NEW YORK WASTE, April 2010
BOBBY STEELE INTERVIEW
I recently sat down to do an interview with a REAL NYC Rock'n'Roll legend, BOBBY STEELE.
BOBBY was in THE MISFITS and is currently the leader of THE UNDEAD. He also does a solo project that is completely different than anything you'd expect from him.
We did the interview on a Sunday at OTTO's SHRUNKEN HEAD.
Here's basically how it went:
FRANK WOOD: Hi BOBBY, how's it going?
BOBBY STEELE: Good. The work on the new release is coming along fine, and if I have it my way we're gonna have a renaissance in the East Village, though it won't be as glorious as it was in 1981.
FW: Let's start with when did you start playing guitar?
BS: I tried to start when I was 7, but those cheap guitars - you couldn't fret them at the first fret - so it got discouraging. Having my first teacher die after my first lesson didn't help much either. So, it wasn't until after I got out of the hospital when I was 13 that I started to really learn anything.
FW: What were you in the hospital for this time?
BS: A tumor in my spinal cord. It was, for all purposes, inoperable and I had a very bad prognosis - but if I was willing to be a guinea pig for the first electron-microscopic surgery, there was a small chance I might live. As you can see, it was a success, and that doctor became world famous in the medical world. It was one of his students that operated on my brother's brain tumor 30 years later.
FW: You've been in and out of hospitals practically your whole life for a number of things. Wanna give us a short rundown?
BS: I was born with Spina Bifida. In 1962 we moved to Hawaii, and I came down with an unknown strain of Polio -
which led to years of problems and experimental surgeries. I was a fucking medical guinea pig for most of my life - taking the chances that others were afraid to take. Some surgeries were disastrous, and it racked my father with guilt for subjecting me to so much 'abuse', but for a fucking kid who was raised on Sci-Fi... I was unaware of the actual danger, and just saw it all as one great big adventure. There's a film that is used to teach students of neurosurgery - STARRING ME. Have you ever seen yourself cut open? I have.
FW: Back to the music. When was your first band? WHERE?
BS: My first band was called THE LIVING END... now that I think back - when I was in the doctor's in Hawaii 8 years
earlier, I came up with the logo that I used - a rear view of an elephant. It was just me and a friend on drums.
FW: When did you join THE MISFITS?
BS: I joind THE MISFITS in November 1978. I was the 16th guitarist they'd tried, and I had a week to learn the set before my first gig - at MAX's.
FW: How long did that last and why? Give me the abridged version, save the rest for a book.
BS: It lasted roughly two years. Then, Jerry had grown extremely jealous of Glenn - who was the leader and brains behind the band, and in a string of dirty tricks - including telling me we weren't having practice when, in fact, we
were... to not picking me and my gear up for a recording session, and instead bringing his little brother. Once he convinced Glenn that I was fucking things up and had me replaced - it was him and his brother against Glenn - and he killed it.
FW: When did you start THE UNDEAD? Where was the first show?
BS: I started it within minutes of getting the boot. I remember walking back to my girlfriend's bedroom, saying
"they fired me - now what'll I do...?" And after five seconds of thought I blurted out - "start a band that actually plays". The Misftis were more talk than action, and I had grown increasingly frustrated at only doing on gig
every few months - and realized the firing was a liberating moment for me. I got on the phone and called Natz - who I'd had a band with prior to THE MISFITS and had kept jamming with on free days, and told him we were going full time. Our first show was on January 30, 1981 - at the A7 Club.
FW: It's one of those shows that are on this new CD.
FW: Right, 45. You've been putting out a few of these. Why the 45 format?
BS: I'll put it in better terms - 'why the Vinyl format?' Have you ever tried to clean your weed on a CD ? Vinyl is more fun - you can make it in colors... CDs just sound good and are convenient.
FW: So this release is of an old recording that you never put out and using today's technology, you went retro and put out a 45. Wild!
BS: These recordings were only available as demos that I sent out to book shows, and for fanzines to get a taste of the new scene in NYC. These are what a good part of the world heard as the first sounds of NYHC. I was planning to release these 5 songs back then, and I had the sleeve concept - which is what I'm using now - but Glenn Danzig came along, loved what he heard and insisted we re-record 4 of the songs for him to release on Plan Nine Records. tried to sell him on my sleeve concept, but he blew it off - and then 'borrowed' a part of the idea for a later MISFITS release.
FW: Over the years you've been banned from different clubs. Care to elaborate, like say CBGB's?
BS: It was supposed to be my first gig there. I'd just joined the WHORELORDS, on guitar. I'd been managing them for a few months when Bobby Snotts asked me to take over one of the guitar positions. I was stoked to be playing CBs. Then, they caught the drummer smuggling in a six-pack in his bass drum, and Lisa told us we couldn't play and had to leave. I wasn't gonna give up so easily, so I dug my heels in - so to speak - to argue my cause. She finally called in the HELLS ANGELS to ask us to leave - to which I complied. I'm eager and determined - not suicidal.
