Sunday, 24 June 2018

Supergrass Confirm Some Outlandish Facts And Deny A Few (Probably) Untrue Rumors

Supergrass strike a pose with Teenage Kicks #1.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Originally published in Teenage Kicks #2 (Fall 1997)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Michelle Castro
Story by Devorah

Those British wunderkinds Supergrass barrelled through town recently for the third time in as many months.

First, they played Slims in May; then they opened for the Foo Fighters at the Fillmore as part of Miller's "Blind Date" series (Gaz: "It was a bit weird really, everyone was expecting Metallica"); and finally, they returned a week later to headline their own Fillmore show — all in promotion of their fabulous new album In It for the Money.

Poster for the Foo Fighters/Supergrass MGD "Blind Date"
 show at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Before the second Fillmore gig, we met up with all three band members — vocalist/guitarist Gaz Coombes (he of the fabled cheekbones and massive sideburns), bassist Mick Quinn (very cute and very charming), and drummer Danny Goffey (very tall, very skinny, and passed out on the dressing room couch).

Unfortunately, our timing inconveniently coincided with openers Super Deluxe's soundcheck (it was a super show, hahaha!), which pretty much drowned out the conversation, and turned our interview into a photo op/autograph signing party. But we still managed to get some info!

For instance, Many Things You Think You Know About Supergrass Are (Probably) Not True:

In It for the Money (Parlophone 1997)
It's been reported in several publications that Steven Spielberg offered Supergrass a starring role in a Monkees-like sitcom.

"No!" states Gaz emphatically. "It's rubbish. I don't know where that came from."

"We did meet him," says Danny lifting his head from the couch. "He was very nice. We said we couldn't do anything at the moment because we're too busy. We didn't know what it was gonna be about."

"It's all bullshit really," finishes Gaz.

And what about Gaz being offered a five-figure sum to become the new Calvin Klein model?

"No!" he shouts. "Where are you getting this stuff? It's all rumors."

On the other hand, Some Of The Outlandish Things You've Heard About Supergrass Are Actually True:

"Going Out" b/w "Melanie Davis"
Back cover of my limited edition, burgundy 
vinyl 45 autographed by Gaz, Mick & Danny!
Parts of In It for the Money really were recorded in a big tent erected on the lawn outside Sawmills Studio.

"It was just a homemade kind of thing we built," explains Gaz. "Because the weather was nice, we wanted to be outside."

Did recording in a tent somehow help them get the sound they were looking for?

Gaz has a good chuckle. "No... It made for very poor sound. But at least we were outside."

Did they bring sleeping bags into the tent?

"No, no..." says Gaz, adding something indecipherable about a campfire.

As for the oft-cited and quite remarkable differences between the "carefree adolescent pop" of the group's first album I Should Coco and the "darker, more cynical, mature" nature of In It for the Money, Gaz pretends not to have noticed.

Gaz Coombs at the Fillmore, San Francisco (1997)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"I dunno..." he says evasively. "It's hard to sort of look at it... Yeah, it is sort of different, but it's hard to analyse it. We just kept on doing what we've been doing. We just kept on writing songs and touring."

He pauses, before adding: "But thankfully, it was different. It would've been horrible if we'd done another album just like I Should Coco. You've got to move on. You've got to change. But those were just the songs that we wanted to do."

Were they under pressure to follow-up the enormous (at least in the UK, where it was No. 1 in the album charts for several weeks) success of I Should Coco?

"No, not at all," states Gaz. "We were just making an album that we wanted to hear, rather than trying to please the market."

"Alright" b/w "Time"
According to Mick, this lavishly packaged, orange 
vinyl 45 with a gatefold picture sleeve was his idea.
Now that they're famous, are there any plans to reissue the Jennifers' (Gaz and Danny's pre-Supergrass outfit) EP?

"I hope not!" gasps Danny, suddenly wide awake.

Were the Jennifers' songs anything like the material on I Should Coco?

Gaz shakes his head. "Actually, it was closer to the stuff on the new album."

"It was sort of like Ride," offers Danny.

"We were shoegazers," admits Gaz.

Finally, Anything You Think Is Cool About Supergrass Was Mick's Idea:

Whose idea was it to use a Theremin on "Richard III"?

"Mine!" yells Mick from across the room. "I got it from Scooby Doo."

And when we express our appreciation for the group's lavishly packaged, color-vinyl 45s...

Mick nods and smiles. "That's my idea too," he tells us.

"Alright" b/w "Time"
Inside gatefold sleeve photo autographed by Gaz, Danny & Mick!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

D Generation: Making Rock & Roll Dangerous (And Fun) Again!

D Generation - Chrysalis/EMI publicity pic 
Photo: Marti Wilkerson
Originally published in American Music Press (1995)

By Devorah Ostrov

When D Generation — a gang of scrappy miscreants with a penchant for making noise and courting trouble — burst onto the New York music scene four years ago, the local press latched onto them with a startling fervor.

The trendy Paper magazine declared the band was "downtown's first legitimate vintage punk troupe in over a decade." The New York Press gushed, "They've got all the bluster and ambition necessary to be a prime bunch of uppity assholes." And Musician proclaimed they were "poised to crash the '90s with their version of New York City street rock 'n' roll."

Stylized punky pictures of the group were plastered on the covers of both Paper and The New York Times Sunday magazine, and their sound (a giddy combination of the fury and social-consciousness of the first couple Clash albums and the perfect pop hooks of Cheap Trick; it's also been compared to the Stooges, the Dolls, Hanoi Rocks, and the Dead Boys) was duly categorized as glam/punk.

D Generation's eponymous debut LP
 (Chrysalis Records/EMI 1994)
Is it all just a lot of hype? Possibly.  But with a savvy attitude towards the biz, and the release of a major-label debut that one reviewer termed "as gritty and glamorous as heading drunkenly home at four in the morning thru junkie-strewn streets with your love of the night," D Gen have proved they can live up to all the hoopla.

According to vocalist Jesse Malin, there was never any question about his career path: all he ever wanted to be was a rock star. "I always wanted to be a rock 'n' roll singer or a rock 'n' roll guitarist," he adamantly states over the phone. "It's always been that way."

Malin has an evangelical zeal when it comes to talking about rock 'n' roll (don't even get him started on the Dickies!), but his first two fave raves were the Who and Kiss. In fact, if you don't count a production of Beatlemania, Malin's first concert experience was seeing Kiss at New Jersey's Capitol Theater when he was nine years old. Which could account for his own in-your-face, over-the-top performance technique. However, it was his discovery of punk rock — specifically, the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols — that he says was "it".

Like most of his bandmates — guitarist Danny Sage, bassist Howie Pyro, and drummer Michael Wildwood — Malin was born and raised in Queens, New York. Guitarist Richard Bacchus is of English origin, but he's lived in New York for so long now it's impossible to tell. Legend has it that they've all known each other since childhood.

Jesse Malin on the cover of Paper magazine
By 1980 Malin and his cohorts were making regular forays to the City, where they could be found hanging out at CBGB's. "We were like 11 or 12 years old," he reflects, "but we'd sneak in." Although they'd missed the club's punk rock glory days, the guys dived wholeheartedly into the then-flourishing hardcore scene and began forming their own bands. Malin and Sage were both in Heart Attack; another group featuring Malin, Pyro and Bacchus was called Atomic Elf (which is also Bacchus' alias); and Pyro ("The oldest guy in the band," Malin helpfully points out) was part of both the Blessed and Freaks.

