THE FUZZTONES - Preaching To Be Perverted
(Stag-O-Lee Records STAG-O-021, 2011)
The Fuzztones were born in the summer of 1980, in the bowels of New York City's Lower East Side. "Alphabet City" to be exact. Rudi Protrudi and Deb O'Nair had moved there from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, five years earlier, with their band Tina Peel. Hot on the Punk Rock trail, Tina Peel brought their 60's influenced bubblegum punk to the sweaty, boozy confines of slummy sleazepits like CBGB's, Max's Kansas City, and the equally notorious Mudd Club. Citing The Monkees, Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Company and The Archies as their musical influences, and opting for clashing black and white polka dot and striped mod attire instead of the leather jacketed, torn t-shirt uniform of the moment, Tina Peel weren't exactly Punk magazine's pick for Next Big Thing. And their choice of lyrical content and subject matter often alienated the less adventurous fan or serious rock critic. Rudi's penchant for writing warped odes to sexual situations ("Penis Between Us", "Blow Me ...A Kiss"), and malfunctions ("Bent Nail Syndrome", "Exception To The Ruler") even prompted Screw magazine to marvel that, "These guys are far more interested in their cocks than they should expect any of us to be". Tina Peel did achieve what they set out to do, however, and that was to be the ultimate "punk" band and offend EVERYONE! When their manager tried to steer them into a more commercial direction, the band retaliated by becoming The Fuzztones.
Rudi: "I loved 60's garage and psych stuff...it was the music I grew up playing. We decided we would keep Tina Peel going since we were making money, and form a side band to play psych stuff...that was the Fuzztones...well, actually the "Fabulous Fuzztones", and open up for Tina Peel!" Rudi's brainstorm backfired for the better when, after their first show at Hurrah, The Fuzztones went over better than Tina Peel! The Peelers were promptly disbanded, the "Fabulous" dropped, and The Fuzztones were born. On September 19th, 1980, the "Gurus of Garage Grunge" made their official debut at Club 57 in NYC's East Village, complete with topless go-go girls, psychedelic light show, paisley and leather attire, and genuine human bone necklaces. Utilizing the fuzzbox (an effects pedal used by many 60's groups to achieve overly distorted "psychedelic" guitar sounds), the band created a raunchy style that they referred to as "Grunge." On their first single, "Bad News Travels Fast", guitarist Elan Portnoy is credited as playing "lead grunge" at least a decade before the Seattle Grunge Invasion! Unlike most of the groups embracing the term in the early 90's, the Fuzztones grunge was high energy...more akin to the MC5 than to the 60's garage bands they were inspired by. After at least 2 years of playing their own savage brand of psychedelic garage spew to 5 or 10 clueless patrons at such infamous Big Apple hotspots as the Mudd Club and CBGB's, The Fuzztones began to notice a scene gaining notoriety throughout NYC, L.A., and London.
What set the band apart from their peers was their use of 60's punk and psych, as well as early Rock 'n' Roll and blues, as influences upon which to build their own unique style, rather than trying to mimic their favorite artists. Soon the 'tones were touring the Midwest (on the strength of one cut on The Rebel Kind compilation), and recorded the deadly Leave Your Mind At Home LP during that sojourn. Truly one of the most over the top live performances ever to grace vinyl, the disc (as well as the scorching Acid-drenched blooze howl of their Live with Screamin' Jay Hawkins EP) paved the way for the band to release the classic studio LP, "Lysergic Emanations", for the ABC label in London. The Damned, one of England's premier punk outfits, requested that The Fuzztones open for them on their two month Phantasmagoria tour of England. With anadditional month of headlining dates throughout Europe, the 'tones became the first of the so-called "60's revivalists" to invade foreign shores. Although the headlining band was usually supportive (Dave Vanian watched every night from the wings, and The Damned even played "She's Wicked" at soundchecks), their fans took a lot of convincing. Being greeted with nightly barrages of flying beer bottles and gob (spit) only magnified the band's already confrontational stage demeanor, sometimes to the point of violence. At a show in Lyon, France, Rudi was shot at by an audience member, and at avenue in London, an inebriated Rat Scabies punched Deb O' Nair unconscious.
