Pillbox re-issue proves they were the real deal
Jimbo’s Clown Room - Pillbox (Yeah Right Records)
"I've been sold, been passed around, been abandoned when I was down..." - Chris Barry
The best record of the ‘90s is finally released on old time, rock ‘n’ roll, vintage style, black wax - I guess Rich Jones from MM and Black Halos had sumpthin’ ta do with it being re-released on vinyl - so high fives and thumbs up, and please everyone do buy a round for Rich Jwhen ya see 'im at the big rock show.
This sleek, snazzy version of the exemplary "Clown Room" even comes with a cuppla bonus (!!!) Pillbox tracks you're all gonna love, the seldom heard, "Come Back To The Planet" and "Down In Style", and a splendidly insightful LYRIC SHEET. I thought I knew all the words by heart, but some are even better than I remembered-dude's an underrated writer, as you'll see upon reading both the words to his songs and his liner notes that come with the record.
In addition, there’s a beautiful gatefold sleeve collage of old Pillbox live rock shots, and all your favorite songs like, "Sinister Urge", "Holly", "Get Hip" (my main jam since I was like 23 or somethin') , and "Come Up Heroin"!
These guys were the best band in the world at one time, if only for a brief, flashing moment! Man, oh man, did I ever love these cats! I Still do! You want this beautiful artifact, believe me, and upon receiving it, you'll probably be rearranging your whole room to display it prominently. I'm not a big materialist or collector, at all, I lost all my irreplaceable personal stuff at least twice, during gut wrenching evictions in my 20s, and after that, I just quit putting myself through the whole having and hoarding precious items recipe for suffering! Being a pedestrian I really never could take it with me, but I'm sincerely delighted to own this gorgeous piece of underground rock ‘n’ roll history!
When some snooty rock critic put out a book about New York Rock in the already gentrifying ‘90s and never mentioned these innovative cult heroes, PILLBOX, I was pissed off, 'cause Pillbox were inarguably better than all the well connected, gimmicky tribute bands that were so en vogue back then. Everybody who ever saw 'em fondly recalls their slinky sillhouettes and those gigantic oversized Chuck Berry hollow body guitars that looked too big for their anorexic teenage frames to support.
In spite of all their sheer musical superiority, dynamic songwriting ability, marvellous galaxies of nonchalant style and authentic coolness those other bands can't buy with all the red carpet VIP laminates and cocaine-spoon sugar daddies in the world, they were always little known cult sensations, even in their day. I knew people in the radio and entertainment weekly business, and you know I nagged 'em all to promote the Pillbox cause, but the dayjob careerists only wanna ever get behind the fatcat industry-juggernaut, name-brand bands that are already steamrolling over everybody with their major label, name producer, or daddy-money. Like that old Dylan lyric, they just wanna be on the side of whoever is "winning".
The always debonaire and World Famous Mister Ratboy, Chris Barry, Steve Mach, and Joe Rizzo coulda, shoulda been on the cover of all the glossy rock mags, and all over the primetime airwaves and teeny-bopper magazines and sold a million records, but the pig-media was merging and consolidating in those years, and the nefarious suits in the conference rooms were weaponizing the entertainment industry to advance a NWO agenda, and pushing all that cheese in a can, corporate rock by-product they labelled "Alternative", that always felt like a big pile of horrible buzzkill Fooey to me. The grunge hoax. Ugh. Not my thing, at all.
Evil corporations manufacture this totally mediocre garbage ass, fake muzak, and then ram it into our consciousness against our will, by overplaying it all day on their monopoly airwaves, and then, they shamelessly induct it into their jiveass, fake as shit, garbage rock, hall of shame, that has zero to do with real rocknroll. How ya gonna have a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame without the NY Dolls or MC5 or Beasts Of Bourbon or Pillbox? McDonna and Beyonce's hubby are in the Cleveland hall, along with Billy Joel and James Taylor, but not Johnny Thunders or Stiv Bators. Are you kidding me? Fake History!
The way I remember it, and it's honestly all a bit of a blur now, because I used to drink some, was I was feelin' a might meloncholy at the Johnny Thunders Memorial, still grieving the loss of my early role model, Stiv Bators , and the breakup of my combat booted boyhood band back in the Midwest. I'd been searching for "the others" all my life, so when I finally located and cultivated the ones I thought I was supposed to make my records with, it was a bit wounding, when they decided to, "go in another direction". A cool cat in a leather newsboy cap, and a red leather jacket, stepped out of the crowd and approached me and asked if I was a singer. I'd been on the lookout for a new gang, as Stiv had sang, "I'll recruit a ragged army/why let your hatred scar me?."