Nothing much happened with any of these groups, and by the latter part of the decade none of the guys were in functioning bands. Ironically, Malin's last group before an unproductive four or five-year stretch, was called Hope. "None of us could agree on playing together; we were just being babies," says Malin. He wrote the song "Wasted Years" to explain this period of time: "Down I'm going — dontcha stop me I feel so bad/Down I'm showing — my heart I couldn't fake it/I couldn't even talk to you..."

In 1991 Malin and Pyro were hosting popular bashes at a club known as the Green Door where, as one write-up noted: "Jaded men and women drink, fight and fuck to Runaways, Ramones and Motown." At the same time, the seeds of what would become D Generation were being sown.

In an interview with Seconds magazine, Malin described D Gen as "a band of fed up friends," who got together because "there was nothing else going on that we liked, and instead of sitting around and being bored and disgusted with it, we decided to make the music that we wanted to make our whole lives." And he's been quoted as saying that they chose the moniker because "we felt that everything in the world has degenerated: music and art and society; it's all gotten so lame." Besides, they liked the double entendre of a degenerate: "A kid on the corner; someone like us."

D Generation - promo pic
(photographer unknown)
Malin and Pyro originally teamed up with Bacchus to form the nucleus of D Generation. A very early and short-lived D Gen lineup also included guitarist Georgie Seville and ex-U.K. Sub Belvy K on drums. Malin diplomatically attributes their sudden departures to "personal differences," noting that Seville went on to form the bubblegum pop outfit Sticky. "We were more into punk," he states. "Even though we really like melodies and pop we wanted to do more of a punk thing."

Once the brothers Sage and Wildwood finished with some other obligations, the group solidified, and things happened quickly. The band's first shows at the Continental were packed affairs, while other memorable gigs included the celebration of CBGB's 20th anniversary and a support slot for Iggy Pop. "He was really nice to play with," remarks Malin, "but I don't think he was pleased that we made a mess of the stage!"

The Blessed - circa 1979
Featuring Howie Pyro (and Walter Lure)
Meanwhile, a temper-fuelled stunt at Joey Ramone's Rock for Choice benefit gained them some coverage in the local press. "We thought fund-raisers were dull, polite affairs..." began the Daily News feature, which went on to detail how Malin went ballistic when D Gen's set was bumped to a less desirable time slot to accommodate a little-known band managed by industry bigwig Kenny Laguna.

According to the report, Malin hurled a piano stool across the stage, jumped up and down on the piano and shouted, "Fuck Kenny Laguna!"

None of which Malin denies. On the contrary, his ire at being messed with is evident even in retrospect. "I was really pissed off," he stresses. "They fucked our set and put us on last. So, I said some stuff about Kenny Laguna 'cause it was his fault. I was saying all kinds of crazy stuff, and then I broke up the piano stool and the piano keys and we smashed up all the mikes."

Their set ended abruptly when the curtain came down during the fourth song. "And then these Hells Angels — security guards — bouncers... I don't know what they were, took us and threw us in the street," continues Malin. "One minute I was on the stage and the next minute I was on the street!" He snickers just a little too proudly and adds, "That stuff happens to us a lot. We've been thrown out of a lot of clubs."

In 1993 ex-Shrapnel guitarist/songwriter/producer Daniel Rey and Andy Shernoff of the Dictators signed up to co-produce D Generation's initial recordings. The first offering was a white-vinyl 45 featuring the frenzied attack of "No Way Out" (termed "the definitive neopunk anthem for the '90s" in a High Times review) b/w "Guitar Mafia." The follow-up was another 45 which paired "Wasted Years" with the intensely psychotic "Waiting for the Next Big Parade." The singles sold like crazy in the downtown area (according to The Hard Report), with "No Way Out" tweaking interest from several major labels (so said Billboard).

Promo poster for the LP 
Accordingly, when the New Music Seminar rolled into New York that summer, D Gen should have been the city's main attraction. And they were. But not as a featured seminar band. Sticking to their credo that such music biz smooze-fests are "a real scam," the band opted to throw a free extravaganza of their own at the Continental — which drew the biggest crowd of the week.

Then-EMI president Daniel Glass was in the audience at the Continental, and whether it was due to that particular show or because (as Malin contends) they'd been working on getting signed to a major label for months, Chrysalis/EMI signed the band and put them into Electric Lady studios to record a full-length debut.

Produced by David Bianco, the self-titled LP ably presents D Gen's boisterous, yet catchy anthems of loneliness, anger, depression and life happily lived on the edge. Some reviewers bemoaned the slickness of production ("Die-hard fans will grumble that before D Generation made their In Color they should've made their Cheap Trick," sardonically noted CMJ's Steve McGuirl — perhaps in reference to rumors that Rick Nielsen was slated to produce the album), but the band's passion was undeniable.

"These boys are on a mission to seduce the world," wrote an elated Seconds staffer, adding that D Gen "is making Rock & Roll dangerous again ... bringing back the unrestrained extravagance, sexuality — and fun!"

* * *

Flyer for a 1992 show at the Continental 
Divide featuring a pic of the early lineup 
with Georgie Seville and Belvy K.
Photo: Luigi Scorccia
Towards the end of last year, D Generation took to the road in promotion of the album and AMP seized the chance to ask some questions...

AMP: You guys are such superstars on the New York scene. How does your show go down in other parts of the country?

JESSE: We always go over really well because we're really into playing live. We all play like it could be our last day alive; we just go berserk and put everything we've got into it. And it always seems to work. We did really well in Los Angeles, and San Francisco was a lot of fun.

AMP: You opened some shows for Gilby Clarke in the South. How did those gigs go?

JESSE: It was, uh... interesting. He was a nice guy. We don't really connect with that kind of music, but we like to play for people. We want to spread the disease — the gospel — the music, whatever, wherever we can. We want to play all over the world.

AMP: I heard there was an incident in Texas...

JESSE: Yeah... I got arrested in San Antonio because my pants ripped apart, and they had cops in the club. The cops said to cover up or they were taking me to jail. So, I put my overcoat on and did the rest of the show looking like a flasher!

AMP: You're such the Jim Morrison!

D Generation - part of Paper magazine's
 photo spread
JESSE: I didn't do it intentionally! The pants just broke apart! But they just freaked out. In Texas they have cops who carry guns. It's a weird scene.

AMP: Tell me about the video you've shot for "No Way Out."

JESSE: We filmed it at Giorgio Gomelsky's [onetime manager and producer of the Yardbirds] loft, that's where we rehearse. We did it really quick. It's shot in black and white, and it just shows us playing. I thrash around in this closet/locker and it's intercut with weird images of people symbolizing, I guess, what the song is about — people trying to get through life when everyone is trying to beat them down. But it's pretty much just the band doing what we do.

AMP: I was surprised that you guys made a video for MTV. In some of the interviews I've read, you're openly critical of the whole concept.

JESSE: It's really just the state of things. Videos can be done well, but usually they're done in such a way that they give you too much; they don't leave anything to the imagination. And it's not so much MTV. Good things can be conveyed from MTV — it's great that they pushed Green Day and Nirvana — the problem is the way people react to it. They just sit in their house and watch this stuff. They don't go out to see shows; they don't interact with other people or hang out. It's so lame. People aren't as passionate and sick about music as they were when we were kids.

A "Pandora Peroxide" comic by Ray Zell starring D Generation, 
the Last Great Dreamers and Mike Monroe from Hanoi Rocks.
AMP: So, do you think rock 'n' roll was better before MTV?

JESSE: I think everything's gone downhill — music, records... I don't buy too many records by new bands. I would love to, but there's not that many that I appreciate. I guess the last few bands I've really liked are Jane's Addiction, the Replacements, and Nirvana.

