Thursday, July 17, 2008

Interview with Billy Stark - Part 2

Part 2 – Interview with Billy Stark – Founding Member of The Blessed

ME: How did you get into the Punk Rock Scene and what was the first band you saw?

BILLY STARK: I had seen Local bands when I was little in Connecticut but the first major concert I saw was Mott The Hoople @ The Uris Theatre on Broadway in ’74. Queen was the opening act. In fact it was their American Debut show but I thought Queen were boring but Mott blew my little 12 year old head away.The first concert I wanted to go to was Alice Coopers ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ Show @ The Garden- I remember the full page ad but I didn’t realize yet how fast concerts sold out. After I started going to a lot of shows Bowie ‘Diamond Dogs’( The Station to Station show was better I thought) The Stones w/ the lotus stage and Phallic Balloon prop-Led Zep-The Who- Black Sabbath (when Ozzy was still w/ them).

The first so-called Punk band I saw was The Dead Boys. There were a lot I wanted to go like The Ramones and The Damned when they played CB’s but the one I finally upped and went to by myself was The Dead Boys. Keep in mind the Bowery was a HORRIBLE place in the 70’s –its funny The Heartbreakers were also playing @The Village Gate the same nights and later on when Walter was playing w/ us and this story came up he said in mock shock ‘You went to The Dead Boys instead of us?!" Yep! I did-lol –so it wasn’t a matter of getting into ‘Punk Rock’ per se, just following Rock ‘n’ Roll and where it led.

It seemed like the right time to jump in the pan and get this Rock’n’Roll Singer thing going-the energy plus my Energy and you could feel that something was-a- brewing. I’ll also add that hearing about and reading about this NEW band from England- The Pistols- that really set off something in my head-not that I hadn’t thought of being in a band before but TO DO IT NOW!! Was the operative words-no waiting until I was 20-something as I had originally planned-that and coupled w/ my memory of thinking ‘ I’m too young’ to go see The Dolls were both strong motivators in my ‘Lets get up and go’ Mentality.

ME: Who were your major influences in your music?

BILLY STARK: Musically just read the other questions and the trail is pretty obvious. However there are other things that have influenced me -Buster Keaton-Harry Langdon-Chaplin-Mad and Cracked Magazines-Clyde Beatty Cole Bros Circus-Marcel Marceau-Side shows-Carnivals Particularly The Gorilla Girl Illusion at some Carnival I was at-Amusement Parks(especially Dark Rides…Fun Houses Etc)Man Ray Duchamp Warhol –Harry Houdini-The Addams Family-Times Square Especially in the 70’s-and of course Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer. And oh yeah and Ferrets but that was later on have you ever seen one dance around? They have GREAT moves to borrow from.

ME: How did it feel the first time you were on stage?

BILLY STARK: That first time was both surreal and the most comfortable and natural feeling place to be. Literally " Ahhh, I’m home". In this sense this was the creative and /or for lack of a better way to put it the means I had chosen when I was 11 years old to be my so called ‘Artistic Expression’ if you will. Was being in a band and being a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll singer a viable thing or going to be a totally ridiculous bust?

Most of ‘The Nervousness’ or whatever was more behind the scenes and what would be a Blessed show without that? Morning of the first blessed show-things were not worked up until we actually had to show up @ soundscheck w/out equip and we hoped we could borrow for that night. First of all, we had very little preparation time as well and I completely forgot WE HAD NO EQUIPMENT!!! No Drums or Amps so all day we knew we had to show up @ soundcheck and ask/beg/bribe the other band DNA/Arto Lindsey to borrow all their gear. They were cool and something was worked out the morning of the first show.

Howie, Nick and I needed to get out of my Apt for awhile and the only place open in the morning on Dec 25th was the old Horn and Hardart/Automat Restaurant near my Apt on 42nd St. We just sat there maybe drinking coffee-eating bags of sugar and the only other people there were people I guess of either other Religions and or people who don’t do X-mas and homeless and loners of all walks of life, those with no other place to go. Actually it was quite the perfect setting and mood enhancer for this burgeoning bunch of outcasts pondering the night ahead and what it would hold. But it was also kind of creepy too!

ME: How long did the Blessed last?

BILLY STARK: The core years would be 1977-1983 from our Debut @ Max’s to The Gildersleeves show AKA ‘Howies Last’. The core years I consider as those with Howie and I ‘Comrades in Arms’ if you will plunging ahead undaunted by any setback or set forward-lol-after Walter then Brad left there was a literal revolving door of Guitarists and Drummers and all the wonderful drama entailed therein. Either Howie and I just chewed them up and spit them out or Howie and I were just so Horrible to work with.

