Friday, August 31, 2012

DVD Reviews: The Beatles: Their Golden Age; Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth

DVD Reviews: The Beatles – Their Golden Age

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

The Beatles – Their Golden Age
Written, narrated and directed by Les Krantz
Facts That Matter Inc. / Wildwood Films
60 minutes, 2012 [VOD HERE]

Both of the DVDs reviewed here are from the late 2000s, produced by Les Krantz, and made to look like television programs, though more likely they are direct to – yes – video. I asked my usual Beatle expert if he had heard of Krantz, but the answer came back negative.

Apparently his specialty is mostly generalized books about sports, the arts, and timeframes (Rose Colored Fifties, Their First Time in the Movies, The World’s Worst: A Compendium of the Most Ridiculous Feats, Facts & Fools of All Time, etc.). Why am I bringing this up? For two simple reasons.

First of all, the multitude of work released by Krantz is generalized. Apparently he look through a huge amount of information and uses a media sieve to bring the highlights, in the least expensive way possible (i.e., rather than pay royalties). I remember when VHS first started becoming popular in the early 1980s, there were a series of tapes like this that glossed over a history of cars and / or music, covering a specific timeframe (e.g., the ‘60), or was about, say, the Beatles or Elvis that just contained an hour of interview material with no music. Philosophically, that is very similar to the way this Beatles history feels. There really isn’t much here that is going to be new to anyone who is a rabid (or even somewhat knowledgeable) fan. Still, it is quite amusing to watch what touchstones in the Fabsters’ complex history Krantz touches on; New York / Sullivan and subsequent world tours, Maharishi Yogi (no mention of Transcendental the Mia Farrow scandal, though), “bigger than Jesus,” and so on.

So, is this worth getting? Well, for Beatles completists, duh. For those with busy lives who enjoy capsulizations, most likely. For Beatles historians? Well, again, technically there is nothing new here, though the ride is certainly fun at times.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the second reason: since Krantz has a looooong history skipping stones on many subjects, he has acquired access to some interesting footage along the way. So, while there isn’t a lick of Beatles music on the tape (though the terrible incidental soundtrack is nearly Rutles-level close, on a elevator music quantity), there is a lot of footage of the band being interviewed, arriving at airports, on a set for their films, and clips of their movies as well that I haven’t seen in a documentary. Then again, I am not a Beatles expert.

Of course, I need to say that my two favorite period clips are not here, and any Beatles fan knows the two I mean by this description: they are both of angry and/or tearful fans outside the Plaza Hotel in New York; the first is a girl complaining to the reporter she and her friend waited since early morning and didn’t get to see them, and the other is of a toothsome, hefty young fellow who, well, basically says the same thing; both blame the police, and also answer their own questions of why they were not allowed in the area. All very humorous.

Krantz does a somewhat admirable job narrating and writing, and whether this is worth getting or not is certainly not up to me, but up to your own taste in – and level of – Beatlemania.

Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth
Executive Producer: Les Krantz
Hosted by Bert Sugar
Facts That Matter, Inc/ Wildwood Films
60 minutes, 2008 / 2012

I suppose it is because I know so much less about boxing than the Beatles that I found this hour-long summation of Ali’s career more interesting (and I enjoyed the previous one).

Narrated by boxing expert Bert Sugar (listed as “show host” though he’s never seen; d. 2012), We see a very young Cassius Clay state why he wanted to box (has to do with a stolen bike, apparently), and follows his career though his many, many matches, on becoming a Muslim, his place in the Civil Rights movement, the war against him by the government during the Viet Nam war (yes, war), and those spectacular boxing moments with clever names like “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Ali the man / legend is certainly more entertaining than Will Smith as Ali (and the Fresh Prince did an amazing job, FYI). Early on, Ali could put the fear into both his fists and his rhymes.

