Friday, 13 September 2019

Manic Street Preachers: James Dean Bradfield Talks About "Everything Must Go" And Everything Else

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #1 (1997)
By Devorah Ostrov

Manic Street Preachers sign autographs at Mod Lange in Berkeley
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
When Manic Street Preachers played at Bottom of the Hill in September 1996, they got a wildly enthusiastic response from the packed crowd. It had been four years since their last SF show, but only 19 months since the disappearance of rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards.

With the addition of a keyboardist, the three-piece Manics debuted several tracks from the then-recently released Everything Must Go album, including "Enola/Alone," "Kevin Carter," and "A Design for Life." The riveting hour-long set also featured a smattering of earlier material ("Motorcycle Emptiness," "From Despair to Where," "Motown Junk"), but there was nothing off The Holy Bible.

Following the group's afternoon soundcheck, I met up with vocalist/lead guitarist James Dean Bradfield for an interview. Their publicist had told me not to ask about Richey's disappearance: "They don't want to talk about that," she warned. However, it was an impossible subject to avoid during what turned out to be a wonderfully open discussion about the band's career to that point. And in the end, James didn't seem to mind at all.

* * *

James Dean Bradfield (Bottom of the Hill - 9/1996)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Teenage Kicks: The soundcheck was really good...

James: Yeah, it was okay.

Teenage Kicks: I was wondering how you would do all the lush orchestration on Everything Must Go with just the three of you.

James: There's no point in trying to recreate anything. Essence is the most important thing, I suppose.

Teenage Kicks: Your keyboard player is quite good. Who is he?

James: He's just... somebody. Not being derogatory to him whatsoever, but you know, he's just there to make up on the numbers. He'll never be part of the group. We'll never get another member in, so to speak. But we get on really well with him. He's cool.

Teenage Kicks: So, you're planning to stay a three-piece.

James: Yeah, we're gonna stay a three-piece. We'll never be a four-piece again. From now on... until we finish, we'll be a three-piece. Definitely.

Teenage Kicks: This isn't your first time in America. You were here in '92...

James: Yeah, about four years ago. We played Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, New York, Toronto, Montreal...

Teenage Kicks: And the I-Beam in San Francisco!

Advert for the single "A Design for Life"
James: That's right, yeah. It was probably the worst of the bunch. We were just like really coiled up. And really... We were at the point of being really antagonistic and confrontational. And the audience there was the most chilled-out people we'd ever come across. They just hated us.

Teenage Kicks: Has it been better this time around?

James: Yeah, it's been much better! We're older and more reasonable.

Teenage Kicks: You guys were recently on a US tour with Oasis...

James: Yeah...

Teenage Kicks: Were you there the night they stormed off stage and went back to England?

James: They didn't storm off, so to speak. Nothing is ever quite as dramatic as people make it out to be or want it to be. You know, the tour was going fine up until then. We did six gigs with them, then they didn't come to soundcheck and, for reasons known only to themselves, they flew home. I just caught sight of them leaving the hotel.

Teenage Kicks: How did their cancellation affect your shows?

James: It didn't. We just went home. We had about six shows left with them, and obviously we couldn't do any of those. And there wasn't any point in our staying in America doing nothing. So, we home for a week and then came back. We just got even more jet-lagged and added more time zones to our already tired constitutions.

Manic Street Preachers with Richey Edwards - 1989
(Photo from VOX magazine, July 1996)
Teenage Kicks: Had you been getting a good reaction from the Oasis fans?

James: Yeah, it was really surprising. It was so charitable. And it was really humbling to be their support band.

Teenage Kicks: Humbling?

James: I think it's humbling for any band. Well, you know, if you're doing really well in Britain and Europe, and other parts of the world... And then you come over here as someone else's support band, and the audience potentially don't know any of your songs... It's really, really humbling. And to see Oasis be, you know, to be completely accepted to the bosoms of all the American kids...

Promotional napkin from the Manics 1992 US tour
Teenage Kicks: Were the crowds really young?

James: Yeah, and that was really humbling too. But we accepted it. We really like Oasis. They're cool. I haven't got a bad word to say about them, to be honest. I really love 'em. And even though it was really humbling and really scary, it was quite liberating as well. It felt like starting again to a certain degree. So, it was all these contradictory emotions.

Teenage Kicks: Do you find that people over here tend to lump the Manics in with the Brit Pop movement?

James: Oh, gosh no! Do they? I mean, Brit Pop was supposed to have been something that came to fruition round about two years ago. Whereas we released our first album in 1991. So, there's no way we could be part of Brit Pop because, you know, we're much older than Brit Pop.

Teenage Kicks: I was just thinking that playing with Oasis might reinforce that idea in people's minds.

James: It doesn't bother me. We just feel really anonymous being in America, anyway. Being lumped in with Brit Pop doesn't really harm me. The only way it can be harmful is... You know, it's got a slightly jingoistic or patriotic tone — something that's called "Brit" Pop. That's the only way it can affect you.

Nicky Wire (Bottom of the Hill - 9/1996)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Teenage Kicks: Can we talk about the band's history? Are all of you from Wales originally?

James: Yeah. We're all from the same town, kind of a mining town called Blackwood. We all grew up within a mile of each other. We've known each other since about the age of five or six.

Teenage Kicks: Did you go to the same schools?

James: Yeah. We went to the same nursery school, the same college, went to the same pubs, went out with some of the same girls... You know, it's a shared history so to speak.

Teenage Kicks: What bands were you into when you were growing up?

James: The first actual universal thing between us was the Clash. We all really got into the Clash around the age of 15. There were a lot of punk retrospectives round about then. We saw some archives, some of the old clips of the Clash on the telly.

Teenage Kicks: So, you weren't around for the original punk movement?

James: No, I'm 27. When punk was happening, I was like six or seven years old. There wasn't much of a music scene around at the time we were 15 or 16. The Manchester thing was happening, but that was predominantly an urban-based, drug, youth culture thing.

Teenage Kicks: Like the Stone Roses...

Manic Street Preachers sign autographs at Mod Lange
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
James: Yeah, and that didn't really connect with us. I think we were always up to something that was more politicized. That's why we really turned on to the Clash. You know, we came from a very working class background. Also, there was a very strong mining community where we lived, and right about that time, 1984, the miners' strike was going on. It went on for the whole year in Britain. It was quite a historical year for the working classes in Britain because it kind of smashed the trade unions.

Teenage Kicks: Did it affect your families?

James: Yeah, because everyone had people in their families who worked in the mines. Uncles, aunts... or one of your friend's fathers worked in a mine. So, yeah, it affected us kind of indirectly and directly.

Nicky Wire on the cover of NME
August 1997
Teenage Kicks: You guys got compared to the Clash quite a lot in the beginning. The stencilled shirts and sloganeering...

James: Well, you know, we obviously owed a debt to them. Just as Nirvana, to me, owe a big debt to the Pistols; and Green Day owes a big debt to the Buzzcocks. Everybody's in debt to their primary influences.

Teenage Kicks: Didn't the Manics cover some Clash songs?

James: We covered one Clash song — "What's My Name?" But we only did it live.

Teenage Kicks: What was it that made you guys want to put a band together?

