Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Obituary - Billy Rath

On Saturday 16 August 2014, Billy Rath, former bassist for JOHNNY THUNDERS AND THE HEARTBREAKERS, passed away following a long illness. He was aged 66.
Born in Boston on 8 August 1948, Rath came to play in THE HEARTBREAKERS after former bassist, Richard Hell, attempted a coup by firing Johnny Thunders. The coup backfired, with the other Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan and Walter Lure, leaving Hell and following Thunders. According to Nina Antonia’s Thunders biography, In Cold Blood, Rath had previously played in a number of bands in the New England/ Boston area. Just prior to joining the band, Rath had been in Florida where he’d been ‘working’ as a gigolo when Thunders contacted him about joining the band. Drummer Nolan claimed Rath was perfect for the band - he loved Rock ‘n’ Roll and wasn’t worried about being the star.
Rath was part of the band when it went to England to play on the SEX PISTOLS’ Anarchy tour and among a multitude of cancelled gigs, managed to play one at Leeds Polytechnic. Pete Silverton, writing for Sounds music newspaper, cited Rath as: “... The craziest looking bass player who could’ve stepped out of West Side Story.”
Following the release of the classic (albeit badly produced) album, ‘L.A.M.F’, the band slowly dissolved after the band’s record label, Track, went bust.
In 1983 Rath, along with former HEARTBREAKER Lure, recorded a one-off single under the band THE HEROES. Following occasional HEARTBREAKERS reformation gigs in NYC, Rath quit for good in 1985 to undertake rehabilitation from various alcohol and drug problems. He proceeded to steer clear of music for the best part of 20 years. During this time he studied Psychology and Theology before embracing religion to the extent of being a minister for 12 years and finally working as an addiction counsellor.
Other musical ventures, at various times, included touring with IGGY POP; playing gigs with Nico (VELVET UNDERGROUND), Lenny Kaye (PATTI SMITH), bluester Left Handed Frank, The Muggers (Phil & Eddie from MOTORHEAD) and playing bass on a Ronnie Spector solo album.
In 2010, Rath reappeared at a Max’s Kansas City reunion with his own band, BILLY RATH’S STREET PIRATES which included Rath’s son in its line-up. This band continued to perform during the final years of his life after relocating in Massachusetts.
Rath had been in ill-health for some time and left a hospice to be at home with his family in Boston.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Obituary - Tommy Ramone

On Friday 11 July 2014, Thomas Erdelyi - better known as Tommy Ramone, drummer and founder member of THE RAMONES - passed away. It is said that he passed away at his home in the Ridgewood area of Queens, New York City while under the care of Hospice following unsuccessful treatment for bile duct cancer. He was 62 years of age and the last remaining original member of the band left alive.
Erdelyi, whose birth name was Erelyi Tamas, was born on 29 January 1952 in Budapest, Hungary, born of Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust. At the age of four the family emigrated to the USA, allowing Erdelyi to grow up in Forest Hills in the New York City suburb of Queens. It was here, in the mid-60s, that he played in a band called Tangerine Puppets with one John Cummings. Years later, Cummings would morph into Johnny Ramone and the RAMONES would become a reality.
The story of how the RAMONES formed is all over the internet, in books and, if you are reading this, you probably know it already. Needless to say, Erdelyi played drums on the first three studio albums (‘Ramones’, ‘Leave Home’ and ‘Rocket To Russia’) as well as what remains today the definitive live album, ‘It’s Alive’, recorded and the Rainbow in London on 31 December 1977. He continued to manage the band after leaving and co-produced the fourth album, ‘Road To Ruin’. In 1984, for the band’s eighth album, ‘Too Tough To Die’, he returned to the producer’s chair cutting what was to be the last truly classic RAMONES album.
His role as a producer was highly sought after, with him producing such notable records as REDD KROSS’ ‘Neurotica’ and the REPLACEMENTS classic ‘Tim’.
Musically, along with former SIMPLISTICS member and his long-time companion, Claudia Tienan, Erdelyi played in the blue-grass folk duo Uncle Monk, releasing a self-titled album on their own label, Airday.
Ms. Tienan survives him, as does a brother, Peter.
The importance of THE RAMONES, not just to Punk Rock but to all music since, cannot be understated. The band stripped away the bloated musical excess of bands like Yes and Emerson Lake And Palmer and played it harder and faster than any band that went before. The songs were accessible but simultaneously severe and alarming and have since become the template for so much that has followed. I never saw THE RAMONES with Tommy, but I did hear ‘It’s Alive’ at the tender age of 12 and my jaw dropped to the floor. As crass as it sounds, life had changed in the space of side one of that album. School? Education? Sport? Pah! They all became secondary and music became my passion - probably my only passion to this day - and it was through that album that I, like so many others, learnt how to play guitar.
Genuine life-changing incidents only occur once or twice in a life-time. I feel fortunate to have experienced a personal and cultural revolution through the power of THE RAMONES and all that it has lead to. What’s more, as I reach mid-40s and look back, I can say without a single sense of regret that the life-changing, life-affirming and life-enhancing experience of hearing ‘It’s Alive’ at the age of 12 was, and still is, without compare.
And the glue that kept it all together was Tommy’s beats, sense of sound production and sensibility in a band of misfits; a band all of whom have now, sadly, passed away.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Obituary - Dave Gregg

On Sunday 30 March 2014, Dave Gregg, guitarist in Canadian Punk legends, D.O.A, died in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada from a heart attack. He was 54.
Although living in New York, Gregg and his wife, Cathy, were in Vancouver visiting family. It is thought they were there to see Gregg’s father, who had been ill, but first stopped to visit his wife’s mother. He was found unconscious in bed by his wife, having gone to bed early as he felt unwell. Doctors at Peace Arch Hospital diagnosed Gregg has having suffered a massive coronary which lead to a coma. Although put on a life support machine, Gregg passed away from liver and kidney failure.
Born in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, his father made maps of remote rivers and lakes for the province. During his childhood, the family moved to Quadra Island - an island off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He moved to Vancouver at the dawn of the local Punk movement and played in a band called PRIVATE SCHOOL at the infamous Anti-Canada Day celebration, staged by anarchists on 1 July 1978 at Stanley Park - an event which was opened by D.O.A. and headlined by SUBHUMANS.
In 1980, he landed the role of second guitarist in D.O.A, just prior to the band recording its debut album, ‘Something Better Change’. Getting down to the last two, Gregg won the audition on the advice of then-drummer, Chuck Biscuits, who reasoned that he was the better player, had a PA and a house to practice in. The house became known as Fort Gore, it being on Gore Avenue and was not only D.O.A’s practice space for many years but it also served as a venue.
During his tenure in D.O.A, Gregg played on what proved to be the band’s golden age, playing on classic material - the aforementioned debut album, the iconic ‘Hardcore ‘81’, ‘War On 45’ and ‘Let’s Wreck The Party’ among others. He left the band in 1988.
After D.O.A, he moved to New York with Cathy and formed two companies, Anthill and Easy Partners, which sold merchandise for prime rock acts including ROLLING STONES and AC/DC. East Partners took him to all manner of places including Russia, Alaska and South Africa.
He didn’t retire from playing though, as a stint in a funk-influenced band, Groovaholics, proves. He also did a stint in Celtic Punks, REAL MCKENZIES, playing on ‘Off The Leash’ and ‘Shine Not Burn’.
Gregg had a reputation as being wild stage (as footage on D.O.A’s ‘Smash The State’ DVD proves), but was easy-going and personable off it. "He was a wonderful guy, and really creative," said D.O.A founder Joe Keithley, who choked up discussing Gregg. "He was always in good humour."
Keithley’s thoughts on Gregg can be found on the band’s Facebook page -

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Obituary - Scott Asheton

On Saturday 15 March 2014, Scott Asheton, drummer of the legendary proto-punk band, THE STOOGES, passed away aged 64. The cause of death, as stated by his daughter Leanna, was a heart attack.
Ashton was born Scott Randolph Asheton in Washington DC on 16 August 1949. At the age of 14 and shortly after the passing of his father, Asheton, along with his mother and brother, made the life-changing move to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It was in Ann Arbor that the Asheton brothers would encounter bassist Dave Alexander and together with a certain Jim Osterberg, they formed THE STOOGES. The band’s history has been written about in all manner of press, but needless to say, the first two STOOGES albums - the self-titled debut from 1969 and the sonic mind-melt of ‘Funhouse’ from 1970 - remain quite unlike anything else of the period with dense, repetitive riffs, Iggy’s sneering delivery and behind it all, Scott’s solid, relentless drumming. Both albums were poorly received by fans and critics alike at the time of release.
Following ‘Funhouse’, Alexander was fired and the band, with the exception of Ron Asheton, dived into a dependency on Heroin. Live shows became erratic and Elektra Records dropped the band.
Come 1973, Ron Asheton had been pushed onto bass, making way for David Bowie’s buddy, James Williamson on guitar. It was this line-up that recorded and released the ‘Raw Power’ album; an album that was to be one of the main influences on the Punk scene of the late 70s. But like its predecessors, the album was a commercial failure at the time. In February 1974, the band split.
It’s said the split hit Scott hard. Still addicted to Heroin, he was reduced to living on the streets of Los Angeles. He got a ticket back to Michigan and survived doing carpentry and bricklaying jobs as they appeared.
Here, Asheton returned to music, playing in many projects that included former RATIONALS vocalist Scott Morgan including SCOTT MORGAN BAND, SCOTS PIRATES and, most notably SONIC’S RENDEZVOUS BAND which was the project of MC5 guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and released just the one single, ‘City Slang’ in 1978.
1978 also saw Asheton reunite with IGGY POP on his 1978 European Tour.
He also toured with DARK CARNIVAL - a latter incarnation of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and recorded extensively with Sonny Vincent of THE TESTORS, playing on four solo albums and making special appearances on a number of other Vincent releases. The pair’s close ties continued with a US tour which included Steve Baise of DEVIL DOGS.
Asheton also briefly formed his own band, ROCK ACTION, which was a nickname for the man. He had the words tattooed on his left forearm with a lightening bolt passing through them.
The reformation of THE STOOGES was realised when DINOSAUR JR maverick J Mascis and MINUTEMEN bassist Mike Watt took both Asheton brothers on the road, playing sets based around the first two STOOGES albums. The tour was well received and caught Pop’s attention.
In 2003, following a successful performance at the Coachella Festival, THE STOOGES reformed for a series of shows and two more albums - ‘The Weirdness’ in 2007 and 2013’s unfortunately titled ‘Ready To Die’.
I was fortunate enough to see THE STOOGES with both Asheton brothers live in Sydney in 2006. Even in the expanse of a festival situation, the band nailed it and it remains one of the most memorable and important gigs I’ve been too. I recall 'Dirt' in particular, with those immense beats locked in with that guitar riff.
Following the passing of Scott’s brother Ron in 2009, ‘Raw Power’ guitarist James Williamson returned and the band set out on the ‘Raw Power’ tours.
In 2011, following an appearance at Hellfest in France, Asheton suffered a severe illness (said to be a stroke on a plane back to England), which caused him to curtail performing live with the band, but allowed him to play on the aforementioned ‘Ready To Die’ album.
Asheton is survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughter Leanna, stepsons Simon and Aaron Wallis and sister Kathy.
In the week following his passing, IGGY POP has said, “He drummed songs. He had terrific force in his hands and a natural power punch. He always played trust on the instrument - always.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Year-end recommendations - 2013

Much like previous years, 2013's musical highlight was undoubtedly a gig - JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE live in Auckland. I'd never seen Jello live before and this way exceeded expectations. What's more, the band would rank among the tightest and most intensly rocking bands I've ever seen.
Much of the year was rather grinding: getting to grips with a new job, having a stunningly painful illness which I never, ever want to repeat (but am rather likely to) and generally just going from one day to the next with only my records and a nice mix of cold stout, red wine and whiskey to help relax. That was until December when...
I went to Melbourne for about 10 days. I'd been to Sydney before and loved it; so many people said Melbourne was better but I failed to see how. After just one day in Melbourne, I got it. It's by far the most liveable city I have ever been to and it's got a cornucopia of great records shops, be it Poison City, Recycled or best of them all, Off The Hip that is a label and hosted 4 rocking bands one Friday evening! Add on great bars, excellent historic and cultural attractions, a cosmopolitan attitude and an incredible sense of safety for such a big city. Could I live there? Very easily. Is a move on the cards? Well, I'm going back during this year for a longer stay. After that - who knows.
So - Top Sounds of 2013 - commence!!

1. JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE - White People And The Damage Done (Alternative Tentacles)
2. ROUGH KIDS - The State I'm In (Sorry State)
3. NIGHT BIRDS - Born To Die In Suburbia (Grave Mistake)
5. STEVE ADAMYK BAND - Third (Dirtnap)
6. ABOLITIONIST - The Growing Disconnect (1859)
7. HDQ - Lost In Translation (Boss Tuneage)
8. GOLDBLADE - The Terror Of Modern Life (Overground)
9. NOFX - Self/Entitled (Fat Wreck)
10. SLAVES - Sugar Coated Bitter Truth (Boss Tuenage)
Also rans: SNUFF - 5-4-3-2-1...Whatever (Fat Wreck), JADED EYES - Gods And Monsters (Boss Tuneage), FRANCEENS - Stepford Smiles (TNS), DOWN AND OUTS - Lifeline (Boss Tuneage), OLD MAN MARKLEY - Down Side Up (Fat Wreck), SHIRKS - s/t (Grave Mistake), LOW CULTURE - Screens (Dirtnap), FP - L'anima al Peus (Hang The DJ)

1. REPLACEMENTS - Songs For Slim (New West)
2. STAY CLENE JOLENE - Green (Just Say No To Government Music)
3. RED DONS - Notes On The Underground (Grave Mistake)
4. DEAD ENDING - II (Alternative Tentacles)
5. ZOUNDS - Ancient Briton (Overground)
6. CHUMBAWAMBA - In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher (Self-released)
7. SICKOIDS - No Home (Grave Mistake/ Sorry State)
9. THIRTY SIX STRATEGIES - Strategy One (Boss Tuneage)
10. TV EYE - Working Bee (Just4Fun)
Also rans: WESTERN ADDICTION - Pines (Fat Wreck), DOMESTICS - The GDP EP (Kibou), VIOLENT ARREST - Distorted View (Boss Tuneage), GENERATION DEAD - Demo (Self-released), HOLIDAY - Missiles On The Roof (Just Say No To Government Music)

1. CRAZYHEAD - Desert Orchid (Cherry Red)
2. TERMINUS - Graveyard Of Dreams (Boss Tuneage)
3. PROPAGANDHI - How To Clean Everything (Fat Wreck)
4. LURKERS - Fulham Fallout (Captain Oi!)
5. CRAVATS - In Toytown (Overground)