Sure, by his 30s, he was not the man he was when he began (rope-a-dope, my ass, he was tired), which was still the best in the world. Was he the quickest ever? Was he the strongest ever? Was he the prettiest ever? Well, it’s hard to argue with the last one, but I think it’s not the strength or the speed that made him the legend he is, but a combination of both, mixed with intelligence and instinct. The latter two is especially what put him above the likes of George Foreman and Joe Frazier. They were punching machines, but machines don’t think. Hey, that’s what brought town Skynet’s T-800, ain’t it?

Throughout the documentary, there are lots of shots of the key (and even some lesser) fights in Ali’s career, including the “phantom punch” against Sonny Liston. Of course, with this being only an hour, the clips are many, so they are naturally short. Besides, Ali was interesting enough out of the ring to support showing more of this footage.

My only two real gripes are that there is no mention (though seen a couple of times) of the man who probably did more for Ali’s career after his trainer, a snarky and rumpled man by the name of Howard Cosell (nee Cohen; d. 1995). Cosell kept him in the limelight in so many ways, championing him when few others would. Heck, his picture is even on the back cover! My other sticking point is the glossing over of Ali’s surprising defeat by Leon Spinks, an excellent but far lesser boxer; it’s pointed out that Ali won it back, but it is more a footnote here than the shock it was at the time. Much more time is spent on the bigger named Frazier and Foreman.

Ali / Clay is a fascinating person who has led an amazing life. His current lack of ability to move and talk fluidly due to a muscular degenerative disease reminds me of how talker Marshall McLuhan was reduced to one word the last year of his life after a stroke. And yet, Ali remains a charismatic figure who draws in all ages, occupations and class status. Even Patti Smith mentioned him in the song “Birdland,” on her first album, Horses.

This documentary gives a solid foundation of why that has happened. Nod to the man from me, too.

Monday, August 27, 2012

DVD Reviews: Divinyls / Rose Tattoo Live, Boggo Road Prison 1993

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen Blog, 2012
Images from the Internet

I have put these two reviews together because they were recorded at the same show.

Divinyls: Jailhouse Rock, Recorded Live at the Boggo Road Prison, Queensland 1993
Directed by Chris Fitz-Gibbon
Umbrella Music
85 minutes, 1993 / 2012

I can still remember the first time I heard / saw the Divinyls play on some television concert series, back in 1984. It was jaw-dropping.

Lead singer Christina Amphlett came onstage wearing the adult Catholic School Girl outfit equivalent to AC/DC guitarist Angus Young, but her character seemed to be a bit, well, tetched, as they may say in the southern US. The songs were hard, sharp, and earnest, as Christina roamed the stage, doing some odd dances and head shakes, writing on her own face with lipstick, and pouring a pitcher of water over her head. But more than the theatrics, there was an edge to the songs and her voice, a yearning and sharpness, whether it was the desperation of “Boys in Town” or the slow burn and build-up of one of my favorites of this period, the extended “Elsie.”

Then they soon had their hits Stateside, like “Pleasure and Pain” and especially “I Tough Myself,” turning Christina more into a Sheena Easton (“Sugar Walls” period). Another equivalent would be Slade’s anachronistic “My Oh My” from that same era.

Later, in 1993, an infamous prison closed back in Brisbane, Queensland, so what else to do but to put on a huge rock concert at the grounds?

When the Divinyls start their set, with their tremendous “Boys in Town,” I had a shock. Great, powerful song about moving on, and, well, while the band is in full tilt mode, Amphlett basically goes through the motions. What a difference in tone from when I saw that televised concert ten years earlier to this performance. “Crap,” I said, “I hope the whole show isn’t like this,” a limp version of greatest hits. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Even by their second song, “I’ll Make You Happy,” off my fave of their albums, Desperation, the tempo and emotion had come up substantially. The material they cover on the DVD encompasses their five albums to date, including “Open Windows,” “Sex Will Keep Us Together,” “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” and of course, “I Touch Myself” and “Strut”… I mean “Pleasure and Pain.“

Of course, the two songs that I would have loved to have heard, “Siren (Never Let You Go)” and the aforementioned “Elsie” were MIA. Still, I’m not complaining, because despite its limp start, the Divinyls prove to be made of hardier stuff, and they bring on their A- game. Sure, some of that early edge and brittleness is long worn down, but even at this level, the Divinyls were better than just about anything coming out of Down Under, such as the overrated Midnight Oil and Men at Work.