This character had a great style, 'whip thin, skinny jeans, years before they were associated with emo or Hot Topic at the mall. Leather newsboy cap. I'm thinkin' maybe, a little gun on his necklace. He asked me what bands I was into and he liked all the same stuff: Lords, Hanoi, Smack, Gun Club, Birthday Party, blah blah, blah, and when he told me his name, I immediately knew he was the guy from Motorcycle Boy, a super-dandified , good times galore, rockabilly-glam buzz-band from Hollywood, whose Flipside Records 45 I had back at my apartment on the vanity. He said something about having just quit that band, he was frustrated with their hard partying Sunset Strip lifestyle, or something, and seemed to want to make darker, more serious and sophisticated music.
So we started exchanging demos in the mail and talking for hours on the phone about this new band we were gonna form called, TV Eye, and I was not aware of the old Birmingham band of the same name, yet. I immediately got on the appropriately named Peter Pan bus line and overnight-moved back to NYC with a suitcase full of angsty notebooks and ill fitting shiny clothes from second-hand stores, and took up residence at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge and sometimes, the Continental. Ratboy started coaching me about my garishly applied Alien Sex Fiend make-up and stuff. He had just freshly arrived from L.A., where all the bozo glam-metal groups were these sucky metal, wanking wankers, all with matching, oversized, Steve Stevens hair, and he helpfully, advised me to tone down the orange eye shadow. We were instant pals, had a lot of laughs, he was hipping me to These Immortal Souls and the Bad Seeds, Thee Hypnotics, Lightnin' Hopkins, falafels (!!!) and all kindsa 70's prog-rock.
I was pretty broke, slept on his floor. One piece of pizza a day, I think Ratboy only ate salad. He had an old lady at the time and did not like to drink that much, so I'd go merrily romping and rolling through the streets of the East Side at night, with noted classical composer, ("Aint It Fun", "Still Wanna Die") Cheetah Chrome. After a few weeks of practicing in a rehearsal space on Ave. B with a revolving door rhythm section, it was becoming clear that our songwriting processes were different. He was just a lot more artistically developed and adultish than I was. I was a traumatized, greasy kid from a bad place. Still penning these sub-standard, sophomoric, Sisters Of Mercy derivative, faux-Doors lyrics and I recognized he was looking for more economical, less pretentious, Iggy Pop type words. A voice of experience. I was about 21 and still mostly listening to the Cult and Duran Duran. Excited just to be allowed in the bars. Still gettin' my mascara together.
Enter: Chris Barry, a Canadian rock star, who looked like a teen idol, had perfectly fitted black leather clothes, a great haircut, big smile, and an undeniable, klieg-light star power that lit up the room, even though it was a dark and dingy downstairs Alphabet City studio, we were all cramped into, way back in the early 90's, when it was still dangerous to walk around, alone. I hated him. He was not only handsome and charismatic and funny and highly literate and spoke French, but he knew Blondie and Joan Jett and shit. All you had to do was see the guy once, in-person, and it was crystal clear, that he was a star. Potentially, a very big star. He totally won me over, in like five minutes flat, with his gregarious personality and enthusiasm and spontanaiety and deep understanding of rock ‘n’ roll. I still think he's a diamond geezer, a blinding star. All his stuff fom the 222's, 39 Steps, Pillbox, Acrylic, and Throbbing Purple is absolutely stellar, five-star, 12-bottle, top-shelf, secret-stash, pure rock ‘n’roll. He's still got it.
He was always a lot of fun to be with. I knew innately why Ratboy had to do his evolving musical operation with Chris, they were two sides of the same coin. While I lacked confidence and experience, substance and depth, back then, Chris was a real rock star. The Genuine Article. In the old fashioned sense. He gave me a cassette of his old band, 39 Steps, and they were exactly the big neon glittering, goth gang I'd always dreamed about forming. They were almost as good as the Cult. I think they'd even toured with the Cult and Psychedelic Furs. Absolutely fantastic stuff!
