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.
Judy Simonds — who actually lived the Milwaukee scene and is working to document it in depth — is helping me learn more about the amazing kaleidoscope of creative projects Richard LaValliere powered over nearly 50 years of his short life. (Check out the Richard LaValliere memorial page she runs on Facebook.) I haven’t asked her about his personal trajectory, or whether he was also frustrated that his work wasn’t heard by more people.
Gene sets the record straight on a few points about the Harlots (who New York Dolls frontman David Johansen calls his favorite band on the scene) and shares a motherlode of Harlots memorabilia, including photos, flyers and the band’s own fan newsletter.
“Love the article and the take on the scene as well as the shout out for me and the boys” Gene writes, “though, unfortunately, it’s a little inaccurate as are many things from that time frame.”
By the time 23-year-old Bruce Springsteen officially introduced the E Street Band in October 1972, he’d already put together at least half-a-dozen musical groups, building a core of backing musicians and experimenting with different kinds of lineups.
Among Springsteen’s notable efforts: the Castiles, his first serious mid-’60s band; Steel Mill, a long-haired hard rock outfit that toured the country and opened for some major acts of the era; and The Friendly Enemies as well as Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, two big ensembles that Springsteen built expressly for a couple of memorable shows. These last two lineups played just one and two gigs, respectively, but they’re still remembered as the first time Springsteen combined some of his core rock musicians with horns and other enhancements that tapped into the R&B traditions of the Jersey Shore.
As a footnote in history, the refurbished 1924 movie theater run by local promoter Jim May is most often mentioned as the venue where Nirvana played some of its earliest shows under names like Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew and Ted Ed Fred (as well as its first show under its final moniker on March 19, 1988).
“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”
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.
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, 1981, the Pretenders spotted the Femmes busking in front of the Oriental Theatre and invited them to open that night; the rest is college-radio history.