AMP: Actually, you guys remind me of the Replacements, especially attitude-wise.

JESSE: Yeah? I like [Paul] Westerberg's songwriting a lot, and I like the spirit of that band. They had a real feeling, a real passion, a recklessness that rock 'n' roll doesn't seem to have anymore.

Flier for a 1994 D Generation show at My Fathers Place
AMP: I've noticed some writers spend a lot of time discussing what you guys wear.

JESSE: I think that's just because we put on some clothes! I don't think we dress up much at all. But I guess compared to kids in shorts and flannel and sneakers we probably look like we're dressed up for GQ!

AMP: What about the shot of the band on the cover of The New York Times Sunday magazine?

JESSE: Yeah, well... We were really new, and they said stand on a fire escape and you'll be in The New York Times. But we learned real quick. We don't want to be tied into that. We don't wanna be male models!

AMP: What about the fashion spread for Paper? You guys were totally being male models!

JESSE: Yeah... Steve Blush did the piece on us and he said they'd put us on the cover. So, we did this photo shoot and they made us wear all these clothes... We were like, "No! We don't wanna!" We got into a big argument with the photographer. He ended up getting us so drunk we were like, "Alright, we don't give a shit." They finally got Danny so drunk he put a skirt on! Look close, you'll see what I'm talking about.

D Generation pose on a fire escape for
The New York Times Sunday magazine. 
AMP: What was the significance of painting "SOLD" across your chest in those photos?

JESSE: I dunno... It was just the way I felt that day. All the fashion stuff and being on a major label.

AMP: You felt like you were selling-out?

JESSE: Like a goof on that. It's like what people were trying to throw at us. We were doing a goof on it.

AMP: Out of curiosity, since Andy Shernoff and Daniel Rey produced your first two 45s, why didn't you have them produce the album as well?

JESSE: We'd already done a whole album with them...

AMP: Wait! There's another album?

JESSE: It's the two singles and like 13 other songs. It was a lot of songs that we demoed. It was supposed to be an album, but it never got out. We re-did some of the songs for the [Chrysalis/EMI] record, and there's some songs that we never put out anywhere.

AMP: What's the sound like on those tracks? Is it rougher?

JESSE: It's a little more garage sounding. Maybe it's a little rawer in some ways, but it's not that much different. It's not like "the real raw stuff."

AMP: Having said that, I'm sure you're aware that the only complaint in otherwise rave reviews was that the album was too slick, too polished...

"Wasted Years" b/w "Waiting for the Next Big Parade" -
the second D Gen 45 produced by Daniel Rey & Andy
Shernoff. (Sympathy for the Record Industry 1993)
JESSE: We just went in and pretty much played. I mean, maybe we had the vocals up a little bit louder... Our live show, I guess, is more raw. It gets a little crazier, a little nuttier. But we're happy with the album. It has to be played really loud to have the right sound!

AMP: Are any of the songs on the album carried over from your previous bands?

JESSE: "Vampire Nation" was played with Hope. The rest were written for D Generation — except "Degenerated," which is a Reagan Youth song.

AMP: And you dedicate the song to the memory of Dave Insurgent. You must have been big fans of Reagan Youth.

JESSE: Yeah, we liked that band a lot. Heart Attack and Reagan Youth always used to play together. We grew up... We were like neighbors.

AMP: Do the emotions you express in your lyrics — loneliness, anger, depression — actually reflect your own outlook on life?

JESSE: We definitely have those moments; being human beings we have all those feelings. It's not all happy and phony like they teach you in school or like you see on TV — that's like a fairy tale world! We acknowledge that it's OK to think about suicide — everyone does. And it's OK to be depressed sometimes. Our music is driven by a lot of anger and negativity, but it's also clawing at something. We're trying to rip the wall down and reach something positive: there is a light at the end of the tunnel; life is worth living. But you've gotta fight the bullshit all the time. It's a struggle, but you gotta make sure that you have some fun 'cause you've only got a certain amount of time.

The Thoughts Behind The Songs On D Generation

Four-track promo cassette
featuring a cover of the Germs' "No 
God," not included on the debut LP
"No Way Out"
Jesse: In a lot of ways this song summarizes the band's state of mind. It's about everything that you've been hit with since you were a kid. Everything they try to beat you down with, to suck the individuality and the life out of you. Sometimes you feel like there's no way out. But there is — you just gotta keep moving, keep smiling, keep living, and find your place. That's why we repeat "just can't stay" and "I'm on my way" over and over.

"Sins of America"
Jesse: The "American Dream" is just a myth. It's a sham that America is this great, free country. It's not all about freedom and being an individual. But that's what we fight for with this band. We come from broken homes. We grew up without much money on the streets of New York. We've seen a lot of unhappiness. But we realize that's the way it is, and we're searching to find a place where things are cool and fun.

"Guitar Mafia"
Jesse: First of all, it's not about us. It's about being programmed. The person in the song doesn't want to become part of the factory, part of the whole corporate world. So, he forms a band 'cause it's what he loves — music. But he gets tied up in the business and it turns out that he's still programmed. It's just like he was working at a corporate job. MTV, the radio... everything is so programmed. There's no Alan Freed; there's no one with that vision and belief in music anymore, playing what they want to play and turning people on to new things.

1994 Chrysalis/EMI promo pic
Photo: Joseph Cultice
"Feel Like Suicide"
Jesse: Danny actually wrote this song. I write most of the lyrics and music, but this one is pretty much all Danny. It's about feeling like things are so bad that you're considering suicide. It's not saying: "Go kill yourself."

"Waiting for the Next Big Parade"
Jesse: The character in the song is paranoid and freaked out. Everywhere he goes, whether he's in the street or alone in his house watching television, he freaks out thinking it's like 1984. Which it really kind of is! All the images that we're given from TV... It's the number one force in this country. People sit on the couch and get the sports game, and phone sex, and rock 'n' roll, and news, and commercials... What turns 'em on, what's funny — it's all dictated from that box.

Jesse: I wrote this when my mom died of cancer. And while I was writing it some friends of ours died from AIDS, so it's about both. Basically, it's about a person who doesn't want to die falling into some kind of illness and dying anyway. And it's about watching someone die, what that experience is like. When it comes down to it, it's all about living — the will to survive, the strength that's inside you, and the power people have inside them to hold on and keep fighting.

Flyer for a 1993 D Generation gig at CBGB
"Wasted Years"
Jesse: It's exactly what was going on before we got [D Generation] together. We were fighting, and we didn't give a shit. Our bands would just keep self-destructing. It was like, 'Fuck you!' and we'd break-up before it got off the ground.

"Stealing Time"
Jesse: It's on the romantic side, but it's about an anti-romantic who builds walls, doesn't want any strings attached, just wants to keep running. But you can't keep running. Eventually you have to connect with people. Eventually you're gonna feel it in your heart. Eventually you get caught. But by then it might be too late.

Jesse: It was kind of written about Dee Dee Ramone. He told me how he wanted to slip away from his identity of being in the Ramones and the weight that carried. And he would talk about how he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, walking down the halls, feeling the energy of all the dead artists there. He seemed like he just really wanted to escape from a lot of his past ties, but he just kept being haunted by them. But the ghosts could be anything you're trying to get away from. It could be about trying to get away from your old friends, your old neighborhood, an old lover, an old band, an old crowd that you wanna hide from — but it keeps coming back at you and you can't escape.