James: We were really isolated, you know; and we were all quite nerdy; and we were all kind of quite literary; and we were all really into rock and roll mythology. We favored the morbid, iconoclastic writers. You know, we were in love with people who had died. We were just four people that were really into the mythology of everything, and we all kind of gravitated towards each other. And because we were all quite insecure people, we were looking to do something with each other. We were looking to do for each other what we couldn't do for ourselves. The obvious way to do that was to be in a band.

Teenage Kicks: Was the band called Betty Blue in the beginning?

James: No, we were called Manic Street Preachers, but then for about a month we called ourselves Betty Blue. Then we went back to the original name.

"New Art Riot" four-song EP
(Damaged Goods - 1990)
Teenage Kicks: Was it Richey's idea to call it Manic Street Preachers?

James: No, it was mine! I've read that; it's an NME thing, I think. I wish I could give the credit to Richey. I think it's an awful name.

Teenage Kicks: Why do you think it's awful?

James: I just hate our fucking name. I think it's really crass.

Teenage Kicks: Where did it come from?

James: I used to go busking in Cardiff when I was 16 years old, in the summer. I used to busk near where all these desolates would sleep, you know, tramps and stuff. And I used to wake them up. And they just started calling me "Manic Street Preacher." I was kind of quite friendly with them, but they always used to curse me at the start of the day because I'd wake them up. I was like their rock 'n' roll rooster!

Teenage Kicks: So, it was your nickname.

James: Yeah.

Teenage Kicks: Is it true that Richey wasn't part of the band in the beginning?

James: He started out as the driver. That was the price he had to pay to get into the band. We knew he was going to be in the band, but at first he couldn't play any guitar. So, he drove us and stuff. At first it was just myself, Nick and Sean. We were already up and running before Richey joined.

Teenage Kicks: Your first release was the "Suicide Alley" single on you own label...

James: Yeah, it was a real indie kind of thing. There were only 300 ever made, so it's a real rarity. That was just the three of us — me, Nick and Sean. It's really just tiny, auto-punk.

Teenage Kicks: Did you sell all 300 copies?

James: Gave half of them away and sold the other half, I think. As most bands do. I got a letter off Jello Biafra once because it was in... What was that magazine called? It was like an international fanzine where you could buy loads of DIY indie singles and stuff.

Teenage Kicks: Maximum RocknRoll?

James: Yeah. Jello Biafra saw this advert and sent us a letter asking for it. So, he's got one!

Teenage Kicks: And after that came the "New Art Riot" EP...

James: The "dodgy" EP, yeah. And the third record was a song called "Motown Junk." That was the first record we put out on Heavenly. And the fourth record was "You Love Us" on Heavenly.

James Dean Bradfield (Bottom of the Hill - 9/1996)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov


Teenage Kicks: I love the photo on "New Art Riot." You guys look like little kids!

James: Yeah, we do. Peacefully young. We were about 20 or 21.

Teenage Kicks: Did any of you guys go to art school?

James: Uh... Nick and Richey had gone to University to study Political History. I was still doing some jobs back home. I was doing a bar job and working on a building site. When the band was just about to break, I was about to go to University. So, we were all leaning toward higher education.

Richey Edwards on the cover of NME
October 1992
Teenage Kicks: The "New Art Riot" EP was very revolutionary in its stance; it was almost calling for a revolution!

James: "New Art Riot" is... I think the most important years when you're growing up are round about the ages of 14-16. When we were growing up at that age, those formative years, that's when the miners' strike was happening. It was happening right on our doorstep.
     And like the Clash said, you just write about things that affect your life and things that happen around you. And that is so true! There's no way we could've lived in those teenage years and not been affected by what was happening around us.
     Listening to "New Art Riot," it's very kind of ideological. But one thing I like about it is that it sounds naïve. Idealism is born out of naivete, and naivete is born out of youth. And at least I can look back on that record and know that we sounded young and naïve and idealistic, and that's something I really treasure.

Teenage Kicks: Youth, naivete and idealism... That's kind of what the original punk movement was about.

James: Yeah, definitely. There were certain things about the punk movement I didn't really agree with. Things like anybody can get up and do it. I don't quite agree with that because I think, in order to get your point across, there's got to be a sense of wonder about what's presented in front of you. So, there's a slightly iconoclastic niche to everything we do. We definitely had that with Nick and Richey. There's a lot of things about punk that were obviously important to us, but a lot of it was bullshit as well!

Everything Must Go
 (Epic Records - 1996)
Teenage Kicks: It seems like the group was quite accomplished as musicians by the time you put out the "New Art Riot" EP. You weren't just bashing away, making noise.

James: That's one of the urban myths about punk, that people couldn't play. Never Mind the Bollocks is one of the tightest rock albums in the world, there's nothing inadequate about it whatsoever. London Calling is one of the most accomplished rock 'n' roll albums! Look at Green Day — a band that's very derivative from a punk ethos. Do you ever hear them drop a bum note? They're one of the most rehearsed bands I've ever seen.

Teenage Kicks: From the band's lyrics and from talking to you, you guys seem incredibly intellectual. Which seems a bit at odds with your growing up in a small mining town.

James: Not intellectual... We were just brought up really well. We were brought up with a lot of humility. I suppose it's quite a surprise to people because they don't equate working class culture with humility or self-empowerment. We just happened to be really lucky; we were brought up by really good parents. That's what it was. Even though where we came from was quite a stifling, repressive environment, within our homes we actually grew up in a good environment.

Teenage Kicks: Where did the Manics first play?

Nicky Wire (Bottom of the Hill - 9/1996)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
James: Just tawdry little affairs back home. Crappy little youth club gigs, you know.

Teenage Kicks: Where did you debut in London?

James: At a pub called the Horse and Groom on Great Portland Street. There's an upstairs room above the pub.

Teenage Kicks: Were you well-received?

James: Yeah! The man that saw us that night put out "New Art Riot." He saw us that night and offered to put our record out. We got a review in Melody Maker, as well.

Teenage Kicks: Was it a good review?

James: It was a really good review! Bob Stanley, who went on to form the band St. Etienne, wrote it. So, it was really intense for us. We were really caught up in the fanzine scene; we were very connected in terms of that. Because we lived in this rural area in Wales, our lifeline to the outside world was the NME, Melody Maker, and the fanzine world. So, a lot of people would get these mad letters off us — these country bumpkins who lived in the sticks. Then one day we're playing in London!
     By the time we had our first gig in London, we had a lot of people to invite just through fanzine connections. We were quite cynical about it, to be honest. We did use a lot of people. Not like... We didn't use them and then spit them out. But we knew all these connections would be useful. We knew they would be of use someday or another.

Teenage Kicks: Before you released your first album [Generation Terrorists] you had already put several singles into the Top 40, if not the Top 20, in Britain...

Recent Manic Street Preachers publicity photo
James: We released "Stay Beautiful," "Love's Sweet Exile," and "You Love Us." Then the album came out. Then we released "Slash 'n' Burn" and "Motorcycle Emptiness."

Teenage Kicks: So, the band was already well established before the release of the first album.

James: We were an established band in Britain, yeah, and parts of Europe and Japan. It was different back then, because now "indie" is... It's much more mainstream now. Back then you had to struggle to get people's attention. You had to get a fan base. Now, in Britain, it's just assumed that four young, spunky guys with guitars are gonna get in the charts. It was much harder back in our day!

