Monday, 14 January 2019

Head On: These San Francisco Rockers Have A Plan!

If we'd been CREEM magazine, this pic of  Mark, James
and Frankie would've been used for a "Star's Cars" 
feature and it would have a funny caption.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov 
Originally published in Rave-Up #7 (1983)

By Devorah Ostrov

Not many bands can incur wrath the way Head On seem to do. One particularly nasty oldster (whose band we won't mention 'cause they're crap) had the nerve to compare Frankie's hair to something resembling a "bird's nest." Meanwhile comments like, "What the fuck do you wear eyeliner for?" and "You look so '70s," are common.

Still, in much the same youthful, drunken, fuck-it-all tradition of the New York Dolls, Head On pay no attention to these idiots and carry on having fun!

* * *

D.J. and Frankie
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: With the plan being to land a major record deal soon, are you hoping to break out of the San Francisco club scene?

Frankie: Oh, God yes!

James: Yeah! Clubs are okay sometimes, but we just play too many of them all the time. We get tired of it, and people get tired of seeing us. But since we don't have any product out, it's kind of difficult.

Frankie: I'd like to just see how we do with a crowd we've never played for, 'cause we've played and sort of manipulated a lot of these people in the Bay Area.

Rave-Up: How did it go when you were opening for groups like Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick?

Mark: It all depends on where it was. When we played in Stockton with Ted Nugent it was like... We were expecting to be massacred! But those people don't get shows out there that often, and so here's somebody called Head On that opens up for Ted Nugent — they must be SOMEBODY! Then, when we opened for Cheap Trick... I mean, how often does Humboldt get shows? The crowd went NUTS! This sounds kind of conceited, but there were girls over on James' side of the stage and they were screaming, shaking their heads, and putting their hands on their cheeks. It looked like Beatlemania!

Head On circa summer 1983
L-R: Mark Berglund, Howard Teman, D.J. Nicholson
James Ray and Frankie Wilsey.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: Since it was going so well, why didn't you keep going in that direction?

Mark: Well, it's really hard to say. People try to pin that thing on us: "Well, you had the ball and you dropped it." But I don't know where we would've gotten more shows like those. Those shows that we got were LUCK!
Howard and James
Photo: Devorah Ostrov

James: Every year that we've been together we've set a goal and we've made it. When we first got together we said, "By February," or whatever, "we're going to be playing the Old Waldorf." So, we did. Then we said, "Let's open up for somebody big," and we got Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick and Joe Perry. Then we said, "Let's put out some kind of a product," and we did a flexi-disc. We wanted to sell out a club, so we sold out a club. But those steps seem to have come a lot easier than this step [putting out an album]. A lot of times the public doesn't realize that a band is taking steps, and if it takes them a long time they'll forget about you. All you know about a band is what you read about them or see about them.

Rave-Up: Still, you are one of the few local bands with a strong following.

Frankie: Which surprizes me! It's weird. We play dancy music, but nobody dances. We always discuss it... "This song had a good dancy feel when we were writing it." We'll play it pretty dancy, but NOBODY will bop or anything. It seems like they just sit sort of bewildered. Just like, "Wow, these guys are weird!"

Rave-Up: Do you guys get harassed because of the way you look?

Early promo photo featuring bassist Rick Tweed
Head On logo designed by Ricky McMinn
Photo by: Dennis Callahan
Mark: Oh, God do we get shit! I work at a record store and it's fine while I'm in there, but once I set foot out of that store... Yesterday, some lady came into the store and asked my manager what ear [for an earring] it was that meant gay, right? He goes, "Well, I don't know." And she goes, "Well, I'm not coming any further!" And she turned around and walked out of the store.

Rave-Up: She thought you were gay?

Frankie Wilsey
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Mark: Yeah. It kind of gets unnerving. You get really caught up in it, y'know. If you're in a bad mood and somebody starts laughing at you... I mean, you'd think that people would not be that cruel to outright laugh in your face. But it happens.

