Sunday, July 26, 2009

Punk Rock Stories – The Furys

To say I was inspired by the 70s punk rock explosion is to put it mildly. It was exactly what I was looking for in my life. I lived through the late 60s/early 70s in a schizophrenic haze. I had long hair and loved much of the heavy metal (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) and prog-rock (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis) of the time. But I was also attracted to the garage rock scene and loved the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the New York Dolls just as much. (And for your information, I still love all these bands.)


Somewhere around late 1973 or early 1974, I got fed up with the peace/love, drugged-out Hippie culture and in an inspired moment, I cut off all my hair and visited several thrift shops, buying a couple of ill-fitting suits, 60s-style skinny ties and a beat-up fedora hat. I wore this outfit until the end of the decade. But for those first couple of years, wearing such items made me a real outcast. The people I worked with, the crew and customers at the Licorice Pizza record store in Santa Ana, California, were puzzled and bemused. But elsewhere, I was met with suspicion and anger. I remember taking my sister to a Black Sabbath concert at the Long Beach Arena for her birthday and having one stoned, young hippie walking up to me and asking loudly, “What’s a redneck like you doing at a show like this?” I answered by picking him up and dumping him in a trash dumpster. My sister was horrified and spent the rest of the concert mad at me for embarrassing her.


So, I was really excited when in 1975, I saw a picture of New York poetess Patti Smith in a music magazine wearing a black suit over a white shirt and a skinny tie. The article was talking about her upcoming album “Horses”, but said that she had already released a 7’ single, “Hey Joe”/”Piss Factory”. I tried to get the single through Licorice Pizza, but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. That started a day long journey, where I finally found the single at Wallach’s Music City in Costa Mesa. I ran home, put it on my turntable, and was immediately lost in a sound I hadn’t heard before. It was just guitar and vocals, but it packed more power than most four-piece bands of the time. I was sold!


It was then that I started reading about this new music scene out of New York, which the music writers were calling “punk”. Patti Smith was joined by bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Voidoids and so many more. It wasn’t much longer until the British groups, influenced by those New York groups, started up and stories about them were dominating the music rags.


During all this, one of my best friends was a fellow named Jeff Wolfe. He was the brother of the manager, Scott, at the Licorice Pizza I worked at. We would hang out at his parent’s house or at the house I was renting in Orange and listen to music and talk about all the new bands breaking into the scene. Both of us were taking trips up to Los Angeles to see bands like the Motels, Pop, the Dogs, and then, after the Damned played at the Starwood, a whole slew of new bands at the Masque in Hollywood. We both liked the idea that there were hardcore punk bands like the Weirdos and the Zeros existing in the same scene as energetic “power pop” bands like the Nerves and 20/20. (This wouldn’t last for long though, as those pop bands eventually were labeled as “new wave” and a whole different scene sprung up around them.)


Jeff had been writing songs with a musician named Gregg Embrey and after a short discussion it was decided to form a band and get ourselves up to Hollywood to join this new scene. Jeff was the singer and Gregg played keyboards and guitar. I didn’t play anything, so I became the manager. The first thing we decided on was to get a record out. Bands all over were now ignoring the major label system and recording and releasing records on their own through independent distribution. We corralled Gregg’s brother, Gary, in to play drums and the band went into Inland Studios to record a couple of songs.


In the meantime, I was looking into what we had to do to press up records, print covers and get distribution. We all pooled our money together with some help from various parents and such and before we knew it, we had our own 7” record ready for release. It was mid-1977. We named the record company Double R Records. The single had two songs, “Hey Ma” and “Jim Stark Dark”. The sleeve was black ink printed on a white envelope. We cut the top off the envelopes so the top would be open like a regular record sleeve. For the next few weeks, Jeff and I spent all our time taking the single around to record stores, talking small distributors into selling it and sending copies off to local clubs so we could try to book shows for the band. In no time, we had sold out of our initial pressing and took the single back to press. For the second pressing, we decided we didn’t like the cheapness of the original cover, so we raised a few more dollars and got a proper sleeve on glossy stock printed with brand new photos.


