Most fans with even a passing knowledge of The Velvet Underground know about its close connection with Andy Warhol. The band coalesced as part of the retinue of performers and personalities (a k a “superstars”) connected to the Pop legend’s Factory studio on East 47th Street.
You’ve heard the story: Warhol introduced Nico to the VU’s front line, exposed them to New York’s intelligentsia at his “Plastic Exploding Inevitable” events, and enabled the production of its first album. Peel slowly and see!
Despite all the amputations, Warhol and his Factory remained touchstones for the band and its members after their partnership ended. From the characters in Lou Reed‘s “Walk on the Wild Side” to Reed’s and John Cale‘s reunion homage to their late mentor (Songs for Drella), the Factory is a cornerstone of the Velvet edifice.
But those were different times: After the Velvet Underground’s salad days, other participants in Warhol’s entourage would stake their own claims to rock-‘n’-roll history. Here are 5(-plus) acts whose Factory connections you should know about.
Nearly 40 years after The Frogs decided to take their wild musical collaboration out of the garage and onto Milwaukee stages, the team of Dennis and Jimmy Flemion has been largely forgotten by all but the most dedicated fans. But 2019 might be the year that the Flemions get the kind of attention that they (and superfans like Billy Corgan and Eddie Vedder) always knew they deserved.
We’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of their landmark album It’s Only Right And Natural. There’s one final, transcendent Frogs album being prepared for release. And a documentary crew has been painstakingly putting together a history of the band, capturing interviews with the folks who were there as well as fans and friends like Andy Richter, Sebastian Bach, Kelley Deal, Steve Albini, Butch Vig and many more. That doc, also titled It’s Only Right And Natural, will supposedly see the light of day in 2019 as well.
The Frogs were always prolific, completist and controversial. From their earliest days at the fringes of the Milwaukee scene, The Frogs meticulously documented their own history — from studio recordings to performance videos to comical films featuring pervy puppets of their own devising. They were satirists of the highest degree who rarely broke that facade, but also unrepentant goofballs and musical geniuses who could move you with a from-the-heart love song. It couldn’t make sense to most people, but for those it touched, the music — and everything else — made a lifelong impression.
But very little of the band’s vast catalog made sense for the mainstream. They created some lovely pop songs, but also produced provocative, sideways takes on homosexuality and race. Their work was never destined for the charts, though many Frogs songs were actually more thoughtful and forward-thinking than they were given credit for.
Above all, The Frogs refused to be edited or packaged. With older brother Dennis as spokesman, the Flemions consistently pushed back against the shorthand of marketing: denying genre, decrying articles edited for length and legibility, disavowing any move to cut their aesthetic down to size.
Mass appeal may have eluded The Frogs, but they had outsize influence on other musicians. The middle period of their epic journey intersects some of the most renowned musicians of the ’90s, who willingly contributed their cachet to the Frogs’ career. Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins are the biggest acts that befriended the Flemion brothers, but the list stretches much further.
With Dennis’ shocking death in 2012, the saga of The Frogs may have come to an end, but 2019 feels like the year it will be told. Here are 5 bands that played roles in that story.
With a performance history that stretched from 1973 to about 1984, The Fast were among the most enduring of the first wave of New York punk bands — seminal but largely overlooked by mainstream rock history.
I never met Elda Stilletto, who died unexpectedly on August 6. But I’d corresponded with her on social media, and I’d hoped to interview her about her role during the New York underground’s crucial moment of artistic churn between Andy Warhol’s Factory and the rise of CBGB.
Those of us who admire music-makers of renown shared many hard losses over the past year. And many us who treasure our own music scenes have lost local heroes as well.
Time passes, and young lions grow older — since their mortality reminds us of our own, and the music they made reminds us of our receding youth, it’s always personal. And for those of us of a certain age, 2016 seemed way too close for comfort.
I’m not just the author of FiveBands — I’m also a fan. Working on this project has given me the chance to discover groups I never heard of but would have loved from Day One. And of that growing list, Boston’s Fox Pass is one of my favorites.
The duo moved to New York, where they joined their friend Tom Dickie to form Tom Dickie and the Desires (managed by the legendary Tommy Mottola). That band dissolved in 1982, and Macey and Roy parted ways until the late ‘90s. A reformed Fox Pass finally released its debut album in 2005 and a second in 2010.
While Fox Pass released just one single during the ‘70s, Jon Macey has generously shared some unreleased Fox Pass tracks from the era, which I’m honored to present here:
Now Rossi is combining his professional passions with a film project aimed at documenting and celebrating the bands, street artists and poets of New York’s protopunk scene. (The working title is You’re In or You’re Out/Urine or UR Out.) Rossi describes the style — which is in pre-production through his company Tantamount Productions — as “cinéma vérité meets ‘The Last Waltz,’ and he’s networking with his contemporaries and other fans to raise the money to bring the project to a screen near you. (As actor and veteran New York musician Fenton Lawless remarked in a Facebook discussion, the project is “what Vinyl promised but failed sooo miserably. … It needed a Peter Rossi.”)
While many bands that powered the scene have expressed excitement about gathering for a live event 40 years later, Rossi emphasizes that he’s not looking to document a reunion that simply retreads the participants’ back catalogs. “This is about catching up with the artists who still have the fire in their souls,” he says.
Rossi is rallying some of the top acts of the era to top the bill again and demonstrate the chemistry that made New York a catalyst for a new generation of music.
There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and Johnny Angel has a few thousand of them. As founder of Thrills, the Massachusetts native (and current Los Angeles resident) played a major role in Boston’s late-’70s scene focused on the legendary Rathskeller, better know as the Rat (and a k a “Boston’s CBGB“). Thrills gigged with Boston’s finest as well as touring groups from the Ramones to the Dead Boys to U2; Angel has maintained those relationships as a musician, radio personality, print journalist and actor.
But how to tell the tale without the clichés of a standard-issue memoir? Johnny took a novel route in 2015, when he published Looking for Lady Dee: A Punk Rock Mystery. The book weaves together scrupulous autobiography with a film noir mystery: An old flame from his days at The Rat has disappeared, and Johnny teams with a punk femme fatale to find her.