D Generation on the cover of Cover magazine
March 1995
Jesse: There's a few different scenarios in there, but the character of Frankie represents anyone who wants to express themselves sexually. Y'know, there's people who just like to deviate and are turned on by weird stuff. I have some straight friends who like to cross-dress, and I know a lot of girls who like to have sex whenever they want and not be in a relationship — they like to "live like any man would do." So, the song explores the darker side of people; people that are sexually deviant and let it loose, who aren't ashamed about it. Like it says: "What you are is just what you are." So be yourself.

"Working on the Avenue"
Jesse: That was written when I was living on Avenue C. I'd see these drug dealers on the corner... These guys are like heroes, with the gold and the neighborhood status. The drug dealer on the corner, he's a big deal. It's a power thing. When I sing that song, it also reminds me of all the rock 'n' roll people who used to come down the block to buy drugs. They thought it was cool; they thought they were being like Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders.

* * *

EMI dropped D Generation shortly before American Music Press published this interview. But everything turned out OK. We included a note from D Gen's publicist stating that the group had already been picked up by Columbia Records, and by the next time I interviewed Jesse they had a new album and I had a new fanzine! But that's another story.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Teenage Kicks Meets The Makers!

"Tear Your World Apart," released by Estrus Records 
in 1997, features artwork by Love and Rockets 
co-creator Jaime Hernandez.
Originally published in Teenage Kicks #3

By Devorah Ostrov

The Makers are loud, aggressive, snotty, sexy, arrogant, smart, cool, cute, nice, funny, and completely crazy.

The Makers are:
Michael Maker — Vocals
Don Maker — Bass
Jamie Maker — Guitar
Jay Maker — Drums

Teenage Kicks interviewed Michael Maker following the release of the group's latest LP Hunger and the 2x7" EP "Tear Your World Apart," both available on Estrus Records.

How They Met... 
   "We went to North Central. It was a shitty high school, in a shitty neighborhood. We were always getting into fights with the jocks. That's how we met each other. We were always saying, 'I saw you getting beat up the other day!'"

What They Listened To & Where They Bought It...
   "We went to thrift stores all the time. I don't want to say we were poor, 'cause that sounds stupid, but we always wanted to buy a ton of records and new records or CDs were too expensive. So all the records we got were from thrift stores, and they would cost 25 cents. We would buy stuff that looked cool — like if there were a bunch of guys on the cover, like the Count Five, or a group that looked badass. That's how we found all our Sonics records, and the Shadows of Knight. It was the coolest music we'd ever heard in our lives!"

Michael Maker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
There's No Mom & Dad Maker...
   "It was a stupid Ramones thing to do. We're over it now. I don't even like the Ramones anymore. I can't even listen to that shit."

What Color Are Their Eyes? I Dunno, They're Always Wearing Shades...
   "We played a lot of hick taverns in Spokane and it was tough. We were really young and we weren't all white. We would get into fights every night. At first, me and Donny decided we were going to wear shades just so it would be harder for people to tell who we were."

Everything's Cool Now...
   "We used to get dressed up for shows, but every night our clothes would be ripped to shreds. People would just attack us and rip our jackets off. I'd spend some money on a nice jacket and some idiot, hillbilly motherfucker would grab me and rip the thing off! So, I'd get pissed off and smash a bottle on him. And then all hell would break loose. When we were just starting out that's how a lot of our shows went. But now everything is cool. People come to our shows to hear our music. We get along with each other and we get along with the audience."

Whatever Happened To Tim...
   "Tim had a lot of problems. He drank a lot and took a lot of bad things. But there's a happy ending! He's all cleaned up now, just like he used to be — just like when we were in high school. And he has his own band called the Vindictive. I haven't heard them, but they're supposed to be good."

Tell Us About The New Guy...
   "Jamie was always our buddy. We always considered him as one of us anyway. So, when Tim got fucked up, Jamie was just there. He's a really good guitar player and he already knew our songs."

Michael Maker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
The Great Northwest Tradition...
   "It's nice to be a Northwest band. I'm proud of where we're from, but I also don't give a shit about it. It's all bullshit now; nowhere is really all that great. Everything's been fucked around with and tainted. We don't even play that much in the Northwest. It's not worth our time. We do far better on the East Coast than we do in the Northwest. We do really well in Seattle, but mostly they couldn't care less about what we're doing. They don't think, 'All right, somebody is carrying on the Northwest tradition!' They just want to hear Soundgarden. And we don't give a shit about them, either. Fuck 'em!"

The Mystery Of The Young Lions...
   "It's a real righteous organization led by Tim Kerr of the Lord High Fixers. They're real good people and everything they stand for is true and right. You can't really argue with them. They took us in because they like our music. They believe in our songs. But we don't really know who they are. They say they go to our shows, but they never introduce themselves. We get letters from them saying, 'I saw your show in New York. It was very inspiring.' Real simple, no return address. They're real subdued."

Love And Rockets...
   "That was a big deal for us. When we were little kids, we read that comic book and got all into the characters. It turned out that he's [co-creator Jaime Hernandez] a fan of our music and he wanted to do this cover ["Tear Your World Apart"] for us! Every time I look at it, I'm blown away! It looks just like one of his comics — except it's us!"

Turning Japanese...
   "We went to Japan right before Hunger came out, and we did really well over there — we doubled in popularity! The women over there are really stoic. They'll have you sign all their records, but they don't go gaga. They don't play up being girlies. They're really respectable people. They don't make asses out of themselves like a lot of Americans do."

Cartoon panel from the Tales From Estrus Vol. 3 sampler
featuring the Makers, the Drags, Impalas, and Lord High Fixers.
The High Cost Of Nonstop Destruction...
   "We went to Europe after our first album. It wasn't as satisfying as playing in Japan, where everyone knew our songs and our history. In Europe, people came out of curiosity. They weren't real fans of our music. And I don't think we won too many people over. To tell you the truth, I don't think they'll have us back. Sometimes we talk about Europe and we just look at each other and go, 'What the fuck were we thinking?'
   "At one point, we were playing on a dock... This was in the winter, it was freezing outside, and the dock was twenty feet above the water. Donnie took this rockabilly idiot, put him in a shopping cart, and threw him in the water! We almost started this huge Mods vs. Rockers battle! We went haywire at this one club and destroyed everything. The next day we found out it was actually an art museum. We destroyed it all! We didn't sleep a second on that tour. It was nonstop destruction! We actually ended up owing thousands of dollars. When we got back home, we got an invoice. That was the height our fucked-upness!"

The Makers - Hunger (Estrus 1997)
The Writing Process...
   "I write all the time. Something just pops in my head... I have a stack of napkins under my bed that I've written songs on! I've got tons of shit just lying around. When we go into the studio I have a big folder full of paper flying everywhere, everyone's picking them up!"

No Time For Overdubs...
   "We just went in and cranked Hunger out. Then we mixed it the next day. And that's it. We don't want to do it like that all the time, but it costs a lot of money — you pay by the hour! A lot of times I wish I could've had a second take, so I could've said something differently or changed it completely. Sometimes I wonder: 'What the hell was I thinking?' And every time I hear it, it makes me cringe.
   "Not so much with Hunger, but all of our other albums — I just can't listen to them anymore because we did them so much quicker. And sometimes we're so fucking drunk, we don't even know what's going on. I would just improvise the lyrics! It's fun at the time and it makes for good stories. But when you're the person who made the record, you just can't listen to it, y'know."