Howie and I did do a re-union thing of sorts @ The Continental Divide-in the mid 90’s a tribute show for good friend and scene stalwart Tony Cairo(RIP) who’d passed away. He was a Bassist in a number of bands including The Heartbreakers and Waldos and a very sweet and nice man. Naturally, The Waldos played and Sea Monster and others I forget and also this band of upstarts called Dgeneration or something-lol- who went on after us so Howie played twice that night. We did three songs ‘Major Minor’-‘Satyricon’ and ‘Kindergarden H.O.’ in which I was very uncomfortable singing the latter at whatever age I was at the time in fact I decided that would be the LAST time I would ever sing it in fact it would be THE LAST BLESSED SHOW of any kind.

Now to recap the show we had Prior to the Gildersleeves, one was @ NYU’S Loeb Center w/ our ‘new’ Guitarist Rico Blythe (and Richie- I forgot his last name on Drums) with a whole new bunch of songs. The direction we were going in was ‘Punk Funk’ someone called it and it sort of did fit. This was around the time I believe Rick Rubin was starting Def Jam out of his dorm room @ NYU and it was either Dave Insurgent ( RIP) of Reagan Youth or one of The Beastie Boys that asked us to play on this ‘HARDCORE CIRCUS’ thing they were doing at Gildersleeves ( for those unaware Gildersleeves was a good sized club a block or so up from CBGB’ which usually had past their prime Glam and pseudo metal bands while CB'S was ' The place to be' --but in the 80’s became a good venue for Hardcore and other bands. ) The Beastie Boys were still a ‘Hardcore Punk’ band @ this time. I remember speaking w/ one of them-which one I don’t recall- about the upcoming show details and what The Blessed were doing. We discussed the burgeoning Hip Hop scene and how they were all into it-suffice to say the Gildersleeves show was the last one they did as a ‘Hardcore Band" and they disappeared for a few and came back Rapping. I saw the first one @ The Ritz when they still had their Drummer Kate w/ them –it was truly brilliant.

We also did some recording- a couple of Demos of stuff that might have been our next single. I was listening to a lot of Heavy Jamaican Reggae and Dub Etc, and Howie would come over and hang out and was starting to get into it so we sort of starting going in a Bass heavy direction. Anyway due to some irreconcilable differences and misunderstandings Rico bowed out of doing the Gildersleeves show and we once again ‘Hired’ Nick to do the show his second come back and third go-round as Blessed Guitarist so it turned into more of a ‘Re-union" thing than originally planned and we played that angle up. I must also mention Pablo Jakobsen (RIP) On Drums who later played w/ Nausea. It as a good show. We had a great reaction and I was talking w/people about possibly playing that club in Minneapolis- the one Prince put on the map First Ave I think? And maybe a short Eastern U.S. city jaunt- I think there were talks of doing shows w/ T.S.O.L.Take advantage of this new scene coming up. I had gotten a few $$$ at this time and was going to finance the whole thing and buy new equipment Etc., but Howie begged out-He was somewhat physically burnt and Nick was a 'NO GO' so that was it.

Perhaps it was also a way of just going our separate ways. A bit of trivia, the very last song we did together-the encore was an unplanned and impromptu cover of ‘Shutdown" by The Germs. Very Appropiate-lol This show was Videotaped(only The Blessed set) and will be avail on DVD in the very near future. If I recall Howie and Nick later on had a couple of groups in name and rehearsal only they never played live but Howie kept a low profile for a few and resurfaced later as is now well known with Dgeneration and Danzig etc.

I hooked back up w/ Rico and we recruited Long time friend Charlie Sox (O’BM) who actually was the Second Blessed Drummer- He was a friend of Brads and was Brads Drum Tech and Roadie and when Brad left Charlie just slid into the Vacant Drummers Stool knowing the songs and all. On Bass we had Reggie Rhoden an Acquaintance of Rico’s. We played the circuit CB’s –Pyramid-The Dive ( a great club where the original Cavestomp nights started) We also put out a 12’ 45 ‘Taboo’ w/ three songs-'Rubbernecking'-'Potters Field and 'Rags To Riches' I kept the name The Blessed-if it was going to die-I was going to kill it-plus it was easier booking gigs and getting decent nights without having to start from scratch. A lot of people from previous years stopped going out –HI JUDY!!!- and a whole new crop of people were coming up who had maybe heard of the name but had never actually seen us so it was all new to them.