Meanwhile, "Lysergic Emanations" was quickly moving up the English indie charts, and The Damned found more and more of their die-hard fans converting to Fuzzmania. By the time the record reached #2 on the charts, ABC announced that it had sold over 30,000 copies. This was the first and last time the band would ever receive any sort of royalty statement from ABC. Although the record continued to sell extremely well for years and is now considered a classic, The Fuzztones never saw a penny from the label. Nevertheless, it appeared the 'tones were destined for bigger things. The video for "Ward 81" was receiving national TV airplay, articles on the band appeared in major magazines, and Enigma's Pink Dust label picked up the album for American distribution. Meanwhile, inner turmoil was tearing the band apart. Rudi had become involved with Elan's girlfriend, alienating both the lead guitarist and Rudi's former lover, Deb O'Nair. Elan and Ira left the band shortly after the tour to form The Headless Horsemen. Deb formed an all-girl psychedelic polka band, Das Furlines, with Wendy Wild. Rudi and Michael Jay auditioned prospective replacements for the good part of a year with less than satisfactory results. "Almost everyone on the garage scene tried out." Rudi recalls. "We even auditioned Marky Ramone and Jeff Salen (Tuff Darts, Sparks), but no one had the feel we were looking for".
No one, that is, except "Mad" Mike Czekaj. "I'd seen Mike with his band, The Stratford Survivors, several times. They were from Connecticut and would play NYC maybe once a year. The other guys in the band were really average, but Mike was incredible! He looked just like Moulty (the infamous one-handed drummer for 60's icons, The Barbarians) and was just as wild. For seven years I came to his shows and pestered him to join my band." By 1986, the Survivors finally broke up, and Mike moved to NYC to join The Fuzztones. Still unable to complete the line-up, the frustrated trio began knocking out Link Wray Link Protrudi & The Jaymen L-R: Mike Czekaj, Rudi Protrudi, Michael Jay tunes between auditions. "We were just playing for ourselves, really. Just playing stuff we dug...never planning to play out. People would drop by the studio and keep telling us how great we were, and that we had to play out! We worked up a whole set of Link Wray stuff. I changed my name to "Link", and since Wray's band was called The Raymen, we called ourselves The Jaymen, after Michael Jay." This unlikely tribute band went over so well that the band began writing their own material. They soon recorded two albums worth of material (live on a portable 4-track during an all-night party session in their rehearsal space), and went off to tour Eastern Canada.
Upon their return to NYC, Rudi and Mike decided to move to Los Angeles to try to Fuzztones 1987 Top L-R: Rudi Protrudi, Mike Czekaj; Bottom L-R: Jason Savall, Jordan Tarlow, John Carlucci reform The Fuzztones. Michael Jay chose to remain. By 1987, two weeks after arriving in Hollywood, The Fuzztones were reborn. Ironically, most of the new line-up consisted of former New Yorkers! Jordan Tarlow (former lead guitarist for NYC cave-teens, Outta Place, and San Diego's Morlochs ), and John Carlucci (former bassist for NYC power-poppers, The Speedies ) were old friends from Rudi's earlier days. Organist Jason Savall was "the only guy in L.A. with a Vox organ." Link Protrudi & The Jaymen's albums, Drive It Home (Music Maniac Records) and Missing Links (Skyclad Records) were released while the new Fuzztones prepared for their debut. After their first rehearsal, Hans Kestelooo (Music Maniac's head honcho) called to tell the boys that Live in Europe (the original band's live LP, recorded on the '85 tour) was doing very well and invited the band to do a 3 month European tour to promote it. After only 3 trial shows in L.A. (billing themselves as J.C. and The Waterwalkers ), they made their debut as The Fuzztones at the legendary Paradisio Club in Amsterdam, for 1500 enthusiastic fans. The band soon learned that they'd already reached cult hero status before they even reached the stage. This line-up, comprised of seasoned performers (except Jason, who'd never been in a band before) were by no means intimidated, and welcomed the comparisons to the original line-up.
Each member was an intense showman, and a typical Fuzztones show featured 5 wildmen trying to outdo each other. This display was certainly not wasted on the female fans, and the boys were hardly opposed to receiving (and encouraging) as much physical "attention" as possible. Hans Kesteloo, who acted as tour manager, recalls,"Rudi felt similar to Jerry Lee Lewis when he sang. This made him hornier than he already was. It was hard to satisfy him, and God, I know what I'm talking about! During songs, Rudi would jump offstage and ravage female fans, and it was common for girls to jump onstage and strip! "One thing is sure..," Kesteloo reiterates, "no band had nude girls onstage dancing to Psychotic Reaction, besides The Fuzztones!" It wasn't long before the band was nicknamed the "Paisley Pussy Posse", a moniker they earned with their off-stage antics. The band returned to Hollywood, making their debut at Scream, Hollywood's most prestigious club. The Fuzztones raw, aggressive garage raunch so totally overshadowed the jaded glam-metal hair farmer scene that the 'tones became L.A.'s most popular unsigned band within a month! By 1989, The Cult's frontman, Ian Astbury, (a Fuzztones fan since the first time he'd seen the band on the Phantasmagoria tour), began showing up at their L.A. shows. A friendship ensued, and besides jumping onstage for the occasional guest appearance, Ian could often be seen lugging equipment with the crew! He utilized his clout to influence his record label, Beggar's Banquet, to check the band out. At the London show where Beggar's sent their female A&R person, Rudi completely ripped out his skin tight paisley trousers, and the band was signed on the spot!