Yes, this DVD is worth getting, putting on, and enjoying it for the period piece that it certainly is, not to mention a more-than-decent repertoire. And then follow it up with Desperate and perhaps a cuppa.

Christina Amphlett: vocals
Lee Borkman: keyboards / guitar
Charlie Drayton: drums
Mark McEntee: guitar
Jerome Smith: bass

Set List:
Boys in Town
I’ll Make You Happy
Only Lovely
Guillotine Day
Need a Lover
Open Windows
Love School
Lay Your Body Down
Science Fiction
Sex Will Keep Us Together
Make Out Alright
Bless My Soul
I Touch Myself
Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
Pleasure and Pain

Rose Tattoo: Live in 1993 From Boggo Road Jail
Directed by Chris Fitz-Gibbon
Umbrella Music
54 minutes, 1993 / 2012

Rose Tattoo was known as the “Bad Boys of Australian rock” (hey, it says so right on the back of the DVD box). In a land that released the likes of AC/DC and the Saints, that’s saying something, I guess.

Vocalist Angry Anderson (aka Gary) is diminutive and imposing, his muscles and tattoos on display. And while his vocal range is certainly limited, he sure can produce some strength behind that scope. He does have an AC/DC/Bon Scott vibe going, and he flogs it for all its worth, with benefit. The song titles alone show you the direction they have taken, such as “Bad Boy for Love,” “Assault & Battery,” and “Rock’n’Roll Outlaw.” Surprisingly, “We Can’t Be Beaten” is not present, although they do quite a rousing version of the Stones’ “Street Fightin’ Man.”

It’s said that those with a troubled and violent youth either go into social work, the priesthood, or prison. Angry has managed to touch nearly all bases, in a sort. He is an advocate for juvies in the courts, acted in such films as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and is a forceful member of the conservative National Front. He’s also a spokesperson for men’s health; not surprising since five members of his band has died from some form of cancer. As for prison, well, Anderson quips quite early on about how everyone expected him to end up in Boggo Road Gaol, and there he is. Ha!

Anderson’s voice definitely has a flint-striking-stone element that is appealing to a metal genre, and it is certainly no surprise that Rose Tattoo – er – rose to among the top of the heavy rock field. I do, however, think that perhaps the band is better suited for the studio in that Angry tends to have a small number of musical stage moves, where he walks to a spot, turns the microphone to the side of his head, moves his head to face the mic (giving the audience half a face), and his other hand straight out from his body. End of stanza, move to another place, repeat. I’m sure there are going to be RT fans who will disagree, but I’m just sayin’.

The guitarwork by Peter Wells (d. 2006) and Mick Cocks (d. 2009) is superb, as is the rest of the musicianship, as they grind down the metal to a primitive sound that is actually quite sophisticated in its form.

Honestly, during their heyday, Rose Tattoo never really registered on my meter much. I didn’t have MTV and was listening mostly to US-centric punk, but I am glad for this opportunity to do a bit of enjoyable post-catch-up.

Angry Anderson: vocals
Georgie Leech: bass
Peter Wells: slide guitar
Mick Cocks: rhythm guitar
Paul De Marco: drums

Set List:
Out of This Place
Bad Boy for Love
Assault & Battery
The Butcher & Fast Eddie
Rock’n’roll is King
Street Fighting Man
Rock’n’roll Outlaw
One of the Boys
Nice Boys
Going Down

Bonus Video:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An open letter to Justin Bieber

Just remember, Justin:

Paul Peterson

Ricky Nelson

David Cassidy

Bobby Sherman

Bay City Rollers

They all caused screams until...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

DVD Review: Johnny Winter: Live from Japan; John Lee Hooker: Cook with the Hook Live in 1974