Poster for a 1991 Manics show at
King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow
Teenage Kicks: Let's talk about Everything Must Go. People are saying that musically, it's a reaction against the nihilism of The Holy Bible and lyrically, it's a way of coming to terms with Richey's disappearance. Do you agree with that?

James: Actually, The Holy Bible was the most natural thing we'd ever done as a band, but we just couldn't take it any further.
     Obviously, it was veering toward the nihilistic, to say the least, but to try and take it further would have been contrary. There's nothing to gain in reacting against something that you've done yourself. For someone to react against their own recorded output, they'd have to have a very high sense of self-esteem. To bounce off of themselves, to use themselves as a sounding board, they'd have to be very self-important.
     We've never done that. We never sit down and say, "Right, we're gonna do a song like this." Richey and Nick never said, "The music's gotta sound like this." With the new album, we never said, "Right, this album's gonna have loads of strings on it and it's gonna be more cathartic and it's gonna be more optimistic." The only parameters we've ever worked within... We start writing the songs, then the songs govern what the album is going to feel like. The way we write songs... Nick and Richey wrote the lyrics, myself and Sean wrote the music. I never write music without lyrics. I always wait for the lyrics to come to me, then I write the music.
     Also, there's at least seven songs on the new album which were written a good deal before the Richey thing happened. So, there's seven songs on the album that were just about finished before he went missing. That leaves five songs that were written post-Richey.

2016 European tour dates celebrating
the 20th anniversary of Everything Must Go
Teenage Kicks: I've read that you guys had thought about putting Richey's songs on a separate EP...

James: Yeah, but we decided against it. Any lyrics of Richey's that ended up on the new album, I wrote the music to before he went missing. I've got loads of his lyrics left, but we haven't used anything since it happened. To set music to them would be irresponsible. They're his lyrics and, as far as I'm concerned, I haven't got permission to take them. And there's too many rock 'n' roll detectives trying to find clues in everything we do, anyway. It would just invite hordes of morbid mythologists.

Teenage Kicks: Can you blame them?

James: Can't blame them at all. But because we are aware of it, we're not going to do it.

Teenage Kicks: What made Richey carve "4 REAL" into his arm?

James: He was talking to a journalist [Steve Lamacq from the NME] after a gig. The exact quote was: "Of course you know, a lot of people don't think that you're for real."

Teenage Kicks: In hindsight, was there anything more you guys could've done to help Richey?

James: No. Everybody can act with hindsight and say they could've done more, but there was a lot that was done and was being done. It's more complicated than a yes or no.

"Stay Beautiful"
(Columbia Records - 1991)
Teenage Kicks: What were you doing the night before Richey disappeared?

James: We finished doing lots of demos for some of the songs that ended up on Everything Must Go. Then we were going to come to America on a promotional tour the morning after.

Teenage Kicks: And there's been no word since?

James: No.

Teenage Kicks: You worked with Mike Hedges on Everything Must Go. I've seen his name on records by the Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Marc Almond. How did that go?

James: He's the best producer we've ever worked with. Just the best. He's the only person who really entertained all our ideas. You know, say we needed a harp — two days later he'd have it set up. He's just really cool. He set up a perfect environment for us to make an album. And I really got on with him.

Teenage Kicks: You recorded the album in Normandy?

James: Yeah, that's where he lives. He owns a massive chateau and his studio is in the chateau.

The Manics on the cover of Q magazine
March 2001
Teenage Kicks: I want to ask about some of the songs on Everything Must Go... Firstly, "A Design for Life." Some people think its kind of a downer, but lyrically it reminds me of the Kinks' "Dead End Street" and the perseverance of the working class.

James: There's certainly a lot of irony employed in the song: "We don't talk about love/We just want to get drunk." It's kind of double-edged. That's people's perception of working class culture for a start. Of course there's a lot of interclass conflict among the working class; there's a lot of self-abuse and a lot of violence directed against each other. But the people who condemn that violence usually don't have to work in a shitty job six days a week. They can't understand where that kind of frustration would come from. When I see that violence, it sickens me, but I don't immediately condemn it.
     The other half of the song is basically trying to show the essence of the beauty of working class culture. There are people like Sean Ryder, who comes from a very working class background. He's created his own language; he writes in his own language. That's working class culture. There are geniuses that have been working class...

Teenage Kicks: Like Jim Carroll...

James: Exactly! Or Jack Kerouac...

Teenage Kicks: And I want to ask about the title track...
L-R: Richey Edwards, James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore & Nicky Wire
James: It's the simplest song, really.

Teenage Kicks: It's beautiful though.

James: Yeah... It's just us realizing that as a band we wouldn't be exactly the same as before. We couldn't be the same band; things had changed. We realized there was a certain self-fulfilling prophecy to everything we were doing, and we had to try and put a full stop to it. We realized we'd taken everything as far as we could with The Holy Bible, and we couldn't be Manic Street Preachers for the rest of our lives. We really did govern ourselves in a rigid way. We set ourselves a lot of rules, and a lot of times we didn't allow ourselves any kind of human characteristics.

"You Love Us" EP (Heavenly - 1991)
Teenage Kicks: Like to be as controversial as you could?

James: Nothing as contentious as that. The way we worked as a group... We vowed never to write a love song, etc., etc. Just little rules that we worked with as a band. So, we decided we had to allow ourselves a human grace.

Teenage Kicks: It seems like you've also toned down the image of the band quite a lot.

James: Yeah, but you know... every band does. As people get older, unfortunately your bone structure weighs heavily into the expectation. The Clash toned it down... Every band changes.

Teenage Kicks: Or else you just burn out...

James: Or just look grotesque! Old men trying to be young...

Teenage Kicks: Like Kiss!

James: I think they're the one band that can actually carry it off. They're so cool!

James Dean Bradfield (Bottom of the Hill - 9/1996)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Teenage Kicks: Even the artwork used on Everything Must Go is subdued and tasteful.

James: To be honest, the intention of the artwork was just to make it colder. Everything we were doing was under so much scrutiny in Britain. We just wanted to stop the rock 'n' roll detectives; we just wanted to give ourselves some breathing space. We didn't want people to pour over everything. It's the biggest cliché in the book, but we just wanted to let the music do the talking for once.
     And that's why we didn't do any press for "A Design for Life." We were a band that was recognized for doing loads of press, getting on the cover of NME and Melody Maker all the time.
     It was our first single since the Richey thing. We released the single, didn't do any interviews, didn't do anything that we were traditionally associated with, and it was our most successful single ever. It's very ironic.

Teenage Kicks: "A Design for Life" entered the British charts at #2!

James: It went platinum; it stayed in the Top Ten for ages. So, it was a proper hit single à la "Wonderwall." We're doing better in Britain than ever. A million times better! We're on our third single [off Everything Must Go] in Britain now.

Teenage Kicks: Have you ever charted in America?

James: Not yet, no. I think we're only just getting added to KROQ. The way it happens, it usually takes six months to even know if you're going to get released in America. "Wonderwall" was a hit over here ages after it'd been a hit in Britain. You've just gotta sit tight and wait when it comes to America.

The Manics in Bangkok - 1994
(magazine clipping)
Teenage Kicks: I also wanted to ask about your cover of the theme from MASH, "Suicide is Painless"...

