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, mulling over 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 told him about 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 mention the peanut butter cookies I've been feeding to the raccoon!

* * *

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!

* * *

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


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Dramarama: The 1991 Gavin Convention Provides A Perfect Opportunity To Interview The Band

Originally published in American Music Press (1991) 
By Devorah Ostrov

Dramarama (publicity photo)
The name Dramarama always makes me think of a pretentious English synth band. And if there's one thing I hate, it's pretentious English synth bands. "Not so!" their publicist assures me when he calls with an offer to interview the band. Apparently, they just happen to be in San Francisco promoting Vinyl (their new CD on Chameleon Records), during the Gavin convention.

The publicist also notes that although they're LA-based these days, the guys originally hail from New Jersey, and that "their sound can be compared to the Replacements and the Beatles." Now there's a helluva claim to live up to!

Vinyl (Chameleon Records - 1991)
It's Dramarama's affable John Easdale who greets me and my friend Michelle at the hotel.

"So, what do you do?" asks Michelle, as Easdale settles himself on the bed and lights a cigarette.

"I sing, I play a little guitar, I write the songs..."

"That make the whole world sing," mumbles Michelle. This is why I always bring her along to interviews!

The Dramarama story began several years ago when Easdale, bassist Chris Carter and guitarists Mark Englert and Peter Wood were attending high school in Wayne, New Jersey.

"We all grew up together," reflects Easdale, "and we started the band after high school. We weren't all gonna be college graduates, so we decided to become a band instead. First we put out a 45 ["You Drive Me" b/w "A Fine Example" and a cover of "Femme Fatale"] and a 12-inch five-song EP ["Comedy"] on our own Questionmark Records. We got reviewed in Trouser Press and started corresponding with a French DJ who read the review. The record got to be No. 1 on this guy's radio show and through that we got a contract with [French indie label] New Rose Records for our first album [Cinéma Vérité]."

Dramarama pose in front of the Gem Spa à la the New York Dolls.
Back cover photo of the "Anything, Anything" 45 (New Rose - 1989) 
Legendary Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer gave the band its big break in America, and turned their song "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)" into something of hit.

Easdale resumes the story: "Rodney started playing it — it had a picture of Edie Sedgwick on the cover, I guess that's why he picked it up. So, he played it a lot. He said we were from France. He pronounced our name, Dream-a-rama."

"Rodney's coming," interrupts Wood, who had entered the room a short time earlier and stood shyly against one wall. "I think he was in the plane behind us."

Before I can ask about "Anything, Anything" being used in one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Chris Carter — all black hair and shades — bursts through the door. Someone's told him about our mutual love of old Creem magazines (really good publicist!), and he drops a dozen issues sealed in plastic on the bed.

The band at the time of this interview
with drummer Clem Burke in the center (publicity photo).
"I didn't know how much of a collection you guys had," he offers. "So, I just brought some interesting ones."

I motion for Easdale to continue talking while Michelle and I try to discretely remove the protective plastic from issues featuring Kiss comics and Alice Cooper beer recipes. However, the singer has become distracted and is also making a grab at the magazines.

Easdale: I didn't see that. What's that one?

Carter: Kordosh [J. Kordosh, former Creem editor] gave it to me. I was gonna bring my Boy Howdy! beer can...

Cinéma Vérité (New Rose - 1985)
Easdale: He has a Boy Howdy! can. Plus, he has the actual sticker on the sheet so you can make your own can of Boy Howdy! But it doesn't work on today's cans. Back then, beer cans were bigger and they had that bar down the side.

The liner notes to Vinyl pay further tribute to the band's fave magazine (and throw any chance of a favorable record review from the current edition out the window): Creem's old issues are listed under special thanks, while capital letters proclaim "NEW CREEM SUCKS!"

The liner notes also mention two guest artists of some renown. One is keyboardist Benmont Tench from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers who dropped by to play on a couple of songs and stayed for a total of five. "A magnificently amazing musician like that guy — everything he does adds something to the record," states Easdale. "So, if he wants to do it, I mean, geez..." The other name that stands out is guitarist Mick Taylor who lends slide to the anti-classic rock radio treatise "Classic Rot."

How did the ex-Rolling Stone get involved with Dramarama, I wonder? "We went to see the Replacements," explains Easdale, "and they said, 'Do you have any songs on your new album that Mick Taylor could play on?'"

Dramarama
Photo: David Perry
Having only had a chance to listen to Vinyl a couple of times before the interview, I compliment the one song that has been stuck in my head all day and make a faux pas by referring to "What Are We Gonna Do?" as the "Earth Day song."

"It's not really an Earth Day song," points out Easdale, with such exasperation I'm guessing I'm not the first one to call it that. "We were playing at the 20th anniversary of Earth Day up here, out at Golden Gate Park. And I was thinking about the irony of it being the 20th anniversary, but the 17th and the 15th and the 13th anniversaries had gone pretty much unnoticed — at least where I was living at the time. I don't know how it was in the Bay Area, but there was none of this ecological jazz going on from 1970-1990. All of a sudden, it's the 20th anniversary and it's like, 'Wake up! It's Earth Day again!' That's what the song is about."

Meanwhile, Michelle has been glancing at the press release for Vinyl. "You do 'Memo from Turner.' That's a good choice for a cover," she tells the band.

The (not-so-helpful as it turns out) press release also describes the song "Train Going Backwards" as being "Neil Young and Crazy Horse inspired."

"Everyone says that," grumbles Easdale.

Perhaps, it's suggested, everyone says it because it's written in the press release.

"What Are We Gonna Do?" CD single
 (Chameleon - 1991)
"I never listened to Neil Young while I was growing up," he insists. "I hated him! He was a hippie! There were all these flannel-shirted hippies in my school; all these burnouts. They sat on the lawn and sang Neil Young songs with their acoustic guitars. I never even heard Neil Young sing half of these songs, but I just knew them. Songs like [whines] 'Old man...'"

"Down by the river..." whines Wood. "They played that one for years."

So, you might ask (as I did), what was Easdale listening to in the '70s?

"T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Beatles solo albums... I know there was one summer where I listened to Yes and ELP, which I sometimes forget."

"He doesn't like to talk about that," laughs Wood.

"And then punk — some of it anyway. The Clash and the Sex Pistols were all right. I had a couple of Stranglers' records... Patti Smith... Dictators always! I saw a show where Styx opened for the Dictators and BeBop Deluxe!"

Advert for the "Anything, Anything" single
As luck would have it, Dramarama have their own strangely-billed show to talk about — and it even involves a pretentious English synth band!

"We opened for Erasure," says Easdale. "It was the most ridiculous show I've ever seen. They gave us the space of about the width of this [twin] bed to set up in, and the rest of the stage behind us was all these gigantic..."

"...mushrooms and snails," fills in Wood. "And they had a chorus line of men wearing sequined G-strings. It was like..."

But wait! Easdale never finished telling us about Dramarama's history. We know about high school, the French record label, and Rodney Bingenheimer picked up their record because it had Edie on the cover... Then what?

"We'd heard of Rodney, so we said, 'Let's go to LA for a vacation.' And we just ended up staying. So, we moved here and made albums and we've had a million drummers."

Which brings us more or less up-to-date. Ex-Blondie drummer Clem Burke is the latest addition to Dramarama's lineup (although he was too late to play on Vinyl, that honor goes to Wire Train's Brian MacLeod). How did the band secure his services?

"Rodney hooked us up with Clem," says Easdale. "At first we were kind of nervous because it was Clem Burke. But we got over it. Just the fact that he was interested in the band at all was pretty flattering. He's the best drummer in the world!"

Two posters for recent Dramarama shows featuring 
Gerard Malanga's iconic photo of Edie Sedgwick

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The Heavy Metal Thunder of REDD KROSS: A Pre-Slims/Post-Fillmore Rock 'N' Roll Roundup With Steven & Jeff McDonald

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #2 (Fall 1997)
By Devorah Ostrov

Redd Kross - Show World back cover photo
L-R: Eddie, Steven, Jeff, Brian
Redd Kross (back when it was spelled Red Cross) played their very first show in July 1978, opening for Black Flag (back when the lineup didn't include Henry Rollins) in a park in Redondo Beach. Their first "real" gig quickly followed, opening again for Black Flag (and UXA) at the Hong Kong Café in Hollywood. And for their third appearance, they opened for the Germs (back when Darby was alive). Guitarist/vocalist Jeff McDonald was 15 at the time. His brother, bassist/vocalist Steven, was 11.

But you probably know all that. So, we'll skip ahead to the present where the band (which now includes guitarist Eddie Kurdziel and drummer Brian Reitzell; keyboardist Gere Fennelly recently left the group) has a terrific new album called Show World (on the British indie label This Way Up) to talk about. And as we shall see, it is in no way heavy metal!

Redd Kross on the cover of Bucketfull of Brains #48
Teenage Kicks: I saw your show a couple of months ago with the Presidents of the United States of America. It was great 'cause the audience was filled with little kids, all excited and jumping around! That made it so much more fun than being in an audience of jaded 30-year-olds.

Jeff: We did that once before with the Lemonheads. It was a really young audience, a lot of kids with their parents. It was really fun!

Teenage Kicks: You've been with This Way Up for a couple of albums now. How does it work in terms of recording? Did you record Show World in LA and ship the tapes to England?

Jeff: Normally we would do it like that, but Steven went to Abbey Road to master it.

Teenage Kicks: The Abbey Road?

Steven: Yeah! It was cool, but I didn't get to go inside Studio 2 'cause Bush was recording.

Teenage Kicks: Was Studio 2 where the Beatles recorded?

Steven: They recorded in all the studios. But Studio 2, which is the mid-size studio, was the one where they did the lion's share of their recordings.

Show World (This Way Up - 1997)
Jeff: I wonder if you saw the studio where the Zombies did Odyssey and Oracle or Pink Floyd did Piper at the Gates of Dawn?

Steven: Well, I did walk into Studio 3 briefly, but there was a British band recording in there. I don't know who they were. And then I walked into Studio 1, the tracking room in Studio 1, which is...

Jeff: The Sgt. Pepper room.

Steven: It's the "Day in the Life" room, where they did the string section. Mostly I was in the mastering room, which wasn't built until the '70s, so the Beatles never mastered anything there.

Teenage Kicks: I want to talk about the heavy metal leanings I detect on Show World...

Jeff: Heavy metal?! That's what Rodney Bingenheimer said! So, to you, "Secret Life" sounds like a Bon Jovi ballad? There's a couple of heavy songs...

Teenage Kicks: Not so much lyrically, but musically...

Jeff: Heavier than Phaseshifter?

The Presidents of the United States of America & Redd Kross
at the Fillmore in SF - April 11, 1997
Steven: Heavier than "Jimmy's Fantasy"? No way! On "Kiss the Goat," which I assume is the main track we're talking about, we use a drop D. It's the first time we've done a drop D, which is...

Jeff: Very heavy metal, very Soundgarden.

Teenage Kicks: But generally, you don't think that Eddie's fondness for Ted Nugent is carrying over into your sound?

Jeff: No. Well, he has his own little position where he exercises a certain amount of...

Eddie Kurdziel in a Fender advert
Steven: I would say this... "Kiss the Goat" is my least favorite song on the record, and it's probably Eddie's most favorite song on the record.

Jeff: But "Kiss the Goat" is Stonesy.

Steven: Yeah, the demo is Stonesier.

Teenage Kicks: I also want to compliment your cover of the Quick's "Pretty Please Me."

Steven: We basically do an exact replica of the Quick. Well, not exactly.

Jeff: It is exactly like the Quick.

Steven: I don't think that's heavy metal...

Teenage Kicks: And I love "Follow the Leader."

Jeff: Which is not a metal song!

Steven: I'm assuming that heavy metal implies... Do you mean in a Sabbath-like sense? Or like a Ratt thing?

Teenage Kicks: Which will get me in less trouble? Like glam/pop metal...

Steven: I could see where "Pretty Please Me" might be mistaken for a Bowie/Cheap Trick deal. The term "heavy metal" just has such a negative implication.

Jeff McDonald (1997)
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Jeff: Well, y'know what? We were trying to make a metal record, and we failed miserably! Sorry.

Steven: But now, "Follow the Leader," which isn't a heavy metal track...

Jeff: "Follow the Leader," to me, is the exact opposite of heavy metal. It doesn't even have distortion on it!

Steven: At the end it does, but that's like Mudhoney.

Jeff: Pink Floyd...

Steven: The Stooges... Who even termed the phrase "heavy metal"?

Teenage Kicks: I think it came from a William Burroughs' book.

Jeff: I thought it was from Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild." They say, "Heavy metal thunder..." but I think they're talking in terms of a Harley Davidson or something. Now, the first heavy metal band was... I'd have to say Cream.

Teenage Kicks: Blue Cheer!

Jeff: Cream predate Blue Cheer. "Summertime Blues," their first record was what — '68? Cream predate that.

Steven: No! It was Sabbath and Deep Purple!

Redd Kross on the cover of BAM magazine
Photos: Vicki Berndt
Jeff: Yeah, but... I would say that the two bands which took the original Vanilla Fudge/ Cream/Blue Cheer sound and made it into what would become modern day heavy metal are Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.

Steven: And Black Sabbath did it in a couple of different ways. They had Master of Reality and Vol. 4 where they sort of perfected that era, and then later with Dio when they did the Heaven and Hell record.

Jeff: That was Van Halen.

Steven: That's not Van Halen.

Jeff: But that's when they went post-Van Halen metal.

Steven: But they sort of created a whole other genre of metal. It was post-Van Halen, but Sabbath did it in such a way that it was once again completely influential to the whole genre of metal music. They recreated metal for the '80s.

Teenage Kicks: That's not exactly what I'm thinking about when I listen to Show World.

Steven: Right, you're thinking of that late-'80s Sunset Blvd...

Jeff: And I hated that kind of music!

Show World promo postcard
Steven: The lyrics to "Peach Kelli Pop" [from the band's classic '87 album Neurotica] do nothing but make fun of those people — the assholes at the Rainbow! I think for Jeff, there was a Quick influence, which was a Sunset Strip influence.

Jeff: But that's like 1975.

Steven: '75/76... Left over from the glitter era, just pre-punk.

Jeff: Post-New York Dolls/pre-punk rock.

"Secret Life" CD single (This Way Up - 1997)
Photo: Vicki Berndt
Steven: Pre-Van Halen/pre-punk rock/post-New York Dolls Sunset Strip... Which was probably a really dead period for the Sunset Strip, commercially speaking.

Jeff: New York was starting to happen. LA only had like, Sparks.

Teenage Kicks: And the Runaways.

Jeff: But they were slightly post-Sparks.

Steven: Kim Fowley was trying to put something together.

Jeff: Kim Fowley was running the Sunset Strip.

Steven: You've seen Decline 2, right?

Teenage Kicks: Actually, I haven't.

Steven: OK, that's why... I don't wanna harp on the subject, but if you had seen Decline 2, you would know why we are so incredibly defensive about being associated with the words "heavy metal."

Teenage Kicks: But I don't mean it negatively. I really love this record!

Promo for the "Mess Around" single
(This Way Up - 1997)
Steven: Well... Sorry we were so defensive about it.

Teenage Kicks: So, getting back to Show World, and specifically "Follow the Leader"... Does that song refer to the cult goings on in Southern California?

Jeff: I think that song predates the mass suicide in San Diego. You have to listen to the lyrics and you'll find clues. Take the first letter of every third word; every two words take the second letter for five words. Then go back to the formula of first letter/ third word again. Do it like that through the entire song, and there'll be a nice little message.

Steven: Does that include a's and I's?

Jeff: Yeah... I said it right. It does make sense! You'll see.

Teenage Kicks: And what's the deal with the not-very-well-hidden track #14?

Steven: It's really retarded. It was supposed to be like a minute after the record ended.

Teenage Kicks: It's not...

Steven: It's right after the record. It made me sick the day I heard we couldn't change that.

Jeff McDonald, his wife Charlotte Caffey from the Go-Go's & 
Evan Dando from the Lemonheads at a Live 105 show in San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Jeff: Never again will I be involved with a record that has a bonus track on it. I'm just gonna say, "No! Fuck off!"

Steven: Basically, what happened was... We recorded like 17 songs, and we couldn't decide which songs to leave off the record. We originally only wanted to do 12 songs, but when we tried taking songs off we thought it was unbalanced on some level. So, putting that song — it's actually called "Sick Love" — on the American version was some sort of compromise. We didn't put it on the British version because there's so many singles. There's all these B-sides, so things aren't completely lost.

Redd Kross with Gere Fennelly 
from the "Trance" picture sleeve 45
Photo: Vicki Berndt
Jeff: If you buy every British single, you'll get almost every track we recorded.

Teenage Kicks: That's a lot of money!

Jeff: And y'know... I have to apologize for that, for allowing it to happen. It shouldn't be like that. I can imagine if the tracks are really rare, where it's worth it. I dunno... The single thing is fine, but the bonus track on the various domestic and foreign CDs...

Steven: And it's a bummer for us because what happens is... They want us to make as many bonus tracks as we do tracks for the record.

Jeff: And we end up giving away songs that are way too good to be B-sides.

Steven: Right! We end up giving away songs that we've worked on just much as the single. And especially in America, where we don't have these singles. We felt like the songs were just completely lost. That's why we did the bonus track. But it was supposed to be a minute after the record, so that the record would at least have a 13-song feel it. I blame someone at our label totally for that.

Teenage Kicks: Do your singles chart in England?

Steven: "Get Out of Myself" charted in the Hot 100, somewhere in the upper 60s. Which is mildly impressive. Especially if you liken it to the US charts. If you were in the 60s in the US Hot 100, you'd be a superstar!

"Stoned" promo CD single
(This Way Up - 1996)
Jeff: You could go gold.

Steven: Over there it's not quite the same, but it's higher than we've ever charted. I dunno about any other chart positions.

Teenage Kicks: Have you toured the UK and/or Europe in support of Show World?

Jeff: Twice. We went over three times, but once was just for one show. We did two actual tours, one with the Foo Fighters...

Steven: Now, they are heavy metal!

Teenage Kicks: People have probably seen you more over there than over here lately!

Steven: In the last five years, definitely. When we signed to This Way Up, we ended up focusing our attention over there and sort of ignored...

Jeff: Neglected...

Steven: Yeah, neglected... not entirely. We toured so long for Phaseshifter — we did three tours of the West Coast for the last album, which was also like three years ago now. But it's a drag because I really like playing in the States, and I really miss concentrating on it.

Foo Fighters and Redd Kross at the Ancienne Belgique
in Brussels, Belgium - June 1, 1997
Teenage Kicks: We were talking about singles earlier... Wasn't "Stoned" supposed to be released as a single over here?

Steven: We tried to get "Stoned" on the radio, but it didn't get played anywhere.

Jeff: Because of the subject matter.

Steven: It got banned!

R.I.P. guitarist Eddie Kurdziel, 
who passed away on June 6, 1999 
Teenage Kicks: They thought you guys were encouraging it?

Jeff: Yeah... I guess I'm too vague for simple people. And I'm not talking about the fans! I'm saying the people in charge of the programming. You have to realize that you're dealing with peabrains.

Teenage Kicks: Finally, what happened to Gere? Was the parting amicable?

Jeff: She was just too busy. She had so many things to do. Being in San Francisco is weird for me because it reminds me of Gere. And I miss Gere. I love Gere! It was traumatic, but I think we're still friends.

Teenage Kicks: Do you miss having a keyboard onstage?

Jeff: Sometimes, but we've adjusted our set, our sound, to not need it right now. But I do miss certain things that we can't do; there's certain places that we can't go musically. We're just playing as a guitar band right now.

*** I also interviewed Steven & Jeff about The Spirit of '76. You can find that article here:
 devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2018/04/redd-kross-brothers-mcdonald-give-rave

Friday, 17 May 2019

Angel: The Heavenly Band With Down-To-Earth Problems, A 1993 Interview With Frank DiMino & Felix Robinson

Originally published in American Music Press (May 1993)
By Devorah Ostrov & Billy Rowe

Angel - photo from the Sinful album cover
Five unbelievably beautiful boys clothed in white satin jumpsuits, purveyors of pomp rock, pure pop enthusiasts, the "anti-Kiss," musical messengers sent from Heaven … Angel was all of these. No wonder it got confusing.

What emerges during more than four hours of telephone interviews with Angel's vocalist Frank DiMino and bassist Felix Robinson is the story of a band that had everything going for it, but seemingly no idea what it really wanted — except fame.

It's also apparent that they were molded (if not downright suffocated) by Neil Bogart's unwavering determination to make them as big as Kiss. Or as Robinson stated when we asked why Angel once flirted with a Giorgio Moroder-produced disco beat: "Our record company was willing to make us do anything to succeed and we were willing to listen to them."

* * *

Casablanca Records advert
DiMino, guitarist Edwin "Punky" Meadows, keyboardist Gregg Giuffria, drummer Barry Brandt, and original bassist Mickey Jones were in various semi-successful East Coast club bands — including Max (featuring DiMino and Brandt), the Cherry People (featuring Meadows), and Bux (featuring Meadows and Brandt) — when they all got together in Washington, D.C. in 1974.

"When we first started, we played two shows a night at a club called Bogies," recalls DiMino. "Everyone knew us from different bands around the area, so there was a lot of interest. We had a lot of people come down from record labels."

One long-held rumor claims Gene Simmons "discovered" the band at Bogies and brought them to the attention of Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart. (Kiss had released its debut album on the label a year previously.)

"What happened was Gene and Paul [Stanley] were playing at Largo in D.C.," says DiMino. "And [rock writer] Gordon Fletcher would bring people down from Largo [to Bogies] because we were good friends with him. He happened to bring Gene and Paul down one night and they stayed for the set. That's when they talked to us about Neil."

At the same time, Angel was approached with numerous management offers, among them Leber-Krebs (Aerosmith/New York Dolls) and Bill Aucoin (Kiss/Starz), but it was David Joseph of the Toby Organization who signed the group and relocated it to Los Angeles.

Angel - publicity photo
According to Robinson, who joined the group in 1977, Angel's image and stance were already in place even at this early stage: "The concept was a band of very good-looking young men who did more than just stand on stage and play extended jams. The effort was put into playing complete songs in four- and five-minute segments, and the band had the ability to present the songs in a more or less theatrical sense with a very aggressive stage presence."

"We wore white on stage from the start," adds DiMino.

Punky Meadows - publicity photo
In LA, the record company bidding wars began in earnest, the main contenders being Capitol Records and the smaller Casablanca.

"We were really close to a deal with Capitol," says DiMino, "but we wanted to go with Neil because we liked the way he talked."

"Casablanca was the label with the least to offer," laughs Robinson. "Neil had a grand vision, but not a lot of money — only a belief in his own abilities. He said, 'If you guys will go with me, I will do whatever I have to do to make you successful.' That's something the other record companies had not said. They were offering large numbers of dollars, but that commitment was not a personal commitment. Neil Bogart was willing to put his name on the line."

And their management company was willing to put its money on the line with the then-novel idea of a self-financed album, giving the group even more leverage.

DiMino picks up the story: "When we finished the album we went to Capitol, ready to sign. But we wanted to talk to Neil one more time. We put Capitol off for a day and went to see Neil. He loved the album and he matched Capitol's deal."

Angel in Japan 
Punky shows off his copy of Music Life
Angel's eponymous debut, released by Casablanca in October 1975, presented an extremely talented and polished (if a bit keyboard crazed — the liner notes credit Giuffria with playing the organ, piano, clarinet, harpsichord, mellotron, string ensemble, and all synthesizers) heavy pomp rock band.

Robinson still considers "Tower," the LP's opening track, to be Angel's "signature tune," and notes that the band kicked off every show with it "right up to the very end." He adds, "It's a great tune! Kind of an ethereal sounding lyric. What's it about? It's about the tower!"

The group's sophomore album, Helluva Band, followed the same pattern, while it racked up comparisons to Queen and fanned the flames of a make-believe rivalry with Kiss.

As Pam Brown wrote in the September 1976 issue of CREEM: "Here they are, kids … Casablanca's new Kiss! Five pretty faces with long, long, British haircuts. Flowing white robes, very sheik in the style of Shah Freddy Mercury. Pink Floyd orchestration and Queen operation with lots of o-o-o-o-o-o's."

"We were always compared to Queen," says Robinson, "but we never paid much attention to them."

Helluva Band (Casablanca Records 1976)
Photography by Barry Levine/Graphics by Gribbitt!
Meanwhile, the publicity machine was on a roll. Circus magazine readers voted Angel the #1 group, and CREEM ran a two-page photo-spread showing the guys applying make-up and blow-drying their hair under the headline "Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Who's the Prettiest Band of Them All?"

"America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" also created a satirical running gag based around Meadows' pouting lips, which in turn prompted Frank Zappa to write "Punky's Whips."

By the third album, 1977's On Earth as It Is in Heaven, a small but perceivable change had taken place in the group's music: there was less pomposity, less flash just for the sake of flash. And there was a definite move towards pop.

"It was a conscious effort," states DiMino, before he drops the first hint of Casablanca's control over the band. "It was one of those things where there was so much input from everyone, the label, etc., it got really confusing. We tried to keep, more or less, the style from the first two albums adding it to the pop kinda stuff."

Angel - publicity still from the 1980 film Foxes
One other change took place around this time. Between the release of On Earth and the recording of the next album, Mickey Jones was replaced by Robinson.

"We just had a falling out," DiMino simply states when asked about the bass player's departure. However, Robinson is a bit more expansive on the subject: "Mickey was a rock 'n' roll star, a legend in his own mind — but he was not a musician."

* * *

White Hot album insert - become a member
 of Angel's Earth Force fan club for $5.00
Felix Robinson was a 25-year-old professional musician living in St. Louis, Missouri, when he first met the members of Angel. According to Robinson, it was a less-than-auspicious encounter.

He had just acquired a priceless 1969 Precision bass for $150 when a friend called and told him, "There's a band playing at the Fox Theatre. They just put out a record and the record company gave 'em a lotta money."

Robinson remembers, "I was told if I went down there and negotiated through Bill Schereck [Angel's tour manager] I could sell them this bass for heck, $300 or $400! After the show I went to the Holiday Inn where they were staying. I introduced myself to Bill and said, 'I've got a bass that I think your bass player might be interested in.' I opened the case. Bill said, 'We'll buy it.' They all came by, looked at me and said, 'Who the hell are you?'"

What did Robinson think of Angel at that point — honestly? "I thought it was a pretty lame band! I thought, 'The guitar player looks good, but he's not playing music he's comfortable with. The drummer's too frantic. The singer...' Nothing was right. Of course, I realized they were playing to 3,000 screaming 16 and 17-year-old fans, and so who am I to criticize this?"

Punky applies his make-up
Robinson met the guys again a few months later when he was in LA playing with The Word, an "extremely commercial" pop band managed by Schereck. And this time — perhaps because as Robinson says, "I had hair down to my butt and I looked like a member of Angel," or maybe because they knew they'd soon be in the market for a new bassist — they paid a lot more attention to him.

Meadows and Giuffria approached Robinson during the recording of On Earth to collaborate on material for the group's fourth album, White Hot.

"They said, 'We're doing another record and our bass player is out of town,'" notes Robinson. "At first, I didn't understand what that meant. There's no code word there. 'Out of town' really was kinda out of town. But it also meant that Mickey was not really interested in writing songs for the next record."

Casablanca advert for the White Hot album
When the group returned from touring in support of On Earth, Robinson officially became Angel's new bassist. Because of the timing, it would be easy to attribute the night and day difference between White Hot and the albums that preceded it to Robinson's input.

However, he's of another opinion: "Although I think the direction the band was going in musically was accelerated because of my involvement, the change that occurred was really more in terms of lyrical content. There's a song [on the On Earth LP] called 'Telephone Exchange' and it always seemed to me to be one of the transitional tunes from the third to the fourth album. It actually has some kind of a story behind it. The lyrics seem to speak toward a relationship between people, and less about some kind of ethereal concept of what's going on in the universe."  

Robinson continues: "By the time you get to White Hot you're seeing a lot of songs that have to do with relationships. And Frankie, who had always been responsible for writing the lyrics, really started to blossom. He started to feel more comfortable with telling a story. Punky, who had always been more of a blues guitar player, was able to play more in that style. Barry is a fantastic drummer, but he'd been left to his own devices for three albums, therefore the songs had rhythmic parts that were just like extended jams. So, what we were doing was creating a more definable concept in terms of songwriting."

"Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" b/w
"Flying with Broken Wings" - picture sleeve 45 (1977)
And they finally got the keyboards (somewhat) under control.

"Oh, Gregg was all over the place!" chuckles Robinson, who plays keyboards himself. "Gregg was always trying to play every bass line. He wanted to play along with every guitar part, and he wanted to play with every vocal part. When I joined Angel, for the first time a member of the band was able to interpret to Gregg what the keyboard part needed to be. Punky was very grateful for this. Punky and I would work out tunes and he would say, 'This is a place for the keyboards.' I would play the keyboard part, and when it came time to work it up as a band, I was able to interpret that keyboard part to Gregg."

A veritable pop music masterpiece, White Hot was Angel's most successful album. And DiMino says it was his personal favorite: "It was the one we put the most energy into, and actually, it was the most fun to do. Everyone was a little more clear on the direction we were going in."

Angel - publicity photo
The group's shift in direction paid off when their cover of "Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore" entered the Top 50. Originally a hit for the Young Rascals in 1965, it was the first time Angel had included a cover song on an album (although DiMino mentions that they also recorded a version of the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" at the same time).

Neither DiMino or Robinson remember precisely who suggested they record the song, but Robinson infers it was a record company decision when he states, "It was an attempt to bring in a song that could be a hit record. We needed a hit record."

Angel pose in fashionable street attire
for this Japanese publicity pic
"The band had been spending a lot of money," he adds, "and was barely recouping it for the record company. As a matter of fact, the band never recouped everything that it spent. So, making a lot of money was important."

(Robinson reveals one fun way that Angel threw money around: "A band like Styx — a very popular band that was selling millions of records — would pull up to shows in rental station wagons because when you're somewhere like Flint, Michigan, there are no limo companies. We would have limousines come from Chicago. We would have limousines drive 100 miles to take us from the hotel to the show, which was maybe a ten-minute ride, just so 30 or 40 of our fans and all the truck drivers and roadies would see us get out of the limousine. We did that many times!)

At this point, how committed was Casablanca to pushing the group?

"Very committed," confirms Robinson. "Neil was obsessed by the desire to make Angel succeed. He wanted Angel to be as big as Kiss."

* * *

Angel On Tour - promo poster
When Angel hit the road in promotion of White Hot, they were playing the country's largest stadiums (surprisingly the band only ever toured in America and Japan; also surprisingly they never shared a bill with Kiss), and the show was an awesome spectacle.

Magical illusions designed by Doug Henning and built by Sid and Marty Krofft (creators of H.R. Pufnstuff) got the group on and off stage; and there was "George," a talking and blinking hologram in the shape of Angel's logo. (Apparently, George's face belonged to Toby employee/Angel co-manager Warren Entner).

Each show began with several mysterious cubes spread about the stage. Then, during an opening narration that asserted the band had been sent to Earth as musical messengers from the angel Gabriel, two figures dressed in black began arranging the boxes.

The original cover concept for the Bad Publicity album
"They put five cubes on top of each other," explains DiMino. "Chaser lights would go on, then a light would come on inside the cubes and one of us would appear. Then they'd build the next one, and another guy would appear. So, you had five chances to figure out how we did it."

And, no... he doesn't give away the secret during our interview! Robinson, on the other hand, has no such qualms about telling us how some of the tricks worked.

First he divulges the mystery of the hologram effect: "Rear projection. Face made from plexiglass in the contour of a human face. Much larger than life size — George's face was about six-feet high and about four-feet wide, on a 15-hundred-pound scissor lift that rose from behind the band. At a certain point in our show the lights would come down and we would stop playing. This giant head would come up from behind the amplifiers, open its eyes, and speak to the audience."

Poster included in the
On Earth As it is In Heaven LP
Making an obvious reference to marijuana smoke, George said:

"Tonight, in this place I smell the aroma of the Gods
The gates of heaven are open to all
Do you feel the music? 
Do you feel the music?"

Robinson continues: "And Frankie would scream, 'Do you feel it?' The crowd would cheer, and we would go into another song."

Then he explains the live show's closing effect: "A huge recreation of our album cover would come out of the ceiling. It was about 12-foot by 12-foot and about a foot thick. It would land on a large white table, a hollow table — or so it seemed. When we finished our last song, we would put down our instruments, walk up a flight of stairs and go inside this record cover. The cover would rise up into the air and explode into about 40 pieces. The trick worked as follows: We would go inside the album cover and dive inside this white table that would be wheeled off stage as the album was rising up in the air. The album would explode, our road manager would tap on the lid three times so we would know it was safe to open the trap door, we would run on stage, pick up our instruments and do the encore."

One show from the White Hot tour actually made it into the rock history books, but it had nothing to do with the group's special effects. "Played wild gig w/Godz in San Diego, 1978," states the compendium Headbangers: The Worldwide Book of Heavy Metal Bands. DiMino and Robinson give us the blow-by-blow (literally) account of the evening...

Angel - promo photo
DiMino: In the middle of that night's show everyone was standing up, clapping, having a good time. So, I asked them to come down to the stage.

Robinson: They had a very strict code at the San Diego Sports Arena which said: You Do Not Get Up Out Of Your Seat, and You Do Not Go Down To The Stage! But of course, we were Angel! And when Frankie said, "Come on down!" about three or four thousand 16 and 17-year-old girls got up and ran to the front of the stage!

Angel headline Cleveland's Public Hall with
support from the Babys & Godz - March 8, 1978
(Thanks to Mark Chatfield for the advert!)
DiMino: The security guards decided they didn't want that to happen and they started throwing people around.

Robinson: Frankie could see that these kids were really getting pummelled. He walked to the front of the stage and looked down at one of the bouncers who was in the midst of picking up some poor 14-year-old girl and throwing her six or eight feet through the air...

DiMino: I called out the guy's name and told him to leave everyone alone.

Robinson: Frankie said, "I invited them down here. If they wanna come down, it's okay with us!" Of course, more kids started coming down!

DiMino: The guy came up to the front of the stage, gave me the finger, and went to grab my mike stand.

Robinson: Frankie proceeded to plant his mike stand in the middle of guy's forehead. Axl Rose would've been proud! Now, this guy was big, and he grabbed the mike stand. Frankie wouldn't let go of it, so Frankie and the mike stand went off the stage! My bass roadie, Steve Brooks, who's about 6'6" and weighs about 240 pounds, came flying from behind me, took a swan dive into the audience, and started fighting. Punky jumped off the stage with a beer bottle in his hand after one of the security guys. I took off my bass and started swinging it over my head at one of 'em. Gregg... I believe Gregg ran behind his keyboard rig.

White Hot LP insert 
DiMino: Barry kept playing!

Robinson: By the time we got back up on stage — nobody was hurt very badly, just ripped up a little bit — the house lights were up, and the Fire Marshal was standing next to my amp, giving me the cross-the-throat thing, "Cut it!"

DiMino: I told everyone we would keep playing until they turned off the power.

Robinson: We played one more song. The audience was screaming! In approval! There were still fights going on in front of the stage. The house lights were still up. There were security people all over the place. And the fun wasn't over yet, we had to get back to our dressing room — about a 40/50-foot walk. The original guy who had provoked us had gotten five or six of his friends together to jump us between the stage and the dressing room. The Godz, a very disgusting bunch of bikers from Ohio who carried loaded weapons with them everywhere they went, had been backstage cheering us on. And, I might add, they were really impressed! They had decided they were going to protect us.

Angel in Japan 
DiMino: The Godz and our road crew made a chain and we went right in between them to the dressing room. The Chief of Police came back and wanted to arrest me for inciting a riot...

Robinson: I stood up and said, "Yes! Let's go to jail! This is great press!" Our manager said, "We can't go to jail. Frank will have to make an apology. Frank has to go out front and try to get calm restored." Frank went back on stage and said, "You gotta cool it … the show's over ... we've gotta leave … we love you all … thanks for coming … be careful … and stop fighting!"

DiMino: It all worked out.

Robinson: One of the funny anecdotes of this was, my mother — who had never seen the band before — was living in San Diego and had come to the show with my aunt. They were both in their 70s. After this whole thing had died down, I went outside and found them. My mom says, "Is it like this every time you play?"

* * *

Foxes promo poster
In 1979 Angel were looking forward to recording their fifth, and ultimately final, studio album (a double live album, recorded at the Santa Monica Civic and Long Beach Arena during the White Hot tour, completed the catalog). And they had some definite ideas about what they wanted.

Firstly, tired of being more known for their all-white image rather than their music, and the constant press ridicule it fostered, the band was determined to lose the costumes. (Perpetuating one old myth, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll states: "Angel was designed as the dressed-in-white counterpart of Casablanca labelmate Kiss.")

"To us it was too much of a formula," says Robinson. "It was a little too like the Monkees, we always had to appear in character. Do you remember platform shoes? How difficult it was to walk in 'em? I wore platform shoes just about every day of my life for a year. I still have a back problem from it. One day I was getting out of a limousine and I fell flat on my butt! I finally got on my feet and said, 'What the hell am I doing this for?' It was absurd!"

Furthermore, in a departure from the usual play on angelic terminology, the new record would be called Bad Publicity. The front cover, photographed by Barry Levine over a two-day period at the Hollywood Blvd. Hyatt House, showed the guys in fashionable street clothes, partying with cards, booze and women. The back cover featured a collage of the group's negative reviews.

Frank Zappa performing "Punky's Whips"
The band was rather pleased with the result. But oops, they had forgotten who was really in charge.

Robinson recalls: "When the photographs were put in front of Neil Bogart, he said, 'I can't have this. You'll have to reshoot the cover.' Our manager said, 'But Neil, we spent $50,000 shooting this cover!' Neil said, 'I'll pay for it.' And he literally wrote a check for $50,000. We had new (white) clothes made and we reshot the cover."

The album was also renamed Sinful, but as a compromise, one photo showing the group in a police line-up dressed in "street" clothes was allowed to stay. (Although super rare, we're assured that a few copies with the original Bad Publicity cover did get out!)

Just how pervasive was Casablanca's control over Angel?

"When Kiss scored a Top 10 hit with 'Beth,' we were told to write a song like 'Beth,' asserts Robinson. "We were told to write a song like 'Rock and Roll All Nite.' They said, 'Write an anthem song.' And we tried."
Angel - Casablanca Records/Toby Management publicity photo
At another point in the interview Robinson fumed: "The management and the record company always had complete control over this band. There was never any time when the band had complete control over what it did musically."

Didn't that drive them crazy?

Koh Hasebe pic for Japanese Burrn! magazine
"It drove us all crazy!" he stresses. "I think we all felt that we were compromising our individuality, that we were selling-out. But we were perfectly willing to do it because we felt it was a guarantee of success."

