Between KISS and the Ramones: Coventry and 5 bands you should know about

“Exuma, the Obeah Man.”

The Ramones all originated from Forest Hills [Queens,] and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates or dentists,” Tommy Ramone wrote in an early press release. “The Ramones are a little of each. Their sound is not unlike a fast drill on a rear molar.”

Sure, Queens has never had the cachet of Manhattan or Brooklyn, but the borough’s role in promoting New York musicians shouldn’t be overlooked. Consider Coventry in Sunnyside, Queens: The erstwhile Popcorn Pub changed its name at the end of January 1973 — the same weekend it hosted KISS’ first-ever gigs — and went on to feature an eclectic assortment of musical acts.

“It was a big club, around 5,000 square feet, and it held around 700 people,” recalled owner Paul Sub in Ken Sharp’s Dressed to Kill. “Everyone from KISS, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Blondie, Sam & Dave, The Dictators, and Elephant’s Memory played there. I’d put on 10 acts a week, both local and national. The only act we turned down, because we didn’t want to spend $300, was Aerosmith (laughs). The New York Dolls were really the ones that kept Coventry going. They played once a month, and whenever they played, 700 people would show up. They had the main following of all the bands who played there.”

According to Dictators bassist Andy Shernoff, “The Coventry was one of the glitter-rock places in New York, and if you were doing original music, that was the ONLY place to play. If you were a cover band, you could play anywhere; that’s what people wanted to see.”

Many of the up-and-coming local acts to visit Coventry are now more closely associated with Manhattan clubs like Max’s Kansas City; the Mercer Arts Center; and CBGB, which would open later that year. (Before he switched noms de punk, Joey Ramone played at Coventry often as “Jeff Starship” with his first band, Sniper.) Others aren’t so well remembered, but they’re worth more than a casual listen. Here are five bands that played Coventry and you should know about:  Continue reading “Between KISS and the Ramones: Coventry and 5 bands you should know about”

From Cleveland to New Haven: Craig Bell and 5 bands you should know about

Craig Bell in front of an American flag.
Craig Bell, 2014.

Even intermediate students of proto-punk know that Rocket from the Tombs was a band whose influence far outstripped its sales: a Cleveland, Ohio, combo that split to create art-rockers Pere Ubu (formed by Rocket vocalist David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner) and CBGB pioneers the Dead Boys (featuring guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz). To add to the mythos, Laughner is remembered for his untimely death at age 24; an evocative body of unreleased work; and a eulogy by his friend, seminal rock critic Lester Bangs.

One member of RFTT is mentioned less often than the rest: bassist Craig Bell. However, Bell’s trajectory helped catalyze the Cleveland scene before Rocket ever started, then sparked an indie music movement 500 miles east in New Haven, Connecticut.

Follow Craig Bell’s path to learn about five bands you should know about:  Continue reading “From Cleveland to New Haven: Craig Bell and 5 bands you should know about”

Like Iggy Pop and the MC5? 5 bands you should know about

The Up.

Sure, the MC5 and the Stooges weren’t the only national acts to come out of Detroit’s late-’60s rock scene — viz. the Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger and Grand Funk Railroad — but these two bands hold a special mystique for fans tracing the roots of punk to the Motor City.

The post-garage music scene in eastern Michigan was tightly intertwined, bursting with talented bands connected to these breakout acts. Here are five you should know about:  Continue reading “Like Iggy Pop and the MC5? 5 bands you should know about”

Like the Violent Femmes? 5 bands you should know about

Richard LaValliere of Oil Tasters
Richard LaValliere of Oil Tasters performs “My Girlfriend’s Ghost.”

Footnotes of fandom: I was the Violent Femmes’ first California follower. My family lived in Milwaukee for a couple years before we moved to San Diego in time for junior high. I kept friends there, though, and that’s how I ended up seeing the Femmes at Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery in June 1981, just a few months after the band formed. On August 23, 1981the Pretenders spotted the Femmes busking in front of the Oriental Theatre and invited them to open that night; the rest is college-radio history.

If you’re interested in Violent Femmes prehistory and the Milwaukee scene at the turn of the ’80s, here are five bands you should know about: Continue reading “Like the Violent Femmes? 5 bands you should know about”

Like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü? 5 bands you should know about

Suicide Commandos album cover
Cover: “The Suicide Commandos Make a Record.”

The April passing of favorite son Prince turned media attention back onto Minneapolis’ musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s. One Magnet Magazine piece gathered tales from close to 40 witnesses to the scene that spawned two other Minneapolis legends: Hüsker Dü and the Replacements.

Both bands’ earliest gigs — from 1979 to 1981 — focused on the scene’s hottest clubs (The Longhorn and the 7th St. Entry, a small room that was part of the bigger First Avenue). The Hüskers and the ‘Mats circled each other, often playing the same venue within days of each other, but apparently didn’t share a gig until both bands opened for the Neglectors at the 7th Ave. Entry on Sept. 5, 1981. (Down the line, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements would make their New York debuts at Great Gildersleeves on April 17, 1983, supported by a New York band called Young and the Useless that coincidentally included future Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz.)

Hüsker Dü and the Replacements: Two monster bands starting their careers on tight parallel paths at the same Minneapolis clubs. But what other bands traveled with them at the very beginning of their ride? Here are five bands you should know about:  Continue reading “Like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü? 5 bands you should know about”