James: It came out as a single by mistake. What happened was, NME did a charity album for the Spastic Society and they invited all these bands to cover songs. The only rule was, every song had to have been a #1 in the British charts in the past. So, all these bands submitted their versions of #1 singles.

Teenage Kicks: It was a perfect song for you guys to do. What made you choose it?

James: It just seemed fitting. It was the only #1 single we could think of with lyrics that were remotely good. And then they came back to us and said they wanted to release it as the single for the album. We were like, "Oh, no!" But we couldn't refuse because it was for charity. So, we became the willing victims of our own charitable nature.

Teenage Kicks: I read that when the band played in Bangkok, you were nearly jailed for shouting, "Repeat after me, fuck Queen and country" during the song "Repeat (UK)." Is that true?

James: Nick dedicated it to the Thai King. He said something like, "This is dedicated to the Thai King. May he rot in hell!" And to insult the Thai King in public in Thailand is a punishable offense by imprisonment. Of course, Nick didn't know that at the time. There were rumors that the State Police were coming after him, and he got very paranoid because he'd committed a crime.

The Holy Bible played in full - 2014 UK tour dates
Teenage Kicks: Do you have any trouble with the song in Britain?

James: No, it's a free country. We've got democracy in Britain!

Teenage Kicks: But several of your songs seem to rail against democracy as well.

James: Ever since I can remember we've had a Tory government. So democracy does seem, to quote one of our songs, as if it's in a coma. In Britain, if 51% of the population vote for the Tory party and 49% vote for the labor party, they can deem that a majority. That such a small percentage can make such a difference to the political path of a country... It's madness! So, it does seem as if democracy is kind of quite obsolete.

Teenage Kicks: You also rage against America  — things like McDonald's and Coca Cola. There's the song, "If White America"...

James: "IfWhiteAmericaToldTheTruthForOneDayItsWorldWouldFallApart." I think it's true. White America lives in a world which doesn't supersede its own doorstep, and it's reflected in the wrongful insensitivity of all its foreign policies. But then again, America is an inspiration to us too. When we were growing up, if it wasn't for the American influence, we'd have been poorer for it. American youth culture and language and music gave us a lot of our inspiration.

Teenage Kicks: Like black R&B music...

James: Yeah! Public Enemy! Public Enemy were the biggest influence on us, following the Clash and the Pistols. So, America's got a lot of good things. But something as big as America is just going to be 50% evil and 50% good. There's no reason not to criticize it.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Specimen Become Americanized! Ollie Wisdom Talks About The Shake-Up Of Death Rock's Most Glamorous Group.

Published in Rave-Up #11 (1986)
By Devorah Ostrov

Specimen - San Francisco lineup circa 1985
L-R: Kimba, Ollie Wisdom, Smeg, Tim Huthert & Gere Fennelly
(photographer unknown)
The original Specimen formed some years ago in England. Looking like rejects from a less than B-grade horror movie, they made a name for themselves amongst fashion conscious club-goers. Between their image, their records, and their club (The Batcave), the UK music press had a field day — going so far as to label the new scene "Death Rock."

When things got beyond their control, lead singer and mastermind, Ollie Wisdom, moved operations to San Francisco. Since the other British members chose to stay in London, Ollie reconstructed the band with musicians from the Bay Area: Gere Fennelly on keyboards, Smeg on guitar, Kimba on bass, and Jeffrey St. Pierre (who recently replaced Tim Huthert) on drums. Once again, Specimen is going full force!

* * *

"Indestructable" b/w "Brainburst!" picture sleeve 45
(Rampant Records 1986)
Ollie Wisdom's flat looks like a Specimen show: multi-colored crepe paper and plastic beads dangle from the ceiling; various parts of baby dolls are strewn about the floor. As we make ourselves comfy amid the rubble, Ollie switches on the tape player and the final mix of the new Specimen demo blasts forth...

Ollie: We're doing four singles right now. The first is "Indestructable"/"Brainburst!" The other songs on the tape are "Pink and Perfect," "Red Velvet Crush on You" and "Miss You" — which is the ballady one. We're also making a film for it. When the record's finished it'll be edited to the record and it should be shown on MTV. We've also got alternative videos, in which we've been doing animation and stuff, which will go out to the clubs.

Rave-Up: Are you producing the record yourself?

Ollie: Yeah, I've done all the production on it, written all the songs for it... And it's come out great! I'm really pleased with it. I've never had the chance to do that in the studio before.

Rave-Up: The previous Specimen records were all done by producers telling you what to do?

Flyer for Specimen at Perkins Palace
March 3, 1984
Ollie: Very much so! It was a very necessary thing to go through as well. When you first get let loose in a 24-track recording studio, which costs like $70 an hour, you've got to have some idea of what you're going for. Without what I learnt from past experiences, good and bad, I couldn't have done it.

Rave-Up: Is it because you're producing it yourself that the songs sound poppier?

Ollie: I don't know if it sounds poppier. It's not so guitar oriented; it's more song oriented. The songs I played you are most likely going to be the singles, so they're the more poppy of the songs anyway.

Rave-Up: What made you move to San Francisco? Were you bored with London?

Ollie: Yeah, I was really bored. There's nothing happening in London at the moment. Everybody just tries to make out like there is.

Rave-Up: Why San Francisco over anywhere else?

Ollie: I would never even consider living in Los Angeles. New York presents a whole load of problems that San Francisco doesn't. And San Francisco's got sunshine. Unfortunately, the process of moving split the band up somewhat.

Rave-Up: You mean like all the original band members are still over there and you're over here?

Specimen - San Francisco lineup circa 1986
L-R: Jeffrey St. Pierre, Smeg, Ollie Wisdom, Kimba, Gere Fennelly
Ollie: But they're all over there not doing very much, unfortunately.

Rave-Up: So, what happened?

Ollie: Well, we had just issued an EP ["Sharp Teeth"] on a brand new label [The Trust] in England. We had spent a year getting out of our London Records deal, because we wouldn't let them make us into the pop band they wanted us to be. I said, "Look, I'm not going to do an album with Trust," which is what they wanted us to do. Other people wanted to go for it. They said, "Stay here and do this album." I said, "If that's what you want, keep it." I don't regret it in the slightest.

Rave-Up: Did you think about not calling the new group Specimen?

Ollie: It had occurred to me to change the name of the band, but I didn't see much point. When the original Specimen played Perkins Palace in LA, Jon [Klein, guitarist] and I went out to do a radio interview just after the sound check. There was a queue right around the block. We walked right past this whole lot — not one person recognized us! I figure that they still don't really know the difference. You've got to use whatever you have to your advantage. There's no point in cutting your wrists for integrity sake.

Rave-Up: Don't you think it's superficial for your fans not to notice the difference?

Ollie: No, not if they come to enjoy the show anyway. The people that really got into us early on, they know the difference. Some of them whisper, "It's not the same band..." Of course, we're not the same band. We're not trying to be the same band. But it doesn't stop it from being a lot of fun!

Rave-Up: The personalities of the new band members must be vastly different from the old members. Are American musicians easier to work with?

Ollie Wisdom
(photographer unknown)
Ollie: In some ways. I find that Americans are a bit more open to suggestion, and a bit more excitable when something excites them. The British have seen it all before, or think they have, so they're not going to appear to be excited, even if they are.