No Offense To Engineers And Dishwashers...
   "I write about personal stuff that I think most people can relate to if they're anywhere near like us. We get letters from people that say it means a lot to them. I think to say something in a song that is going to move somebody — you can't talk about bullshit that doesn't exist, or stuff that is degrading. I just take it more seriously than that. I don't always think we make good music, but if we were making shitty music like that, I would never do it. Going on tour is pretty hard. If you don't think you're doing something important, it's a waste of time. You may as well go and get some shitty job as some fucking engineer. Unless you put something into it that is personal, or tough, or aggressive — it's just a waste of time. You may as well be washing dishes somewhere."

Estrus Records "coughs up a few tasteless treats
for yer rabid holiday appetites," including the
Makers Hunger LP and new releases from the
Drags, Mono Men, and the Fells.
Behind The Lyrics On Hunger...
"Tear Apart"
   "It's about people who can't escape from relationships, who can't tear themselves away because they have all these memories. But there's memories to be made everywhere. Basically... tear apart from your childhood and fucking grow up!"

"Razor Blade"
   "That's like one of those moments, like at three in the morning, when you feel like complete shit. I'm not talking about actually using a razor blade to kill yourself. To me, razor blades are symbolic for suicide. It's painful, slow, and messy. You hack away at yourself and wait to die. But I like the word. It sounds threatening; it sounds powerful.
   "I was thinking about those times when you feel like, 'What am I doing? I'd rather be dead than be here.' It has a lot to do with other people, too. Like, why are people I despise so happy? Why do they love this world so much? But people like me and my friends have to struggle. Why are we at odds with everything?"

"No Count"
   "It's just one of those self-loathing songs, y'know. You gotta throw in a few of those."

"Worlds Apart"
   "That's about people who get involved with other people out of convenience — their next-door neighbor, their boyfriend from high school. And they don't realize that even though they're living in the exact same world, they're complete strangers; they have nothing in common. You're not gonna find somebody just like you just because they're right there. The people closest to you, the people you see every day at work or at school, are actually worlds apart from you."

Michael Maker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"Temper Tantrum"
   "Well, I've got this really bad temper... First, Donny came up with the music and I thought it was like having a temper tantrum — it's got a nonstop beat to it! The whole song, I'm bitching and whining, and then right at the end I do what I have to do every day — basically, pull myself back and say, 'temper, temper.' You can't freak out all the time! I've spent enough years freaking out, getting onstage and smashing everything, making an ass out of myself having temper tantrums."

"Hard Times"
   "It's just a big whining song. I'm a big whiner! Just a Bunch of Whining and Bitching — that's the title of our next album!"

"Live or Die"
   "That's about somebody who always wants you there. They don't necessarily need you, it just means a lot that you're there. Like I say in the song: 'She doesn't care if I live or die/As long as I do it by her side.' It's a pretty stupid song."

"Crash Ride"
   "It's about Tim, our last guitar player. A 'crash ride' is a cymbal. You ride on it, then you whack it and it makes a crash sound. It's my favorite thing on a drum kit! And I thought the two words together sounded quite profound.
   "Tim looked at the band in a different way. He wasn't expressing himself or having fun. He was just driving himself into the ground and fucked himself up completely. He couldn't handle it. I thought the words 'crash ride' pretty much summed him up. There's some harsh stuff in the song. I say: 'You're a waste/You're a victim of your mother's bad taste...' He understands that he was fucked up. At the time I wrote that song, I was really upset. We just totally lost him. He decided that getting loaded was more important than sticking it out with his friends. That's an insult. If he can insult me like that on a grand scale, I'm gonna insult him on our record. He was my best friend, y'know."

Michael Maker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"Fair Game"
   "That's such a kick-ass fucking song! Everybody is fair game, especially if they don't do shit, if they're the fucker who sits around, like, 'whatever...' They've got no response, no reaction, no input. Those people are always fair game to me for anything."

"Why Can't I Live Forever"
   "What I say in the song: 'Why can't I live forever/This life of stormy weather...' It's kind of tongue-in-cheek, and again, it's about people. I've got to an age in life where people start dying. I guess everyone gets to that age. All of a sudden people start dying from car accidents, killing themselves... And all of a sudden you realize everyone you thought you were going to see for the rest of your life is probably not going to make it — and you're lucky if you do.
   "For some reason, I feel like everyone is croaking, but somehow I keep going on. And I probably live a more dangerous existence than any of them! Why me? I don't necessarily consider myself worthy of this long a life, anyway.
   "But there's a lot of different meanings to that song. At the time I was writing it, it seemed real personal to me. I also say: 'Why can't I live forever/This life of tar and feathers...' because it seems like I'm humiliated a lot financially and personally."

To Sum Up...
   "Songs are like these moments you have, these thoughts, captured moments. My lyrics are all pretty basic and embarrassing. But at the same time, I understand that they're little moments I captured, little annoyances, and every once in a while, something I think is beautiful. So, they're not necessarily that important, except to me. But I think the album turned out really well."

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Jetboy: Sami Yaffa Joins The Group As They Travel The Rocky Road To Fame And Fortune

Jetboy got all dressed up for this publicity photo!
L-R: Fernie Rod, Ron Tostenson, Mickey Finn,
Sami Yaffa and Billy Rowe
Originally published in Rave-Up #13 (1988)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Talk about your ups and downs... Over the last year Jetboy were signed to Elektra Records then dropped by Elektra Records; lost a good friend and bass player to drugs but gained a new friend and band member with former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa; opened for Mötley Crüe at a Day on the Green and suffered broken bones getting there.

I spoke with Sami and guitarist Billy Rowe (just out of the hospital and still wearing a cast on his arm) for this up-to-the-minute status report.

Q: Let's start with Elektra Records. A year ago, you were signed with a lot of enthusiasm and now, just before the release of the album, you've been dropped. What reason did the label give you?

Sami Yaffa and Billy Rowe (with his arm still in a cast)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Billy: There were a lot of reasons... It was political bullshit. It's actual political bullshit within the label. It's really weird. Everyone at the label loved the record. They gave us extra money to record it. It had a release date; the records and CDs are printed up! Everything was ready to go, and the head of the label pulled the plug!
     He doesn't really give a shit about any of the rock bands on his label. He wants to steer the label towards Top 40. Whatever, we're happy to be out of there! It's for the best. Both MCA and Chrysalis are real interested in signing us. We just can't stand the waiting. I know one thing, this band has gone through more shit than any other band!

Jetboy on the cover of Music Connection. On
the group's FB page it says: "Ironically, the
inside story title was 'The Band Most Likely.'
Soon after this issue hit all the newsstands in
LA and landed on music industry desks, our
debut album was shelved and the band was
dropped from Elektra Records."
Q: I know! For every good thing that happens to you guys, something bad happens.

Billy: Well, we're just looking at a real long streak of good luck after we get signed. I mean shit, we've been through the wringer!

Q: You went to Florida to record the LP [which will be called Feel the Shake]. Why there instead of locally?

Sami: That was because our producer [Tom Allom] knew the studio really well. That's where he's from and where he's worked.

Q: Was recording the LP harder than you thought it would be?

Billy: Easier!

Sami: You know, I have major experience in recording, but this was a piece of cake. It was so easy.

Q: Easier than with Hanoi Rocks?

Sami: Yeah! Everything just went so smoothly. There were no major arguments, no fights, no problems. We never worked for more than 10 hours a day. With Hanoi, we fucking stayed in the studio for 20 hours, weeks and weeks... And in the end, we'd still be yelling, "I want this to be there!"

Q: I know you were in the studio when you heard that Todd [Crew, Jetboy's original bassist] had overdosed. Do you want to talk about it at all?