James: I even get it and I look normal! But when I go out people just look at me like, "God, you're fucking weird!" It just bugs me when you go into a place and you get, "Queer! Faggot! FREAK!"

Frankie: Myself, I wear make-up all the time. I wear eyeliner practically every day. It's just a habit. It's something I've done for a long time. People will notice it more if I'm not wearing any. They won't say nothing when I'm wearing it, but when I don't wear it, it's "HEY!"

Rave-Up: Has the band always been as image conscious as it is now?

Frankie: We were something acceptable in the beginning. We were a little more acceptable in the way of say, dress and our sound. We were a little on the "macho" side. Not so much metal, it was more of just a "macho" thing. We've changed to appeal to ourselves.

Mark and James
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Mark: It's kind of funny, the whole look thing. I used to have really long hair and everyone was, "Hey! Rock 'n' roll!" Then I cut it off, and EVERYBODY gave me shit! They're all going, "Where's your defiance?" I'm going, "You're looking at it right here!" I defied THEM by cutting my hair! And they really got all bent out of shape 'cause I didn't look like them! People still ask me, "Are you gonna grow your hair long again?" I just go, "Fuck off, pal!" I look the way I wanna look. That's the way rock 'n' roll is to me!

Rave-Up: Do you have a hard time separating your real personalities from the way your fans see you — always partying, always drunk, living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle?

James: We're not ALWAYS drunk! That's Frankie! He's living the rock n' roll lifestyle for all of us.

The band hold a meeting in the vacant lot adjacent to Rave-Up HQ
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Mark: He's living the cliché rock 'n' roll lifestyle — on the street, in the worst part of town. But it all depends on what side of rock 'n' roll you want to live. I really live for the music. I write lots of songs, not just songs that we play. My songs are my emotions because I have a hard time displaying my emotions. The music for me goes a lot deeper than... I live at home, and for me that's fine. I like living in a nice surrounding. I like having a place to call home. I live rock 'n' roll when I'm playing, and my home life is very different.

Mark & D.J.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: One last thing, tell us about your version of the New York Dolls' song "Trash."

Frankie: "Trash" was a little bit shaky in the beginning. I said, "The kids are gonna love that!" Just hearing the word "TRASH!" They don't even care what I'm singing during the verses, as long as they hear "TRASH!" They can relate to that. It reminds them of their girlfriend, or their day, or their job, or school... A lot of the time I don't even know what David [Johansen] is saying in the verses. I say the same thing over and over. I had it down in the beginning, but we've done it so many times that I've lost it. I just start babbling anything. I used to love it when they [the fans] thought I'd wrote it.

Rave-Up #7
Cover boy Frankie Wilsey 
made our readers swoon.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov

* Many thanks to Rave-Up pen pal Connie Wallace who kept her copy of issue #7 and very kindly forwarded this interview to me.

* For more information about Head On, check out their Facebook page. Here's a link:

Sunday, 6 January 2019

L.A. Guns: The 1989 Release Of Cocked & Loaded Kept The Censors Busy!

L.A. Guns - promo poster for Cocked & Loaded 
Originally published in Rave-Up No. 18 (1989)

By Devorah Ostrov

"We better watch this one with a magnifying glass!"

L.A. Guns vocalist Phil Lewis laughs while he imitates the fear and loathing with which MTV inspects the group's videos.

Calling from Texas, where the band is kicking off a U.S. tour in support of its second album, Cocked & Loaded, he continues: "To give you an example, when we did 'Sex Action' [from their eponymous debut LP]... Kelly [Nickels, bassist] has a tattoo on his arm of a girl with big boobs. A guy came down from the record company and was actually serious about drawing in a bra."

Cocked & Loaded
Vertigo Records (1989)
"Rip and Tear," the first single/video release from the new album, has garnered its own share of scrutiny, but not because of tattooed boobs or even the comic violence of the notorious "One More Reason" video. This time it's because of the background scenery!

In the video, the guys play live in front of a set based on a "red-light district," with painted signs depicting tattoo parlors and porno theatres announcing "live nude girls."

