cbgb - 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.
Three years ago, family tragedy thrust Sonny Vincent from being a cult New York punk legend into the role of full-time carer.
Based in Europe for two decades from where he prolifically recorded and toured, he was suddenly pulled back to the USA by a home gas explosion and fire that left his son, daughter-in-law and grandson on life support in a North Carolina hospital.
Sonny’s family has survived but his music is on indefinite hold. Day-to-day life now revolves around his 12-year-old grandson Cayden, still undergoing skin grafts while trying to live the life of a schoolboy. Sonny hasn’t picked up a guitar since that fateful night and has been existing on donations.
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.
It’s an entirely name-worthy pairing: Los Angeles’ best punk rock and roll band, The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, are teaming with Dead Boys guitar legend Cheetah Chrome to hit the road in the USA.
Okay. True story; this. I’m in Red Eye Records, Sydney, cruising the racks. Trying to find that new audio kick. I chance upon this item. Surely, I have every damn thing the Dictators ever released. What is this thing? A cursory glance at the back cover says it came out in 2008. I reach for my mobile phone and jump to the I-94 Bar for the good word and there isn’t one to be had. There is no frigging review. Clearly, I had better rectify this situation.
Orthodoxy is not the Richard Lloyd way, so this book was never going to be a straight-forward elucidation of the histories of his bands (“Just the facts”.) It’s a weirdly charged ride through the man’s life, using vivid snapshots and taking colourful detours, and it reverberates like his guitar playing.
Lloyd was the rocking yin to Tom Verlaine’s ethereal yang in seminal New York band Television. You could say he kept his guitar partner from lapsing into total six-stringed self-indulgence and flights of fancy, giving the band its rock and roll sensibility.
It’s an important point but his book is about much more than that. Lloyd is also a solo artist of note who has passed through the orbits of people like Jimi Hendrix, Anita Pallenberg, John Lee Hooker, Keith Moon, Buddy Guy and Keith Richards, to name a few.
What you need to know is that Lloyd has been in and out of mental asylums and rehab, used every drug known to Western civilisation (and probably a few that aren’t) and the scope and variety of his sex life would give the late Lou Reed cause for pause. He also has a unique philosophy on human existence.
Lloyd has always felt like an intruder in everybody else’s world, a fully-formed adult even as a child. He lived with bipolar disorder sitting on his shoulder, pulling him up and down. You get the feeling that his (at times impenetrable) brand of spirituality was either a product of that or his anchor, and it runs thematically right through his writing.
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.
Kevin K has been plying this trade for 40 years and almost as many albums. His latest American crew, The Krazy Kats, are in synch with his modus operandi of gritty but melodic rock and roll.
As the title reveals, Kevin's latest studio album takes a generous leaf out of the New York Dolls book while slyly alluding to his longtime adopted home of Florida.
Kevin K was always going to end up back on Rankoutsider, the label run by ex-Lazy Cowgirls frontman Pat Todd. Like Todd’s current band, The Rank Outsiders, the label specialises in down-to-earth, streetwise rock and roll music - of which Kevin K is the embodiment.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that there’s a distinctive Kevin K Sound: It’s no frills, guitar-laden punk rock, with a very tough edge, informed by life in the dives and gutters of New York City’s Lower East Side. Kevin’s plaintive vocal sits oddly but comfortably with the gritty sound of his bands.
CBGB is, of course, no more. It’s a designer clothing store run by Detroit old boy John Varvatos.
At this point, permit me a personal aside.
No matter how many times the new owner’s rock and roll cred and commitment to “tastefully” preserving elements of the old club on The Bowery are thrown at me, I can’t come to terms with this particular march of progress.
My own CBGB experiences may have only been as a beer-swilling tourist living vicariously through the sounds of those on-stage, but turning a rock and roll hovel into a shop selling $300 T-shirts will only get you so far.
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.
New York City landmark Manitoba’s – and it is The World’s Greatest Bar (believe us, we’ve personally checked out a few) - has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to avoid closure in the wake of a legal dispute.
Owners Handsome Dick Manitoba (of the Dictators) and Zoe Hansen (his better half) say their iconic watering hole has no choice but to settle with a litigant or shut its doors.
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.
I ain't owned that beautiful Nina Antonia book about Johnny Thunders for years-poor people can't have nice things - ya always have to sell it all to eat and smoke. "Everything is in the pawnshop", you dig? But all those swanky Heartbreakers photographs are etched forever in my mind.
Want to know what the classic line-up of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers sounded like live? Most of us missed them the first time around and with three of them no longer with us there’s no chance whatsoever of them reforming - at least in this life.
So you’ll just have to settle for listening to “Live At The Village Gate”.
Glad you asked.
“Live At The Village Gate” is a newly-minted album on Los Angeles label Cleopatra Records. It’s out on LP and CD. It was recorded at the legendary jazz venue, The Village Gate, in New York City in 1977. Our review is here.
To many ears, it represents the ultimate recording of the infamous Heartbreakers at their highest peak. No slop, no pop. Pure power and energy that’s powerful enough to level a New York City block. It captures the notoriously drug-addled quartet in clear-eyed form and totally on their game. Out to impress and definitely Down To Kill.
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.
It's rare that you find a disc with which you can't find even insubstantial fault. The Dictators, live and amped-up, are simply one of the best things on this musical planet. If you had to come up with something to balance the lavish praise we and fellow Tators fan-atics are spouting about this, it might be that the contemporary tunes on "Viva" manage to sound exactly like their studio cousins. And that's supposed to be a bad thing?
There’s a temptation to hail this record as the last gasp from a dying breed. After all, it’s 24 years since the last Waldos studio album, the wonderful “Rent Party”, and a lifetime since Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers last staggered onto a stage.
Walter Lure is almost The Last Man Standing from what’s erroneously generalised as “the New York punk scene”. There was a scene but it was more than just punk (whatever that is or was) and it was pushed to the margins by the dual forces of Disney and gentrification.
Walter has lived his share of the nine lives that his old band was gifted, and maybe then some, so if the temptation proves too much not to tag “Wacka Lacka Boom Bop A Loom Bam Boo” as a lowering of the curtain on a long-gone era of Lower East Side guitar sleaze, cut me some slack. A handful of other people still wave that flag.
There are a dozen songs on “Wacka Lacka…” and most contain more raunch per ounce than you can squeeze into a digital back catalogue of Strokes records. This is as you’d expect: Walter Lure – “Waldo” to his stockbroking mates – was the guitar foil to Johnny Genzales in the post-Dolls Heartbreakers, and they were the band that made the template for street-level, pharmaceutical-fuelled, bad boy, four-chord goodness. (Yes, Keef did it first but he could afford not to mix it with the masses who were copping on Norflok Street, hence the term “street-level”.)