By Devorah Ostrov
|Shrapnel strike a suitably militaristic pose for this publicity pic.|
Photo: Tom Hearn
You might have seen guitarist Daniel Rey's co-writer credit on such Ramones' faves as "Poison Heart," "Pet Sematary," and "I Wanna Live." He's also produced records for the Ramones, the Misfits, White Zombie, Green Apple Quickstep, D Generation, and "a bunch of other stuff" he can't remember.
However, what initially caught my attention in Punk magazine was his militaristic-styled late-'70s band, Shrapnel. And when I met Rey (aka Rabinowitz) at the recent Thunder Road benefit (where he backed-up Joey Ramone on a handful of songs), he was happy to fill me in on a brief history of the group Punk once dubbed "The Brat Patrol."
|"Combat Love" b/w "Hey"|
(Salute Records - 1979)
Comprised of a bunch of camo-clad juvenile delinquents, Shrapnel hailed from the 'burbs of New Jersey. "But as soon as we were old enough, we were hanging out in New York," says Rey.
Along with Rey, the band's teenaged lineup featured Dave Wyndorf (vocals), Philip Caivano (bass), Dave Vogt (guitar), and Dan Clayton (drums).
"The Dictators were one of my favorite bands," Rey declares. "They totally changed our lives. We went to see the Ramones in the summer of '76, the last time they played the Jersey Shore, and Top Ten from the Dictators was there. He was amazed that anyone recognized him! He told us about this place on Bleeker and Bowery called CBGBs. So, we went up there the next weekend. And we never left."
"There was a time in New York..." Rey trails off. "In '76, the Dictators and the Ramones were the two hot bands. Then the Dead Boys came around. Shrapnel used to open for them all the time. We used to open for the Ramones a lot, probably 100 times."
Rey describes Shrapnel's early sound as a "sort of rave-up, militant, MC5 sort of thing. With a little bit of pop thrown in. Real American punk rock 'n' roll."
|Shrapnel and their Spidey friend|
(Illustration by Frank Miller for Marvel Comics)
The band "conned" Legs McNeil from Punk magazine into managing them, and in issue #14, the 'zine announced: "Next Big Thing — Kid Groups. Kids too young to drink are playing clubs in N.Y.C." And Shrapnel, along with the Blessed and Middle Class, were listed as the best of them all.
In 1979 Shrapnel released the first of two now impossible to find 45s on their own label, Salute Records. Produced by McNeil and Jonathan Paley, the single "Combat Love" b/w "Hey" featured the tag line "Commandos of Rock 'N Roll," underlining the group's B-movie militaristic stance.
|Shrapnel's self-titled EP|
(Elektra Records - 1984)
In his review of the 45, Punk's music critic Jolly poked fun at McNeil when he wrote: "A good band but they lack that certain something, that certain guiding light, that maybe a director or manager could provide. In the long run, it may be what stands between them and greatness."
In a corresponding write-up, Punk's Assistant Publisher Richard Tucksmith pointed out: "Hey" is a good song. Shrapnel is also good live, in case you're interested. Buy this record so their manager can get some new clothes. But seriously, it's a good record."
That same year, Shrapnel lost Punk's "Best New Group" award to the B-52's, but the magazine's March/April issue featured them in a photo/comic send-up as the Brat Patrol. The concept went something like this:
"The Plot — Shrapnel — the Janitors of Justice, are out to sanitize New Jersey by eradicating their arch enemy — the Unknown Gook — a bald, aging, fanatical flower child, driven mad by excessive banana-peel smoking."
However, according to Rey, the fun had gone out of the New York punk scene by then.
When Dead Boys' drummer, Johnny Blitz, was brutally stabbed outside a Lower East Side deli, it was "a turning point for the whole scene," he says.
"It had been kind of carefree," recalls Rey. "There was a camaraderie, an innocence to it. And the Dead Boys were the hot band. At that moment, they were the greatest band. But they were never the same after that."
"We used to go to the same place to eat after CB's," he notes about the location of the attack. There were only two or three places you could go to back then in the East Village, late at night. And everybody used to end up there after Max's or CB's. I remember that night vividly; the innocence was lost."
Shrapnel played the "Blitz Benefit" at CBGBs, sharing the bill with Blondie and the Dead Boys. Comedian John Belushi guested on drums in Blitz's absence. As Rey remembers it, "Belushi came into the dressing room all coked up, going, 'Who's got drumsticks? Who's got drumsticks?' Our drummer gave him drumsticks."
In 1984 Shrapnel released a five-song EP on Elektra Records that included a strong cover of Gary Glitter's "Didn't Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock-N-Roll)."
|Shrapnel as the "Brat Patrol" - excerpt from Punk's photo/comic. |
(Written by Legs McNeil & Jolly/Photos by Tom Hearn)
But the no-frills cover art didn't picture the guys in their usual army-surplus garb. Instead, it made them look like an airbrushed new wave band.
Rey simply states that the EP was "bad."
"We kind of got caught up in the '80s new wave thing," he adds. "We used to play these dance clubs... We were young when we got signed, and like most bands, we listened to the label."
Now older and wiser, Rey imparts this piece of wisdom: "When you get signed, and someone from the label tells you to do something, you have to do the exact opposite. That's very important. And then you'll be okay."
Shrapnel broke up "right after we got signed," says Rey. "It was just time, 'yknow."