Already artistic control was a dividing point between Rudi and the other band members, so an outside producer was needed for their next recording session. Protrudi wanted the group's raw, aggressive sound to dominate, while the others wanted to take a more "commercial" approach. The band agreed that they needed a producer who understood their musical roots, yet could convey their sound in an accessible way to a '90's audience. Jordan had seen an article in the music trade about the legendary producer Shel Talmy , whose work with The Who, Kinks, and Creation had certainly withstood the test of time. He was in self-exiled retirement, the article reported, but would come out for the right band. Upon listening to the Fuzztones demos, Shel agreed he'd found just that. Talmy, now blind from a congenital eye disease, could not offer hands on mixing board experience. Since the 'tones had already worked out all arrangements in pre-production, Shel's main function became arbitrator for Jordan and Rudi's conflicting musical visions. The resulting 1990 release "In Heat", while sporting all original 'tones tunes for the first time, was not representative of the band's capabilities.
The Fuzztones continued to tour Europe and England extensively, often up to 29 dates a month, to an average of 1500 fans each show. Meanwhile, Beggar's royalty statements claimed the band was not selling records, and inner turmoil escalated. An EP, "Action", was this line-up's last release, after which Rudi shocked the other members with the unexpected onstage announcement (during a sold-out 3 nighter at London's famed Marquee Club) that The Fuzztones "were no more." After returning to Hollywood, Rudi resurrected Link Protrudi & The Jaymen, with Tommyknockers bassist Chris Harlock and pre-Muffs drummer Chris Crass. Meanwhile, former Fuzztones, Jordan, Jason, John, and roadie Gary Wylde, formed the Phuzztones. After hearing that the Ph-tones were scheduled to debut at a Hollywood club, the F-tones rushed to book a gig the same night, leaving no doubt that Rudi was alive and..."well." The Phuzztones disbanded after their debut. Beggar's Banquet dissolved their contract and The Fuzztones went back into the studio to record Braindrops for Music Maniac.
Rudi actually persuaded two of his idols, Love's Arthur Lee and the Music Machine's Sean Bonniwell , to contribute guest vocal appearances on one of the albums' highlights, "All The King's Horses". Both sixties icons would once again join forces with The Fuzztones: Arthur belted out an impromptu "7 and 7 Is" with the band at a Hollywood club, and Sean's reformed Music Machine co-headlined a double bill at the Coconut Teazer. By this time the band had added Jake Cavaliere (formerly of The Witchdoctors ) on Vox organ. Image was always one of the band's strong points, and this line-up's was arguably the strongest. With jet black hair down to their asses, Beatle boots, leather, paisley, human bone jewelry, and black jeans so tight you could tell their religion, these Vox guitar (and organ) totin' wildmen continued to perpetuate The Fuzztones Legacy. They released the single, "Romilar D", which included versions in Spanish and Italian, as well as English, and continued to tour Europe and Israel. Sometime during the last tour, The Fuzztones Curse struck once more and the band broke up. They returned to L.A. and recorded the first Rock 'n' Roll Halloween album, "Monster A Go-Go", honoring a prior recording commitment to Skyclad Skreamin' Skull Records. They played their final show at Hollywood's Club Lingerie on June 11, 1992.
Their influence on upcoming garage bands, as well as more well known acts (check out The Ramone' Acid Eaters LP and "Psychotherapy" video), can still be felt today. When Hole opened for The Fuzztones in Europe, Courtney Love confided to the band (while stripping naked backstage - to change clothes) that Kurt listened to The Fuzztones "all the time." Marc Almond even wore black turtleneck and bone necklace in a Soft Cell video. Rolling Stone recently published a photo of Ringo Starr with daughter Starkey wearing a Fuzztones T-shirt. The Fuzztones re-invented a musical style that originally existed for a mere 2 years (1966-67), and kept it alive and vital for more than their 13 year existence as a band. They left behind a live record, "Lysergic Ejaculations" (with X-rated cover and inner sleeve), documenting their final European tour, as well as a compilation of rare demos and obscurities ("Revenge of the Creatures That Time Forgot") that they plan to release eventually. To quote Tim Gassen from his book, Echoes In Time, "(Rudi) gave us a decade of loyalty to the garage band style and sound, sticking to his guns to the benefit of the musical genre. His crossed Vox guitar tattoo will never fade and neither will the legacy of a band called The Fuzztones".