So Ratboy and Chris, about six different rotating, skinny European bass players, and Screamin' Joe Rizzo became Pillbox. They were an exceptional live band, they put on a helluva show-Rizzo's gone on to fame and fortune with Walter Lure's latter day, Waldos. He was good. Ratboy was not only the greatest guitar stylist of his generation probably, but moved exquisitely onstage, an elegant shadow thrower. Back then, all the guitar players were copying Sonic Youth or Randy Rhoades; or Steve Jones or Slash, but Ratboy totally had his own style! His own sound. The magical and graceful Mister Barry really had the whole front man thing mastered, elevated to an effortless art, he could summon all the little black haired girls to the foot of the stage with just the subtlest arch of his eyebrow or bat of his eyelashes. He undeniably had some James Brown Soul Power, seemed so natural, too, like he never really had to even try to command a room. All eyes were on him, as he crooned in a very unique and distinctive voice, all his own. He's often been compared to Iggy, but he does not sound like Iggy, to me. A voice all his own, remarkable songs, a crackerjack band that sounded like no other. Style to burn. I really recognized him as a Bowie/Iggy/Cave level entertainer.
Those two started writing songs together, that were all instantly memorable hits. Unforgettable aces. They were quite the pair, all very Bowie/Ronson. They revamped an old Motorcycle Boy song, "What She Wants". I think the first three demos Ratboy gave me were, "Sinister Urge", "Come Up Heroin" and "Nowhere Land'. To say I looked up to those fellas would be an under-statement. Nobody was making music like that, Pillbox made all the other bands from back then seem like clowns, idiots. I was excited to be in their gang, even if I wasn't the one singing-they told me I could still join-in, if I got a bass, but I sucked at playing, and really wanted them to find the best bassist, possible. 'So sad when the cops killed Steve Mach! (...Because they can.)
Their record label, Circumstantial, was significantly smaller than Motorcycle Boy's old label Triple XXX, which is part of why seemingly everybody knows about Motorcycle Boy, and so few know about Pillbox. Pillbox are one of my all time favorite rocknroll bands and if you ever heard 'em, they might be one of yours, too. Go look for the PILLBOX "Holly" video on YouTube. Classic stuff! Mister Ratboy released a brilliant solo album called "A Gift From Mister Ratboy" that I highly reccomend, as well as a long series of records with Sour Jazz and other collaborations with Bebe Buell, Marky Ramone, and Hiroshi Nakagome from Japan's Golden Arms, as the Golden Rat. Everything he touches turns to glittery stardusted stuff o' timeless rocknroll immortality, if ya ask me. A fearless original. One of a kind! Way above and beyond nearly everybody else.
To me, their genius hard rockin' CD, "Jimbo's Clown Room", remains not only one of the most vital and original and always, always so pleasingly listenable albums of it's time, but when I hear it, some thirtyish years later, it's still better than almost anybody else that's left around, now. "Bobby's Shakin' Again" stays in my head for days at a time. "Devil In My Bed", "Nowhereland", "Get Hip"-every tune's a distinctively memorable monument to rocknroll perfection. It's an underrated masterpiece, honestly. They made it with like, no money, too! They just know how to rock, they ain't fakin' it!
I was a one man Pillbox fan club for a couple of years, writing about 'em in all the cruddy little low budget underground fanzines, 'kept trying to get the rock ‘n’ roll community to play the disc on the radio and MTV. I don't know why PILLBOX did not burst into sudden super stardom, they were totally so ready for the big time, talent, creativity, personality, and charisma-wise. They looked great and sounded even better. Even if I'd never known them personally, this impactful, unforgettable album would still be one of my favorites. I did know 'em though, so I really owe both of those guys a lot. They were really generous and patient and kind to me, when I was a buckwild little white trash hellion kid, a neurotic boy outsider straight outta P.M.R.C. reform school and dress code violations detention hall, those two taught me half o' what I know. I'd take a bus over on the weekends to see 'em play. They taught me so, so much. From Dolly Parton to the Digital Underground! There was a time when they were my best friends in the world. They really imprinted on me as a kid-even now, they influence my own music and lyrics, humor, and whole way of looking at the world. Pillbox were pure dynamite. I miss them.
Like I said, I read some book about NYC rock 'n' roll a couple years ago and was appalled by Pillbox's exclusion. I mean all these shit-ass nobody, nothing, novelty-noise, goofyass rich kid bands, but no Pillbox. UGH! I was disgusted. I'd seen all the other bands of that era, and no one in the U.S. even came close. Though some business oriented ruling class narcissists were better at branding and social networking, and hustling and repeating their name everywhere. In my neon bible, Pillbox remain gigantic stars, brightly towering over all the rest.
You're gonna wanna sail on over to the Yeah Right website and order this record, right now. It's so good. It's one of those records that make you want to drink, though. When was the last time you heard an album that you wanted to play louder? I wish they would have stayed together and made ten more. Chris Barry and Ratboy are rock ‘n’ roll icons, to me.
ICONS! Both of 'em! REAL ROCKNROLL Hall Of Famers! Thank You, friends.
(all the beers and shots you got handy)