Rave-Up: I wonder how the new members feel stepping into a sort of inherited image? What people expect Specimen to be as opposed to what they are...

Ollie: But you see, it's not like they have to step into something. They've just got to be themselves. If they tried to step into something it would look really awkward. Because they're the right people for the job, so to speak, there's no transformation needed.

Rave-Up: I always saw Specimen as a fun, almost cartoonish group. But the British press always wrote about you guys as the leaders of the death-rock scene, which made you sound a bit doomy and dark...

Ollie: Yes, well you saw much more what it was. People just took the name, The Batcave, and misconstrued it. It was never serious. It was never an "Oh, we're death-rock" kind of thing.

Rave-Up: Do you resent having your creative, fun ideas turned into what the press wanted you to be?

Ollie: No, not really. I mean, you don't think about it. You just carry on and try to put a few people right along the way.

Rave-Up: Have you thought about doing a club here, along the lines of The Batcave?

Poster for the 25th anniversary 
celebration of the London Batcave
July 11, 2008
Ollie: I don't want to do anything as regular as a nightclub. It's something I could always fall back on if I need the money! But no, I don't really want to. The Batcave was great. Let it rest in peace.

Rave-Up: One last question, did you have any trouble getting through immigration? Or did you try to look "normal"?

Ollie: Even when I try to look normal, I don't! But I have a "gimp" outfit — it's my disguise to get past immigration. It consists of a pair of corduroy trousers, a little jacket, tennis shoes, a beige shirt, no nail varnish, no make-up at all, no jewellery. No "un-manly" things in my suitcase. It's such a performance, but it worked!  

Rave-Up: What if someone had recognized you?

Ollie: Even you wouldn't recognize me!

Monday, 19 August 2019

Marky Ramone: In 1992 I Talked To The Ramones Drummer About "Mondo Bizarro"

Originally published in American Music Press (October 1992)
By Devorah Ostrov


Legend has it that punk rock began on July 4th, 1976. On that date the Ramones — formed some two years previously in Forest Hills, NY — made their pivotal UK debut at the Roundhouse in London. And pretty much every Brit kid who went on to form a furiously fast, three-chord band was in the crowd that night. "We had hoped that the kids would see us and feel they could do it too," commented guitarist Johnny Ramone at the time.

The Ramones' Mondo Bizarro tour comes to
Cologne, Germany - December 5, 1992
Sixteen years and more than a dozen albums later, the Ramones are still going strong. The group's latest offering (and their first on Radioactive Records) is called Mondo Bizarro, and it features some of their best material in a decade.

"It's a good one!" declares drummer Marky Ramone when I call him in New York. "We took our time. We selected the best songs. We practised them a lot. And this is the end result."

"Poison Heart," the first single release, is a classic sounding pop tune co-written by Daniel Rey and Dee Dee Ramone, who left the band in 1989 (and took some pains to distance himself from the guys by issuing a solo LP as Dee Dee King).

Surprisingly, he also co-wrote (again with Rey) two other songs — "Strength to Endure" and "Main Man" — both sung by his replacement, C.J.

So, they don't hate Dee Dee and vice-versa?

"No! No way!" exclaims Marky (who replaced original drummer Tommy Ramone in 1978, after stints with Dust, Wayne County's Back Street Boys, and Richard Hell's Voidoids). "Maybe in the beginning there was a little animosity because he left us, but it all worked out. We're still friendly with him; he's still friendly with us. He's a Ramone!"

Marky Ramone - recent publicity photo
Another big surprise is the amount of radio play "Poison Heart" is receiving. While lack of airplay was once the bane of the Ramones' existence, Bay Area station Live 105 (KITS) is playing the song so often, you could actually get sick of it.

"It's weird, right!" laughs Marky. "It's strange because when we came out we were just a bunch of aliens. There was no one like us, so they were afraid of us. And a lot of radio stations didn't want to play us because we went against the grain. You had your Foreigner, your Journey, your Fleetwood Mac... rock was really soft at that point."

He continues, "Eventually, you had all these bands wearing leather jackets and holes in their pants. They started playing fast songs, and obviously they were influenced by us. These people admit it. And now, I guess, a lot of people who owe us are saying, 'Maybe it's the Ramones time.'"

Like Skid Row covering "Psycho Therapy" on the "B-Side Ourselves" EP?

"And Motorhead did 'Ramones' on their last album. And Guns N' Roses always wear our t-shirts, and they've always said that we're one of their favorite bands. I don't necessarily like or dislike these bands, that's just their way of showing gratitude to us. Now they're playing 'Poison Heart,' which is great, but I hope that they recognize the fact that there are other songs on the album that are just as good."

L-R: Joey Ramone, C.J. Ramone, Johnny Ramone & Marky Ramone
Photos from the Mondo Bizarro CD
Marky particularly likes the opening track, "Censorshit." Written by vocalist Joey Ramone, the lyrics are a timely statement about the politicians (and their wives) who want to save us from the imagined evil lurking in our fave rock 'n' roll records: "Tipper, what's that sticker sticking on my CD?/Is that some kind of warning to protect me?/ Freedom of choice needs a stronger, stronger voice/You can stamp out the source, but you can't stop creative thoughts..."

Dust - Marky Ramone (Marc Bell), Kenny Aaronson & Richie Wise
"We feel censorship is very un-American," asserts Marky. "I think a conservative minority are trying to push their view on the majority of the country. We were at the Berlin Wall when it came down. I chipped away pieces of the wall for myself! There's no more communism in Russia, so why the hell are they gonna have censorship here?"

What does he think about the possibility that Tipper Gore (co-founder of the P.M.R.C. and wife of Bill Clinton's running mate, Al Gore) could soon be in the White House?

"Clinton's opposed to censorship," Marky notes. "When he gets in, he's probably gonna tell her to cool off. But if she screws around during the first four years, he'd better watch out. The [entertainment] industry will go against him and not vote for him in four years. And then he'll lose because the industry has a lot of influence."

Poster for two shows in Mexico City - 1992
Will he be voting for Clinton?

"Yeah, I have to," Marky responds a little reluctantly.

Getting back to Mondo Bizarro, fans of the group's early efforts will enjoy "Heidi is a Headcase," a direct descendant of "Suzy is a Headbanger," as well as the '60s surf-inspired sounds of "Touring" — so reminiscent of Jan and Dean, it could be a cover!

"That's what's so good about that song," observes Marky. "It could be a cover, but it isn't!"

Speaking of covers... Known for their speeded up interpretations of  simplistic pop ditties, another shocker on Mondo Bizarro is their cover of the Doors' "Take It as It Comes." Which is — how do I phrase this properly? — kind of complicated with oodles of keyboards!

How did that happen?

"One day John said, 'Let's do a Doors' song.' And I said, 'What!?' I didn't wanna do 'Light My Fire.' But when he brought in this obscure album track, I agreed it was a good idea. It wasn't a single, and no one has really heard of it. We just put our style to it, and that's what happened. Very simple."

Have any of the surviving Doors heard their version?

Richard Hell & the Voidoids - featuring Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) 
Photo by Kate Simon (from the "Blank Generation" 45)
"Ray Manzarek… He's flattered that we did it. As a matter of fact, we were gonna have him on keyboards, but he said he doesn't play music anymore. We used some other guy from some other band [Joe McGinty, ex-Psychedelic Furs]."

