page
Johnny Thunders & The Chesterfield Kings
"Critic's Choice" 45
I DON'T WANNA SAY WE WERE RIPPING 'EM OFF BUT...
The Chesterfield Kings get into the idea of
Let's Go Get Stoned by emulating the advert for
Apparently, the sessions leading up to the album began innocently enough. "We used to do 'Street Fighting Man' live," says Prevost, "and somebody suggested we cover it on a record." But it didn't take long for things to escalate. "So we got into the idea, and then we got into making it sound as close as we could, and then it happened with the whole record!"
With this in mind, originals were intentionally written to invoke comparisons to cool-period Stones' songs. "Long Ago, Far Away" is the Kings' "Sympathy for the Devil;" "Drunk House" is their "High and Dry;" "I'm so Confused, Baby" is their "2000 Light Years From Home" - with Babiuk going so far as to decipher and duplicate Brian Jones' backwards piano track!
Let's Go Get Stoned released 1994
The cover is a dead ringer for Aftermath
A bevy of guest stars lent their talents to the making of Let's Go Get Stoned: Gilby Clarke from Guns 'N Roses played piano on "Street Fighting Man;" Kim Simmonds from Savoy Brown co-wrote and played lead guitar on "It's Getting Harder All the Time;" and Kim Fowley - described in the group's press release as a legendary performer, creator, mastermind and producer (and described by Prevost as "one of the most genius guys I ever met") - co-wrote "Rock n' Roll Murder."
But the biggest coup had to be the involvement of actual ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, who played slide guitar on the Kings' version of Mose Allison's (by way of the Yardbirds) "I'm Not Talking" (although Prevost's vocal attack owes more to "Get Off My Cloud" than to Keith Relf's more traditional approach).
Taylor happened to be in the Rochester area when the band was recording, and they contacted him about playing on the album. "He already knew who we were," says Prevost, adding that Taylor was also "somewhat aware" of the Kings sonic likeness to his old group.
Promotional postcard for
Let's Go Get Stoned
"He said he would've liked to have played on 'Street Fighting Man,'" reveals Prevost, "and we were gonna have him play on 'Can't Believe It,' but he was kind of funny about it. It's some kind of honor thing with Keith Richards. They're still friends and he respects him."
As a final touch, the front cover for Stoned is a dead ringer for Aftermath (with Prevost surprisingly in Keith Richard's position. "He's my favorite," he says), and the back cover has the Kings posed ala a late-sixties Stones' publicity photo. They even thought to do the Mirror label in red and silver to match Aftermath's original mono colors! The concept looks better as an LP but the CD has more photos and an additional track.
Three videos have already been shot for the album and, according to Prevost, fan response to the group's latest leaning has been positive. "Everybody really likes this one. Guys that didn't like the last couple of albums because they thought we were too heavy metal, they like it."
So, retro garage-punks, folk-pop purveyors, champions of glam rock, heavy metal contenders, delta-blues purists, or the next best thing to circa '66 Stones... Which is the real Chesterfield Kings?
"I think this is it," asserts Prevost. "Even when we were doing the garage stuff, we ended up sounding like the Stones. I love bands like the Sweet or Queen, but we could never sound like them. I can't sing that good! So, we're just going to capitalize on the kind of stuff we can sound like."
Back cover photo from Let's Go Get Stoned
The Kings posed ala a late-sixties Rolling Stones' publicity photo.
Other forthcoming projects include a double A-side single with longtime friends the Lyres (the Kings will cover the Lyres' "She Pays the Rent" while the Lyres will cover "She Told Me Lies"), as well as unspecified plans to work with Bo Diddley (with whom the band played a special Christmas show). Meanwhile, tribute albums to the Seeds and the Pretty Things featuring the Kings' versions of "Lose Your Mind" and "Rosalyn" respectively, should be out "any day now."
The Chesterfield Kings' 1994 Christmas card. The illustration was taken from the poster for the Bo Diddley Christmas Show and Freak Out on December 17, 1994.
For more information about the Chesterfield Kings and to keep up-to-date with Greg Prevost's solo career check out his website at www.gregstackhouseprevost.com.
You can also join the Chesterfield Kings Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1641279512771946/