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

John Lee Hooker – Cook with the Hook: Live in 1974
Directed by Bob Boyd
MVD Visual,
45 minutes, 1974 / 2012

Mississippi-Delta Blues musician John Lee Hooker (d. 2001) was one of the bigger influences in the blues rock movement of the ‘60s, a definite link between, say, Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton. His driving rhythms and vocal intensity was different than many of the other blues players of the time, who were closer to early rock’n’roll than Sgt. Pepper’s period rock. Hooker’s improvisational fierceness and hypnotic repetitions made him the forefront of what would become the Yardbirds (all three incarnations), Cream, and Led Zeppelin, to name a few.

There are a number of items on the checklist that makes this document so important, both directly and indirectly to Hooker. Public access television was just becoming a glimmer on the horizon when this was shot on July 6, 1974, during the Down in the Dumps music festival in Gardner, Massachusetts. Its faded black and white image (most with a white line going through it, possibly from the playback heads scratching the video as it went through an early tape player (reel-to-reel is my guess, as it was pre-VHS) is reminiscent of early kinescope (look it up). But despite the washed-out jeans look, the sound is solid, if a little on the tinny side (ah, technology and its Faustian bargains…).

Though nearly a decade before the advent of MTV-style quick cuts that would revolutionize the way we view film editing, the line producer here jumps between the three cameras quickly (sometimes too much so) between Hooker from the mostly long-haired and shaggy audience. Way ahead of its time in both video usage and use of the fader bars. I wonder if any of the rest of the festival’s music will resurface. Fortunately, Hooker’s has now, and that is just fine.

Backed by the Coast to Coast Blues Band (who would do so for 30 years), Hooker sits front and center (much like Johnny Winter does now), showing some rock chops with the likes of the great “Boom Boom” and “Sweet, Sweet Thing.” There’s also some solid Delta blues, of course, with the likes of “It Serves You Right to Suffer” and “Whiskey and Women.” For the last number of his set, listed as “Boogie,” Hooker stands up and roams the stage a bit. The band plays the same riff over and over while Hooker improvs for over 16 minutes. Honestly, I would rather he would have played some set numbers, because it is just a bit too much of a ramble for that long a period.

After this number, Hooker leaves the stage and a very enthusiastic emcee brings him back, where he actually continues the same number (listed as “Medley” for some reason, rather than “Reprise”) for another five minutes.

At the end of the set, the unseen announcer excitedly shouts out, “A man in his fifties! Imagine that! …And he’s doing rock’n’roll!” I heard this in a kind of bemusement as I realize that Johnny Winter, a version of the Who, and even the Zombies are still out there touring into their 60s and 70s. As the camera quickly pans the hippie-ish / stoner-looking audience, it was, indeed, hard to imagine someone of his generation could still give the guitar a hard lickin’. To put it in perspective, when he died at age 83, he was just about to tour Europe.

This DVD comes with an informative sheet with liner notes written by Massachusetts rock and cable television historian Joe Viglione that is worth checking out, as well.

Set List:
It Serves You Right to Suffer (Hooker)
Sweet, Sweet Thing
Boom Boom
Whiskey & Women

Johnny Winter: Live from Japan
Directed by Kiyoshi Inasawa
MVD Visual
90 min., 2012

I had the incredible fortune to be able to see this tour in Saskatoon last fall, when this same back-up band played nearly the exact set at Louie’s, a club on the University of Saskatchewan campus on October 19, 2011 (reviewed HERE).

While it was a thrilling and amazing night, it was near the end of a very long tour for the troupe, and it was obvious they were tired (and rightfully so). What is nice about this DVD is that it was filmed at the Zepp Tokyo Music Hall on April 15 of the same year, early on in the circuit, in a country that had never seen him perform before. Needless to say, the energy level was higher, the voices were stronger, the music fresher, and all the better for the viewer of this release.