FW: Also there are a couple of MAX's KANSAS CITY stories I've heard over the years. Something about the daughter of FRANNKIE VALLI (FOUR SEASONS).
BS: Well that wasn't really MAX's - except that that was where I met FRANCINE 'CELIA' VALLI. When THE MISFITS went to the UK, I sublet my apartment to her and a friend, and to make a long story short, she 'fell' off the roof - though none of the story as I've heard it gels with the person she was. I actually think she was pushed... though not with the intention of pushig her off the roof, but just one of those get outta heah' type pushes... lost her balance and fell.
FW: There's another one that caused an international incident with an Ambassador's daughter or something?
BS: Yeah... and from an Islamic nation. I was still new to the scene and just assumed that anyone in MAX's had had their ID checked. Turned out she was 15 - and when she didn't come home that night, it brought the FBI and Secret Service to MAX's. That was late 78/early 79. I've run into her since, and we've had some chuckles over the whole incident.
FW: Luckily, I have no daughters to worry about. Back to the present. What's the current line-up of THE UNDEAD and how did it come about?
BS: Right now, I've got Hiromu on bass and Hitomi on drums, but Hitomi will be hitting the road with SOL (STATUES OF LIBERTY) in a few months - which leaves us SOL... You brought them to me and they're GREAT! THANK YOU!
FW: Oh Yeah! Right. You're welcome. You've been putting out a lot of music lately, old and new. Where did you get the money for it? Are you signed to a label?
BS: Fuck Labels. I'm doing this myself. No label would take the risks that I enjoy taking. I did what I was told was impossible - I sued WAL-MART. (Ed. note: They were selling a bag with BOBBY's pic on it!) I slayed the dragon. I put all of that money into these new releases, and I'm taking a chance on trying to revive the East Village. For the last ten years, at least, I've been having people tell me - 'Bobby, you created this scene - we need you to save it". So, I'm embarking on a completely insane gamble that, if successful will be a blast, and even if its a failure, I'll have a fucking blast and unlike most people I'll be able to lay on my deathbed... again... without asking "what if?"
FW: I really liked the I MADE A MONSTER 45 with the MAD MAGAZINE style cover. Why did you do it that way?
BS: I was trying to find a way of showing how the neighborhood had changed... and the fold-in was a lot cheaper than having something in the style of HER SATANIC MAJESTYS REQUEST. I heard it got a write up in MAD, too. Buy it - $5 (still cheap).
FW: So when does the new CD..
FW: Right, 45. When does it come out?
BS: The official release will be on May 1st, at DON HILLS with THE DIRTY SHAMES and THE ACCELERATORS - but we'll be selling advance copies at the CHILLER CON on April 16/17/18.
FS: Why these songs and why now?
BS: I've been itching to do this for... what... 29 years, and fortunately for me, it looks like the timing is in my favor as more people are interested in that scene at that time right now. With the scene in it's doldrums, I'm hoping to make this release blow things wide open and get a real punk scene back here to replace all of the candy-assed 'punky' bands. We're following the release party with several weeks of a "World Tour" of the East and West Villages - to give as many people as possible the opportunity to experience the real shit... at close to 1981 prices. Like we used to say - "the first taste is free..."
FW: You said you're gonna be doing the CHILLER THEATER thing. Where?
BS: Like I was saying... it's April 16/17/18 at the RAMADA HOTEL in Parsipany, NJ.
FW: So the CD release..
FW: Right, 45! So it is gonna be at DON HILL's and who else is on the bill. And it's only $3.00! WOW! Why?
BS: I think it's actually $5, but $3 with a certain pass. That still has to be worked out, but I'm pressing these venues to recognize that people are out of work, and the usual prices are not only killing the patrons, but the clubs, too. This is a time to forget about profit, and focus on sustaining what we have until the smoke clears.
FW: There's a tour you have planned to support the CD, I mean 45. Where ya going?
BS: Right here. NYC, NJ.. and within 4 hours.
FW: Sounds like a return to old school NYC Rock'n'Roll! Think you'll be able to make it thru it all ALIVE?
BS: Does it matter ? I'm having fun while taking a gamble. If I can fall between the cars of a moving train, and walk away - why am I gonna worry about dying now ? When my time comes, it'll come. Maybe I'm cursed to stay here - I don't know. I could've done something so outrageous that God doesn't want anything to do with me and the Devil is terrified...
FW: I hope so, but just in case, I'll be at as many as I can. GOOD LUCK with the new 45 and the tour and I hope it doesn't end anytime soon. Stay UNDEAD!
REMEMBER FOLKS: MAY 1, 2010 at DON HILL'S on Spring and Greenwich Streets on the West Side. It'll be inexpensive and you can get the 45 for only $3.00 that night and that night ONLY!
THE UNDEAD LIVE!