We started getting interest from clubs so we needed to get a full live band together. On that front, we brought in Charlie (Chaz) Maley on guitars and a friend of Gregg’s, Doug Martin, on bass. So the band started doing some live shows and started attracting a small, but loyal following. Now it was 1978 and we knew we needed to get another single out. We decided on one of the live favorites, “Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep” and backed it with a new song, “Suburbia Suburbia”. The cover of the single was taken by our friend, Donna Santisi, in the living room of my rented house. Behind the band, I had taken the sleeves off of my punk singles and pinned them on the wall. I still think it’s a great photo. (Just for the record, all three Furys singles sleeves were designed by our friend, Matt Powers, who also worked with me at Licorice Pizza.)


“Say Goodbye” was received even better than the first single and the band began playing a lot. They were the first band to play at Madame Wong’s in Chinatown, opening for Gary Valentine and the Know. They played the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa, usually opening for some up-and-coming English band. There were shows at the Starwood and the Whiskey. As usual with these memoirs, I don’t remember much about any of the shows. A few still stick out in my mind though.


The very first show the band played was at the Surf Theatre in Hunting Beach. They were sandwiched between two prog-metal bands and the audience didn’t know what to make of them. Around the same time, they also played at Huntington Beach High School at a noon-time assembly, and again the audience didn’t know what to make of them. One kid even threw an egg, hitting Charlie’s black Rickenbacker 12-string guitar. Charlie screamed “This is sacrilege,” and left the stage. The kid got expelled from school. Of course, it wasn’t long until most of the kids were dressing the same way as the band and listening to the same kind of music.


My favorite show was at the Troubadour. The Furys were opening for the Knack. From the minute we walked into the club, things were tense. The Knack were taking forever on their soundcheck and we had no choice but to sit around and listen to them screw around. About an hour after we arrived, someone from the club approached us and said that the Knack had accused us of stealing some equipment out of their dressing room. The accusation was complete bullshit and we said so. Since there was no proof, the club took no action, but the tension in the air was stifling. We all proceeded to get very drunk. My family was coming to the show, so it was decided that I was going to sing a song with the band. (I’m a frustrated lead singer, although I really can’t sing. I sang with the band several times. My favorite time was singing “I Can See For Miles” at Blackies.) By the time I got on stage towards the end of the set, I was completely blottoed. Singing “Hound Dog”, I walked out on the tables in front of the stage, knocking over drinks and finally losing my balance and falling to the floor, where I writhed around and finished the song in the middle of an irritated audience. The set ended sloppy and drunk.


(My family thought it was a lot of fun, or so they told me. They didn’t seem to realize that I was drunk at all.)


We all headed upstairs to our dressing room. Charlie looked out the window and saw Knack leader, Doug Feiger, standing in the alley right under the window. Before any of us knew what was happening, Charlie unzipped and sent a torrent of urine out the window and all over Feiger. We were rolling all over the floor in laughter. The Knack probably still hates us to this day. Hopefully they learned their lesson and never accused another band of false charges. We were expecting to get in a lot of trouble, but the club seemed unfazed by the whole thing. We didn’t hear a word from them. At the end of the evening, I walked up to Doug Weston’s office, where he paid me in full while a young, blonde boy sat on his lap. Those were the days.


It came time to do a third single, but I was broke and didn’t want to put any more money into it. There was also some friction between me and Gregg. I really had no idea what I was doing. I worshiped outspoken managers like Jake Riviera (Elvis Costello) and Miles Copeland (Squeeze, the Police), both of whom I had met and had given me advice. But Gregg thought I was being too much of an asshole and that was hurting the band. I was also living up in Los Angeles by this time, and we were feeling a bit of disconnect between each other. By the time the third single, produced by Danny Holloway, came out on Steve Zepeda’s Beat Records in 1979, I had gone my own way (which eventually lead me to BPeople, which is a whole other story). I was still very good friends with Jeff, though, and a big fan of the band.


This third single was “Moving Target”/ “We Talk, We Dance”. The band had also parted company with Doug, as he was really a metal-kind-of-guy and never really understood where the band was coming from. They brought in Joe Conti to play keyboards and Gregg switched to bass. I believe Steve Zepeda became their acting manager, at least for a short time.


The band continued off and on for quite awhile. They released one more record, this time a 12” EP called “Indoor/Outdoor”, in 1986. I think there was some friction between Jeff and Gregg and the band split up for good shortly after that.