When I spoke to Kelly Nickels, he was just as fed up with MTV's time-consuming paranoia.

"Every time we took 'Rip and Tear' to them, they would make us re-edit it," he complained. "They were freeze-framing every shot and making us take out every scene where you can see what's written on the backdrop. Cher can have half her fucking ass hanging out, but we can't show the letter X in sex! But hey, what are you gonna do?"

However, with Cocked & Loaded the censors have a bit more to worry about than just the videos. The album cover — which depicts a nearly nude female cartoon caricature happily straddling a gun — has also raised some eyebrows.

Phil Lewis
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"I've seen ads in certain magazines which don't show the cover," says Kelly. "They just put the top of the bullet where it says Cocked & Loaded."

"We've had a few reviews which says it's a sexist cover," adds Phil. "But it really isn't. The fact is, she's [the cartoon lady] having a great time! It's not like she's being put under any strain or being abused."

Two factors saved the album cover from certain doom: the art work itself was executed by a woman (Maxine Miller) and the figure, which was initially nude, is now kind of covered up.

"Certain chain stores wouldn't want to carry the album if she were naked," says Kelly, explaining the last-minute addition of the patriotically colored bra and chaps. "K-Mart won't carry it, and you sell a lot of records through them."

Cocked & Loaded is the first album that all five current band members have contributed to, as drummer Steve Riley was still a member of W.A.S.P. when L.A. Guns recorded their debut album.

Originally formed by guitarist Tracii Guns in 1983, by '85 the group's lineup included vocalist Paul Black, bassist Mick Cripps, and former Weirdos drummer Nickey "Beat" Alexander.

L.A. Guns - promo poster
But by the time the band began recording their first LP, Phil Lewis (ex-vocalist for British glam/pop group Girl) had replaced Paul Black, and Kelly Nickels (one-time member of Faster Pussycat) joined on bass. Steve Riley took over from Nickey Alexander shortly after the album was completed.

"Steve joined the day before we took the picture for the back cover," notes Kelly, "and most of the first album had already been written by Tracii, Mick, and the old singer. Phil came in and rewrote all the lyrics, but there wasn't really an emphasis on writing new songs."

Kelly Nickels
RIP Teaser photo
Perhaps it's because the group was finally able to collaborate on the material for Cocked & Loaded (as well as the top-notch production team of Tom Werman, Duane Baron and John Purdell) that makes it one of the strongest albums of the year.

Recording the new album took "a massive amount of work," points out Phil. "The first album was put together very loosely, without that much attention to detail. Cocked & Loaded is much more structured and thought out."

"I think the album came out great," offers Kelly. "It kicks ass!"

Phil agrees. "I'm really, really happy with every song on it," he says. "But what I like most is the way it starts with 'Letting Go,' then it goes into this musical hyperspace, then into 'Slap in the Face,' and then into 'Rip and Tear' — which is so confident. I just love it! It gives me chills!"

L.A. Guns have spent the better part of the last two years on the road, headlining clubs and opening shows for the likes of Cheap Trick (Robin Zander provides back-up vocals on some Cocked & Loaded tracks), Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, AC/DC, and Ted Nugent — who, Phil mysteriously tells me, "supervised the recording sessions in his own special way."

Phil Lewis
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Kelly clearly recalls the group's last club date, the night before they hooked up with AC/DC.

"It was at the Nick in [Birmingham] Alabama," he says. "I can't forget this because there were like 200 people and the floor was covered with sawdust. The next night we played to 14,000 people in Portland, Maine!"

This year, L.A. Guns is once again headlining smaller venues, but they insist it's not the backwards move it seems.

"We'd probably get to a lot more people if we went out with a band who has a Number One album," admits Phil. "But we don't want to be the eternal support band. We don't want to go off on someone else's success; we've got to earn it."

* In Rave-Up #15, Phil Lewis talks about his former band Girl and how he came to join L.A. Guns. Here's a link: