Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Chesterfield Kings: In 1994, As The Band Launched Their Seventh LP, I Caught Up With Their Turbulent Past

Here Are The Chesterfield Kings - the group's 1982 debut LP
"It was supposed to be this rare thing, like those Hideout
recordings from the '60s."
Although the bulk of this story was written in 1994 and published in American Music Press, some text which was relevant at the time has been updated to support the facts rather than the myths surrounding the group. Many thanks to Greg Prevost for helping me sort it all out!

By Devorah Ostrov

Formed in 1978 by upstate New York record collector, Greg Prevost, the Chesterfield Kings have been rightly credited with igniting the spark which set off the early-eighties garage-punk revival. But instead of cashing in on the trend, in a mind-boggling series of moves the group shifted its allegiance to folk-pop, and then to '70s glam, and then to delta-blues.

With their latest album - Let's Go Get Stoned - the Kings have gone full circle, returning to where it all began with the Rolling Stones. They've been applauded for the precision with which they borrow/swipe material from their heroes, and they've been ripped apart for "going metal." Dee Dee Ramone has penned songs for them, and they've recorded with Johnny Thunders and Mick Taylor.

It's been a 16-year career of ups and downs and identity crises, during which the only constant has been Prevost's undying love for rock 'n' roll.

1983 promo pic by Stacy Zaferes
L-R: Rick Cona, Andy Babiuk, Greg Prevost, Ori Guran, Doug Meech
Rochester, New York is a city of striking contradictions: Tidy suburbs with clipped lawns (such as Greece, where Prevost is from) surround a crime-ridden inner city. Beautiful golf courses and a yearly lilac festival draw visitors from around the world, yet there's nothing for local kids to do. Geographically closer to Toronto than Manhattan, it was the turn of the century home of suffragette Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglas, but its most recognizable rocker is Foreigner's Lou Gramm.

In the mid-seventies, Prevost was working at Rochester's renowned House of Guitars and publishing Future, a handwritten fanzine with a decidedly '60s slant. "We did articles on bands like Captain Beefheart and Blue Cheer," he says.

1983 promo picture
Photo: Stacy Zaferes 
Over the years, Prevost had put together a succession of local bands, including the Tar Babies which merged into an outfit called the Distorted Levels. Although the Distorted Levels issued an independent 45 ("Hey Mister" b/w "Red Swirls" released in 1978 on Nowhere Records), nothing clicked. (A decade later, Bone Fide Records would release a three-song Tar Babies' single featuring both Distorted Levels' tracks and "Rejected at the High School Dance," a Prevost-penned original which dates from 1976. "Rejected at the High School Dance" was issued again in 1990 as part of a four-song EP under the fictitious band name the Mean Red Spiders.)

Although legend has it that the core original members of the Chesterfield Kings met at a Kinks' concert, Prevost actually met bassist Rick Cona and drummer Doug Meech at the House of Guitars in 1978. He'd been kicking around the idea of forming a band "with a '60s vibe" for a while and when he suggested it to Cona and Meech they liked the idea. But it would be March 1979 before they found guitarist Bob Ames and the group's early lineup was somewhat stabilised.

The Chesterfield Kings initial lineup with Bob Ames
Photo courtesy of Rick Cona via
The Only Real Chesterfield Kings FB page
Choosing a moniker for the new band was, states Prevost, "a big ordeal. I actually wanted to call it the Chocolate Covered Ants, I really liked that name. The Paisley Zipper Band was another one we liked."

For a few weeks, they were called the Cutdowns, "but we were really into the Northwest sound," says Prevost, "the Sonics, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Coupons... There was a band called the Viceroys; we were looking for a name like that. And I had collected all these ads for Chesterfield Kings cigarettes..."

During a temporary lull while the Cutdowns transitioned into the Chesterfield Kings, Prevost received an interesting offer. He'd tracked down guitarist Sean Tolby from the long-defunct Chocolate Watchband for an interview, during which they discussed the possibility of a reunion. "Sean was really psyched about it," he says, "but then I talked to (vocalist) Dave Aguilar, who was a professor in Colorado, and he didn't wanna do it."

Discouraged with his own prospects in Rochester (and able to mimic Mick Jagger at least as well as Aguilar once had), Prevost briefly considered joining the Watchband himself. "I sent Sean a tape of some Stones' covers we'd done and he said, 'You're in. Let's do it!' So I started rearranging my life, getting ready to move to California." But the Watchband reunion never happened and Prevost returned to work with his own band.

Greg Prevost - 1985 San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Over the next few months, Ames proved unreliable and the fledgling band went through a succession of guitarists, including Frank Moll, who returned home to the Netherlands in November 1979.

In early 1980, Cona switched from bass to guitar and 16-year-old bassist Andy Babiuk joined the group. Hailing from the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit, Babiuk had started working at the House of Guitars and lied about his age to get into the band.

"He said he was 18," notes Prevost, "but he was really organized and had a great place to practice!" (This was the basement of his parents' church, where the band would continue to rehearse for several years.)

In October, after one show as a foursome (opening for local faves New Math), Orest "Ori" Guran was added on organ and rhythm guitar. "Ori had taken piano lessons," says Prevost, "so he could play a cheesy Vox organ pretty well. But we also wanted someone who could play guitar, so Andy gave him a six-month crash course lesson."

Prevost also points out that Guran fit the image of the band: "He looked cool. He had good hair, so it was easy to make him look like us." This was important, because whereas Prevost's earlier bands had adopted a "sloppy, Stooges/Blue Cheerish" look and a "noisy '70s punk/New York Dolls" sound, the goal of the early Chesterfield Kings was to duplicate the look and sound of a mid-sixties garage-punk band.

Just why, in an era dominated by disco at the one extreme and new wave/synth-pop at the other, anyone would choose to emulate the Music Machine is a mystery on a par with why anyone would want to call their band Echo and the Bunnymen.

Vintage advertisement
"I had collected all these ads for
Chesterfield Kings cigarettes..."

Although Prevost denies any master plan, he does admit that the group's choice of image was "kind of weird because nobody else was doing it." As for why, he simply states, "I dunno. I always liked it. It's the stuff I listened to as a kid. We just thought, 'Let's totally do old Them, Stones, Yardbirds covers.' Then we had to have the same kind of haircuts and clothes and shoes!"

With the first "classic" lineup complete, the Kings entered Rochester's Sandcastle Productions to record their first 45, a faithful rendition of the Brogues' "I Ain't No Miracle Worker" b/w "Exit 9," originally by the Heard (not to be confused with the sort of well-known Herd led by Peter Frampton). Self-produced and released in 1981 on their own Living Eye label, all 1,000 copies of the single sold out.

(The Kings recorded two other 45s on Living Eye, although only the third - a remake of the Barbarians' "Hey Little Bird" b/w "I Can Only Give You Everything" from the Troggs/Them/ MC5 catalog - was released. The second single was shelved for several years due to a "slightly off 12-string" in a cover of the Grodes' "I Won't be There.")

Immediately after finishing the first single, the band began compiling a dozen more obscure garage-punk cover tunes with the intention of issuing a limited-edition album. "We were only going to press 500 copies," muses Prevost. "It was supposed to be this rare thing, like those Hideout recordings from the '60s. Since we all collected records, we wanted to make records that would be collectable!"

The first Chesterfield Kings' 45
"I Ain't No Miracle Worker" b/w "Exit 9"
Released 1981 - Living Eye Records
Unbelievably, the LP, which sounds so genuinely primitive you'd swear they'd simply hung a couple of mikes from the ceiling and bashed away, was a torturous year-long project that only saw the light of day through the divine intervention of one Armand Schaubroeck.

"We were working on that album forever," groans Prevost. "We had a miserable time trying to get the sound we wanted. We tried everything... We recorded all the music in this basement where we practiced and this crazy guy recorded us on a two track! That's when Armand came along and said, 'Look, you guys are having a problem. I'll help you to put it out.'"

Schaubroeck, co-owner of the House of Guitars and a semi-legendary figure himself (perhaps best known for the album Everybody Would Love To See Armand Schaubroeck Dead), not only supplied the backing to put the Kings in a proper studio, but an independent label (Mirror Records) with distribution, which allowed the band to expand on their limited-edition concept.

"So, we took this primitive two-track machine and tape into this big studio," continues Prevost, "and dumped it onto a 24-track, then we added the vocals to that. That's why it sounds so bizarre!"

Every year the Chesterfield Kings sent out Christmas postcards!
This one featuring Doug, Andy, Greg, Rick and Ori had a 
hard time in the post, but it's one of my faves! 
While they were struggling to finish their debut LP, the Kings were contacted by Greg Shaw. He was looking for bands to sign to his new Bomp! label. Shaw was a rock 'n' roll fanatic, with a special passion for '60s pop. His fanzine of the same name was one of the most important and eclectic sources for music info in the US. And the record label, with its carefully hand-picked roster, looked to follow suit.

In a novel approach to A&R, Shaw had canvassed the country encouraging new bands with a '60s sensibility - and by 1981 dozens of wannabe Music Machines had sprung up - to send in tapes for a Battle Of The Garage Bands showdown LP. Ballots enclosed with the record let listeners vote for their fave and the winner received a Bomp! recording contract.

Greg Prevost and Ori Guran
1985 - San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
The Kings submitted their cover of the Watchband's "Are You Gonna be There (At the Love-In)," which they'd recorded during the sessions for the first single, and easily knocked out the competition - which included the Vertebrats, the United States of Existence, the Crawdaddies, the Unclaimed, and the Slickee Boys. Of the 100 or so ballots mailed back, Shaw remembers the Chesterfield Kings received "the most votes by far."

Although they turned down the Bomp! contract in favor of staying with Mirror ("We had already said we were gonna do it with Armand," says Prevost, "and we had almost finished recording the album"), the Kings did take part in Shaw's promotional show at NYC's Peppermint Lounge. It was their big-city debut!

"We drove down in a couple of station wagons with all our junk," recalls Prevost. "We were on a bill with the Slickee Boys, the Wombats, and the Hypstrz from Minneapolis. And right after that we got this underground kind of following. Everybody who came to see us was wearing striped shirts and pointy boots, and the girls were wearing short skirts."

In 1982, the group's first album hit the record stores. All fourteen tracks were covers of obscure gems from the mid-sixties, although much of the material originally recorded in the church basement - including the Electric Prunes' "You Never Had It Better," the Blues Magoos' "One by One," and "We're Pretty Quick" by New Mexico's the Chob - had been dumped. But the songs which did make it onto Here Are The Chesterfield Kings didn't lack for esoterica.

The NYU Program Board
gets wild with the Chesterfield Kings!
Of the better-known (relatively speaking) tunes there was the Moving Sidewalks' "99th Floor," "Outside Chance" from the Turtles, "The Hustler" from the Sonics, and the Watchband's "No Way Out" and "Expo 2000."

The real stumpers included the Choir's "I'm Going Home," "You Better Look Now" originally by Syracuse rockers the Rouges, "60 Second Swinger" by Georgia's Little Phil & the Night Shadows, and "Little White Lies" by Vancouver's Painted Ship.

Prevost's leaning towards the Texas garage sound was evident in four choices - besides "99th Floor," there was "Fluctuation" from the Shades of Night, "Won't Come Back" from Zachary Thax, and "Come With Me" from the Exotics. Two others, "Satisfaction Guaranteed" by the Mourning Reign and "Time to Kill" by the Harbinger Complex, represented the Bay Area.

As Creem magazine pointed out in its feature on the band: "The songs are carefully picked from 250 numbers in the Kings' revolving repertoire, and chances are you haven't heard all of them, even if you have every single volume of Pebbles."

The LP's dead-on detail extended from the classic cover photo, partly inspired by the Shadows of Knight's first album ("We were totally attempting to get that ugly washed-out color for the background," says Prevost), that featured the group sporting bowl haircuts and clothing fashionable a decade and a half earlier, to the slightly blurry black and white snapshots on the back cover, and authenticating quote ("These boys sound like the Rolling Stones") from blues legend John Lee Hooker. Even the thick cardboard used for the jacket was antiquated!

1988 promo photo courtesy of Andy Babiuk
Back row: Andy Babiuk, Doug Meech,
Mike Pappert. Front: Greg Prevost
According to Prevost, the recording technique employed for "Expo 2000" is another example of the group's early-on obsession with detail. "We actually studied the original," he says. "The part that sounds like a harpsichord turned out to be a guitar speeded up three or four times. So, we slowed down a tape of the song and Rick learned the notes. Then he recorded it at normal speed and we sped up the tape."

While Here Are The Chesterfield Kings didn't match the initial sales of say, Duran Duran's Rio, it has gone into four pressings and still sells to this day. Canada's Much Music channel regularly aired the group's homemade pop art video for "99th Floor," and even MTV showed it once as part of its "Battle of the Basement Tapes" competition (the Kings came in second to last; first place and a major recording deal went to wusses Eddie and the Tide).

Establishing a pattern of sorts, it would be another three years before the Kings followed up on their debut, during which the garage-punk revival exploded on a worldwide basis: California's Green On Red released their fuzzified eponymous LP, and Boston's the Lyres recorded the definitive On Fyre. In Australia, the Scientists were making what one reviewer called "a manic swamp-grunge sound...full of dirty feedback and great swaths of nod-out guitar." Meanwhile, in England, the Barracudas were in the teen 'zines, and the Damned (under the pseudonym Naz Nomad & the Nightmares) released the soundtrack to an imaginary '60s teensploitation flick called Give Daddy the Knife Cindy.

But the Chesterfield Kings were biding their time in anticipation of a major label recording deal. Actually, word had it the band was already signed to A&M Records!

The Chesterfield Kings visit the Golden Gate Bridge
and strike a pose from the Beau Brummels/Baytovens catalog
"That was really weird," reflects Prevost, "because we didn't know anything about it. All these writers were telling us we were on the label. It was this big rumor around the recording industry! At the time, we didn't have a manager, so we didn't have anybody to talk for us. And we couldn't call up A&M and say, 'Uh... I'm in this band. Are we signed?' So, we couldn't do anything about it."

Ultimately, the group remained with Mirror - and it turned out to be a good decision. Staying independent allowed the Kings to release product as often or as seldom as they pleased and to shift gears completely whenever they felt like it.


With its front cover design lifted from a Fantastic Baggies' LP, and a back cover all but photocopied off December's Children, the Chesterfield Kings' second full-length offering - 1985's Stop! - presented both a minor change in direction (to a poppier, sometimes folky style) and a major progression for the group as fully two-thirds of the tracks were originals. But Prevost doesn't necessarily see either of those as good things: "A lot of people tell me they really like Stop! but I don't know why."

The "beginning of a downswing."
Stop! released in 1985 on Mirror Records
Rolling Stone praised the record in general ("...the Kings are still tops when it comes to cloning the old revved-up teenage macho blues of the Standells and the Count 5") and the song writing in particular ("...their own robust originals are almost indistinguishable from the forgotten frug-rock delights they cover here with such lusty vigor. That, however, should be taken as the highest compliment").

But even that review can't convince Prevost that the album represented anything other than a "loss of focus" and the "beginning of a downswing."

Declaring that to this day he prefers doing covers, Prevost implies that the band was under pressure to come up with original material. "Everybody was saying what a bunch of dummies we were, so we had to start writing stuff."

Of the effort, he self-deprecatingly states, "The lyrics are pretty stupid; the songs are really mindless." He adds, "We were writing stuff like 'I Cannot Find Her,' wimpy songs that weren't my kind of style. We thought, 'We like the Byrds, so let's do that kind of thing.' Only we weren't very good at it. I like folk rock, but I can't sing it. I don't think I did it right."

Meet the Chesterfield Kings at
Revolver Records - July 19, 1986
(For obscurity points, Stop! was recorded in the Rochester studios owned by Paul Curcio of the Mojo Men fame, and was produced by Aleck Janoulis, a founding member of Little Phil & the Night Shadows.)

If Stop!, as Prevost believes, was the "beginning of a downswing," then with Don't Open Til Doomsday (released in 1987), the band hit rock bottom.

Before they started working on their third album, the Kings underwent their first big lineup adjustment with the departure of Guran. "I was really bummed when he quit," says Prevost. "And it really killed Andy because they were best friends."

Walt O'Brien, Guran's replacement, was found in a rival garage group called the Insiders. O'Brien joined the Kings in time for their second trek to the West Coast in 1986 and the recording of Don't Open Til Doomsday, but it was a turbulent time for the group.

"The band was falling apart," states Prevost matter-of-factly. "We didn't know how to deal with Ori leaving. It really messed us up. The feeling we'd had of being pals and hanging out was gone."

Nowhere is the band's newfound lack of camaraderie more apparent than on the front cover of Doomsday. The idea for the photo came from an episode of The Outer Limits, but what it really shows is five gloomy-looking individuals.

In the studio with Dee Dee Ramone recording "Baby Doll"
Photo: Armand Schaubroeck
Although they might have stumbled here and there - most noticeably with "I'll be Back Someday" which takes an unconvincing stab at singer/songwriter pathos -  Doomsday isn't completely without merit. There were several fine originals like "Selfish Little Girl," "Doin' Me Wrong," "I Can't Get Nothin'," and "Someday Girl." While rollicking covers of "I'll Go" (written by T-Bone Burnett for the Cynics but never officially released) and "Time Will Tell" (a little-known Kinks' tune) neatly maintained a link with the garage-punk sound the group had outgrown while paving the way for a more natural hard rock stance.

Other highlights included the spirited "Baby Doll," written especially for the band by big fan Dee Dee Ramone, and the hard-hitting "Social End Product," originally recorded by New Zealand's Bluestars.

Don't Open Til Doomsday - released in 1987
The cover photo was based on an episode
of The Twilight Zone
Like its predecessor, Don't Open Til Doomsday was critically praised (The Trouser Press Record Guide commended the Kings' "less slavish sound," comparing it to late-seventies Flamin' Groovies), but again Prevost is less than enthusiastic about the LP. He describes his feelings about Doomsday as a "mixed bag. Some of the stuff is okay, but overall I don't like it."

Prevost acknowledges that there was "a lot of conflict over what we were gonna sound like." And he cites friction from within the group as well as from without.

"I was sick of the jingle-jangle crap, all those folk-rock songs that I couldn't sing, but we were afraid to change because we thought people would hate us. At the time, there were all these phony '60s groups, all these 'dedicated followers' who had just hopped on the wagon. They were putting us down, calling us phonies and heavy metal creeps! It really pissed me off because we'd been doing this for years, but they still expected us to sound like our first album."

Referring to his (then little-guessed at) love for '70s glam rock, Prevost confides: "Personally, I wanted that record to sound like Slade. It doesn't sound anything like Slade! But that's what I wanted."

Record release party for the
Chesterfield Kings' EP "Next One in Line" 
December 6, 1991 at the Penny Arcade
The Chesterfield Kings' first European tour followed the release of Doomsday, but it found the group without guitarist Cona, who had left before the album came out.

He was replaced by Mike Pappert, who had heard the group needed a new guitarist "through the grapevine." Pappert was from a local group called the Ravens, which played in a style similar to the Kings, and although Prevost had never seen or heard Pappert's band, he notes that the guitarist "knew the songs, and had the right look and the right equipment." There was no time for a trail run before the band left for Europe; Pappert joined immediately.

On the surface, the tour - which took in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Holland, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France and England - was successful. Their early singles and first two albums had made the Chesterfield Kings big news in Europe and all 56 shows sold out. But onstage, the band half-heartedly churned out the old material to audiences unprepared for their new direction.

"It was really a drag," grumbles Prevost, "because we had to do all those songs. We had to do 'She Told Me Lies' (from the Stop! album) because they wanted to hear it, and they really liked it, but we were so sick of it all. I just figured, 'I'm here. I gotta do it.'"

Andy Babiuk - 1985 San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Upon returning to Rochester, O'Brien left the group citing musical differences. "He didn't see eye-to-eye with what we were doing," points out Prevost. "We'd started doing MC5 and Dolls' covers, and Walt wasn't sure if he liked it. I think he did like it, but couldn't admit it to himself. If he was drunk, he'd play like (MC5 guitarist) Wayne Kramer. But when he was straight, he'd play like John Lennon."

Instead of replacing O'Brien, the group remained a foursome and for the next couple of years they "drifted around doing nothing."

Other than contributing to New Rose's Laserock 'N' Roll compilation ("Time Will Tell") and a Kinks' tribute album ("Live Life" and "Rosy Won't You Please Come Home"), the only Kings' release during this period was Night Of The Living Eyes.

Offering an assortment of rarities (including the long-lost second single and a rehearsal outtake featuring Schaubroeck on vocals) and live tracks which documented the group as it was between 1979-1983, Living Eyes symbolically nailed the coffin shut on the Chesterfield Kings Mark 1.


In the summer of '88, the band was invited to Berlin to participate in Europe's version of the New Music Seminar. On the verge of breaking-up, the trip gave the group a much-needed reason to carry on. (It also provided an opportune honeymoon for Prevost and longtime girlfriend/fan club president Caroll Hebenstreit, who were married the day before departure.)

The Chesterfield Kings & The Cynics
Maxwells - January 17, 1987
As part of the seminar, the Kings were put on display in a state-of-the-art German studio where, despite the distractions ("Guys from the press would come in and watch a band record," says Prevost), they hammered out two tracks: a tough-as-nails cover of Bo Diddley's (via the New York Dolls) "Pills," and "Come Back Angeline," another tune written for them by Dee Dee Ramone.

A one-off show in Berlin further allowed them to test out such newly-penned originals as "Branded on My Heart" and "Teenage Thunder." In the year since Doomsday, the Kings had continued moving towards a heavier sound and now carried it off with confidence - although audience reaction was mixed.

"We got some guys saying, 'What you're doing is perfect,'" notes Prevost. But he also recalls one disgruntled fan wailing, "Who do you think you are? KISS!?"

Once back home, the guys thought about extending "Pills" and "Angeline" into an EP which would also include two originals, but before any further recording commenced, drummer Meech unexpectedly split the group. He was replaced by Mike Pappert's brother, Andy, but just two months later the Chesterfield Kings were once again on the brink of demise.

Ori Guran - 1985 San Francisco
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
No progress had been made on the EP and, in one quick move, both Pappert brothers left the band. It was "a mutual agreement to part ways," explains Prevost.

There was talk of hooking up with ex-New York Dolls Jerry Nolan and Syl Sylvain for a project, but nothing ever came of it. Then one day, Paul Rocco wandered into the House of Guitars.

A serious blues guitarist with a rep for his wild onstage persona, Rocco would occasionally put together pick-up bands to play the local clubs. Babiuk had seen one such group open for John Lee Hooker, and he approached the guitarist about joining the Chesterfield Kings. "We tried him out," says Prevost, "and he was in. We didn't look any further."

Not only did Rocco join the band, he also introduced them to his friend Brett Reynolds, a powerful drummer with a shared enthusiasm for the Stones, Dolls and Yardbirds.

In 1989, the foursome headed to Ontario's GFI studios where, with Rocco's songwriting input and guitarist Richie Scarlet (best known for his work with Ace Frehley) handling production duties, the EP soon grew into a full-length LP.

Paraphrasing Phil Spector to tie in with their recent jaunt to Germany, The Berlin Wall Of Sound album was released in 1990, and the cover photo showed the Kings in all their glam/trash glory (and posed not unlike the Dolls circa '73).

The Kings in all their glam/trash glory (and posed
not unlike the Dolls circa '73).
The Berlin Wall Of Sound - released 1990
Inside, the tunes - which included nine hard 'n' heavy originals - ranged from the macho braggadocio of "Dual Action" ("Well goin' to Detroit goin' far away/Pick up two girls on my way/Gonna ride 'em when I find 'em/Gonna ride 'em ride 'em all the way") to the adolescent fantasy of "Teenage Thunder" ("It's a Saturday night now every day/School's out gonna have my way, my way/In dad's car with the radio on/I got a six pack and now I'm gone") to the lovesick lament of "Branded on my Heart" ("Every time every time that I hear your name/Every time I hear your name my heart stops just the same").

For creep-out factor there was "Richard Speck," an ode sung from the perspective of the infamous serial killer ("The voice in my head controls my mind/I got a problem I can't define/Eight nurses gone well that's too bad"). "That's the kind of music we wanted to do - really savage, basic rock 'n' roll," offers Prevost in defence of the song. "And I thought that would be a great title!"

And for pure indulgence there was "Coke Bottle Blues," an original tune in the style of traditional delta-blues, which featured Prevost's uncanny imitation of Howlin' Wolf.

Alternate pic from the "Next One in Line" photo shoot
Photo: Staff DeBruyne
Courtesy of: The Only Real Chesterfield Kings FB page
The group gained a new, heavy metal fan base (and lost the last of the diehards) with the Berlin Wall album. Kerrang, England's premier metal 'zine, gave it a 4-K review. According to Prevost, "They said we would've gotten 5-K's if we hadn't ripped the Dolls off so much!" Another write-up noted the "raw, Stonesy sound that suits swaggering tunes like 'Love-Hate-Revenge' and '(I'm So) Sick and Tired of You.'"

Prevost freely admits that Richie Scarlet had "a lot to do" with the album, especially in helping the band achieve a less anachronistic sound. The Kings first met the guitarist when they played a show near his home in Connecticut. "He came backstage afterwards and we got to be friends," says Prevost. "He has the same mentality as us. He even likes the same TV shows!"

Drunk On Muddy Water - a limited edition CD
Released 1990
Scarlet re-arranged much of the Kings' material to give it a more metal edge; and it was Scarlet who encouraged Prevost to vocally go all the way on "Coke Bottle Blues."

"I really like Howlin' Wolf a lot," explains Prevost, "and I was screwing around in the studio, trying to sing like him. Richie said, 'You sound just like a 300-pound black guy! Do that voice on this song!' I said, 'I dunno... it's kind of weird.' But Richie really liked it."

Apparently so did the band, as the song became the basis for their next project: Drunk On Muddy Water, a limited-edition CD (released on the heels of the Berlin Wall album) which featured covers of such twelve-bar standards as "Bright Lights Big City," "Little Red Rooster," and "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man."

It was no secret that the Kings were blues enthusiasts: If you couldn't tell from their list of British influences (Stones, Them, Yardbirds...) whose sound owed a huge debt to American blues, or the blues covers liberally sprinkled throughout their setlists, they spelled it out by dedicating their work to the likes of Jimmy Reed, Chester Burnett (aka Howlin' Wolf), Lighting Hopkins, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The band's 1989 Christmas postcard
announcing The Berlin Wall Of Sound
LP would be coming out early 1990.
For the Muddy Water album, the Kings were primarily concerned with achieving an authentic feel. To that end, the group arranged to record a live set at Rochester's Red Creek Inn. "We had it all figured out," states Prevost. "Financially, it wasn't gonna cost us anything."

Although the show proved a success, Prevost's vocals were completely lost in the mix. At this point, according to Schaubroeck's liner notes, he suggested the Kings go into a studio and record the songs professionally. Instead, the band opted to rent a club and set up a live atmosphere, playing through two microphones direct to a tape recorder.

"It was really primitive," acknowledges Prevost (who is billed as "Yardbird" for the CD - not because of the band, but because of a Korean War photo of his father marked thusly). However, it wasn't quite as primitive as the liner notes would have you believe: "One take, no overtracks, live and raw...!"

"We did about 30 songs," confesses Prevost, "and we were making mistakes. So, we didn't use the songs with the mistakes."

The Kings took their blues show on a well-received seven-city tour of Canada, after which they settled back into the comfortable routine of not doing much. A cover of Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men" was contributed to the Hodge Podge Barrage From Japan compilation; an EP featuring their own song "Next One in Line" b/w blistering covers of "Talk Talk" and "You Drive Me Nervous" was issued in 1991; and a collaboration with Johnny Thunders resulted in a bootleg EP.

Producer and Ace Frehley guitarist Richie Scarlet with Greg Prevost
During the recording of The Berlin Wall Of Sound LP
Photo: Caroll Prevost
 courtesy of: The Only Real Chesterfield Kings FB page
The collaboration with Thunders, which took place shortly before his death, came about through shared management. "We thought it would be cool to hook up with him," says Prevost, "and maybe do an album. It seemed easy enough, you know. We brought him to Rochester and set up a show for him at Jazzberries. He looked tired, but the show was pretty good. It was an acoustic show, really - just him, another guitarist and a sax player."

Prevost continues, "We had booked some recording time with GFI studios and we practiced some stuff the night before, but it was off and on. Johnny would start playing one song, then he'd go into something else. In the studio, he was kind of out of it. He had this idea where he didn't want the vocals to go with the drums. Then he started whining that Brett wasn't following him. Brett was like, 'Oh, man...' Johnny kept changing the rhythm. While he was playing he would speed it up, slow it down. So, it's really weird when you listen to the record; Brett's just following when Johnny takes a breath to sing."

Johnny Thunders & The Chesterfield Kings
"Critic's Choice" 45
The band's original idea to record an LP with Thunders was scraped when the former New York Doll/Heartbreaker passed away in New Orleans on April 23, 1991.

"We had started working on a bunch of songs," states Prevost, "but they were real sloppy with lots of mistakes. Nothing was finished. And it got to a point where Johnny was getting wigged out. He was gonna come back to finish the songs but, well... you know what happened. 'Critic's Choice' was really the only song that was salvageable."

Because Thunders' sister objected to the song's US release, it was only officially issued as part of a GFI industry sampler, but it was later bootlegged and imported into the United States from Japan. As well as 'Critic's Choice,' the EP also includes live versions (possibly with the Gang War lineup featuring Wayne Kramer) of the Oldham/Richards' tune "I'd Much Rather be With the Boys" and Thunders' own punk anthem, "London Boys."


The Chesterfield Kings get into the idea of
Let's Go Get Stoned by emulating the advert for
Sticky Fingers.
With their latest offering, Let's Go Get Stoned, the Kings have returned to what they enjoy most - pillaging from the Rolling Stones' career! And in this case, they go at it with zeal. "I don't wanna say we were ripping 'em off," balks Prevost, "but... yeah, we were."

Apparently, the sessions leading up to the album began innocently enough. According to Prevost, "We used to do 'Street Fighting Man' live, and somebody suggested we cover it on a record." But it didn't take long for things to escalate. "So we got into the idea, and then we got into making it sound as close as we could, and then it happened with the whole record!"

With this in mind, originals were intentionally written to invoke comparisons to cool-period Stones' songs. "Long Ago, Far Away" is the Kings' "Sympathy for the Devil;" "Drunk House" is their "High and Dry;" "I'm so Confused, Baby" is their "2000 Light Years From Home" - with Babiuk going so far as to decipher and duplicate Brian Jones' backwards piano track!

Let's Go Get Stoned released 1994
The cover is a dead ringer for Aftermath
Meanwhile, covers were chosen for their Stones' connections: "Can't Believe It" is a little-known and never officially released Jagger/Richards' composition, and Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home" was discovered on a Keith Richards' bootleg. "We tried to give it a 'Dead Flowers' kind of feel," says Prevost of Haggard's mournful country ballad.

A bevy of guest stars lent their talents to the making of Let's Go Get Stoned: Gilby Clarke from Guns 'N Roses played piano on "Street Fighting Man;" Kim Simmonds from Savoy Brown co-wrote and played lead guitar on "It's Getting Harder All the Time;" and Kim Fowley - described in the group's press release as a legendary performer, creator, mastermind and producer (and described by Prevost as "one of the most genius guys I ever met") - co-wrote "Rock n' Roll Murder."

But the biggest coup had to be the involvement of actual ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, who played slide guitar on the Kings' version of Mose Allison's (by way of the Yardbirds) "I'm Not Talking" (although Prevost's vocal attack owes more to "Get Off My Cloud" than to Keith Relf's more traditional approach).

Taylor happened to be in the Rochester area when the band was recording, and they contacted him about playing on the album. "He already knew who we were," says Prevost, adding that Taylor was also "somewhat aware" of the Kings sonic likeness to his old group.

Promotional postcard for
Let's Go Get Stoned
But why is Taylor featured on an old blues standard as opposed to either of the album's two Stones' covers?

"He said he would've liked to have played on 'Street Fighting Man,'" reveals Prevost, "and we were gonna have him play on 'Can't Believe It,' but he was kind of funny about it. It's some kind of honor thing with Keith Richards. They're still friends and he respects him."

As a final touch, the front cover for Stoned is a dead ringer for Aftermath (with Prevost surprisingly in Keith Richard's position. "He's my favorite," he says), and the back cover has the Kings posed ala a late-sixties Stones' publicity photo. They even thought to do the Mirror label in red and silver to match Aftermath's original mono colors! The concept looks better as an LP but the CD has more photos and an additional track.

Three videos have already been shot for the album and, according to Prevost, fan response to the group's latest leaning has been positive. "Everybody really likes this one. Guys that didn't like the last couple of albums because they thought we were too heavy metal, they like it."

So, retro garage-punks, folk-pop purveyors, champions of glam rock, heavy metal contenders, delta-blues purists, or the next best thing to circa '66 Stones... Which is the real Chesterfield Kings?

"I think this is it," asserts Prevost. "Even when we were doing the garage stuff, we ended up sounding like the Stones. I love bands like the Sweet or Queen, but we could never sound like them. I can't sing that good! So, we're just going to capitalize on the kind of stuff we can sound like."

Back cover photo from Let's Go Get Stoned
The Kings posed ala a late-sixties Rolling Stones' publicity photo.
1994 Postscript: Since the writing of this story, the Chesterfield Kings' lineup has again changed. The new lineup - as recently seen on USA's Up All Nite - includes Prevost on vocals, Babiuk on bass, Ted and Jeff Okolowicz on guitars, and Chris Hadlock on drums. The group is currently working on a new album and aims to tour Europe again later this year.

Other forthcoming projects include a double A-side single with longtime friends the Lyres (the Kings will cover the Lyres' "She Pays the Rent" while the Lyres will cover "She Told Me Lies"), as well as unspecified plans to work with Bo Diddley (with whom the band played a special Christmas show). Meanwhile, tribute albums to the Seeds and the Pretty Things featuring the Kings' versions of "Lose Your Mind" and "Rosalyn" respectively, should be out "any day now."

The Chesterfield Kings' 1994 Christmas card. The illustration was taken from the poster for the Bo Diddley Christmas Show and Freak Out on December 17, 1994.

For more information about the Chesterfield Kings and to keep up-to-date with Greg Prevost's solo career check out his website at

You can also join the Chesterfield Kings Facebook group:

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Jackson Saints: Rock & Roll Salvation

Top Row L-R: Chuck Davis, Kevin Meade, Brent Hoover
Bottom Row: Erik Meade, Janis Tanaka
Photo: Jeanie M.
(There's an amusing anecdote
about this photo at the end of the article!)

Originally published in BAM
(probably 1991)

By Devorah Ostrov

If rock bands had more in common with the British monarchy, the proclamation would be: The Jackson Saints are dead! Long live the Jackson Saints!

In late January, almost a year to the day he joined, vocalist Chuck Davis left the popular San Francisco-based club band. However, the four original members - guitarists Erik and Kevin Meade, bassist Janis Tanaka, and drummer Brent Hoover - will carry on, temporarily reverting to their initial set-up with Erik and Kevin sharing vocals, while the search begins for a new frontman.

While Davis' association with the band had its well-publicized tumultuous moments, the conversation on this night - at the group's first rehearsal without him - is free from any feelings of animosity.

The Mother of All Rock Shows!
Jackson Saints, Osgood Slaughter,
Mother Lode, T-Ride,
Bourbon Deluxe, Reckonball
Kennel Club - Friday May 15, 1992
"Chuck's a great singer," states Kevin, the younger Meade brother, "but we had different ideas about where we wanted to go musically. He came out one day and said he didn't think it was right."

Still, there's no doubt that Davis' departure will prove at least a minor setback, especially as it comes at a time when the group is reportedly being checked out by some major record companies.

"I think that's part of why Chuck chose to leave," explains Hoover, "before it got too serious and it was too late for him to turn around."

Until a deal is inked, the band prefers not to say which record companies are expressing interest, but with or without Davis, the Jackson Saints' riff-oriented, heavy rock sound has an undeniable appeal; it's already created at least one fan out of the reps who've come to see them: "There's this one A&R woman who's always looking for a good reason to come up to San Francisco," says Tanaka, "and one of her reasons is that we're playing."

When the band started out, talk of recording deals was a far-fetched concept. Even now, they have a problem of conceiving just how far they've come.

"I'm still amazed that we're successful at all," says Hoover, "because we aren't a band that I think of as being a success. It was always the big attitude bands that got popular, it was never a band like this."

What Hoover means by "this" is simple: "It's the music first, us later."

"Volume first!" corrects Erik.

Jackson Saints snuggle up!
L-R: Janis Tanaka, Erik Meade, Chuck Davis, Kevin Meade, Brent Hoover
Photo: Jeanie M.
Taking their name from what's believed to be a school's team logo on a faded sweatshirt and their musical direction from the Dictators' Manifest Destiny album, the Jackson Saints began life as the house band for the SF club Chatterbox, which is now called the Chameleon (Kevin: "At the time, that was the only place where our kind of music could be played"), but the group's reputation spread quickly by word of mouth (Hoover: "It had to be; we never pushed ourselves"), and they soon found themselves headlining the larger I-Beam (Kevin: "We thought, 'Nobody's gonna be here. Why did they have us headlining?' When we got onstage the whole building was crammed full!"). Still, it was playing last year's Haight Ashbury Street Fair that the band acknowledges as the high point of its career.

"We stood on the stage and as far back as we could see there were people," says Hoover, "and even if they didn't know we were playing, we considered them the audience!"

Jackson Saints and 4 Non Blondes
Kennel Club - Wednesday January 16, 1991
Then there was the recent foray to Los Angeles, with Davis still on hand, which gave Southern Californian fans an exciting photo opportunity (really, despite sensationalistic reports, not every Jackson Saints' show includes a brawl).

Kevin: "This punk band from Orange County was opening the show. During our set, they started throwing this stuff at Erik..."

Tanaka: "Yelling, 'Get off the stage, hippies!'"

Erik: "So I brained one of them with my guitar!"

Kevin: "Erik wielded his guitar like a hatchet; he dived into the audience. We had a great shot of it on the videotape!"

Tanaka: "When we called our manager and told her there was a fight at the show, she said, 'What?' And Erik yells, 'But it wasn't with each other, it was with the audience. It's OK!'"

Bonus backstory regarding the photo at the top of the page: "There's a funny anecdote to go with the picture taken outside the house," says Erik. "Just as we were taking it, there was a high-speed police car chase that came rushing down the street. As the car they were pursuing ran the red light at the end of the block, it got broadsided and careened into a telephone pole. The driver flew through the passenger side window, hit the ground, and without pausing for a second took off running down the street on foot. I said, "Oh, this is too perfect. We've got to get a band shot in front of that car. So, we all started posing in front of it and Jeanie started shooting. One of the photos had a clearly unamused cop walking towards us in the background. I know that there was at least one print made of that shot, but I haven't seen it in over 25 years, so it must be buried in a box somewhere."


Jackson Saints live at the Kennel Club
performing their anthem: "Rock and Roll Salvation"

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Story Of Eddie And The Hot Rods: An Unpublished Interview With Barrie Masters

The classic five-piece Hot Rods lineup
L-R: Barrie Masters, Dave Higgs, Steve Nicol,
Paul Gray, Graeme Douglas

When I saw Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Half Moon in Putney in 2001, it had been 23 years since the first time I saw them in San Francisco.

Barrie Masters, the group's lead singer since its formation, sat down with me for an interview before the band went onstage. We talked about the history of the Hot Rods for Teenage Kicks, but I never felt like the interview was truly finished.

The band is still gigging, and I may get to talk to Barrie again, but in the meantime, with the help of several sources to help fill in the gaps, I figure it's time this story got published. 

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

"THE HOT RODS are careering through 'Get Out of Denver' at a speed so close to the velocity of sound itself that the song seems to end several minutes before it began when — for what seems like the seventy-second or seventy-third time that evening — half the P.A. system curls up and goes to sleep." -- Charles Shaar Murray, New Musical Express, December 11, 1976

Eddie and the Hot Rods came from Canvey Island - the same area in the Thames estuary as Dr. Feelgood and the Kursaal Flyers - a faded Victorian seaside resort, where the old landmarks include the Grade II listed Lobster Smack pub and the new landmarks are oil refineries. By all accounts, the band fairly burst out of the confines of Canvey at 100 miles an hour and for a few months before punk rock steamrollered over them, the Hot Rods ruled the scene.

Lead singer Barrie Masters
In February 1977, the NME named Eddie and the Hot Rods the most promising emergent act of the year. (Graham Parker and the Rumour placed third on the list, with the Sex Pistols a distant number six!) And the band would leave its mark with a batch of high-octane EPs and LPs - as well as "Do Anything You Wanna Do," arguably one of the best pop singles ever recorded.

Even though they achieved some amount of recognition and chart success, fame and fortune eluded them. A combination of bad timing, lack of record company support, and being ripped-off by their manager (not to mention a possible curse) led to the original lineup calling it quits in 1981. To say they deserved so much more is an understatement.


"Boring as Belgium," is how Hot Rods' lead singer Barrie Masters describes life in Canvey during the early '70s. "It was dreadful. That's why we started a band." Barrie was still in school when the group formed, and was known locally as a championship boxer.

"When you were a young kid you either got into boxing like I did," he explains, "or you got arrested for hanging about on the streets. There was nothing to do. Really. There were no youth clubs. There was nothing like that. We started a group at school because we wanted something to do. It was just through boredom."

It was 1973 when Barrie and drummer Steve Nicol teamed up with bassist Rob Steel and guitarist Pete Ward. Barrie wanted to manage the band, but because he knew the words to the songs, he became the group's vocalist. "That was the only reason I sang," he insists, "because I knew the words. But I was only going to be the singer until we found one." He pauses for comedic effect. "At the moment, we're still looking!"

In the beginning, they called themselves Buckshee. Although they saw themselves as an R&B band, in his history of England's pub rock scene No Sleep Till Canvey Island, Will Birch classifies Buckshee as a glam rock group. During the interview, Barrie only allows that the band was originally called "something stupid, but I can't remember what it was."

"We literally played anything and anywhere," says Barrie. "Anywhere anyone would let us play! Bingo halls... We even played a school fete."

Within a few months of their formation, Buckshee were looking for a lead guitarist to replace Pete Ward. Dave Higgs (who sadly died from cancer in 2013) answered the band's advert in the window of Chris Stevens Music shop. "When Dave joined, that's when we actually got serious about it," says Barrie. "Dave was the one who said, 'You can do this seriously. You can charge money for playing, instead of just getting a few beers out of people.'"

Dave Higgs was a bit older than the rest of the guys. "He was really old," emphasises Barrie. "He was about 24!" And he had some experience. Most notably, Dave had previously played with a Canvey outfit called the Fix, which featured future Dr. Feelgood members Lee Brilleaux and Wilco Johnson. He'd also been in trouble with the law. "Before Dave joined the band," confides Barrie, "he'd had a 'government sponsored holiday.' They were gonna lock him up and put him in the madhouse 'cause of drugs and stuff like that."

"Do you remember those old Cruisin' radio station albums?
The guy in those cars was always called Eddie."
In the advert, the group had listed the Rolling Stones and the Who as their influences, but those weren't the only bands the boys were listening to.

"People used to think I was weird because I was listening to blues stuff, like the J. Geils Band," says Barrie. "And obviously, there were the Kinks, the Yardbirds - all the British stuff. Dave was more blues and R&B influenced. He was into the American side of it. He had some albums... I fell in love with his records. And that pushed us towards the R&B side. It's funny, that's when we started getting a lot more work. We started getting offered decent pub gigs."

In the early days, the band had been more or less limited to playing around the environs of Canvey Island and neighbouring Southend-on-Sea. However, Barrie points out, "Dave was old enough to have a driver's license. He had a job working at a builder's company. He had this open-back builder's truck which we used for gigs. We used to put deck chairs in the back, like you have on the beach. And there was sand, because it was a builder's truck there was sand in the back. And we used to dress up, put sunglasses on and swimming costumes, and drive around. Stupid things! That's when Dave came up with the name - because we had to have a sensible name. The name was changing every time we got a gig."

Why didn't you call it Barrie and the Hot Rods?

"Because Barrie and the... would've sounded STUPID! The only reason it was Eddie and the Hot Rods... We loved the name when Dave came up with Hot Rods! And then we wanted Something and the Hot Rods. Do you remember those old Cruisin' radio station albums? The guy in those cars was always called Eddie. That's how it came about - Eddie and the Hot Rods, and it stuck. (There are also numerous stories about a homemade dummy named Eddie, which was propped up at the back of the stage during the group's early shows.)

L-R: Dave Higgs, Barrie Masters, Steve Nicol, Paul Gray
In 1975, the Hot Rods made one more crucial adjustment to their lineup. According to Barrie, their bassist wasn't taking the band seriously. "Rob Steel got a job. You know, a sensible job. 'I can't take time off to do gigs.' Bollocks! We got rid of him. We put an advert in the paper (the Southend Echo) and Paul Gray turned up."

Paul was a 15-year-old schoolboy when the Hot Rods recruited him. "Paul's dad had to sign our first deal with Island Records," recalls Barrie. "He was a kid! But he had enthusiasm and he was a ballsy little player, even then. So, obviously, he got the job."

"Paul Gray's only young," wrote Mark P. in Sniffin' Glue, "but he's a real driving' bass player. His main influence, he told me, was Lemmy. Paul first got his playing together jammin' along to his ol' Hawkwind records. He now listens to the MC5 and the Stooges."

With their lineup sorted, the Hot Rods were ready to make the big leap from Canvey to London. "There weren't many regular gigs in Essex," says Barrie. "There was only the pub circuit around London, and we phoned a few of them up. They said, 'Well... we don't know who you are,' and all this. But we lied and bullshitted our way into a couple."

Remember that time punk
rock came to town?
The Kensington was the hang out for most of the pub rockers of the day. The regulars listed in No Sleep Till Canvey Island includes: "Brinsleys, Bees, Ducks, Kilburns, Willies, Feelgoods..."

Eddie and the Hot Rods made their Kensington debut on May 17, 1975, and secured their place on the London pub circuit with a six-week Saturday night residency at the venue. A history of the Hot Rods included on the website punk77 credits Dr. Feelgood with getting the young band its first gig at the Kensington. The writer adds: "Eddie & The Hot Rods quickly developed an enviable reputation as a live act that provided a combination of 60s style garage r'n'b action and thrills, harking back to the early Rolling Stones gigs at the Railway Hotel in Richmond, but with a more energised and grandstanding flavour."

"This Irish fellow named Matt Farley used to run the Kensington," comments Barrie. "He said, 'I'll take a chance.' The first week there were like ten people there. And Matt said, 'You can come next week, if you want to.' We were only getting £10 or £15 for playing. Anyway... The next week twenty people turned up! By the third week it was full and the fourth week it was HEAVING! Then suddenly the phones started ringing. And we didn't stop after that! We just got loads and loads of gigs!"

What were those shows at the Kensington like?

"Very hot and sweaty! It's funny... Everyone always says that we're a live band - we feed off the audience and they feed off us. It's the vibe. But in those days, we were used to playing to old people in bingo halls. So, when people actually came to see us... When we were the main attraction and they were screaming and shouting, we would go even more over the top - running around and climbing over everything... hanging and climbing!"

Barrie also recalled the group's early gigs in an interview with Zig Zag magazine: "It makes you work 'arder to try to draw the audience's attention. We'd get so frustrated from being ignored, that we ended up pushing the PA over and stuff... that kind of thing actually got them to respond, you know."

Advert for the Life On The Line LP
By the Autumn of 1975, the Hot Rods had become a staple on the pub circuit. In early October, they began sharing a Tuesday night residency at the Nashville with Joe Strummer's pre-Clash group the 101'ers.

In Punk Diary 1970-1979, author George Gimarc comments that "the bands are on equal footing with the headlining slot alternating from week to week."

"Right!" exclaims Barrie. "Whatever we did they sort of copied it the week after."

Fred Rath reviewed the October 28th Nashville gig for Sounds and wrote that: "Eddie and the Hot Rods look like those before-they-were-famous pics you get of the Stones, Yardbirds, etc."

On November 7, 1975, an interesting rock 'n' roll juxtaposition occurred - although it's fair to say that no one noticed. As part of their regular circuit, Eddie and the Hot Rods played at the Red Cow on Hammersmith Road. Meanwhile, over in Holborn the Sex Pistols crashed through their set at the Central School of Art and Design. In Punk Diary, Gimarc says: "It's total chaos onstage. The band is barely rehearsed, loose, and even frightened." It was the Pistols' second ever show.

The Hot Rods continued playing the pub circuit through the end of the year and "it was bloody hard work," says Barrie. "To get a PA together, I had to get a job. I started working on building sites, doing glazing. We had an old van and we used to trek... I used to get up at 5AM to go to work and finish at 4PM. We'd drive straight to the pub, there'd be a bag of clothes and we'd be driving along getting changed. Do the gig, drive home, get into bed, and get up and go to work again! It was a nightmare!"

Lew Lewis played harmonica with the group during your early gigs. Was he a friend from Canvey Island?

The Kursaal Flyers with
Eddie and the Hot Rods at
The Nottingham Playhouse
January 18, 1976
"Dave knew him. I was playing harmonica to begin with and Dave said, 'I know this harp player. This bloke Lew. He wants to come along and have a blow.' I heard Lew play and I threw my harp away! No... I gave it to him. I said, 'You might as well have it, mate.' I was a beginner compared to him. So, he joined the band. But he drove us mad after a few months!"

One story has it that Lew was asked to leave the Hot Rods after he jumped off the stage at Reading University and pelted the group with pint pots. In No Sleep Till Canvey Island, Will Birch maintains Lew was fired after a dressing-room tantrum at Brunel University. According to Wikipedia, he left after "falling out with the management."

Towards the end of November, the Hot Rods were approached by Island Records A&R scout Howard Thompson. But the band weren't impressed - they thought it was a joke!

"All these people kept coming down from record companies," laughs Barrie, "and we didn't believe them! We were like, 'Yeah, of course you are mate.' We told him, 'There's the bar. Go and get us five pints of lager and then we'll have a little chat with you.' So off he'd go... he'd bring 'em back... BANG! We'd shut the door! 'FUCK OFF!' This went on for about three weeks. Someone finally said, 'He really is from a record company. It's a bloke from Island.' They were seriously interested in us!"

Thompson wanted to speak with the band's manager, but couldn't get a straight answer. "He seriously suggested we get a manager," remembers Barrie.

Teenage Depression LP - back cover photo 
L-R: Barrie Masters, Dave Higgs, Steve Nicol, Paul Gray
In 2008, Thompson told the northforksound.blogspot: "I had no real reference point as to what the hell I was doing. I didn't know if they were going to sell records. All I knew was I liked 'em. A lot. They played the kind of music I grew up with but gave it a rawer edge and a life-or-death intensity that was hard to ignore. Their shows were thrilling." In the interview, Thompson also notes that the Hot Rods were already mixing Dave Higgs-penned originals like "All I Need is Money," "Double Checkin Woman," "Get Across to You," and "On the Run," with carefully chosen covers such as "96 Tears," "Shake," and "Wooly Bully" (all of which would be included in the group's early discography). "Then they'd play everything as if they were being chased by the cops," he adds.

So, the band needed a manager. And Dave Higgs knew someone. "Dave knew this bloke called Ed Hollis," says Barrie. "Ed had an AMAZING record collection!"

Also hailing from Canvey, Ed Hollis was nicknamed "1000 Eddie" in reference to his record collection. He'd been a DJ at a rock 'n' roll pub called The Top Alex, lived in a caravan, and hung around with Dr. Feelgood. Journalist Tony Parsons once famously described Hollis as a "megalomaniac Canvey Island Kim Fowley."

Announcement of the Hot Rods Nov/Dec
1976 UK tour with support band Aswad
In November 1975, Hollis was unemployed. "He said he'd be our manager because he had nothing else to do," says Barrie. "In fact, we made him get a job because he didn't have a telephone. He got a job working for the council or something, just so he had a desk and a telephone. And we went to see this bloke from Island Records. They offered us a recording deal! I forget what it was now... six albums over four years? All that boring stuff. Not much money involved. That's why we gigged all the time - so we could eat!" (The Punk Diary entry for November 27, 1975, states that the Hot Rods are each "given a salary by Island of £20 a week!")

At this point, the band was known for playing R&B, but playing it a lot faster and with more aggression than anyone else.

"Oh, yeah!" exclaims Barrie. "Because we listened to firms like the MC5. Again, that's where Ed Hollis was a big influence on us - with his record collection. He had stuff that I'd never heard!"

Did he introduce you to the MC5?

"Yeah. I'd never heard of them until then."

And the Stooges?

"Oh, yeah! I'd heard of them... heard the odd track. But Ed knew everything about their history and he had every record! He had MILLIONS of albums! Even then, I think he had over five thousand albums - in a caravan! You couldn't move. And he knew where every one was. He was clever when it came to records, I tell ya!"

Did Hollis suggest songs for the band to cover?

"He'd constantly suggest them! But sometimes they were a bit weird, you know - Captain Beefheart and things like that. In the van, or whenever Ed met us on the road, he always had two bags. One was like a little suitcase and one was huge! His clothes would be in the little suitcase and cassettes would be in the huge one. And all day long it would be, 'Listen to this... listen to this...'"

Rods play the Marquee five nights in a row
and then rock Reading - August 1977
As 1976 dawned, there was no mistaking the tidal change happening in music, especially as the Hot Rods' career trajectory more and more often intersected with the emerging punk scene. Was that a good thing for the band?

"It was horrifying, really," states Barrie. "The thing was, when it started happening we were classed as the #1 punk band - because we were first. We thought: That's alright. They found a tag, a name, a label, a pigeonhole... and put us in there. Right? But then, this fashion thing jumped into it. What I knew about fashion, you could write on a stamp! And all these people coming dressed in... I mean, it was a poxy fashion show! I get up there because I like playing this music. It makes me feel good. It makes the people feel good. And that's as far as my thoughts about it went. Then all these bands started coming out of the woodwork, and it was crazy! And they all started because of us! The Jam... the Boomtown Rats... the Clash, obviously. They've all openly admitted that they started because of us."

Trouser Press magazine went so far as to say: "If not for Eddie and the Hot Rods, punk wouldn't have happened." Do you agree with that?

"Right! I don't think it would! I'm not being big-headed or anything, but there wasn't anybody else! Like I said before, there was the pub rock circuit. There were bands like that. And then there was us. There was no one else like us! That's why people used to come and see us. It was just odd to see these four or five geezers playing breakneck speed music with all the energy we could muster, and doing it night after night in different places. You'd get kids even then... we'd see them up north... they'd turn up in Holland and Germany... all over... on their holidays following us around. It was a really good feeling, you know! From what we were used to... to suddenly having this adulation! We couldn't understand it. We was normal blokes, really."

Advert for the 1977 Reading Rock Festival
Eddie and the Hot Rods with Uriah Heep & Golden Earing 
on Friday, August 26th
On February 12, 1976, pub rock and punk collided when the Sex Pistols opened for the Hot Rods at the Marquee and purposefully damaged the headliner's equipment. 

In what could have been a warning to the Hot Rods, the NME's headline read: "Don't Look Over Your Shoulder, But The Sex Pistols Are Coming." Neil Spencer reported: "I waded to the front and straightaway sighted a chair arching gracefully through the air, skidding across the stage and thudding contentedly into the PA system, to the obvious nonchalance of the bass, drums and guitar." Afterwards, one of the Pistols notoriously quipped, "Actually, we're not into music. We're into chaos." (You can read the full press cutting here.)

At the time, Dave Higgs fumed: "They can't play or nuffink. They just insult the audience. They wrecked our PA. We waited for them to apologise, but they had fucked off." In hindsight, Barrie contends that it wasn't a big deal and thinks the incident was pre-arranged by the two attention-hungry managers.

"Malcom McLaren got in touch with Ed Hollis," he says. "We'd had this meteoric rise to fame and McLaren said, 'That's what I want to do.' So, Ed said they could support us. You know, all that press bollocks that came out! The truth be known, what a load of rubbish that was! All it was... Johnny Rotten was kicking the monitors. He thought it was funny. And when he came off, someone said, 'Oi! Other people have to use those monitors. Don't fuck it up before they do their show.' He says, 'Alright...' and walks off. McLaren's over in the corner, and he sort of whispers in his ear... Five minutes later I'm stood at the bar with Steve Nicol and he comes over and says, 'So what 'cha gonna do about it?' I said, 'Beg your pardon?' 'What 'cha gonna do about it?' 'Bout what?' 'Bout me smashing the PA up.' I said, 'Nothing. Forget it.'"

Eddie and the Hot Rods' debut 45 
released February 1976

Rotten continued to push for an argument, and he finally said something that got the reaction he wanted. "I said 'What the fuck!?' and I gave him a slap. That's all it was. 'Fuck off! Poxy kids!' Something like that, right? Next thing you know, it's on all the front pages: Fight breaks out between Eddie and the Hot Rods and the Sex Pistols! Ed couldn't bloody move because of some journalist or another! 'Johnny Rotten's threatened that next time he sees you, he's gonna rip your head off!' Like an idiot, I say, 'Him? Rip my head off! I'd love to see that happen! That would make me laugh!' So, all this tit for tat kept going on. And I didn't know... I was a bit green... a bit wet behind the ears... I didn't realize that it was Ed and Malcolm behind it."

Within days of the Marquee gig, Island released the group's initial 45 - "Writing on the Wall" b/w "Cruisin' in the Lincoln." Both songs were self-penned originals by the team of Higgs/ Hollis, who would continue to write the group's material through the first album. 

Recorded on Christmas Eve 1975 at Jackson's Studios, with Vic Maile producing, the two songs marked the Hot Rods first venture into a recording studio. "It was a real cheapo job to do some demos," says Barrie. He laughs when I ask how long it took to record the 45. "How long is the record? I'm exaggerating, but you know... It was a done-in-a-day job."

Although Caroline Coon championed the single in her Melody Maker column, the record flopped. On northforksound.blogspot, Howard Thompson reflects: "Looking back, I don't think anybody in their right mind would have picked either of these songs for a B-side, let alone an A."

The five-piece lineup. L-R: Paul Gray, Graeme Douglas,
Steve Nicol, Dave Higgs, Barrie Masters
In June, a cover version of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' 1965 hit, "Wooly Bully" b/w "Horseplay (Weary of the Schmaltz)" was issued as the Hot Rods' second 45. Produced by Roxy Music's saxophonist Andy Mckay, it also failed to bother the charts, and the B-side marked the final appearance of Lew Lewis with the group.

The summer of 1976 was the hottest on record in England, with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees for days on end, and the Hot Rods spent it gigging up and down the country. 

On July 17th, they stopped off in Hastings with Caroline Coon in tow. She reported on the show for Melody Maker: "Barrie Masters, Eddie and the Hot Rods' front man, drove his band down to Hastings from London himself - a sweaty, draining, three-hour bang. He parked the battered van in the car park, flung open the door and within seconds, chin stuck out and hair streaming behind him, he stalked the length of the pier and leapt on to the stage of the Pier Pavilion."

Guitarist Dave Higgs on the cover of the NME
September 18, 1975
"With one resounding B flat chord,
Eddie and the Hot Rods save Rock and Roll"
A week earlier, on July 9th, the band had recorded one of their Marquee gigs. The "Live at Marquee" EP featuring amped-up covers of "96 Tears" and "Get Out of Denver" on the A-side, and a medley of "Gloria"/ "Satisfaction" on the B-side, was issued on August 21st - the same day that the Hot Rods (along with Nick Lowe, the Pink Fairies, Tyla Gang, the Hammersmith Gorillas, Count Bishops, and the Damned) were playing the Mont de Marsan festival in France. The EP was a pivotal moment for the band; it reached #43 in the UK singles charts and its success guaranteed an album release later in the year.  

According to Barrie, it was Ed Hollis' idea to do an EP. "He said to Island Records, 'Look, we're not ready to do an album. We wanna put an EP out.' Everyone laughed at us. But then, it was funny, Roxy Music of all people did an EP! Then everyone did them!"

Legend has it that Eddie and the Hot Rods were competing with some Australian upstarts to see who could cram the most people into the Marquee that summer. "We still hold the attendance record," brags Barrie. "The BBC news team was down there filming the kids - the queue was from the door down Oxford Street. It was absolute chaos! We just played as hard and as fast as we could. There were so many people there. St. John's ambulance was ferrying people out all night long! Some people would get into the gig, they'd be there five minutes and just black out. It was so HOT!"

In his review of the gig for the NME, Roy Carr opined: "The Rods have rejected rock as a polite spectator sport, preferring to involve the punters from the off. When the Rods sweat so does everyone." Carr hastened to add, "It was only the heat that prevented an all-out riot..."

With Barrie lip-syncing (badly) to "Get Out of Denver," the group made its first of many appearances on Top of the Pops. "They wanted to know the lyrics," he laughs. "I had to write 'em out."

Island promo poster
Did you just make stuff up?

"I tried to write 'em down. But I got bored halfway through and wrote down what I thought he (Bob Seger) should have sung!"

Did Bob Seger ever say anything to you about the Hot Rods' version?

"No... he said something to some American magazine once. No one had ever heard of Bob Seger in England until we did that. And he didn't even say 'thank you.' He basically brushed it aside."

Before releasing the group's first album in November, Island issued one more single - the title track from the forthcoming LP "Teenage Depression" b/w a cover of Sam Cooke's "Shake" - which reached #35 in the charts. An entry in Punk Diary notes that in a bid for radio play, the lyrics to the A-side were altered: "The references to spending money on cocaine are changed to 'things I shouldn't use,' and instead of 'none of your shit' is the innocuous 'button your lip.'"

Work on the Teenage Depression LP was done "in between doing this, that, and the other," says Barrie. "We were always working all night. Ed Hollis loved working all night, not during the day." Punk77 notes, "As a predominantly live band they moved fast. The debut album was done in 4 days."

The group returned to Jackson's and enlisted Vic Maile (who Barrie terms "a lovely bloke") to produce. "Basically," says Barrie, "it was recorded like a live thing - you know, one after the other. It was very crudely recorded but once we got it down, Vic went to work and did the tarting up. Which wasn't very much. There wasn't much tarting up. Again, it was to keep the power and a live feel about it."

Two of the songs actually were done live - a cover of "The Kids Are Alright" and the Higgs/Hollis-penned "Been So Long" were both recorded at the same time as the "Live at the Marquee" EP. In fact, a hodgepodge of covers, a few high-octane originals (including the lyrically reinstated title track), a re-recorded version of "Horseplay" bracketed "Wearier of the Schmaltz," and a six-and-a-half-minute freak-out made up the 11 tracks. (Just to make things confusing, the US release offered a different track listing: it left off "Shake" and a cover of Joe Tex's "Show Me," but included all of the "Live at the Marquee" EP.)

Teenage Depression - Eddie and the Hot Rods' debut LP
Although the LP sold well (it reportedly shipped 20,000 copies in the first week) and reached #43 in the UK album charts, at the time of its release, reviews were subdued - perhaps because expectations were so high. In the May issue of Zigzag, Paul Kendall had reported: "Manager Ed Hollis reckons that when the Rods do get around to doing an album they'll be aiming for the sort of feel that the MC5 got on Back In The USA."

When he heard the finished product, Mark P. grumbled: "A live album would have been better - that would have been an instant classic." In Trouser Press, Paul Rambali said: "Their live energy is irrepressible, and although they can get it down on vinyl it lacks the charisma which carries it over on stage."

Contemporary reviewers are much more positive: "In late 1976, with punk still a flood of records waiting to happen, Teenage Depression was one of the only things that made it worthwhile to get up in the morning." -- Dave Thompson,

The LP's iconic cover art - a garishly colorized photograph of a young man holding a gun to his head -  was designed by Michael Beal (he would also design the cover for Metallic KO that year and LAMF in 1977). According to Barrie, the photograph was lifted from an American newspaper story. "It was a kid who robbed a supermarket and the cops chased him. He was a bit of plonker. He ran into a carpark with walls around it and he couldn't get out. He says, 'If you come near me, I'm gonna blow my head off.' And apparently, he did! That's the last picture of him."

Some UK tour dates kept the Hot Rods occupied through the rest of the year. At the same time, the Anarchy in the UK tour featuring the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and the Heartbreakers stopped and started around them.

On November 28th, the Hot Rods played the Greyhound in Croydon. That afternoon, the Pistols were featured in an ITV special about punk rock. The show also included interviews with the Clash and Siouxie and the Banshees.

"We were taking the piss out of Rat Scabies." 
This picture of Eddie and the Hot Rods somehow found its way onto
the back cover of the Damned's debut album!
Photo: Keith Morris
The following night, the Hot Rods were at the Guildford Civic Hall. Meanwhile, the Anarchy tour was banned from playing Lancaster Polytechnic. The University heads and town council were against having "that sort of filth within the town limits."

On December 1st, the Sex Pistols appeared on the Bill Grundy show - and all hell broke loose.

On December 7th, the Hot Rods were at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. That same day, the Bournemouth stop on the Anarchy tour was cancelled and hastily rescheduled for Sheffield.

By December 19th, the Hot Rods were in Glasgow, as the Anarchy tour trundled back to
Manchester for the second time in as many weeks.

On New Year's Eve, the NME  listed "Live at the Marquee" as one of the singles of the year, along with Nick Lowe's "So It Goes" and the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK."

The coming year would start with a publicity gimmick and culminate with a massive US tour. In between, there would be a new addition to the Hot Rods' lineup, another album, and a Top 10 single!

Poster for Eddie and the Hot Rods (with Ultravox)
at the Rainbow - Saturday February 19, 1977
This show would be immortalized on the 
"At the Speed of Sound" EP 
"There were no such things as days off," asserts Barrie. "I remember Ed Hollis saying once... We were doing a European run, right? So, he's sitting there talking about flights and trains. And I said, 'What do we need trains for? We're driving from there to there...' He said, 'I know, but it's a real long drive. It's about 14 hours.' He said, 'I've worked it out. If the tour manager takes you, you can get a plane from here to there to Nice, then this train will get you to... So, you can do this interview and get to such and such for the gig.' One morning, I woke up in Cologne to see the van driving down the road. And I saw my passport and a piece of paper that said: 'Dear Bazza, we've got to do some mixing and things. Need some guitars for the overdubs. There's a TV interview and two radio interviews to do over the next three days. Please do them. See you back home.' Did they leave me any money? Did they fuck! Not a penny! Most of me clothes were in the van. I've just got my gig bag with my gig clothes and maybe a t-shirt and a couple pairs of socks. And not a penny. I thought, you BASTARDS! So, I was stuck. I had to borrow some money to get a cab to the record company. I said, 'Look, I've got a hotel room paid for the next three days but - that's all I've got. I need some money.' Long story short, I did all the stuff I was supposed to do... then I couldn't get home. But everything was like that!"

For the Hot Rods, the year really began on Saturday, February 19th at the Finsbury Park Rainbow where their headlining set was recorded for what would later become the "At the Speed of Sound" EP. Famously, ex-Kursaal Flyer guitarist Graeme Douglas joined the band onstage (although his actual debut with the Hot Rods took place the night before during a warm-up gig at Keele University).

Barrie on the cover of Sniffin' Glue #5
November 1976
Graeme had left/been sacked from the Kursaals when he clashed with producer Mike Batt (whose other credits included the Wombles), accusing him over-commercializing the group. When he got the call from the Hot Rods, who were looking to boost their guitar sound, he jumped at the chance!

Reminiscing about his first show with the band, Graeme writes on his website: "Driving back, coming into Southend as the sun was rising, all was right on the planet. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and I was having a shit-load of fun. Life doesn't get much better." (You can find Graeme's website here:

"Graeme really did fit well," acknowledges Barrie. "Plus, it took the weight off of Dave's shoulders."

The additional guitar also fuelled Ed Hollis' personal vision of the group as a (non-political) English MC5. As Graeme writes: "Ed's ideal line-up was now complete, with myself taking the Wayne Kramer role to Dave's Fred 'Sonic' Smith."

While Graeme was becoming a Hot Rod, some Damned fans were bemused to find that their newly purchased copy of Damned Damned Damned featured a photo of Eddie and the Hot Rods. Considered to be the first full-length LP released by a UK punk group, the Damned's debut album was released on February 18, 1977 - but on the back cover of possibly 2,000 copies was a photo of the Hot Rods posing as rats rather than the Damned playing at the Roxy. Stiff hoped fans would believe the mix-up was a (record collector's dream) mistake. But the entry in Punk Diary claims the gimmick "smacks of another marketing scheme ... to drive early sales."

"It was just a joke!" says Barrie. "We were taking the piss out of Rat Scabies during a photo session. Next thing you know, Jake Riviera saw it and said, 'BRILLIANT!' He said it was a mistake to make it a collector's item."

Back Door Man - from a review by Don Waller
Photo: Donna Santisi
These days, a mint copy of Damned Damned Damned with the Hot Rods' photo can sell for hundreds of pounds. Did Barrie put a few away for his old age pension?

"No! I haven't got any copies."

The Hot Rods' first offering of the year was "I Might be Lying" b/w "Ignore Them (Always Crashing in the Same Bar)," which struggled to scrape the Top 40. While the Higgs-penned
A-side was fairly standard stuff, the guitar-driven B-side (based on an actual adventure which ended with the band being thrown out of Belgium; they were also asked to leave Iceland and Sweden) perfectly showcased the promise of the new Douglas/Hollis writing partnership.

The live "Sound of Speed" EP, recorded at the Rainbow back in February, was finally released in June. Its title was taken from a phrase coined by the band's A&R rep Howard Thompson, and the picture sleeve showed off the post-show carnage inside the venue.

"Hot Rods fans were rowdy, vocal and liked to 'express' themselves," Thompson explained to northforksound.blogspot. On his website, Graeme recalls: "What was a theatre with stalls became a dance-hall - the seats were trashed by the excited audience and trampled to matchsticks."

The four-song EP featured the Hot Rods' adrenalized take on the J. Geils' classic "Hard Drivin' Man" as well as live versions of three tracks from the Teenage Depression LP. But just how "live" was the Rainbow EP? While editing the tapes, it was discovered that Graeme's guitar hadn't made it onto the multi-track. "Quelle horreur!" writes Graeme. "With little regard to the truth, it was decided that, if I went into the studio and played along in Real Time with the tracks, that would constitute a Live Performance."

Curiously, although he'd joined the group some months earlier, from this point on Graeme was credited as appearing courtesy of CBS Records (the label of his former band) on all the Hot Rods' recordings. Why was that?

Advert for one of the stops on the 1978 UK tour with
Squeeze and Radio Stars as support
"He enjoyed playing with us," says Barrie. "We thought it was good. But he had this contract with CBS..."

"I expected them to release me without any problems," comments Graeme on his website. "The corporate minds there realised that there was a New Wave of music happening, and they didn't have any part of it signed. Suddenly they wanted to hold me to my contract and insisted that I supplied them with an album's-worth of new material in demo form. They weren't going to pay me any money to do any recording, they were just going to extract their pound of flesh by refusing to let me sign to Island Records."

"Record companies are like kids," points out Barrie. "They didn't want him until we did. It's all bollocks!" In fact, Graeme would never sign with Island. Which wouldn't really be a problem unless, you know, he happened to co-write a massive hit record for the Hot Rods.

"Gonna break out of this city
Leave the people here behind
Searching for adventure is the type of life to find
Tired of doing day jobs with no thanks for what I do
I'm sure I must be someone
Now I'm gonna find out who

Why don't you ask them what they expect from you
Why don't you tell them what you are gonna do
You'll get so lonely, maybe it's better that way
It ain't you only, you've got something to say
Do anything you wanna do
Do anything you wanna do"

"Do Anything You Wanna Do" was one of two songs that Graeme was working on at the same time, the other was "Quit This Town." Both would enter the UK singles charts, but only one would become Eddie and the Hot Rods' signature tune - and it wasn't "Quit This Town."

"Do Anything You Wanna Do" b/w "Schoolgirl Love"
Aleister Crowley was a "bit too serious...
So, we put the Mickey Mouse ears on him."
According to Graeme's website, "Quit This Town" began with a visit from Barrie and Ed, and some scribbled lyrics. "See what you make of these," Hollis told him. "I want MC5 meets Iggy and the Stooges."

"I had been working on an uptempo song about leaving Sarfend," writes Graeme. "I wanted to call it 'Quit This Town,' so I let them hear that..."

The next day, writes Graeme, "A scramble of writing that reminded me of Aleister Crowley's 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,' metamorphosed in my brain to the Springsteen-inspired 'Do Anything You Wanna Do.' When Barrie and Ed came round that day, I presented them with working drafts of the two songs."

Released at the end of July (under the snappier "Rods" moniker), "Do Anything You Wanna Do" spent the summer climbing ("unrelentingly" says the entry in Punk Diary) the singles chart, until it got to #9. It was the NME single of the week; and in his review for Sounds Alan Lewis stated: "I suspect that this record will reach the widest audience so far - slowed down and tuneful enough to get pop air play, hard and fast enough for the street."

In the US, Trouser Press said: "This is without doubt the best thing they've ever done," while Don Waller's review in Back Door Man included a photo of Graeme captioned: "This man wrote the best pop single of 1977."

Did having a Top 10 single change your lives?

"Bloody hell did it change our lives!" Barrie fairly shouts. "I went to see my mother... Woke up one morning... My mother said, 'Here's a cup of tea and there's some Japanese girls outside.' Straight up!"

Look Out America, It's The Very Hot Rods
Life on the Line advert with the group's
1977 US tour schedule
They were camping on the lawn?

"Yeah, really! They'd come from Japan! Obviously, not just to see me (although that would make it a better story). They'd arrived at something like 2AM. So, they sat and waited. Anyway, next thing I knew my mother invited them in for a cup of tea! I was in my underpants. 'Oh... arrgh... urgh...wot?' Then, there were a few things like... I went out one Sunday morning, hungover, feeling like shit, trying to get a newspaper and a pint of milk. And everybody's stopping me in the street asking for autographs, and I look like I've been in a car crash. Girls going all silly and things..."

Did it come as a surprise, having a hit single?

"Yeah, it did really. I don't care what anyone says, every pop band would love to have a hit single. And we were lucky enough to have one. But a lot of people get the wrong idea. They think as soon as you've been on Top of the Pops - they think you're stinking rich! So, in your local pub..."

Everyone wants you to buy them a drink?

"No! If you buy them a drink, you're a flash bastard! And if you don't... 'All that money and he can't buy us a drink.' You can't win. It's a funny old situation."

The fabled "Curse of the Hot Rods" has to do with the 45's picture sleeve, as journalist Peter Watts explains in his blog: "In recognition of his contribution to the song's genesis, the band decided to put Crowley on the cover of the single. But they also felt his glowering visage was not really in the spirit of the band, so manager Ed Hollis attached a slightly comical pair of Mickey Mouse ears to Crowley's head. Great cover, big mistake. According to rumour, this image soon came to the attention of Jimmy Page, a Crowley apostle who lived in Crowley's old house, had a vast collection of Crowley paraphernalia and was fascinated by the occult... The band were told that Page placed a curse upon Eddie and the Hot Rods for their disrespectful treatment of the Great Beast. From that moment, the band were plagued by problems." (You can read the full story here.)

Sitting L-R: Graeme Douglas, Barrie Masters,
Dave Higgs. Standing: Steve Nicol, Paul Gray
Photo: Keith Morris
"That caused a lot trouble," confirms Barrie. "'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law'... bit too serious. So, we put the Mickey Mouse ears on him. And Page went mental, didn't he! Fucking sending death threats. He put a curse on us! Well, it's bloody well funny because everything went tits up after that. It really did. I mean, I don't believe in that shit but everything really did go tits up. And we're still talking about it today! It does have an effect, I'm telling you."

Eddie and the Hot Rods played the Marquee for five nights in a row during the week leading up to the August Bank Holiday, and on the Friday they "Rocked Reading" - sharing the first day's bill with Uriah Heep, Golden Earring and half-a-dozen other heavy rockers. It had been raining non-stop for weeks before the festival and the wet conditions caused the PA to cut in and out. Those that were there, like John Connell, remember: "Mud. Mud everywhere. Rain and mud. More mud." But Martin Platt's "most vivid memory was Eddie and the Hot Rods and how they attempted to play once the power was down." (For more memories and photos of the '77 Reading Festival go to

The Hot Rods were already big news during the summer of 1977, and then there was this endorsement: "Now, I realise that it's not fashionable to dig the Rods... Being your basic rock and roller at heart, I really do dig the Rods. Maybe the dudes in plastic bags and fuchsia hair don't know, but the little girls understand... I've developed a real affection for [them] both musically and personally, and I believe that they have the best chance for America of all the bands I've seen here." -- Rob Tyner, New Musical Express (October 1, 1977).

MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner was in the UK to promote the reissue of the group's back catalog, and the NME had commissioned him to write an article about the punk scene. Howard Thompson didn't waste any time introducing him to the Hot Rods, as he told the northforksound.blogspot: "I quickly arranged a one-off deal where the band would back him on a couple of his tunes." The recording sessions for "Till the Night is Gone (Let's Rock)" b/w "Flipside Rock" took place a couple of days after Tyner joined the Hot Rods onstage during the Chelmsford City Rock Festival on September 17th.

Robin Tyner & the Hot Rods
"Till the Night is Gone (Let's Rock)" b/w "Flipside Rock"
That's Graeme Douglas hiding under the redaction tape.
"We were big fans," enthuses Barrie, "and Ed Hollis was a complete MC5 nut! We met up, did a rehearsal together, and recorded four or five songs. Island said they'd put it out as a single." The collaboration between Tyner and the Hot Rods wasn't promoted and didn't garner much attention at the time but "it was a nice little project," says Barrie.

Despite the curse (and Tyner's suggestion that it was no longer fashionable to dig them), the Hot Rods were still on a roll. The group's second album, Life On The Line, was released on November 4th, to coincide with a massive US tour. Technically, the tour started with a handful of shows in Canada; their US debut was at Max's Kansas City for a three-night stint starting on November 10th.

(According to Peter Crowley, Max's music and art director from 1975 - 1981, the band wasn't originally scheduled to play the club. "I ran into the Hot Rods at the Marquee in the spring of '77," he remembers. "They told me they were going to make their US debut at the Bottom Line. I steered them to Max's Kansas City.")

Trouser Press columnist Jim Green reported on the PR circus that met the band in New York: "The Rods had arrived at La Guardia Airport to be greeted by a bunch of journalists and photogs bussed out to meet them by Island, not to mention the three hired 'yobs' staging fake punch-ups for the cameras while publicists handed Rods 45s to any and all passersby - tourists, airline personnel, cops. Who? It's an English punk-rock band."

"We are not a punk band," Barrie told anyone who would listen. "Anytime I spoke to any interviewer I said, 'We're nothing to do with punk! Fuck all to do with us!'"

According to Barrie, the Hot Rods played "fifty-six shows in fifty-four days" on their first US tour, and for a few of the dates they supported the Ramones and Talking Heads.

Did you guys like the Ramones?


And the Talking Heads?

"The Talking Heads were a funny band. If you saw four gigs... one gig would be blinding, one would be good, and two would be mediocre. It was always the same. If they'd done a couple of mediocre gigs, I'd always stay and watch the next couple because you knew they'd do a blinder. It was funny!"

Ramones, Hot Rods and Talking Heads
Masonic Auditorium, Detroit - Nov 23, 1977
Handbill designed by Gary Grimshaw

What about the Ramones?

"They were the same every night!"

Following New York, the tour went down the East Coast through Annapolis, Washington DC, Baltimore and Boston. On November 19th, it was back up to the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey - where Joey Ramone suffered serious burns when a vaporizer exploded in his face just before he went onstage. 

Winding through the Midwest, the Hot Rods stopped in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis. Late November/ early December, they were in California for shows at the Mabuhay in San Francisco and the Whisky in Los Angeles. At least that's the printed tour schedule, but it's missing several shows, including the Old Waldorf in SF, which almost certainly took place before the Mabuhay!

According to Graeme, who very kindly answered my tour questions via email: "I'm sure there were some more dates that were slotted in during the down time. The Old Waldorf fits. I believe we went from there to the Las Vegas Atlantic Hotel with Robin Trower and Wishbone Ash, then to UCSD in San Diego before driving up the highway to LA with Spencer Davis for three nights at the Whisky. When we got back to NYC we played NYU with Mink DeVille and CBGBs - not sure what dates those were but definitely just before Christmas."

At the end of the tour, MT Laverty caught up with the band for another Trouser Press feature - but having received what they thought was a lacklustre reception in New York, the guys were a wee bit disgruntled that day. Under the headline: "Eddie and the Hot Rods are so BORED with the USA," Dave Higgs complained about American audiences: "You'd think they were watching television rather than watching a band."

"What was your favorite city of all those you visited on tour?" enquired Laverty.

Eddie and the Hot Rods pose for Trouser Press
in Peter Dean's office at Max's Kansas City.
Photo: Ebet Roberts 
"I can't remember where we were," offered Dave.

"I don't know..." added Graeme helpfully. "Frisco, maybe."

"What American bands have you liked?" Laverty pressed on.

"Uhhh...." stalled Graeme.

"Ask us about the ones we don't like," countered Dave.

On his website, Graeme recalls: "We found it hard to come to terms with the New York City low life that came to the gigs there, although Paul seemed to enjoy himself as junkies and gay boys competed for his attention. We were holed up at the Mayflower, on Central Park West, whilst Ed Hollis had booked himself into the Essex House, a far swankier hotel. He spent most of that tour in NYC, while we schlepped round the country."

Before the Hot Rods left New York, rumor has it the band played at CBGBs in exchange for free beer.

"It's true!" laughs Barrie. "We had a party that night!"

While they'd been away, Life On The Line had climbed the UK album charts (it would eventually settle at #27), and "Quit This Town" became a Top 40 single.

According to Barrie, the LP took eight days to record (twice as long as the first album!). "We just knocked it out," he says. "Because again, we were so busy touring. It was literally, we've got a day off here and a day off there. So we recorded it really, really fast!"

Alternate photo from the "Do Anything You Wanna Do" 45 shoot
L-R: Graeme Douglas, Barrie Masters, Steve Nicol, Paul Gray, Dave Higgs
Generally acknowledged as the group's best album, and certainly its best seller, Life On The Line wiped away the Hot Rods R&B pub rocker past in favor of a more exuberant pop/punk/rock 'n' roll approach. "If 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' didn't already forewarn you..." wrote Phil McNeil in the NME, "this is not the same Eddie and the Hot Rods that used to whack out 'Wooly Bully' down the Marquee last year." In Sounds, Pete Makowski said: "This is the Rods doing what they wanna do, the best way they can, and it's bloody good."

As the co-writer of six of the nine songs on the LP, how much of an influence did Graeme have on this new direction?

"Everyone seems to put it down to Graeme," says Barrie. "I'm not taking it away from Graeme - a lot of it was because of his song writing. But the band changed. A lot of it was me and Steve, really. We just got fed up! Everything was just like BASH, QUICK, WACK it down and get it out! And we had Steve Lillywhite. He was only a young kid, but he had some great ideas. (Lillywhite is credited as assistant producer along with Graeme Douglas and the Rods; Ed Hollis is listed as the album's producer.)  Whenever Ed weren't in the studio, we'd put some stuff down that was really good, different - melodic. So, we were kind of pushing it that way. Ed was trying to push us the other way. There were lots of people pushing and pulling us. Which is good in a way, 'cause in the end there's a kind of common denominator which comes out - which was that sound. But Steve Lillywhite never gets the credit he was due. He was brilliant that boy. Clever boy!"

Life On The Line LP, released November 1977 (Island)
But something - or more accurately, someone - was missing from the LP's cover art, which featured individual photos of four out of five band members. According to the entry in Punk Diary, "entanglements ensued" with Graeme's former bosses at CBS and his picture was deleted.  For his part, Graeme could be seen sporting a spiffy "CBS SUCKS" t-shirt in publicity photos!

 "The album is actually a gatefold," says Barrie, "and Graeme was supposed to be in the middle, but we had to take his picture out. They (CBS) didn't want his picture on it. But there's different covers, depending on the country. There's some that are just a single cover with Steve on the front; I can't remember who's on the back. And others have three people in the middle, and there's
 some with two. I don't know what the problem was. I never could understand it."

With Life On The Line, the Douglas/Hollis writing partnership really came to the fore. Although
Graeme has been quoted as saying, "Dave Higgs was the person who wanted me to join the Hot Rods, because he admired my guitar playing and wanted to fatten up the sound a bit with him concentrating on rhythm guitar," he also replaced Dave as the group's primary song writer. In fact, Dave Higgs is only credited with one track on the album - the epic "Beginning of the End."

Did this upset him?

"No... Dave needed a break," says Barrie. "He had too much weight on his shoulders. We were just spreading it around a bit. The only thing we were pissed off about normally, like most of the time, was that we were all writing. But Ed was telling us that Island want this as a single, and they want these tracks for the album. And it was never any of mine, Steve's or Paul's! There's three tracks on that album which have nothing to do with Ed and Graeme. One day, this bloke from Island said to me, 'We've been fighting to get those on.' And he was serious! I found out that Ed was making shitloads of money. He was a bastard like that. That's why he got the heave. No... it wasn't that. He was getting into drugs."

Christmas Eve 1977 at the Roundhouse
Eddie and the Hot Rods with the Only Ones
Eddie and the Hot Rods closed out 1977 with a Christmas Eve show at the Roundhouse with the Only Ones as support. But over the previous twelve months, the UK's musical landscape had completely changed.

In Sounds, Chas de Whalley commented: "I would have expected Christmas Eve with the Rods at the Roundhouse to turn into something of a real party, wouldn't you? Well, strangely enough, it didn't." And Punk Diary notes: "The Hot Rods who were voted on heavily in 1976 are virtually absent from this year's NME Readers Poll. The Sex Pistols dominate the honors, including Best Group, Best Album and Best Single."

"When we came back from the US," recalls Barrie, "the spitting thing had started. "Arrrgh! It would get all over everything - equipment, clothes..." During our interview, Barrie cites this as "one of the reasons why we went back to America really quickly." However, it's more likely that the second US tour didn't take place until much later - which Graeme terms a "bad move" on his website.

In early 1978, the Hot Rods undertook a major UK tour to promote Life On The Line, with Radio Stars and Squeeze as support. On his website, Graeme states: "It was a good tour... and it was one that enhanced our reputation as the most potent live act in the country."

According to Graeme, a quick return visit to the States was discussed at this point, but then shelved due to a lack of funds. He writes: "A meeting with Island Records, who were also facing bankruptcy, told us that our finances were extremely shaky, even with all the royalties that were accruing."

On the punk77 website, Paul Gray says: "For a band that had constantly toured and sold tons of records, we had little to show for it, and later we realised that we were effectively broke."

Some reports say that Ed Hollis had badly mismanaged the Hot Rods' affairs and had misappropriated large sums of the band's money to fund a drug habit. Hollis passed away in 1988 probably as a consequence of long-term heroin addiction.

Completely Sold Out
Saturday February 18, 1978 - Friars Aylesbury
Eddie and the Hot Rods
with Radio Stars and Squeeze
Tickets for Motorhead are still available!

Featuring a cast that included Jools Holland on keyboards, Lee Brilleaux on harp, and Linda McCartney on backing vocals, Thriller, the group's third album and its last on Island, wasn't released until March 1979 - a full 16 months after Life On The Line. According to Barrie, part of the delay was because its predecessor was still selling well.

"Life On The Line sold really well," he corrects. "So, Island said take a bit of time with the next one. We'd recorded the first one at Jackson's really cheaply, the second one was recorded in a bleeding church. We said, 'Let's find a proper studio, and we want a proper producer.' So, they got us Peter Ker. He wore tweed jackets and things like that. Gawd!" (Best known for his work with Arthur Brown and Love Sculpture in the 1960s, Ker had recently produced Approved By The Motors).

Barrie continues: "We recorded it at Abbey Road... I know the Beatles used it, but it was built for orchestras. It was all wrong. And the daft thing is, when we did the rough mixes it sounded like the fucking dog's bollocks! Really good! Even if I say so meself. That album, between mixes, is a real good album. An album I'd be proud to say, 'I did that!' But the finished product is well lame. I'm ashamed of it. I really am."

There's precious little documented information to be found about the Hot Rods' second US tour - even the band are unsure about the actual dates - but it ties in timewise here. "I have a feeling that it would have been the fall of '78, after the recording of Thriller," guesses Graeme in one of our email exchanges. "We played a few shows with the Police and Tom Petty but didn't get back out to the West Coast because we'd run out of money." 

Barrie describes the second US tour as: "Hard. Bloody. Work."

On his website, Graeme mentions that the Hot Rods were already beginning to splinter: "The band had not been playing together for some time, what with external commitments by Paul and Steve with various Yankee musos, and the edge was gone. What used to be tight was sloppy, although there were still the occasional nights where we performed well."

He's also aware that by this point, they'd missed their opportunity: "The audiences were not there. Apart from good attendances when supporting Tom Petty and the Police, we were not earning enough to pay for the tour. We were driving 4-500 miles a day between gigs with no hope in hell of sticking to the 55 m.p.h. speed limit, and no money to pay the inevitable speeding fines. The only way to get paid was to get to the gig, and the only way to get to the gig was to charge the fines to my Visa card. We had to abandon the tour and fly back home."
Graeme models the latest in CBS SUCKS attire.
Photo from Graeme's website. Photographer unknown
(although it looks to have been taken during the same
photo session as the one above).

In March 1979, the band toured the UK in support of Thriller. Opening for the Hot Rods were the Members, who had stormed to #12 in the UK singles charts with "The Sound of the Suburbs" in February and were scoring again with "Offshore Banking Business."

On the punk77 website, Paul Gray points out: "[The Members] were actually getting more airplay than us... Where we were starting to sound tired and, dare I say it, jaded, they were fresh and enthusiastic. Looking back on it now we were knackered, we'd been worked to the bone, and there was no fooling the punters. We were drinking loads - a bottle of Jim Beam for me, Southern Comfort for Bazza, Vodka for Dave - it would all be gone before we left the dressing room... What had once been a great adventure had ceased to be fun and, although we wouldn't have admitted it we were going thru the motions."

The grind of constant gigging and financial strain had taken its toll. The band needed a break, but according to Barrie: "No one thought of saying, 'Let's send them to the Canaries for a couple of weeks and let 'em sit on the beach. Let 'em change color from white to bronze. Give 'em some food instead of cocaine.' That never happened. I mean, we had Graeme Douglas - he did tours of hospitals. Literally, out of one hospital, do the gig, then back into the hospital. Move into another hospital, do the gig, into another hospital. Paul Gray spit up blood every day for about a month! Steve was constantly shaking. He couldn't stop shaking for weeks. It was stupid."

Eddie and the Hot Rods in the centerfold of Look In magazine.
Although the magazine is dated 1978, this photo was probably taken
on the roof of the K West Radio building in LA during the band's 1977 US tour.
In May, the Hot Rods were fighting rumors of a split. The Punk Diary entry for the 29th has all the details: "Talk of a breakup was fuelled by the band being dropped by Island. Their manager, Roger Harding explained that the band is maintaining a low profile while they work up new songs and new stage routines. Paul Gray is currently touring with the Members while Barrie and Steve are playing in a side group called Plus Support. It's uncertain if the Rods are really through or just in a holding pattern. What is clear is that in five short years, the world surrounding them has changed dramatically and they might not be able to compete as Eddie and the Hot Rods."

But in August, the Hot Rods were still together (after a fashion) and signed to EMI - although Barrie asserts that Island didn't drop the band. "That's when Ed Hollis wasn't getting his own way at Island," he says, indicating that their manager had instigated the move to a new label. "Chris Blackwell (Island's founder) said to me, 'If you're gonna go, you have my blessing. I really hope you do well. But remember, you've always got a home here.'"

Eddie and the Hot Rods on the cover of Sounds
Poll Winners issue February 19, 1977
In 1980, EMI half-heartedly issued the Al Kooper-produced Fish 'n' Chips. It was the band's fourth (and final) major label LP, but Barrie terms it "a waste of time."

"EMI spent all this time and money recording it," he points out, "and then said they weren't gonna release it." When the album did "slip out" there was no publicity behind it and it disappeared without a trace.

He also admits that the band hadn't written enough material to fill the album. "There weren't enough songs. That's why there's some odd bits. That's the only thing I don't like. There's some funny old things!"

Was there any unreleased EMI material?

"There must have been," reckons Barrie, "because we were planning another album. It never got recorded, just demoed. I don't know how much there was now or what it was."

Ed Hollis was replaced by Harry Maloney, and both Paul and Graeme had left the band before recording had even started on Fish 'n' Chips.

In early 1980, Paul jumped ship and replaced Algy Ward in the Damned. Graeme had left a bit earlier due to his deteriorating health. "My diabetic control was slipping," he writes on his website, "and I was experiencing more and more episodes of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). This made my judgement quite arbitrary and my behaviour quite weird."

Graeme made his departure during a gig at the London Lyceum when, halfway through the show, he handed his guitar to a photographer and crawled about the stage trying to bite the drummer's ankles. "The memory of Steve valiantly trying to keep time whilst simultaneously bashing Graeme on the head with his sticks is one that will live with me forever," says Paul on the punk77 website.

Eddie and the Hot Rods
New Flag Poster
Official website:
Although Barrie allows that during the early '80s "we did a few bits and pieces on our own for different firms" - such as his own long-term stint with the Inmates, and Steve Nicol spending time with One The Juggler - he insists that the Hot Rods never really split up. And really, the band is still going today - albeit with Barrie now the only original member. For the past several years, the lineup has been: Richard Holgarth and Chris Taylor on guitars, Simon Bowley on drums, and Dipster Dean on bass.

There's just time to ask a question about one of my favorite Hot Rods' songs before Barrie has to go. Was the phone number in "Telephone Girl" (838-5924) anyone's actual number?

"Ha! When we wrote it, the number I chose happened to be someone's number in England. So we thought, we'll just find a number that ain't used. Well... that number ain't used in England. We didn't think about any other countries, did we! Oh my god, did we get into trouble! On the first American tour, every time I did an interview... 'We've got a few people who aren't very happy that you used their phone number.' I just kept saying, 'I'm sorry.' We didn't think the record was even gonna come out over there!"

Update: Since publishing this article I've been in touch with Keith Coton, who was looking after the Hot Rods fan club at the time of their second US tour. Keith kindly filled in the missing details for the tour - including the fact that it took place a full year later than had been thought! Keith writes: "As Graeme says in the article, money was tight. I'd bought my own flight but once there [I was] looked after well in return for long stints at the wheel and help with the humping. For the fan club, I kept a diary of the tour... We left Heathrow for JFK on 19th September 1979. I remember that 1st night we all went to The Only Ones at a club called Hurrah."

Keith's gig list (copied below) shows that the band was driving long distances between consecutive dates, as they crisscrossed sections of the East Coast, Canada, the Midwest and the South over the course of three-and-a-half weeks.

Advert for the Hot Rods three-night 
stint at Max's Kansas City in 1977.
Courtesy of Peter Crowley
September 20: Philadelpia, PA - Hot Club
21 NYC -  Diplomat Hotel
22 Rochester, NY - Penny Arcade
23 Dover, NJ - Showcase
25 Long Island, NY - My Father's Place
26 Boston, MA - Paradise Theatre
27 Buffalo, NY - Stage One
28 Toronto, Canada - The Edge
29 Toronto, Canada - The Edge
30 Detroit, MI - Bookies
October 2: Chicago, IL - Mother's
3 Chicago, IL - Mother's
4 Peoria, IL - 2nd Chance
5 Gary, IN - Harry Hopes
6 Milwaukee, WI - Zaks
7 Minneapolis, MN
9 St Louis, MO - Fourth & Pine
11 Columbia, SC - University (with the Police)
12 Atlanta, GA - Argora Ballroom (with the Police)
13 Atlanta, GA - Argora Ballroom (with Tim Curry)
14 Tuscaloosa, AL - Bama Theatre (with the Police)
15 Nashville, TN - Exit Inn (with the Police)

Many thanks to Keith Coton for his help, and to Graeme Douglas for all his assistance. Also, thanks to Kevin Shepherd for his enthusiasm and encouragement.

I am grateful to several websites, books and magazines for providing information used during my research of the Hot Rods' history. Here's a list of those I found particularly useful...

Websites and Blogs:

No Sleep Till Canvey Island - The Great Pub Rock Revolution by Will Birch (Published 2003 by Virgin Books)
Punk Diary 1970-1979 by George Gimarc (Published 1994 by St. Martin's Press)

New Musical Express
Melody Maker
Trouser Press
Back Door Man
Sniffin' Glue