Johnny’s beautiful headless Lazer guitar strikes fire as he sings the blues with a heart that has seen a lot of heartache, and a voice that matches the gravel of the road he’s traveled. Whether covering his own songs, blues classics, or the occasional rocker -mostly at the end of the show, as he’s wont to do and has done since the ‘70s - he seems at home in the rhythms.

The band backing him are certainly up to the task as they prove time and time again, keeping up with the master, who graciously not only co-occupies the stage, but shares it with his brethren, giving them ample opportunity to shine on their own many times. These aren’t some youngsters but seasoned veterans who have traveled with other frontline blues musicians before.

Winter is bent and hobbled, walking in a wracked gait from the side of the stage to center – always shown in long shots or blocked by fans – where he sits for most of the set, and lets his fingers do the pacing. For the last two songs (which is the encore), he brings out his old and battered guitar and uses a slide to keep these blues tunes Delta-fied.

If you’re a fan of versions of the blues, be it rock, Chicago, Texas, or Southern style, well, odds are you are probably on your way by now to get this, if you do not have it already. Winter is a fine example of the product of a lifetime of dedication to a spiritual sound.

The DVD comes with sumptuous booklet with many full color pix and excellent liner notes by Lance Perdue.

Johnny Winter: Vocals/lead guitar
Paul Nelson: Guitar
Scott Spray: Bass
Vito Liuzzi: Drums

Set List:
Hideaway (Freddie King)
She Likes to Boogie Real Low (Johnny Winter)
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Sonny Boy Williamson)
Got My Mojo Working (Preston Foster)
Johnny B. Goode (the true king of rock’n’roll, Chuck Berry)
BlackJack (Ray Charles)
Tore Down (Freddie King)
Lone Wolf (Johnny Winters)
Don’t Take Advantage of Me (Lee Baker Jr.)
Bonie Maronie (Larry Williams)
It’s All Over Now (Bobby and Shirley Womack)
Dust My Broom (Robert Johnson)
Highway 61 (Bob Dylan)

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Text by Donna Lethal, introduction by Robert Barry Francos
© 1986, FFanzeen; introductory comments © RBF, 2012
Performance image © RBF; other images from the Internet

The following article on the underrated indie legend John Felice was originally published in
FFanzeen magazine, issue #14, in 1986. It was written by then-Boston-based fan Donna Lethal, who used the name Donna Lee at that time.

The first time I heard of the Real Kids was when I was interviewing the Cramps, and Bradley Field and James Siegfried (aka James Black, aka James White), then in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and then-Cramps drummer Miriam Linna’s one-time co-workers at The Strand Bookstore, were playing a tape of what was to be their first LP in the background. That first, eponymous album, on Marty Thau’s Red Star Records, was amazing, quite frankly. But it was the single, “All Kindsa Girls” b/w “Common at Noon” that really won me over.

I never did get the chance to see the Real Kids play, unfortunately. Stories of their shows were legendary for being raucous, rock’n’roll garage-driven fun. Lead singer John Felice moved on after the band, and I did have the opportunity to enjoy a rousing set at The Rat, on his home turf in Boston (opening band was the Dogmatics). This was also, I believe, the same weekend I had the chance to meet the exquisite Donna Lethal when visiting Kenee Highland, but I digress…

While leading the Real Kids, Felice had a side project called the Taxi Boys, who did some recording. The Primevals followed the break-up of the Real Kids. With another band with that name from Scotland predating them, Felice’s Primevals faded. In Heartbreakers’ tradition, what followed was a series of Real Kids reunions with most of the original members for a large number of years, until the death of Alpo Paulino in 2006, when the band officially disbanded (Billy Borgiloi would form his own band, the Varmints, which is still in existence).

Felice’s current band is John Felice and the Lowdowns. – RBF, 2012

The Real Kids were one of Boston’s “next big things” during the late ‘70s-early ‘80s period. Their now legendary first LP, simply entitled The Real Kids (Red Star Records), still garners airplay on local Boston radio, and the albums that followed (Outta Place, All Kindsa Jerks, Hit You Hard, plus a slew of domestic and import singles) proved what Boston and France already knew – the Read Kids were destined for the top. So what happened? Faced with a changing scene in Boston, and personal and career difficulties, they broke up in ’83.

