Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My Life with The Misfits

I'll never forget the first time I heard Jerry Only's voice on the other end of the phone. In early 1995, I was a green-haired 17-year-old snot booking punk rock shows at a local American Legion Hall. Although the place held about 300 people, I somehow got it in my mind that I was going to convince the Misfits to reform and play a show for me. After all, rumors had circulated for years that they lived right down the road, so it was at least worth a shot.

At the time, I was friends with a local guitar teacher named Mike Lawler (more on him later). Well, in addition to being one helluva nice guy, Mike often jammed with Jerry and Doyle at their family's machine shop in Vernon, NJ. After telling Mike all about my master plan, he kindly gave me Jerry's home number. Being the arrogant, fearless brat that I was at the time (well, fuck, still am...), I immediately went home and called the number. The phone rings and then...

"HEEEEELLLLOOOO!!" - a very loud voice answers.

"Um, hello...is Jerry there?"

"THAAAAAAAAAT'S ME!"

After regaining my hearing, I somehow managed to explain that I booked shows in the area, and was very interested in having the Misfits reform to do a show for me.

Then, another blast:

"AAAHH…WE'RE ACTUALLY ALREADY GETTING THE MISFITS BACK TOGETHER...THE NEW MISFITS. I DON"T THINK WE'RE LOOKING TO PLAY A LEGION HALL, IF YA KNOW WHAT I MEAN. RIGHT NOW, WE'RE LOOKING FOR A DRUMMER, AND..."

(Cue youthful arrogance) "Well, I'm a drummer."

"OH YEAH? WHAT DO YA KNOW?"

(Youthful arrogance AND bullshit) "Everything!"

"GREAT! COME ON OVER!"

Huh? 

Well, in about two days' time, I somehow managed to cram about 30 Misfits songs into my brain (fuck school). One night, my mom and dad drove me to the machine shop (i.e. the Misfits Lair, i.e. the 1980s Swimsuit Girl Poster Museum) to meet the man for an audition. When I entered the shop, I was a bit taken aback by the guy in the blue sweats, glasses and Giants sweatshirt who greeted me at the door. Anyway, when that guy strapped on his bass and hit that first distorted note, I realized I had in fact found the right place. 

"ALRIGHT...MARTIAN...ONE-TWO-THREE-GO!"

Blast...bang...boom....

"NIKE...YA KNOW NIKE?"

Slam...bash...crash.....

And that's how it went. We played about a dozen songs pretty much without stopping, and I somehow managed to keep up with this freight train of a man. We had just launched into "London Dungeon" when an equally big guy quietly entered the room, strapped on his guitar and joined in. Unlike Jerry, Doyle really didn't say much...just walked over, shook my hand, smiled, said, "Hi, I'm Doyle " and started playing the next song. That was the extent of the first of (I think) three conversations I would have with Doyle over the next four years.

I later found out that Doyle had been in the other room all along, but wanted to hear if the "kid" was any good before he joined in. 

"GREAT...COME BACK SATURDAY."

Huh?

Over the next four months, I went over to Jerry's about three times a week and jammed with him on Misfits tunes. He wanted to practice as much as he could, so I was the timekeeper for these "rehearsals." Since I was a 17-year-old kid facing college, there was never any discussion about me joining the band. Rather, it was a chance for me to build my chops (on ROBO's old kit, no less) and hang with one of the coolest mofos I ever met. 
Fact: Only's a fucking machine. Here was the guy's usual "practice routine:" Play five songs, lift, play five songs, lift, play five songs, make phone calls, play five songs, lift, play five songs, repeat. 

Sometimes, I'd come over when Jerry and Doyle were auditioning singers. Usually, Jerry and Doyle's brother Kenny (the band's then-manager) would come around and listen to the auditions. A quiet, hippy kinda guy would also be around, recording the auditions on an 8-track. The guys called him "Doc." He was the guitar player in a local "joke" band called Sacred Trash, and it was said that he was in line to be the band's new drummer. I was often invited to attend these rehearsals and play drums while the future Dr. Chud recorded the singers' auditions for later review. As you can imagine, most of these guys were pretty horrible. In fact, a good number of them had no intention of ever singing in the band  -- they only wanted to meet Jerry and Doyle. Needless to say, these auditions went nowhere...except on tape, and each person who tried out got a copy of their audition as a "thank you," regardless of how shitty they were. Of course, more than a few of these tapes hit the bootleg market in record time. To this day, I still get emails from people who have the "Misfits" records I'm on!