With Sinful, Angel truly hit its recording stride. On tunes like "L.A. Lady" (with Giuffria pounding out a great honky-tonk piano), "Lovers Live On," "Just Can't Take It," "I'll Bring the Whole World to Your Door," and "Wild and Hot" (featuring Robinson on an upfront vocal mix) the band confidently used elements of R&B, power pop and hard rock to create what should be acknowledged as rock 'n' roll classics.

Robinson calls the album "the musical culmination of the band." And in a Kerrang magazine retrospective of the group, rock writer Howard Johnson raves: "Sinful is without a doubt the finest slab of metal/ pop ever laid down!"

With the '79 tour — a package deal featuring Mahogany Rush and Humble Pie alternating as headliners — there was new management (Leber-Krebs) and an important concession by Casablanca: on non-headlining nights the band was allowed to wear "alternative" clothes.

Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Sinful should have fulfilled Neil Bogart's dream of making Angel as big as Kiss, but instead for the first time, the tour found the band playing to half-full auditoriums and having to cancel some shows.

"Rock N Rollers" b/w "Mariner" 
Japanese picture sleeve issued in 1976
The explanation offered at the time blamed a wide-spread recession in the music business, which Robinson reiterates: "The price of oil had raised the price of vinyl and record manufacturing was becoming too expensive. The cost of touring became very expensive."

And he emphasizes that it wasn't just Angel's problem. "No one was doing well. Anyone who was in the music business at that point will remember what I'm talking about."

Maybe. But there's a long list of bands that sold millions of records in '79 and had no problem packing concert halls: Cheap Trick, the Cars, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dire Straits, Squeeze... It's possible that New Wave, more so than the price of oil, was Angel's real nemesis.

Interestingly, if Angel had stayed the course in which they were headed — less complicated music combined with a toned-down image — they could have easily competed with Cheap Trick and the Cars. However, Bogart was impatient to make Angel a household name and it's likely he didn't understand and/or take new wave seriously.

Angel - promo poster
What Bogart understood was disco. Angel's labelmates included Lipps, Inc. and the Village People, as well as disco queen Donna Summer. And in 1979, Donna Summer (along with her producer Giorgio Moroder) was enjoying huge success with the album Bad Girls.

Bogart also understood the power of promotion. Kiss had already made the monumentally silly made-for-TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, and in 1978 Casablanca's Filmworks division received a Best Picture nomination for Midnight Express (for which Giorgio Moroder won the Oscar for best original score). The idea of using films to feature the label's bands must have appealed to him.

You can almost see Bogart's mind at work: Angel must make a movie and Giorgio Moroder must produce the soundtrack. Released in 1980, Foxes was a coming-of-age story about four teenage girls (amongst them Jodie Foster and ex-Runaway Cherie Currie). It was also, states Robinson, "a culmination of the record company's control over the band."

"We were told we were going to be in this movie," he says. "This was another way to break the band. We'll do some songs in the movie. The movie's going to be about us. It's an Angel movie! It just happens to have Jodie Foster in it."

Angel - promo poster
Apparently, in its original conception, Foxes did focus a great deal more on the band. "We were involved in the script," insists Robinson, "our names were mentioned, we had lines."

But somewhere along the way, going to an Angel concert became just a minor distraction in the girls otherwise angst-filled lives. And although there was extensive filming of entire songs, only two — "Virginia" and "20th Century Foxes," both written by the band especially for the film — were used. "I'm sure the footage is laying in somebody's vault," offers Robinson.

The guys also found it frustrating to work within the strict confines of Moroder's trademark Eruo-disco beat, particularly on the synth-heavy "20th Century Foxes." Robinson groans, "I remember the excruciating hours in the studio trying to get Barry to play on two and four. It was almost impossible to make Angel into a disco band."

R.I.P. original Angel bassist Mickey 
Jones, who died in 2009 after a long
 battle with cancer.
But when Foxes failed at the box office, it didn't seem to matter. Bogart had been diagnosed with cancer (he would pass away in 1982), Casablanca was sold to Polygram, and Angel splintered. Why couldn't they, like Kiss, simply move over to the new label and carry on?

For one thing, explains Robinson, "Kiss were already doing well on their own, but Angel were not yet weaned from the record company. The band had been built up to be completely dependent on Neil Bogart. We were dependent on him for our success and for our future. When Neil died, it was the death of Angel."

But there was more. "We had been used to getting a certain amount of money as an advance for each album," points out Robinson, "and Polygram was not willing to meet the same figure. So, we decided we would strike out and tell Polygram to take a leap!"

DiMino fills in the inevitable outcome: "Polygram wouldn't let us out of our contract, so we went through about a year of litigation where we couldn't play, couldn't tour, couldn't do anything. We recorded some stuff, but it was never released."

Deep in debt (Robinson notes that their contracts were used for a course in Entertainment Law at USC: "What can happen when a record company is willing to invest huge amounts of money to break a group; how commitments can be structured so that a band will be constantly in debt") and unable to continue to record or tour, Angel drifted apart.

Kerrang reports on Gregg Giuffria's (short-lived) revival of Angel in 1984 
Robinson left in the summer of 1980; he later joined vocalist Mike Tramp and guitarist Vito Bratta in White Lion but left soon after the group recorded its debut album and ultimately sued them over songwriting credits and royalties. By 1981, both Meadows and DiMino were gone (although DiMino would once again team up with Giorgio Moroder for the Flashdance soundtrack). Future Toto vocalist Fergie Frederiksen replaced DiMino for a short while, but within months Giuffria had also left.

Robinson states the obvious: "It wasn't Angel anymore."

* * *

Robinson possesses a tape with several unreleased songs recorded in Atlanta during the band's final tour that are "in line with the stuff on Sinful although there's a couple of harder-edged tunes." And DiMino says some footage for the rumoured film Angel Live at Midnight actually does exist. However, he adds, "I'm sure they never even finished editing it. It's in a vault somewhere."