One cold February evening I found myself seeking refuge in a friendly local Boston bar, Chet’s Last Call [closed in the late 1980s – RBF, 2012]. John Felice’s (Kids’ lead singer) lineup, the Primevals, was the house band at Chet’s during most of February and March, and what ensued was surprising: no rehashed “comeback” band was here, and the Primevals played a tight, rocking set.

“I hadn’t planned on starting a new band,” says Felice, “but whenever Chet’d see me he’d say, ‘When are you gonna get yourself a band?’ So one night, Pete Taylor comes up to me and says, ‘I hear you’re looking or a drummer.’ I hadn’t even said anything to anyone! But that’s how it started. I got Billy [Borgioli, original Read Kids guitarist - DL], and that’s how it all sorta came together.” With the addition of Dave Pedersen on bass, the Primevals were formed.

Studio plans are in the works, and they’ve got one cut on the latest Throbbing Lobster comp, Claws, titled “Lose That Girl,” to their credit. “This isn’t a comeback,” states Felice. “We still play rock’n’roll. We play as hard; we rock as hard as any band in this fucking city. We haven’t changed our approach to music at all.”

FFanzeen: Starting from the beginning, you were with the Modern Lovers. How did that come about?
John Felice: I grew up in the house next door to Jonathan Richman. I started playing (guitar) when I was 15, but those guys were all older than me, so it was sorta like being the little kid in the band. It was me, Jonathan, Ernie Brooks, David Robinson, Jerry Harrison. I left right before they went to LA to record. I could read the wring on the wall and, sure enough, they broke up not too long after.

FF: Is that when you started the original Kids?
John: Yeah. We went through lots of personnel changes. I had given it up for about three months. When Jonathan got back from LA, he told me about a rehearsal space. I hadn’t planned on heading up a band, but that’s where I met up with Alpo and Billy Borgioli.

FF: What’s Alpo doing now?
John: He’s working with a new band, playing harp and percussion. He and I tried it out during the winter, but it just didn’t work. If me, him and Billy played together, it’d be the whole Real Kid thing all over again. It wouldn’t work out.

FF: But you’re still really big in France –
John: That first LP was a legend. But it took so long between the first LP, then the Taxi Boys stuff in-between back there in ’83 – to record, you know, things change. The fans there were great; real enthusiastic and receptive, not what you find here. We’d try out new material, old stuff too, and it went over really well. The last LP didn’t sell that well, though, compared to the cost of making it. I still get royalty checks and stuff, but it didn’t do so good.

FF: Are you going there with the Primevals?
John: I’d like to. We don’t have a contract or anything. We had a lot of problems – personal problems – with New Rose Records on the last tour, and it kinda left New Rose with a bad taste in their mouths.

FF: Isn’t New Rose pretty lenient, though?
John: We pushed them about as far as they would go. We cost them incredible amounts of money. I feel bad about it now. If we hadn’t fucked up, we could probably be there now, playing and shit, but we fucked up bad. I mean, we manage to play every show, we never had to cancel a gig, we played good, but we fucked up a lot of things. Patrick Mathe, the President of New Rose, was real proud to have us there, and we sorta shoved it up his ass sideways by pulling the shit we did.

FF: The fan club is still going strong…
John: The last issue they put out was the final one. They’re not gonna do anything until they hear from me. I’m in the process of assembling a letter and a tape, cuz they don’t even know if I’m alive, let alone my new band. There’s all sorts of rumors of my death.