Marky (in collaboration with a mysterious character called Skinny Bones) also supplies two new numbers: "Anxiety" and "The Job That Ate My Brain." The first is a bit of stressed-out silliness, however the second is an interesting tale about day-job woes: "Out of bed at 6:15, in a rush and you can't think/Gotta catch the bus and train, I'm in a rush and feelin' insane/I can't take this crazy pace, I've become a mental case/Yeah, this is the job that ate my brain..."

Promo poster for Mondo Bizarro
(Radioactive Records - 1992)
"In this fast paced society there's a lot of things that people wanna do," elaborates Marky. "They've got families to raise, they want to relax, they want to play, but they gotta get up and work for some company. They don't have time for themselves. It sucks!"

That last sentiment sounds like Marky is speaking from personal experience. Has he ever held a day-job?

"I used to mix cement. I used to put up wrought-iron gates... y'know, construction stuff."

When was this?

He briefly falters. "This was before... this was around... after I left the Ramones in '83. For four years I was doing stuff like that because I didn't wanna be involved with the music business anymore."

I'd been wondering if/how to bring up his temporary departure from the group (during which he was replaced by Richie Ramone). From what I've read, it wasn't pretty. Creem magazine documented one particularly divisive moment: "Johnny is on the phone, obviously agitated, saying things like, 'I'm pissed about this! … If he doesn't wanna do it...!' Turns out that drummer Marky has pulled a walkout with the Toronto date just three days away."

"Me and Dee Dee..." Marky starts to explain then hesitates. It's clearly still a sensitive subject.

The Ramones
L-R: C.J., Johnny, Marky and Joey
"He had a drug problem and I had a drinking problem, and it was getting to me. It was winning, y'know. I ended up drunk every day. So, I turned around one day and thought, What's more important? Acting like a jerk and embarrassing myself? Getting up off the floor every morning? Or playing in a band that I like? So, I just stopped. I went away for a while and did straight jobs just to get back to some other kind of reality."

What made him eventually return to the fold?

"Well... John, ah... called me one day..." says Marky, still choosing his words carefully. "Richie wasn't working out, and he asked me to come back in the band. And that was it."

Marky Ramone on the cover of Modern Drummer
February 2014
Spin magazine recently acknowledged the Ramones impact by naming them one of the seven most important bands in rock history (the list also included Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Sex Pistols). According to Spin: "No group in the last eighteen years has been more important or more influential, including the Sex Pistols (who probably couldn't have existed without the Ramones). There's a real straight line from the Ramones to Nirvana, for anyone who'd care to trace it."

How did that make them feel?

"We were very flattered," states Marky.

The Ramones are an American institution, I point out.

"That's what I hear, but I don't know what it means. I'd just like to sell a few more copies of our new album. Y'know what I mean? That would be nice."



* You can read my other interviews with the Ramones here:
devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2019/02/the-ramones-turn-20-release-all-covers
devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-ramones-this-january-1978-interview
devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-last-time-i-talked-to-joey-ramone

Friday, 26 July 2019

¿Dónde Está Girlschool? When Seeing A Band South Of The Border, It's Important To Know The Lingo.

Originally published in Rave-Up #17 (1989)
By Devorah Ostrov

Girlschool at the time of this interview (Enigma publicity photo)
L-R: Cris Bonacci, Tracey Lamb, Kim McAuliffe & Denise Dufort
It's been four years since I last saw Girlschool, two years since bassist Tracey Lamb joined the group, and eight long hours since my bus pulled out of the Hollywood Greyhound station bound for Tijuana, Mexico, where Girlschool are playing at Iguanas.

According to the original itinerary, the band was supposed to kick off the California leg of the Take A Bite tour at the Country Club outside Los Angeles. That show should have been followed by Iguanas, then a private party at Raji's and a day off to drive to San Francisco, where they would play two gigs at the Stone before returning to Southern California.

Take A Bite (Enigma/GWR 1988)
And that's exactly how my cheapo/non-refundable/un-changeable plane ticket was booked. But with a week to go before the Country Club gig, the whole schedule was turned topsy-turvy. Tijuana was now the first stop, with other dates cancelled, changed, and added on. And trust me, the airline industry really didn't care.

Iguanas is located just across the border, in a mostly-empty shopping center. You can't miss the place: the building's architecture is recognizable as "Old Mexico," but the garish yellows, oranges, pinks and greens of its paint job actually pulsate in the bright afternoon sun and give me a headache. Apparently, the club caters mostly to young punk and metal fans from San Diego, which is less than an hour's drive away; the only Mexicans I saw inside Iguanas were the guards and the bartenders.

While Girlschool prepare to hit the stage later that night, I ask bassist Tracey Lamb (who replaced Gil Weston-Jones, following stints in UK all-female metal outfits Rock Goddess and She) why the band didn't tour the US back when she first joined.

"There was talk of a tour," she explains, "but it didn't happen. It didn't have anything to do with us. It was delayed by management hassles and record company hassles."

Cris Bonacci and Kim McAuliffe in Tijuana
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
With Take A Bite (released last year on Enigma Records in the US/GWR in the UK), hopefully all those hassles will be a thing of the past.

"Things are starting to happen for us," confirms Tracey. "I think it's the right time and we have the right record company."

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," adds vocalist/guitarist Kim McAuliffe.

The first single from the new album — a cover of the Sweet's '70s glam classic "Fox on the Run" — has already been picked up by 200 radio stations across the country. However, the promo video has received surprisingly little attention from MTV.

Directed by Jean Pellerin, the video incorporates scenes filmed on a park bandstand with live footage and quick cuts of the girls goofing around. Lacking any special effects, silly concepts or staged choreography, much of it looks for all the world like a charming home movie.


"Our original plan was to shoot a live video while we were on the road with Gary Glitter," says Kim, referring to the band's support slot on the recent Gangshow tour. "But we didn't have our own stage set up, and Denise [Dufort, drums] was over to the right of the rest of us. So, we had to make it up as we went along. We went around to all these places and just shot film."

"There's this Victorian bandstand on the commons across from Kim's flat," reveals Tracey about the setting for the outdoor scenes. "We thought it was the ideal thing to do."

"It was ten in the morning when we were on the commons," grumbles Kim. "We'd only gotten back from the Gary Glitter tour at five the morning before. We were dying! But Jean was saying, 'Just jump around a lot and they won't be able to see how rough you look.'"

My backstage pass for the Girlschool show 
at Iguanas - June 17, 1989
Plagued by a late start time, Girlschool played a blistering gig to only a handful of diehard fans in Tijuana. The crowd, which had been jumping around enthusiastically during TSOL's opening set, were already driving home by the time the headliners went on.

The next morning found all of us back in California, in the tiny border town of San Ysidro debating over eggs and sausages for here or to go. Then it was time for Girlschool's tour bus to head up Highway 5 to their next show in San Francisco (with a quick detour to drop me off in Hollywood, because according to my plane ticket I wasn't going home yet).

Plans for a stop at the beach and a boat ride were quickly forgotten as signs for the Orange County K-MART loomed in distance. And there was no stopping Kim as she strode intently across the acres of parking lot and into the ultimate American shopping experience.

"Kim becomes a different person when she's shopping," confides guitarist Cris Bonacci (who replaced Kelly Johnson in 1984). "She gets really aggressive!"