Billy: I don't know what to say, really.

Sami Yaffa
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Sami: It's a really tragic thing.

Q: Did Todd start getting heavily into drugs after Jetboy moved to Los Angeles? He didn't seem that bad when you lived in San Francisco.

Billy: He was like that here, but people just didn't know. We hid it because we were so embarrassed about it.

Q: Then why did you wait so long to replace him?

Billy: I don't know. I guess because we tried to help him for so long. But we finally figured that even if it set us back, we had to replace him. He just couldn't handle it. He wasn't holding his part up.

Q: Did you see much of Todd after he left the band?

Billy: Yeah, we'd all hang out together. There were no real hard feelings. He knew what he did. He fucked up. What happened was too bad, but it was his own fault. We gave him plenty of chances.

Q: Sami, how did you hear that Jetboy were looking for a new bass player?

Sami: They fucking called me up! It's a weird story. I went to London to see if I wanted to work with Nasty [Suicide] and Andy [McCoy, both ex-Hanoi Rocks]. And I thought, "Nah, not really." When I finally got back home there was a message from my girlfriend saying there was this band in LA who's trying to get a hold of me. I thought, "Stop bullshitting around..." But the telephone rang and it was Bridgette [Wright] saying, "I manage a band called Jetboy. Would you be interested in coming and checking it out?" I said, "Yeah, sure. Send me a ticket."

L-R: Billy Rowe, Ron Tostenson, Sami Yaffa,
Fernie Rod and Mickey Finn
Q: The last I heard, you'd given up rock 'n' roll. You were an artist living in Spain.

Sami: I was. For about a year I didn't do shit! I was taking it easy — painting, drawing naked girls... Which was quite fun! And I was raising my son [Nicholas, named after the Hanoi Rocks drummer who was killed in a head on collision while riding in a car driven by Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil].

Q: Did you know anything about Jetboy before you came over?

A broken arm kept Billy from playing the 
October 10, 1987 Day on the Green show
with Poison, Whitesnake, and Mötley Crüe.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Sami: Yeah, when I got the message I went to my old manager and asked him if he'd ever heard of them. He said, "Yeah, sure. Cherry Bombz played a gig with them." Then he asked if I wanted their demo tape. I remember I didn't like it too much...

Billy: It was old songs.

Sami: But it had such fucking personality, and I thought there was a lot of talent in the band.

Q: Billy, I know you guys are all big fans of Hanoi Rocks. You must have been pretty excited when you found out that Sami was coming over.

Billy: Yeah! We were like, "Shit!" But something inside all of us knew it was meant to be. Everyone just trips on how well it's worked out. It really pulled the band together.

Q: In October, Jetboy opened for Mötley Crüe, Whitesnake, and Poison in front of thousands of people at the Day on the Green. How did you guys arrange that?

Billy: It was all arranged through our agent. [Jetboy share the same booking agent as Mötley Crüe.] He said, "We need a band for the Day on the Green. Do you think they could do it?" Bridgette said, "Of course they can do it!"

Jetboy's Mickey Finn shares BAM's
May 23, 1986 cover with Poison's
Bret Michaels.
Sami: And then Billy goes and breaks his fucking arm the day before the show!

(On the way up to the Bay Area from Los Angeles, Billy's car was hit almost head on by an elderly man who'd had a heart attack and lost control over his car. A truck following Billy missed his car by inches and slammed into the other car. Mickey and Sami, who were riding with Billy, were slightly shaken up. However, Billy was put in the hospital for five days, with his arm broken in three places.)

Q: Maybe it's an omen. You're not meant to go anywhere near Mötley Crüe.

Sami: Not me! It freaks me out. I don't want to play with them again, to be honest. Keep them at a distance. They're nice guys, but it's a bad mix. I feel sorry for Vince, y'know. After the accident... I would hate to be in his fucking shoes. Let's talk about something else.

Q: Let's get back to the Day on the Green show. Did you expect that wild of a reaction from the crowd?

Billy: I knew they'd eat us up! Our tunes are pretty fucking rockin'! I mean, when people first look at us they think we're fucking freaky looking, but after a while they're saying, "but their tunes are sure kicking my ass!" I think we're gonna win over a lot of people, more so than people think.

Apparently, there are individual pics of
each the guys from this sensationally over-
the-top sartorial photo session. However,
Rave-Up was only sent this one picture
of Sami Yaffa.
Q: Was [concert promoter] Bill Graham impressed after the set?

Sami: I think he was impressed that we pulled it off without Billy; that we didn't cancel it because Billy broke his arm. I think a lot of bands would not have done it.

Billy: It's only gonna help us. And half those people, when they buy the record, won't even have noticed that I wasn't there.

Q: I can't wait to hear this record!

Sami: I'm so fucking happy with that album!

Q: How does it compare to Hanoi Rocks' albums?

Sami: Well, you can't really compare Hanoi Rocks to Jetboy. They're totally different. I loved the time I was in Hanoi. It was a great fucking band when it was together. There was never anything like that band and there never will be again. Jetboy is a totally different story, but it's the same kind of thing. There's never gonna be another band like Jetboy!

* * *

* Jetboy's debut album, Feel the Shake, was released on MCA Records in 1988 — but that's another story.

* This was my second interview with Jetboy. You can find the first interview here:

2018 update: Jetboy have completed work on a NEW album, which will be released through Frontiers Music srl. They're also scheduled to appear with LA Guns and the Backyard Babies at the HRH Sleaze festival in Sheffield, England, this September!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Bob Gruen: An Interview With The Man Who Snapped Your Favorite Rock Pics!

John Lennon — Walls and Bridges 2005 CD reissue
Photo: Bob Gruen
Originally published in American Music Press, March 1994
All photos are used with permission. 

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

In the 1970s the name Bob Gruen and the term "rock photography" were synonymous. He was a regular contributor to Creem and Rolling Stone, and his photographs graced (among other LPs) Kiss' Dressed to Kill, the New York Dolls' Too Much Too Soon, John Lennon's Walls and Bridges, and Elton John's Madman Across the Water.

But most of us know him for his prodigious contributions to Rock Scene magazine, where each issue featured dozens of his on-and-offstage photos. Of his colleague, editor Richard Robinson once remarked: "The man who has done the most for Rock Scene's pic collection is no doubt Bob Gruen who always seems to be on the spot when the action is taking place."

Whether it was Aerosmith at Madison Square Garden or the Ramones at CBGB's; a backstage party with David Bowie or a game of pinball with David Johansen; Kiss' 1978 tour of Japan or the Rolling Stones' 1975 tour of America; the Bay City Rollers or Led Zeppelin — Gruen was there to chronicle it.

The New York-born photographer, now in his forties, has recently published a series of photo books under the heading Bob Gruen Works (Jam Books). Individual titles include The Sex Pistols: Chaos, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, and The Rolling Stones: Featuring Keith Richards. He is currently working on a new, deluxe edition of John Lennon photographs for Genesis Books.

The Clash, MA — 1979
Photo: Bob Gruen
American Music Press: When did you first become interested in photography?

Bob Gruen: Photography was my mom's hobby. When I was real young and too little to go outside, she would take me into the darkroom with her. I've been involved with it since then.

AMP: Did she teach you photography?

Bob: She taught me what she knew and then I pretty much taught myself after that. I never went to school for photography.

AMP: Do you remember your first camera?

Bob: The first one I owned was a Brownie Hawkeye. It was an early version of the simple point-and-shoot.

AMP: What was your first published photo?

Bob: It was a picture of a fire published in a local Long Island newspaper. And I used to take pictures for the school newspaper — football pictures, sports...