FF: Rumors of your death?
John: The last time they saw me, I was a fucking mess. They’ve been hearing that we’re all dead, cuz we almost did die over there a few times. I was supposed to have moved to Paris in January of ’84, but it was a good thing I didn’t cuz I was fucked up – really fucked up – in the middle of a really bad drug problem. If I had moved to Paris, I woulda been in worse shape then I ever have been. We left there on bad terms. I didn’t wanna go back there on bad terms and be all strung out, and knocking on Patrick’s door: “Hi, here I am, you gotta support my drug habit now.” Woulda gone over real well. I called him the day I was supposed to be there and told him I wasn’t coming. That was the last I spoke to him. Our manager got in touch with him about making another record, explained to him that, “Felice is all cleaned up, completed his methadone program, etc.,” making me sound like the all-American boy. His response to the tape was hot, but about seeing me, real cool. The letter he sent was like, “This kid cost me; I’m still bailing myself out.”

FF: Were you the cause of all this madness?
John: No! It was our road manger on the tour! He was taking tons of money to buy drugs. They were readily available to us, wherever we’d go. They could tell just by lookin’ at us that we weren’t into smokin’ no grass or nothing. They’d see us and it was, “Have I got what you need.” Anyway, our road manager was going back and forth to Paris and getting money from Patrick, to live on. We didn’t know how much he was getting cuz he’d take the money and buy drugs, then tell us that he only got this much, when Patrick was really giving him twice as much. So he was ripping us off, too.

FF: So Patrick was supporting everyone’s habits.
John: Yeah, it was unbelievable. He’s not rich at all; he’s still paying off our bills. To make things worse, he throws us into the most expensive studios in Europe [RKM in Brussels – DL] to record Hit You Hard. In Europe, they’ve got these little refrigerators in every hotel room, stocked with booze, so every day Alpo was drinking them dry – twice. He didn’t care what it was, he’d just pour all the nip bottles in a glass with some Coke, drink it up. Plus, he smashed a phone to pieces cuz he couldn’t get through to his girlfriend. New Rose is still playing the bills.

FF: Sounds like Fear and Loathing in Brussels.
John: It was a nightmare. I caught Hep, too. The whole time we were recording Hit You Hard, I was really, really sick. I didn’t know with what. I got Hep ‘til I got back to Boston. I didn’t go to a doctor or nothin’. All I knew was that I’d go to the bathroom and piss black.

FF: How did you physically do the recordings?
John: I don’t know. The recording hours were incredible. We’d go in at 3 in the afternoon an be out at 9 AM. I was crawling. I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach. I’d puke it all up. All I know is that I was one sick motherfucker. I’d just lie in my bed and go, “Oh God, gotta record in six hours.” The record dragged on for so long cuz I was fuckin’ dying. We had this enormous hotel bill, bolstered by Allen’s [Alpo] alcoholic cravings, plus there was a bar in the studio. We ran up a monstrous tab, buying whole bottles of vodka and shit, and you’re not even supposed to drink with Hep. I drank even more than ever had, figuring if I got drunk enough the pain would go away. I couldn’t’ figure out why I’d wake up in the morning and want to rip my liver out.

FF: Is that why you look so bad on the cover of Hit You Hard?
John: That was before the tour. When I got back to Logan Airport, the customs guy took one look at me and it was, “You better get going.” He didn’t even bother to check my bags. And Alpo got hip to our road manager; they were all black and blue and shit. We won’t be going back there for a while.

FF: What about recording now, since the Claws compilation?
John: Right now, I wanna record soon. I’d like to do something outside of a local label, maybe for Slash [Slash Records and fanzine was based in Los Angeles and formed by Bob Briggs; roster included the Germs, Blasters, Misfits, Gun Club, L7 – RBF, 2012]. They know us cuz the Real kids moved there in ’79 for six months and generated a lot of interest, but never followed up on it.

FF: Slash has changed a lot since ’79.
John: Oh yeah. Then it was one room, two desks, newspaper and shit all over; but the guy who runs it knows who we are. It’s just – of years people have been saying to me, “You know, your songs are great. You should get some real musicians to play with. You know, you could make a million dollars if you got the right people to play with.” I wouldn’t wanna do that. If other people wanna record them that way, I’d be happy to sell some of my songs. The thing is, the sound that we get, is our sound. I don’t wanna change it. If they’re gonna be made hits, they’re gonna be made by someone else. Like “All Kindsa Girls,” for example. People say, “You coulda done this, get some real musicians.” Yeah, well, I’ve heard it so much. The guys I play with can play. It’s our sound and I don’t wanna change it.