These days, I still hear fond remembrances about the band from old fans. Rhino Records licensed and released “Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep” on one of their Los Angeles compilations in the 90s. I hear the original singles are going for good money on EBay. And, although we’ve lost contact a few times for long periods over the years, I’m still friends with Jeff Wolfe and a fan of his newest band, the Horse Soldiers.


One more story. Shortly after leaving the Furys, Charlie was working at Rickenbacker. I was asking him about guitars because I was thinking of forming a band of my own, which eventually became Jes Grew. He sent me a brand new Rickenbacker guitar as a gift. It was beautiful, but I had no idea how to play it, so I eventually gave it to a friend of mine who wanted to learn how to play. That friend was one Brian Tristan, who would become Kid Congo Powers in a just a few years. I saw him playing that guitar in the early Gun Club. I think Kid is a great talent and I’m proud to have been able to help him along. I lost track of Charlie shortly after that, so I was never able to tell him about it, but I’m sure he would be proud as well.


And that’s it for this journey. Keep in mind that these memoirs are as I remember them, which doesn’t always mean that it was the way it happened. I’m sure various members of the Furys would have completely different views on what happened when, but they’re not writing this, are they?


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back here with something completely different soon, I’m sure. And don’t forget my brand new food blog, “The Order of the Omnivores”, which you can find here: http://theorderoftheomnivores.blogspot.com/

8 comments:

  1. Good story. I remeber seeing The Furys at Squeeze in Riverside. Must have been in late '78 or early '79. I was really knocked out by their cover of the Stones song "I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys." No, I take it back, it was the song "Out Of Time," my other favorite track off of Metamophosis.

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  2. Yo Jett,
    GREAT page! In light of recent events, specifically the death of the KNACK's Doug Feiger, please post my sincere apologies: I never intended to piss on him from the Troubadour's dressing room...I had heard or read somewhere that the great Lenny Bruce had once performed that particular act and was simply paying homage to one of the idols of my youth...Doug just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    May he rest in peace. I hope he's not still "pissed off" at the FURYS for my drunken indiscretion. It's great to be remembered, but I'd rather NOT be remembered as "the guy who pissed on Doug Feiger". Truth be known, I never actually met the guy, but to this day, I'd give my left nut to have penned "My Sharonna".

    Thanks for the great memories of Orange County's greatest ever Punk-New Wave-Power Pop combos, the FURYS...and thank YOU for keeping those memories alive!

    Chas Maley
    Las Vegas, Nevada

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  3. Thanks for the story. I posted a Furys single on my blog and left a link to this post.

    http://musicruinedmylife.blogspot.com/2010/03/furys-say-goodbye-to-black-sheep.html

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  4. Oh wow, this was fun to read! I knew Jeff from working at Westminster Mall, and I knew Steve Zepeda from hanging around Long Beach.

    "Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep" was one of those songs that went straight to my heart. Even now, 20-some years later, I find myself singing it at odd moments...

    Thanks for the memory lane.

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  5. Hey Chas, I met Doug and I think he was an asshole, so I have no problem with you pissing on him. (And I know plenty of other people who agree with me.) But it's good to hear from you again. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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  6. that was fun, I haven't read one of these in a while!

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  7. Jim Stark Dark -

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdNS6eGlgB8

    Hey Ma -

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj8lIjOIlsE

    Enjoy!

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  8. I was in the Furys when we released the "Indoor/Outdoor" E.P. Listen closely, I'm the one playing left handed. I think we went through more drummers then Spinal Tap before we settled on the mighty Mark Francis White on the kit. That's Richard deAndrea from Gary Valentine's group the Know playing bass. I smile when I hear Pearl Jam and bands like that as the Furys were all about alchemic music created by a band and not a songwriter or production team. Jeff & Greg would come in with a rough idea and throw it through the Furys blender. I remember those rehearsals. Squeezing out sparks!! Everyone had an input towards the final result. When it worked it rocked pretty good I thought no matter what the configuration of the band was at any given time. Jeff & Gregg were pretty dedicated to that as were all of the many musicians who joined them on their journey. I had some great times playing in the Furys.

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