Wednesday, October 6, 2010

THE SKELS with a Live CHEETAH (CHROME)

Text by Julia Masi, 1982
Introductory text by Robert Barry Francos, 2010
© By FFanzeen
Images from the Internet


The following article/interview with The Skels was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #9, in 1982. It was conducted and written by Julia Masi, and I was also present for the rehearsal, interview and brief photoshoot on St. Mark’s Place, though my memory of the whole experience is kind of weak.

Bassist Gerry Lambe (not to be confused with the British musician of the Skunks) died around 1986 after a long career on the New York scene. Cheetah Chrome, infamous for so many reasons, including his tenure with the Dead Boys, now has a powerful new autobiography out called A Dead Boy’s Tale, which had been reviewed last month in this blog (ffanzeen.blogspot.com/2010/09/book-review-dead-boys-tale-by-cheetah.html). In the book, there is little mention of the Skels, so here is my contribution to honor the history of Cheetah. – RBF, 2010


In a dark, musty studio on West 27th Street, Cheetah Chrome and his band, the Skels – Gerry Lambe, bass, and Jeff Miller, drums – are absorbed in practice for an upcoming gig in Baltimore. Almost oblivious to an audience of two jaded rock’n’roll journalists, the Skels seem every bit as intense, polished, and energetic in rehearsal as they do in actual performance.

But the band isn’t satisfied. In unison, they interrupt the flow of smooth-sounding “Sonic Reducer,” crack a few jokes, tune their guitars, pinpoint their problem and try it again. A series of similar stops and starts punctuate the rehearsal, magnifying the camaraderie, seriousness and sweat that make the Skels one of the tightest new trios in New York.

All three have been in bands before: Cheetah, who started out in his native Detroit with Frankenstein, and Rocket From the Tombs, reaches his peak of success with the Dead Boys in the late ‘70s; Jeff’s been a studio musician here and abroad, as well as playing with bands like Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, and the Fast; and Gerry’s a veteran of the local scene, most recently with Disgrace. From their combined experience, they know what it takes to make or break a band, and the Skels is where they put their knowledge to the test.

“Three creative people all working together. That’s a band. That’s this band, at least,” said Cheetah. “It’s a real exclusive club. The only way anybody’s gonna join is if they are brought in by another member of the band. It’s like the Guardian Angels. You’ve gotta be sponsored.” They frequently kick around the idea of having another member, but at this point it’s not in their immediate plans. “I’ve decided it’s a five piece band, ‘cause me and the drummer are both skitz,” Cheetah quipped. “Before this band started, before I had these two buys, it was a four piece or a three piece, depending on who showed up for the gig. It became a big pain in the ass for me to do a three piece. I had to sing, play guitar, dance around and balance an egg on my heard or something. It got to feel like I was doing too much work. With these guys, they’re so solid; I can play whenever I want to.

“Before I was playing in a trio that should have been a four piece. Now, I’m playing with a trio. Another guitar would be nice, but at the same time it isn’t necessary. And I like the extra bread!”

“Three piece, if you screw up it’s more evident. But four piece, it’s sloppier,” noted Jeff. “To me, it’s convenient. We only have one guy doing his job. If we have another player, what am I gonna tell him about lead guitar? What is he gonna tell me about drums? And vice versa. We each do our own thing. He can hear, obviously, if all of a sudden I screw up and I play in 7/8 when I’m supposed to be playing in 4/4.

“The thing that’s great about this group is that nobody’s retarded. Like in almost every group I’ve played there’s always been one guy you had to drag along. It’s like, ‘Duh, what do I play here?’ And you have to do [he imitates a guitar] do-do-do. ‘Oh, yeah, right. That riff.’ But everybody knows what the hell they’re doing. Like he’ll [Cheetah] start a song and we’ll come in.”

“I think the band falls into different categories,” explains Gerry. “We could do a bill with somebody like Iggy Pop and be compatible. We have the same raw energy he has. Whereas we can also do gigs with a band like the Stray Cats. ‘Federal Case’ and ‘I Don’t Know’ are basic 12 bar rock’n’roll. Or we could open for a heavy metal band.”

But the only type of music that they all feel they are incompatible with is hardcore punk. Jeff feels “a responsibility” to his audience because he knows that “there are young drummers in the audience. I don’t want them to see us and go back and pick up sloppy habits. What will it be in a year? Hardcore will be dead and we’ll have another trend. Why can’t we just have bands anymore?”

“It’s real weird ‘cause I’m the oldest in the band; I’m 27,” said Cheetah. “And when I was with the Dead Boys, I met Jeff. He was just this young whipper-snapper. He’s two years younger than me. I watched Jeff grow from this kid form Queens who used to come to our gigs and playin’ with the Fast and the Dictators, and playin’ with Wayne (County) and watchin’ him develop. And Gerry, the Dead Boys were to Gerry like the Stooges were to me: somebody to identify with. It’s great because I’m playin’ with two people that I’ve influenced, in a way.

“I met a little kid who came up to me and said, ‘I learned to play guitar to your records.’ It makes me feel good that somebody sat down with my records and took the time to learn. ‘Sonic Reducer’ is a standard for bar bands to cover. The Bad Brains, I think, said in their press kit, that the band was formed after one of the members listened to a Dead Boys album. To me that’s mission accomplished.