AMP: And when did you first discover rock 'n' roll?

Bob: In the '50s, when it was invented.

AMP: Listening to Elvis on the radio?

Bob: Even before Elvis... Bill Haley. I think the first record I bought was "The Terror of Highway 101," but I forget who it was by.

AMP: At what point did you figure out that you could combine rock 'n' roll and photography into a career?

Bob: I don't know if I figured it out, so much as just did it. After high school my friends and I were all living together in the City. They were forming bands and I was always taking pictures of everything. Then when my friend's band Glitterhouse got signed, which was like in '68 or so, I met the people at Atlantic Records and started taking pictures of other bands for them. I shot a Bee Gees' party for Atlantic and that worked out really well. And then they hired me to photograph Tommy James and the Shondells. One thing just led to another. Back then, the idea of establishing a career wasn't quite as conscious a choice as it would be today. Back then, there was no career of rock photography. There were no rock 'n' roll magazines. There was no Rolling Stone magazine yet.

AMP: When you were taking photos for Atlantic, where were the pictures going?

Bob: There were some magazines... trade magazines like Billboard and Cash Box, and that's what the record companies would hire you for. And there was Hit Parader and 16 magazine.

AMP: What was your first major assignment?

Bob: Around 1970/71 I did a really great picture of Ike and Tina Turner and then went on the road with them. Ike used to pay me to make video tapes of the shows. It was a lot of fun. I mean, it was kind of a wild show and the cast of characters was pretty unusual.

John Lennon, NYC — 1974
Photo: Bob Gruen
AMP: I first became aware of your work through Rock Scene. Were you the main photographer from issue #1?

Bob: No, but I pretty quickly became a big part of it. Towards the end, about half of every issue was mine.

AMP: How did you become connected with the magazine?

Bob: I met... I'm not exactly sure who introduced us, but I met [editors] Richard and Lisa Robinson, and Lenny Kaye, and [photographer] Leee Childers, and [journalist] Lillian Roxon. We used to have a lot of fun! We'd go to all the press parties. In the '70s there were a lot more press parties than there are now. Sometimes there'd be two or three a day; you'd have hors d'oeuvres at one, a main course at another, and coffee and dessert at a third! And each one would have a band playing or getting a gold record or something promotional going on. We started making stories out of these parties — photo stories. We'd put in photos of the manager, the publicist, the agent, the lawyer, the girlfriend... If I went on tour, like later when I was touring with the Sex Pistols or the Clash, we would run a two- or three-page story with maybe five or six pictures on a page. We'd show the band onstage, backstage tuning up, sitting in the hotel room, what the bus looked like, what the manager looked like at the party... the whole ambiance of the scene. We were recording the rock scene instead of just the rock star, and people really seemed to like it.

AMP: I loved Rock Scene! Lots of photos, not a lot of words!

Bob: Right, that was what the magazine was about. It was easy to read, it was funny, and yet it was very informative.

AMP: I know that everyone on the staff was involved in other major projects — like Lenny was playing guitar with the Patti Smith Group. How were you guys able to produce a quality magazine on a regular basis? And what possessed you to try?

Bob: It was sort of a hobby for all of us, a way to have fun while we were making money on other levels. The magazine came out three or four times a year and I would put things aside. If I was taking pictures at a party, the record company might take one or two shots and I would save the other pictures for Rock Scene. But the magazine was a labor of love; we never made any money doing it. Which is why it finally folded. It wasn't a magazine with an office. We didn't have any advertising staff. The only staff was... Every two or three months, Richard and Lenny would get together and collect all the pictures, lay 'em out, and write funny captions for them. And in between, Lisa would organize the assignments.

AMP: Tell me about your work with Elephant's Memory. I know you were good friends with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Bob: I had been working with a number of different groups: Elton John, Ike and Tina Turner... And that led to my being in a book called Rock Photography. Henry Edwards, who interviewed me for the bio section of the book, told me he was interviewing John Lennon the following week. He asked if I would come and take photos of John and Yoko and the Elephants for him. I had to wait around until the end of the night, but I did do a picture of John and Yoko and the Elephants. It turned out that I was the only one who had pictures of them in the studio together and they wanted to use my photo on the album cover. I met with John and Yoko, that's when we first started talking and getting to know each other. Through that, I met their managers Leber Krebs, and Tony Machine who was working in their office. Tony said, "Ya gotta come down and see this other band that Leber Krebs manages..."

Kiss, NYC — 1974
Photo: Bob Gruen
AMP: And that was the New York Dolls! I've heard that it took several attempts before you actually saw the Dolls perform.

Bob: The first time I went to a Dolls' show... Tony told me to go to the Mercer Arts Center. I remember being there for about 20 minutes when I saw a guy I knew wearing eyeliner. I totally freaked and ran out the door. Tony told me to go back a second time, "It's okay." So, I went back. While I was waiting for the band to come on I saw some wild guys wearing makeup, but I also saw some cute girls wearing not very much. That got me interested and I stayed around for a while, but I still didn't see the band. The third time I went, I saw people going in and out of a side door. I thought it was the bathroom. I walked in and there were the Dolls onstage! They were completely surrounded by the audience. There was a wall of people in front of them; there was a mass of people standing on the stage. It was complete chaos! And it was incredibly funny and exciting!

AMP: You went on to become the Dolls main photographer. How did you develop that relationship?

Bob: We worked well together. I understood what they were doing, and they liked what I was doing. The same thing with John and Yoko. And I did my job well. I didn't interfere, didn't push for too much, just did my job and had a good time with them.

AMP: I want to ask you about Looking for a Kiss, the video you made of the Dolls. Why was it never released commercially?

Bob: Because the management and the band and everybody had something to say, and everyone wanted a certain percentage. Before there was ever any actual offer of money for the video, there were so many discussions of how it was gonna be split up, that it never happened. But just recently there's been some developments — Guns N' Roses do a Dolls' track ["Human Being"] on their new album and Polygram is reissuing the CDs, so they may be interested in the video. I hope we can finally get it released.

AMP: When did you first photograph the Ramones?

Bob: Their manager, Danny Fields, had organized a showcase in a loft. I think it was on 16th or 18th Street. And he had a band there with a logo behind them that said: "The Ramones." They played, I think, 18 songs in 12 minutes, or 12 songs in 18 minutes. Something incredibly fast. And when it was over we went, "What the HELL was that?" But they kind of grew on everybody.

AMP: And you took photos of Iggy Pop the first time the Stooges played New York.

Bob: At the Electric Circus. There was a photo... Iggy had played at a festival in Ohio, or somewhere, where the audience was packed so close to the stage that he literally walked off the stage, and there was this picture of the audience holding him in the air. He tried to step off the stage at the Electric Circus and everybody jumped out of the way! He landed about six-feet down on the ground!

AMP: Of all the photos you've taken, which are you most proud of?

Bob: I like the photo of John Lennon in front of the Statue of Liberty; a multiple-exposure picture of Tina Turner that really shows the kind of energy and excitement that she puts into a show; and a picture of Chuck Berry kissing his guitar — I like the composition and the rock 'n' roll feeling of that one.

AMP: What about your favorite assignments?

The New York Dolls, CA — 1973
Photo: Bob Gruen
Bob: Working with John and Yoko at Madison Square Garden was probably the highlight of my career. Standing next to John while he was playing "Imagine" was probably the most exciting thing I ever did. I remember when I was onstage with the Who in Florida, that was exciting! Traveling to Los Angeles with the New York Dolls was very exciting. Going on the road for a few dates with Alice Cooper...