After this dissolved I hooked up again w/ J.F Vergel who actually came in after Walter (who also referred us to him) After Walter we did a few shows w/ JF including a Halloween show @ Maxs w/ Cheetah Chrome on the bill(Howie on Bass and Charlie on drums we did a few others I think. Anyway back w/ J.F. we wrote a bunch of new stuff and recorded some stuff @ the notorious Noise NY Studios –owned and run by Kramer of Shimmy Disc (why it was known as notorious I don’t know but I’ve read that it was –lol-) we had on Bass Sara Lee (B-52’s-Gang of Four and a lot of others )and on Drums Ira Eliot (Fuzztones, Nada Surf) we recorded three songs ‘Timbale Sally’ ‘Love and Sound Effects’ and ‘Upbeat’ these are know as the Faith Express sessions (a name we pondered for a NY minute) but I decided to keep using the Blessed name-making it a revolving door of Musicians and styles w/ me @ the helm. Kramer engineered the sessions but when we pondered doing some DANCE HEAVY MIXES he walked off ‘Refusing to do that kind of stuff"-lol so another engineer who worked there finished it. I believe he was also in the band Miller,Miller, Miller and Sloan though I forget which one it was. I think it was Miller. I should also that mention that Madonna paid for these sessions-albeit indirectly- but that’s a whole other story.

We shopped these around and thought of putting it out ourselves but that wasn’t feasible at the time. J.F. and I went to another studio and recorded an alternate (and I think better version) of ‘Love and Sound Effects’ again w/ Sara Lee on Bass and my new love of technology (samplers-Drum Machines) filling out the rest. We used these for booking purposes and may have sold some around- limited edition cassette only single. Sara and Ira had other projects and we didn’t play live w/ them so J.F. I re- recruited Charlie Sox and new Acquaintance Perry Bottke on Bass. So with this line -up we played a few shows- Lismar Lounge and this club Nirvana (not the restaurant The Blessed had played a party at years before) but it was located in One Times Square- The building where they drop that ball every Dec 31st- after that show we didn't 'officially' dissolve but the guys had other things they wanted to do. So that would be the last show I played under The Blessed name.

J.F. did some thing that played the Ritz w/ The Mission U.K. and Charlie and Perry went to play w/ The Waldos! (No coincidences I tell ya') which may have been the First Waldos Line-up ? I wanted something else to do to so I had gotten word of these guys looking for a singer and ASAP as they had gigs booked and coming up real soon.

I was tired of starting bands and relying on people who had been associated or known of The Blessed. So I met these guys and brought my 'Demo Reel' of stuff that I had done- and I was going to have to audition-which I was actually thrilled about -No relying on past endeavors or whatever-had to prove myself or get out of the game so to speak (not really, but I liked the pressure) plus they didn't have lyrics so I was given a tape and had to write a couple of things-no one was overly familiar w/The Blessed except the Drummer who had been in this band 'Khemer Rouge (SP?) So, I had to Audition along w/ a bunch of other people suffice to say I got it. I had two weeks to write a set of their songs and flesh them out –arrange them in actual ‘Song’ form etc., We did a few warm up gigs in N.J. and played Limelight- at the time they were called 'Strangle Beat' which I hated and strongly suggested 'WE' choose another they came up w/ 'Screaming End' -a Gene Vincent Thing. We had Recorded a Couple of songs and were getting some Press and Radio play -College and Alt. Stations off that tape so the name stuck. We played the circuit- CB'S-Limelight-all over NY State-Pennsylvania-all over Long Island. Oh yeah the band members were Sid- (RIP)Guitar( I forgot his last name- how awful of me) Mick Santeria-Drums and Chris Carrire on Bass and yours truly. To make a long story short every time we took one step forward Sid would recoil inward two steps and was acting erratically with ever growing more frequency w/ every step forward we took .Eventually he wanted out and said he'd play until we found someone.We did our last show @ Pyramid and he begged out so we had to cancel another Limelight and Cat Club show and not too long after this Sid Killed himself.

The rest of us carried on with different Guitarists and w/ various line-ups and one of the Guitarists we had been working with, he and I went off eventually started our own thing I think we were Tentatively called ‘The Hags'. The Hags didn't play live -they got cold feet when it came time to book gigs. Then the re-union w/ Howie @ the Continental and I decided to call it a day and walked away from music.