“Right now, we’re gonna do our gigs with the set we’ve got, but we’ll enlarge the band every time. We’ll add a couple of new tunes. With these guys, I really find myself trying to develop more as a guitar player and extending myself more, which is something I haven’t done. I haven’t felt such a creative outburst like this (before)!”

As the band evolves, they intend to get Gerry up to the mic to sing. “Yeah, let it be said,” commented Jeff, “that our bass player can sing very, very well. He just doesn’t want to.”

“If Gerry would just get off his ass…’ nagged Cheetah in feigned annoyance, “I’d get a break. This guy can sing the ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ real good, but he won’t do it. You know why? ‘Cause he’s shy.” Although the brown-eyed bass player didn’t seem the least bit shy during this interview, he still won’t sing no matter how much this reporter begged.

“Eventually Gerry is gonna sing,” Cheetah confirmed. “It’s a fact of life he’ll just have to deal with. During the set we’ll time it so that he does the song and I’ll take a break and just play guitar. I’d like to do some instrumentals.” He also intends to incorporate more of Jeff and Gerry’s songs, which are heavily influenced by the ‘60s and rhythm & blues, into their act.

“We’re looking forward to gettin’ into that,” Cheetah noted, “but right now the main thing was to get a set down that we could stand by.

“As soon as we got this band together, all of a sudden it just clicked. And I just said, ‘Let’s get to work.’ The creative spark is there. If I don’t have a part for a song, these guys will come up with it. We don’t just rehearse together and let things happen. We talk about it. I didn’t want back-up musicians. I had that. That’s why it’s just ‘The Skels.’ Right now, it’s ‘The Skels featuring Cheetah Chrome,’ but that’s only so everybody knows what the name of my new band is. Eventually, I don’t see why it can’t be the Skels featuring all three of us.”

“We wanna be one of the top new groups,” admitted Jeff. “The problem in New York is that nobody wants to forget. I used to like the Dead Boys, but we’re not trying to be the Dead Boys. We’re not tryin’ to be anybody but the Skels.

“And there’s another thing that Cheetah pointed out at the first gig we did. He gave a rap about how there are a lot of hardcore band out there, bands that are going back to punk and ska, everything but good rock’n’roll bands. That speech was really weird, but it means something.”

What it means is that there is a rock’n’roll audience ready and waiting for the Skels, as they found out when they played Baltimore. Despite all their anxiety over a slightly imperfect rehearsal, the gig came off without a hitch and the crowd loved them.

About Baltimore, Cheetah remarked, “The band was incredible. They just kept me going. They just fired me up. It was the best gig I had since the Dead Boys. I got this rush, and I just started sweatin’. I can always tell how good a gig is by how much I sweat.”

6 comments:

  1. Just to correct some facts: Gerry passed away around August of 1991, killed in a motorcycle accident on the BQE. He left behind a son who is now in his 20's. I was very good friends with Gerry, and played in a later incarnation of The Skels, from late 1982 to late 1984. The lineup was Cheetah on lead guitar, Gerry on bass, Neil Winograd on drums and me on rhythm guitar. I got a look at Cheetah's book and am happy that he's at peace with himself, seemingly clean, and generally happy.

    Rob Schecter
    New York, N.Y.

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    1. So weird that I'd end up on this page, I knew Gerry when he was a prospect in a Brooklyn motorcycle club. Nice guy, his son was about 4 (???) at the time, I even watched him for a little while once while his Dad was getting his bike fixed. I remember the night he died, the guys in the club were devastated. It was a sad funeral, visited his Mom afterwards, she was a nice lady.

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  2. Tricia Weight National Music History ExaminerJanuary 7, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    I do believe Cheetah started in his native Cleveland, as did Rocket from the Tombs and Dead Boys. I believe the first half of the book is dedicated to the formation of those phenomenal bands in Cleveland, at least that's how my copy of A Dead Boy's Tale reads. And what he said in our interview.

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  3. Hey, Rob:
    Thanks for the clarification, I really appreciate that. I see my blog as a source of info, and additional data is always appreciated, especially from one who was there.

    Hey, Tricia,
    Thanks for your comments. Note that this interview is republished from my fanzine during the early '80s, and it was with the whole band, not just Cheetah, so much of Cheetah's early history is not in there. However, I covered more ground in my review of his recent book that you mention, "A Dead Boy's Tale," which was blogged here later in 2010.

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  4. Wow, thats really wierd reading that article .
    I am Gerry Lambe the one from England with the SKUNKS and basically we knew Wayne County very well and toured with the and the Electric Chairs in the early days 77/ 78 so got to know them very well, in fact JJ Johnson the drummer depped for us a lot on drums whilst we tried to find one. Sorry to hear of the loss , its so strange because there just arent that many Gerry Lambes in this world !! I wonder whether or not we would have bumped in to some of those guys on the road in the early days. Gerry Lambe : SKUNKSUKOFFICIAL on My Space, xxxxxxxx

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  5. Did I really comment that? I recognize my humor of course--it's just not that funny without my late-night goggles.

    Need to work on that.

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