AMP: And what about worst assignments?

Bob: I don't like to get into that. For years I didn't have an answer when someone would ask, "What's the worst group you've ever worked with?" And then I worked with one guy who was such a major schmuck, I finally had an answer. But I don't like to publicize him because he was such a drag.

AMP: Let's talk about some of the other major bands you toured with in the '70s. The Bay City Rollers...

Bob: They were very exciting and very young. I mean, I'd traveled with people like the Allman Bros. and Alice Cooper, which were hard-drinking, hard-partying crews. The Bay City Rollers, when they would have a strong drink, it was a milkshake! That was the excitement of the day — they would get milkshakes and hamburgers from McDonald's and have a pillow fight! But they were a good, tight band. And although it was at a pre-pubescent level, they were really sexy as far as the kids were concerned.

AMP: Kiss...

Bob: They were an unusual group to work with because they were only Kiss from ten minutes before they went onstage until the end of the show. Kiss was like a superhero costume; after the show Kiss didn't exist anymore. They went back to their secret identities.

AMP: Did you ever photograph them without the makeup?

Bob: I could have if I'd wanted to sneak around and not have a job. I remember the first Kiss show I photographed... It was natural for me to go backstage and take pictures of the band in the dressing room. Bill Aucoin [Kiss' manager] said, "We're not having any pictures of them without makeup." I just said, "Oh, okay." And I worked with them for 10 years after that. If someone tells me, "We don't want a picture," I don't sneak around. I don't try to expose things that people don't want seen. I try to take pictures of people looking like what they want to look like, showing the sides that they want to show. I don't invade people's privacy.

AMP: Was it your idea to put Kiss in suits for the cover of Dressed to Kill?

Bob: Yes, it was part of a two-page photo cartoon in Rock Scene. That's how it came about. Gene [Simmons] is actually wearing one of my suits!

AMP: The Clash...

Bob: They were great to work with. They were my favorite band!

AMP: More so than the Dolls?

Bob: Well... yes and no. In different ways. The Dolls were certainly the best-looking band, the easiest to photograph. But the Clash were a great-looking band and very committed politically and socially. They were very serious about what they were doing and also having a lot of fun.

Tina Turner, NYC — 1970
Photo: Bob Gruen
AMP: I remember seeing your photos of the early Clash in Rock Scene. Did you go to England specifically to photograph them?

Bob: No, I had made some money with the Bay City Rollers and my son was living in Paris. He was one- or two-years-old at the time, so I went to visit him. And then I went to England. The only phone number I had was Malcolm McLaren's; I'd met him when he was working with the Dolls. He took me to a club called Louise where I met the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Siouxie and the Banshees, Billy Idol... and a lot of other musicians who at that point were just kids wishing they were in bands. The pictures were printed in Rock Scene. It was new, way before something like Rolling Stone would recognize it. I think the first time Rolling Stone mentioned the Sex Pistols was when they were already a major group and were on the cover.

AMP: Okay... the Sex Pistols. You were with them for the entire American tour. What was it like?

Bob: The shows were great! That they were drawing such crowds — such an eclectic group of people — and that there was such tension was interesting. But after having traveled with Ike and Tina Turner, and the New York Dolls, and Alice Cooper... To me they weren't that unusual. They were just a bunch of wild, crazy guys — and I'd seen that already. Which is maybe partly why I was there. I was able to do it as a job and not be overwhelmed by it.

AMP: Is it true that Sid Vicious almost knifed you for your boots while you were asleep on the tour bus?

Bob: That's what they tell me.

AMP: I've noticed that in most of your photos, as opposed to say those of Annie Leibovitz, the musicians aren't posing for the camera. Is that a conscious decision on your part?

Bob: I try not to have any preconceived ideas about what I'm going to photograph. I generally let the pictures evolve from what the person is doing naturally. And rather than giving instructions or posing people, I let them move on their own. I have a way of perceiving what they think they look like, what they think they act like, and I photograph that.

AMP: In the early-'80s record companies began restricting photographers to shooting only the first three songs of a band's set. How did that change live concert photography?

Bob: It changed everything. You see, merchandising had become a problem. People were bootlegging merchandise from bands, and for some reason they thought if they limited the amount of time a photographer had in front of the stage, they could limit the bootlegging. Which hasn't happened at all. No bootlegger I ever met has bought a picture from a photographer. They get a free publicity photo from the record company or they use the album cover to make T-shirts.
     But the three-song limit really changed things a lot. When a band first hits the stage, they're running all over the place trying to get everybody's attention. They don't really have a focus yet. About the fourth or fifth song it comes together, they do their power-ballad or something, and you get some decent lighting. But by that time nowadays, the photographer is gone. Most of the photographers I know don't feel they're doing a good job. It's almost impossible to come out with something artistic. I don't even try to get permission anymore. It's not worth it. If it's something special and I have access to the show, I'll do it — like with Keith Richards. Last winter I shot his whole show and I did a really nice job. And there are certain friends I still work with. Two weeks ago, I saw Debbie Harry in London at the Hammersmith and I took some pictures.

AMP: So, you're no longer actively photographing bands?

Bob: I still take pictures all the time, but lately my life has become much more business oriented. I'm on the phone a lot making arrangements to sell the old photos. Nowadays I get paid more for selling a print than I got paid for taking it in the first place. I'm doing some art gallery shows and limited-edition sets of the old pictures. But I do like to take new pictures. I like working with new bands more than the big, established groups. It's easier to work with musicians than publicists and lawyers. I'm working with D-Generation. They're the first band I've liked since the Clash!

The Sex Pistols, Luxembourg — 1977
Photo: Bob Gruen
AMP: On the subject of money... As one of the top rock photographers in the '70s, what were you earning?

Bob: Photographers weren't highly paid. Forget Rock Scene, that was just a labor of love. Creem would pay $35 for a picture, $50 for a full-page. German and Japanese magazines paid a bit more. So, I'd have to sell my photos to five or six different magazines in order to make a living. People think a photographer gets in to a show for free, but by the time I shoot two or three rolls of color and a couple rolls of black and white... with processing, I'm spending over $100! I spend all that money and come out with one or two shots that I might be able to sell to a magazine. If Creem used five or six pictures that would basically pay the expenses of being at the show. Then I'd have to sell some pictures to a German magazine and a Japanese magazine, and an English newspaper — and then I might start to turn a profit. I never made a lot of money. In my field I'm successful because I'm driving a used car. Most rock photographers don't even have a car!

AMP: Tell me about your latest project. I understand you're working on a second book of John Lennon photos.

Bob: I'm doing a new John Lennon book with an English publisher. It will be a deluxe, limited-edition, leather-bound box set. Someday I hope to do a book on all the pictures I've done, the story of rock photography and how it was for me, the story of Rock Scene. I'd like to do a book on that.

AMP: A couple of quick technical questions before we wrap it up... What model camera do you prefer?

Bob: I used Nikons in the early-'70s, and in the mid-'70s I traded those in for Olympus cameras. And I just recently changed to the Canon EOS System, which I think is fantastic.

AMP: What about film?

Bob: Generally, just Tri-X. I used to use Ektachrome for color, but nowadays I use Kodachrome.

AMP: What's in your camera bag right now?

Bob: Two Canon EOS1 cameras, a 50mm lens and a 10mm lens, a 2880mm zoom, two flashes, a Quantum turbo battery, a couple of extra batteries for the cameras, a Star filter, 15 rolls of film, a plastic rain coat, some samples of my pictures, and a pen.