max's kansas city - The I-94 Bar
Seems not so long ago (and in fact, it was the late 1980s) that the shadow of a still breathing, although not always fully-functioning, Johnny Thunders was almost everywhere you looked. His records filled the racks and every second person in a band wanted to look like, if not be, JT. As in buying the T-shirt with no need to tap a vein.
It was P.I. (Pre-Internet) so we didn’t have the same visual options that YouTube and Torrenting now offer, but you had to wonder how someone whose wasted pictures and sound defined the term “fucked-up” so convincingly could continue to make music.
Of course, way down in Australia we got our answer when an at least partially cleaned-up Johnny toured, with the ever-present legend Jerry Nolan on drums and a real live Sex Pistol, Glen Matlock, on bass. That had to be the year I was overseas, but by all reliable reports The Man and His Band were both lucid and great.
His music tends to be overshadowed by the fact that Thunders was a hardcore junkie for the second tw-thirds of his career, at first by choice and then, over the years, by necessity. You might argue that he also milked that reputation for all it was worth, to the point that it was a marketing tool as much as a cross to bear.
The Johnnys, Allniters, The Troughmen, The Cool Charmers, The Normals et al
"10 Highlights of my Punk pilgrimage across America"
1. In late 1978 I was naïve, wide eyed and bushy tailed, 20 years of age and full of beans, myself and two companions left Auckland, NZ and headed to LA on our mighty search for Punk Rock. There was a bunch of funky Afro American dudes on the flight in the seats in front of us, they kept hanging over the back of the seats and enquiring if we were punk rock? I said well we are punk rockers if that’s what you mean, they were very keen to find out about us and the music and kept buying us drinks – turned out they were Andrea True Connections' backing band heading home from Australia. After a several drinks we were all singing "More More More how do you like it, how do you like it"! Much to the chagrin of our fellow travellers.
2. Arriving in LA, the enormity of the place dawned on me . Our hotel downtown was really scary; we huddled in a corner of the room all night and listened to the fighting going on in the corridor whilst watching the door handle going up and down as the door was being tried. We moved to Hollywood the next day to a Motel 6 - equally as dodgy.
To say that my behavior occasionally borders on obsessive compulsive when it comes to some popular music, especially if there is caffeine or alcohol involved, is like saying Bob Marley was into marijuana.
Proto-punk legends The Dictators have a Best Of compilation "Faster...Louder: The Dictators Best 1975-2001" out on Australian label Raven. Compiler Ian McFarlane spoke to Andy Shernoff, bass-player/keyboardist for The Dictators, in January 2014. Here's the full interview.
Max’s Kansas City was one of the legendary New York City scenes of the 1970s, home to Andy Warhol’s crew and a musical stamping ground for the Velvet Underground, Heartbreakers, Iggy & the Stooges and countless others.
It’s the club where Iggy met David Bowie and had his career fortunes revived, Debbie Harry waited on tables, Patti Smith went star-spotting and the Lou Reed era Velvets played their final shows.
Former Max’s promoter Peter Crowley is hosting a 50th anniversary round of shows from June 4-8 and the line-ups feature some of the best that what’s left of the old-school NYC underground scene.
In these times of re-packaged music there might well be a sucker born every minute. At various times, that sucker has been you and me. So when an adept pusher of pre-loved material and sometimes extraneous bonus items like UK label Jungle puts out the clarion call for worshipers of Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers to sign up for yet another collection of posthumous mixes, who are we not to answer?
Meet Keith Streng, Ken Fox, Peter Zaremba and Bill Milhizer. Jacopo Benessi photo.
Here’s another plea for justice and a call for long overdue respect. Add another name to the list of bands whose “failure” (such a harsh word when applied without context) to break into the mainstream is not just unfathomable but criminal. Ladies and gentlemen, I speak of The Fleshtones, stars of stage and screen and bearers of a vibrant new record, “The Band Drinks For Free”, on Yep Roc.
The Official Biography lists it as Album Number 21 (including live releases) and says the band is in its 40th year, but let’s dispense with the figures and deal only in facts. The first one is: If you’re not listening to The Fleshtones, you’re a loser. The second is: It’s never too late to shed your loser status.
The Fleshtones emerged from a basement in New York City’s Queens borough and onto a stage at CBGB in 1976. Largely written out of histories of the Lower East Side scene despite being fixtures at places like CBs, Max’s Kansas City, The Pyramid, Danceteria and Club 57, they went through a trailer-load of trials and tribulations (labels going broke, line-ups in flux, drugs and drink) to “almost make it” in spectacular style.
Phillippe Marcade was briefly drummer and then frontman for long-running New York City band The Senders, and a close confidant of many on the CBGB and Max’s Kansas City scenes.
Born in France, for the most illegally living in NYC, he rode the rock and roll roller coaster as hard as anyone in Lower Manhattan.
“Punk Avenue” - the title is a play-on-words reference to the Park Avenue location of Max’s - is a fantastic read. There are no dead spots; Marcade tells his story colourfully, underlined by droll, self-deprecating humour.
Snake Pit Therapy by Sonny Vincent (Far West Press)
Don’t let its diminutive size lull you into thinking this book is in any way insubstantial. It’s pocket-sized so you can carry it on your person - like a concealed weapon.
Punk survivor Sonny Vincent’s first formal foray into being A Published Author packs a hefty punch in its 91 pages. Is it a memoir, a collection of prose or a bunch of musings from a hyperactive, creative mind? All of the above.
It’s not just punk rock and roll. “Snake Pit Therapy” bounces from childhood rejections of authority to tripped-out excursions around a dry-cleaning shop (‘You get $100 a day and all the cocaine you can snort,” read the note on the laundromat’s bulletin board’.)
There’s a bizarre vignette (“My Evil Little Krishna”) arguing with itself in the finest post-modern style, an ode to formica and an impenetrable prayer. There’s a story of a doomed smalltown newspaper run scam.
You also get to hear about pulling one over ex-Velvets member Sterling Morrison on a road-trip around Europe and going to therapy with onetime-Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson. You find out why Scott Asheton was not just a Stooge but also one of nature’s gentlemen.
Ever wonder what it was like to crawl through the decaying underbelly of downtown New York City’s punk scene with Max’s Kansas City and CBGB as your musical playgrounds? Sonny Vincent opens the window on that and gives us all a whiff – so inhale hard. Nobody will see those days again.
Sonny’s writing is a mirror image of his music: Urgent, aggressive and propelled by a passion for music, and pent-up energy.
You can smell Burroughs in the way chapters of “Snake Pit Therapy” become an evolving stream of consciousness with bubbles of sharp humour bobbing about on top. And just when you think you have the man’s format nailed, an odd passage of abstract prose will jump out at you like a mugger on an Alphabet City alley.
Sonny Vincent: Primitive 1969-76. Diamond Distance & Liquid Fury - Sonny Vincent (Hozac Archival)
Some would hide their earliest bands’ recordings in a dark place and hope nobody found them. Thankfully, not Sonny Vincent.
As one of the last New York punks still standing, Sonny Vincent criminally remains a well-kept secret. The music he’s made under his own name, and with a string of bands - most notably, Max’s Kansas City and CBGB graduates, Testors - is some of the best primal sound around. This collection of songs from his pre-punk bands, spanning 1969-72, does nothing to detract from that track record.