One day, a skinny, somewhat scruffy 19-year-old named Mike walked in for an audition. Right off the bat, there was something different about him. He could actually sing, and already had his own stage moves and attitude. Those guys dug him right away. I remember Kenny's eyes lighting up when he later listened to Mike's audition tape on headphones. When I saw Mike again a few months later, he had grown a few muscles, looked rather ghoulish and went by the name Michale Graves. 

Some other cool people would hang around the machine shop in those days. There was Sal Canzonieri and his brother, Dan, who were making waves around town with their band, Electric Frankenstein. There was also the great Sal Bee from Sardonica, who sang lead vocals the night Eerie Von came over to hang out and watch us jam. A few of the Deadguy guys were around as well, long before they became a Victory Records band. The list goes on, and Jerry was always nice enough to introduce me to everyone who came through the door. I remember him telling me how important it was to make and build contacts in the business. His words have served me well. 

Then one day, he hit me with it: "HEY JOEL, WANNA PUT ON A SHOW FOR US AT ACTION PARK?"

Huh?

Action Park, better known as "Traction Park," was a rather rundown water park in Vernon, NJ. The place had very little going for it in 1996, except for a very nice outdoor concert tent that held about 4,000 people. Jerry's plan was to cut me a nice fat check to cover all the immediate production expenses, then leave me alone to put the entire show together while the 'Fits went off for their Resurrection Tour. This would be the final show of the tour, and a way for the Misfits to, as Jerry put it, "Play for my kids' friends." He wanted to keep the ticket price down, and wanted the opening bands (mostly of my choosing) to sell advance tickets, keeping $3 a ticket for themselves as payment. Ed Repka of Megadeth fame would design the poster, and a bunch of Chud's old Lodi buddies would act as security. 

Worked for me. 

So they split, leaving me with endless phone calls, egomaniacal opening bands (who were promptly replaced), a mountain of promo posters to ship and a few thousand strings to pull. There was also the slight matter of the original soundguy walking off the show when Graves beat him up in D.C., but that's another story...

It wasn't easy, but we somehow pulled it off. People traveled all the way from Canada to see the gig, we somehow recovered a massive overhead, everyone had a good time and nobody got hurt bad enough in the pit to sue me. 

And let's not forget the opening bands, especially Blanks '77, who held their own against the imposing backdrop of spiked drums and Crimson Ghost-painted amplifiers. 

Some other memories:

  • Riding with Doyle and Jerry to NYC to have lunch with the great Basil Gogos, and Jerry giving me one of HIS original Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines so Basil could autograph it for me. "Can't go empty-handed," he said. Basil not only signed it, but he also let me HOLD THE ORIGINAL FRANKENSTEIN PAINTING. Heavy shit...
  • Being in the room when Basil unveiled the "Santa Gogos" t-shirt painting for the first time.
  • Asking Doyle if he and Jerry would ever consider bringing back one of their original drummers, and having him reply, "You're better than all of them combined."
  • Getting blasted on Peter Steele's whiskey backstage at a Type O Negative show on October 30, 1995 -- the first time Jerry and Doyle had appeared onstage in Misfits gear in over a decade.
  • Being the first non-member to ever hear the Mars Attacks demo.
  • Coming across a pair of Sid Vicious' shoes in a box in Doyle's attic.


As the years (and my life) moved on, I started seeing less of the Misfits. They went on to much bigger things than rehearsing with a green-haired kid in their dad's machine shop. Regrettably, I haven't seen a Misfits show in about four years, and I have yet to purchase the Osaka Popstar record. 

But not a day goes by when I don't think of those guys, especially Jerry. Why? Because he introduced me to Sal and Dan, who turned me on to the music of Rik L Rik...the subject of my first full-length book. Why? Because meeting Eerie Von made me want to see his blues band play at a local club, which is where I first met Bobby Steele. Why? Because playing in the Undead led to me playing in Electric Frankenstein 2000, which led to me playing in Pigface, which led to me...

It's funny, but virtually all of my activities in the music business over the past 11 years can be traced all the way back to that first call I made to Jerry.

Which means it's all Mike Lawler's fault!!!

Thank you, Jerry, for taking a kid under your wing for an experience he will never forget. 

As you would say, "Love ya big!"

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