With shopping bags stuffed and everyone satisfied that no corner of the store remained unexplored, the tour bus again wound slowly up the freeway. I took advantage of a mid-afternoon traffic jam to ask Kim if a rumoured move to Los Angeles was true.

Girlschool - publicity photo
"It does seem like the best time to do it," she allows. "We've got this interest from Enigma, which is based in LA. We've never had that interest from an American label before."

She also points to Def Leppard's U.S. success as a reason to concentrate on these shores. "I told Joe [Elliott, Def Leppard's vocalist] we were going to try to crack America, and he said that's exactly what they did."

As the bus finally turned onto Sunset Blvd., the conversation shifted back to how it all began. It was 1978 when the group changed its name from Painted Lady and played its first shows as Girlschool. Now the band, which Kerrang magazine termed "a great British institution," is being cited by more and more young female fans as a musical influence. It's a compliment Kim takes with a grain of salt. "It makes me feel really old," she laughs. "But then there's bands like Heart that are still going, and I'd heard of them before I ever thought about picking up a guitar."

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Damn Yankees: I Talk To Jack Blades & Ted Nugent About "Don't Tread." Guess Which One Warns Me About Raccoons!

Originally published in American Music Press (March 1993)
By Devorah Ostrov

The Damn Yankees pose for a Kerrang! centerfold
The Damn Yankees have just finished storming through Japan in support of their new album Don't Tread, making sure each and every concert attendee got hit over the head with a hearty dose of American spirit.

Now the guys are back home, taking a brief respite before picking up the US leg of the tour where they left off. I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Ted Nugent and bassist/vocalist Jack Blades (ex-Night Ranger; this something of a supergroup also includes guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw from Styx and drummer Michael Cartellone).

My backstage pass for the Damn Yankees at the
San Jose Events Center Arena - February 21, 1993
Jack was relaxing at his Sonoma County farmhouse, reflecting on the mudslide that had recently wiped out his vegetable garden and tennis court.

"There's like two-feet of mud on my tennis court right now," he tells me. "It kinda flowed all the way down the hill. It was pretty awesome. That stuff's powerful! The ground was so soaked it just gave way."

Meanwhile... Ted could be found on his 1,400 acres of Michigan swampland, pursuing his well-known animal-whacking/nature-balancing crusade — which became personal when I mentioned the adorable raccoon setting up house on the roof outside my bedroom window. (I damn well knew I was baiting the trap, so to speak.)

"God bless 'em, they're cute!" Nugent enthused, much to my momentary amazement. "Until they bite your kid. You've gotta be careful 'cause they develop rabies real easy, and there's no control factor other than squashing 'em on the road. There's gotta be a balance. And concrete doesn't quite do the balancing act."

Don't Tread (Warner Bros. Records, 1992)
Now he'd returned to form and was on a roll. "It's like California banned mountain lion hunting. Well, they shot more mountain lions in California last year than ever before. But instead of hunters and sportsmen killing 'em they had to have law enforcement people kill 'em, 'cause there's too fucking many. They're out of balance. Kids were chased home from the school bus in rural California last year. People's dogs and cats were being eaten by mountain lions 'cause they're out of control."

He wasn't done yet, although his spiel did go off the rails a bit as it wound down. "That's a perfect example of what we're trying to fight through my organization, Ted Nugent World Bow Hunters. It's a conservation/hunting organization that embraces and nurtures and guards over the spirit of the wild, very much in the same balanced lifestyle of the native American Indians. And those of us who refuse to turn our backs on nature, like a bunch of city geeks, are crusading to pass this on to young people who are mindlessly drooling on themselves in the malls and street corners of the crack cocaine hellzones. We teach 'em hands-on about how they can be responsible, accountable members of society."

Good thing I didn't tell him about the peanut butter cookies I've been feeding to Rocky!

* * *

My friend Greg Langston & I meet the Damn Yankees!
I opt (as if there was a choice) to let Ted begin the interview.

Ted: Devorah, have you ever seen us in concert?

AMP: I saw you in concert in the '70s, but I haven't seen the Damn Yankees yet.

Ted: We're pretty cool.

AMP: So I hear. I want to ask you about your recent shows in Japan. All the shows were sold out, which I thought was curious because the band and its music seem so truly American.

Ted: You noticed. Yeah, we reek of American attitude and spirit! And I think that's why we go over. We just exude an exuberance and a spirit of shit-kickerness that the Japanese really relate to. For example, one of the guys translated an article about me over there that said I was the John Wayne of rock 'n' roll!

Jack: Yeah, they love it! One of the biggest songs we play over there is "(You Can Still) Rock in America" from my Night Ranger days. The flag comes down and people go ape shit! They get up and cheer and jump and yell and scream! It's so funny, 'cause you'll finish a song and they'll go "WHOOO!!!" for about two seconds and then stop, and it'll be dead quiet. It's very bizarre.

AMP: Do they understand the lyrics?

Damn Yankees (publicity photo)
L-R: Tommy Shaw, Ted Nugent, Jack Blades, Michael Cartellone
Ted: I doubt it. They kind of mutilate and bastardize our colloquialisms. It's the spirit and the energy of the show that blows their minds!

AMP: Do you include any other Night Ranger, Styx or Nugent songs in your set?

Ted: Sure! Yeah! One of the reasons I was excited about playing with Tommy and Jack was because both of them had songs that I knew I would love to perform myself — "Blue Collar Man," "Don't Tell Me You Love Me," "Renegade"... We do all those songs. And we do "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Free For All."

Jack Blades & Tommy Shaw in an advert
for GHS guitar strings
AMP: Were you guys friends before forming the band?

Jack: I didn't know Ted or Tommy very well. Night Ranger had played some outdoor festivals with Ted in the mid-'80s, like Texxas Jam and the Iowa Jam. And I'd met Tommy at the American Music Awards in '84 or '85.

AMP: So, did someone put you guys together?

Ted: Yeah, John Kolodner [from Geffen Records] initiated the first cattle-prodding between Tommy and me. He said, "You guys keep talking about jamming. Just do it, already!" So, I went to New York and we jammed. Within a month or so, Jack became available because Night Ranger had broken up, and John Kolodner said, "Hey, you gotta get Jack in there too!"

Jack: I got a phone call from John saying, "I have Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent in New York doing some songs." I said, "Man, that sounds wild!" He said, "Why don't you go check 'em out? See what you think." So, I flew to New York literally five days after Night Ranger had broken up and we all got together over a weekend. Michael had played with Tommy on a solo tour, so he was there too. And the four of us just started writing all these songs. We've been the Damn Yankees ever since!

AMP: And how does the "gonzo rocker" feel about being back in a band situation?

Ted: I've always considered myself just a member of a band. Sometimes the band is called the Amboy Dukes; sometimes it's the Ted Nugent band; and sometimes it's the Damn Yankees. But I've always considered myself a team player.

Gig advert for the Damn Yankees in Japan
AMP: Do you get three distinct types of fans coming to see their favorite band member?

Ted: I can't tell about distinction because there's such a vast, diverse wad of humanity at every show. You've got some Amboy Dukes fans out there that have to be wheeled in in chairs. And then you've got a bunch of Damn Yankees fans that are pre-pubescent!

AMP: Amboy Dukes fans still follow you?