FF: Even under the worst of conditions you put out the best record you’ve ever made.
John: Hit You Hard is about as polished as I wanna get. The Real Kids had such a heavy stigma attached to us – people saying, “Why do you surround yourself with such fuckin’ losers for?” A small label, like Slash, wouldn’t pressure me into changing the sound. Look what happened to the Nervous Easters. They were a rock and roll band; they went into the studio and put out a shitty record under pressure from the label. I just wanna be left alone to record.

FF: Are you recoding with the Primevals yet?
John: We’re working on a tape, and we’ll try to generate interest with it. If not, put it out on a local label and see what happens. I have no idea about Boston anymore. This whole scene is completely foreign to me.

FF: Getting back to the Throbbing Lobster LP. They’ve done well for local bands.
John: I don’t think our representation was that great on that LP.

FF: You got Andy Paley back to produce it.
John: We didn’t. Chuck [Warner] did [owner of Throbbing Lobster Records, 1984-88 – RBF, 2012]. Chuck saw us on a Saturday and had us in the studio by Tuesday. I like Andy, he’s a great guy and all, but I’d rather have done it myself. It woulda sounded a lot different. As our first available offering, I would've wanted something better.

FF: Still, you’re getting airplay.
John: It is? I didn’t even know about it. All they play at work is [W]BCN.

FF: That’s where I heard it.
John: Really? It’s strange cuz they could say shit about the Primevals instead of the Real Kids. I’d much rather hear the new cut instead of that.

FF: What about the Real Kids reunion gig last summer at The Rat?
John: That’s it again; the Real Kids were such a big deal. Nobody knows who the Primevals are. We really need a manager. It used to be so much easier, to get gigs and stuff. You didn’t have to be on the phone all day. Now it’s five days a week, going to clubs at night, and I hate going to clubs unless I’m there to play. I’m through with that shit. On my own reputation as a… a dinosaur [laughs], a fossil, I guess. It’s tough. It’s not a comeback or nothin’. We play as hard, we rock as hard as any band in this fucking city. We haven’t changed our approach to music at all. Our new material is stronger, I think, and I’ve got better musicians. I don’t think I should have to sell myself, but I don’t expect people to come up to me either.

FF: Do you have any plans for the future?
John: I just live day to day. I can’t spend time feeling sorry for myself. I get pissed; then I get pissed at myself for getting pissed. Those assholes aren’t even worth the energy you put into hating them. You know, it’s not so easy. I’m 30 years old. Most people my age don’t even own a guitar. I can’t give it up that easily. I know what keeps me straight. I don’t wanna get back into doing drugs again. Playing rock and roll is my only shot. I‘ve been playing rock and roll since I was 15. I tried to stop before and I saw what happened.

FF: Do you think people are going to label you as a throwback?
John: We still play the same, still play rock and roll. I’ll always sound like me. If I was writing the same songs I used to, same ideas, we’d be burnt out, like the Ramones are. We ain’t trying to be nothin’. I don’t think that we’ve got any identity – you know, you hear the first few seconds of a song: “Oh yeah, that’s one of Felice’s!” We ain’t got that. If you don’t like it, you can always walk out the fuckin’ door, that’s the way it is. I feel lucky to have the guys I do in the band, cuz it’s tough when you’re my age to find guys who are into the same stuff you are, who wanna do what you want. Kids today, they wouldn’t know the real thing if it slapped them in the face. They hear us, it’s “old shit,” you know. We’re just rock and roll. It’s hard to fight a throwback label. I still can’t play guitar.

FF: You can’t play guitar?
John: I never tried to be a great guitar player. I’m a songwriter; that’s all I ever wanted to be. I went back to school last year, trying to kick dope. You know, you get old, you get responsibilities. You can’t live like you do when you’re young. But I could give a fuck about work. The band is still number one.