Ted: Yeah, it's great! I did an autograph the other day for a guy who had a picture of me signed: "Ted Nugent 1967."

AMP: I've heard the band wasn't completely happy with the first Damn Yankees' album. What was it that you guys didn't like?

Ted: I think the first album was a fantastic album! My only real complaint about it is the overall mix. I thought it was mixed real blandly. I don't think the drums had any punch. I don't think the guitars had any twang to 'em. I thought it was done real disrespectful to our R&B pulse.

AMP: And did you have more of a say with Don't Tread?

Ted: I raised a big, greasy, toxic red flag and said, "Hey, goddammit, I played some sexy fuckin' rhythm guitar parts! If they're not on there, I'm gonna gut you with a rusty spoon!" And Jack and Tommy went, "Y'know, he's right!" And Michael said, "Yeah, I'm glad somebody fuckin' said something 'cause there's no vibrancy to the blend of the music." And I think we got it this time. I'm confident that we did!

Damn Yankees (publicity photo)
L-R: Jack Blades, Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw, Michael Cartellone
AMP: I'd like to ask you about some of the songs on Don't Tread. Firstly, congratulations on "Mr. Please" going to #1!

Ted: The number one rock track in America! Thank you very much!

Jack: That's not the pop/Garth Brooks chart. We're talking about rock 'n' roll charts. It's really cool!

AMP: The title track, "Don't Tread On Me"...

Ted Nugent on the cover of Creem magazine
May 1978
Ted: Great song! It's about independence. It's about people in the left lane — y'know, if you wanna go 55 get the hell outta my lane! If you wanna be gay, just don't come near me! I don't give a shit. I think it's weird, but I'm not gonna punch ya.

AMP: Umm... OK. What I really wanted to ask about was the use of the song during the US Olympics.

Jack: That was pretty bitchin'! They played one video a night for every 16 days of the Olympics, and it was cool that they wanted us to be the rock 'n' roll band. They wanted real American rock 'n' roll and the one thing we are is a no-holds-barred, straight-ahead, dyed-in-the-wool American rock 'n' roll band.

AMP: I noticed that the Tower of Power horn section play on "Dirty Dog." How did that come about?

Jack: I've been a fan since... Y'know, I'm from the Bay Area. I've lived here since 1975. I was in this band called Rubicon when I was like 19, and Tower of Power were my idols. That and Sly and the Family Stone. That's the kind of music I loved. So, it was really neat that when we needed horns, I said, "How about Tower of Power?"

AMP: Do you have a horn section when you play live?

Jack: No... We don't play that song live.

Damn Yankees & Jackyl at the
McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado
AMP: Another song I really like is "This Side of Hell"...

Jack: "This Side of Hell" is killer! That's my favorite song to play live! We just kill that tune. We absolutely kill it!

AMP: It's a great anthem to teenage lust! I guess I shouldn't be amazed that you're still writing lyrics about getting/not getting laid. But you are married with a teenage son of your own.

Jack: Yeah, I have a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old. I don't look at 'em as teenage-lust songs. I just look at 'em as lust period! And they just happen to have a good, strong groove happening. People might choose to call 'em adolescent or teenage or whatever... But that's just the fire I have inside of me, and when that burns out I might as well fucking quit! I mean, the reason most musicians get into this business is to meet babes!

AMP: Do your sons like the Damn Yankees?

Jack: Oh, yeah! They think its killer! They dig rock 'n' roll. They're not into that rap shit. I'm so fucking sick of that rap garbage. On MTV you see gangs walking around with guns; they should be shot themselves!

Ted: God damn car-jacking, purse-snatching, rap pieces of shit!

AMP: Ted, the one song you sing on Don't Tread is "Uprising." You might think I'm crazy...

Ted: I already think that.

AMP: ...but the general idea of what you're saying in the lyrics reminds me of the Amboy Dukes' song "Get Yer Guns."

Ted: Yes, ma'am! You're right on the money! It's about standing up and defending what you believe in. And it's about trying to change ugliness: "Another night of horror/ The streets are living hell/The gangland has no honor/Just that dying smell/Where is the vigilante?/He's better than the knave/Life's a penny ante/I refuse to be a slave." Y'know, I keep seeing these reports on television — the left wing, liberal pieces of shit media that say, "Oh, he took the law into his own hands." What're you supposed to do? Stand there and watch someone kill your family? Of course you take the law into your own hands!

AMP: Would that be your defense in court?

Ted: There's a more important law than what's in the books and that's your instinct to protect yourself and your family. I mean, my God, it's insane. I'd love to have been that cab driver [the taxi driver who was sued for using "excessive force" when he trapped a mugger by pinning him against a wall with his cab], except I wouldn't have just pinned him against the wall. I would've run over his fucking head 'till there was nothing left but a skidmark! Things are so fucked up! It's the same mentality that tried to put me in jail in Cincinnati.

Night Ranger with Jack Blades second from left
AMP: I heard something about that. What happened?

Ted: I shot a flaming arrow into my guitar like I do every night, and the Fire Marshall had a hard on! I think he was a gay vegetarian from Cuba. No offense to Cubans!

Jack: There's some antiquated rule in Cincinnati where you're not allowed to have an open flame. It's like when kids light [cigarette] lighters during the show, the cops fine 'em $50. We didn't know about this. Nobody told us. So, we did our show like we do every night, and after the show the whole dressing room filled up with cops! They took Ted away in handcuffs!

Q: Did you have to pay a fine?

Ted Nugent in an advert for PRS guitars
Jack: The judge was such an asshole. He said, "Did you know about this ordinance?" Ted said, "Absolutely not! Had I known it was against the law, I wouldn't have done it." The judge says, "I don't know who you think you are, but the fine is $1,000 and three days in jail." We were like, "What the fuck?" The radio station in town paid the fine and they waived the three days. It was kinda stupid.

AMP: Wasn't the singer from Jackyl [the support band] arrested at the same time for mooning the audience?

Jack: Yeah, he was standing in line behind Ted and the judge said, "Next!" Jesse stood up and said, "Not guilty!" They put his trial off 'till next week 'cause this judge was out to get everybody. The guy would've hung Jesse by his balls!

AMP: Ted, I can't end the interview without asking about your commercial for Energizer batteries...

Ted: Kinda cute, huh? They wanted me to shoot that fucking rabbit, but I told 'em I only shoot something I'm gonna eat. And I'm not gonna shoot a pink rabbit from California!

AMP: It's such a classic!

Ted: That's why I did it. I get a lotta offers for stuff like that, but it's gotta really be out of the ordinary and something I consider to be classic.

Damn Yankees (publicity photo)
AMP: And I loved your performance on Miami Vice!

Ted: Did you see that one? It was the #2 rated Miami Vice of all time. I thought I died like a champ.

AMP: Would you like to do more acting in the future?

Ted: Y'know, I'd like to, but Jesus Christ there's only 24 hours in a day; seven days in a week. It pisses me off! I need at least 50 hours a day and probably 20 days a week and about 150 weeks in a year. I'm just too damn busy. If I get a little break, and I'm still able to three or four years down the road, I'm sure I will. It's fun! And I'm good at it 'cause I've got a lotta attitude!

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In case you missed it during its original run, here's Ted Nugent's advert for Energizer batteries! Enjoy!