This began my own period of a revolving door of Re-habs- Hosp.Emerg Rooms and Jail (gotten into trouble a few times) and was into all sorts of unhealthy crap-Drugging-Drinking etc., which was somewhat anti-climatic since during The Blessed Years. I hardly drank- didn't do Drugs of any sort- didn't even smoke Cigarettes and despite the surroundings I was in and the band I was in -lol- all those Blessed shows I did 1000 percent straight and sober. Thankfully I put all that crap behind me and have moved on. Also as a result and during this period I started getting what one would call ‘Spiritual’ and have been studying and learning and practicing things of a more important nature. But, you can’t leave music forever-The smell of greasepaint is just TOO STRONG ya’ know-lol


BILLY: Which time are you referring to? Break-ups Volume 1-10 or later ?-lol I guess the first one would be when X-cessive departed. We got together around Sept. of '77 rehearsed @ my apt in Oct and moved to a real rehearsal studio in Nov. Now when we went out to the clubs-really there was only Max's and CB's-you would just jump back and forth between the two. We usually hung out together making a big stink of who we were-sort of the original (and our own) street team. Our plan was to rehearse and rehearse and I recall make our 'Debut' in June the following year.

One night I was hanging @ Maxs and Terry Ork-who with Deer France-was booking Maxs in Peter Crowleys absence. Peter Usually Booked Maxs but @ this point was in England w/ Wayne/Jayne County. Anyhow Terry said to me 'you guys want to play? I've got a date for you if you want Dec 25th' Which at that time was only a month away or so. Now, I don't remember if I accepted it right then and there or said I need to check w/ the band and get back to you. X-Cessive got very nervous and anxious and the rest of us were like' The hell w/ it lets just do it'. So X-cessive took Howie and me aside and said 'look, Nick just can't drum -we need to get rid of him"-which was true, a Drummer he was not. Then Nick took Howie and me aside and said whatever I don't recall but to the effect that X-cessive is the one we need to get rid of. So Howie and I had a little Pow-Wow and Howie argued more in favor of Nick and I told him "Look, you have to play Bass w/ whomever so if you're comfortable w/ Nick then so be it." So we let X-Cessive go and went w/ Nick on guitar.

So, here we are with a gig looming in a few weeks and now we need a Drummer. I've sometimes wondered how The Blessed would have been had we'd Gone w/ X-Cessive instead of Nick. It would have definitely have been a different band. Probably not as Anarcho-Nutso Punky as many of our shows turned into. Now Nick Leaving all depends on who you ask. Quite simply Nick Just didn't want to be in a band anymore, not just us but ANY band. He was if I recall either living with or hanging with people who convinced him that he should be a ''Pop" Idol and was going to be in 16 and Tiger Beat Mags etc and they were grooming him for all. But the general consensus was that he was always very uncomfortable on stage and had terrible stage fright though he masked it well.

After he left he didn't do anything musically until years later so that was that. Even though it was a little disappointing losing an original member and not having an album from that era. The crowds continued to get bigger and bigger as well as the $$$ so his leaving was really of no consequence. Actually I don't question why a person doesn't want to be in a band I question the sanity of someone who does WANT to be in one-lol. But he is a successful Chef now w/ his own restaurant and is married w/ a young Son so I wish him the best and all. He very well may have been the only one who had any sense -lol

As far as Walter was concerned, we kept trying to get rid of him but he wouldn't leave-lol. Oh, just kidding seriously though, his leaving was actually in stages. First off he really wasn't meant to stay as long as he did-lol. He was only supposed to be for one gig 'Special Guest' and all that but it went so well he did one more then another and another etc. The first chink in the armor was when Hurrah's wanted us to do a show w/ The Damned (which would have been their 2nd NY appearance since they played w/ the Dead Boys @ CB'S in '77) 'The Damned Blessed Blessed Damned' nights they were to be called. The first night we would go on first and the second night the Damned would go on first essentially opening for us. They had big ads and posters to be plastered all over town and after I booked it Walter wouldn't do it. He went on about how he had played with them on The Anarchy tour and this was his 'home turf'etc and didn't want to be seen playing w/ us blah blah. So I had to cancel it which didn't please Hurrah' much but out of deference. I suggested that they should get The Misfits who would make a great fit on the bill. The Misfits played and I believe that is how they struck up their "friendship" w/ the Damned and asked if they could open for them in England and the Damned said 'Sure." They went over based on that or something but that’s all Misfits lore and if one is interested can delve into on their site.

Moving along Walter did not want to do any 'Out of Town' shows that I tried to book but the final straw was when Bobby Orlando was starting a new label ' Thrust ' Records and wanted to sign us. Granted it wasn't the best of the best but I really wanted to get an album out even if it wound up in the cut-out bins. But again, Walter didn't want to do it specifically didn't like the deal points -lol- as if we were going to make anything anyway so that was it. We wanted to do it so we went our separate ways. We essentially 'Hired' nick to do the album which was to be called 'Out of the inkwell w./The Blessed" a Max Fleishcer/Koko the clown sort of motif. Bobby Orlando took us to this CRAP studio to rehearse-lol then we played Trude Hellers (this old club from the 70's trying to make a comeback) essentially a press announcement gig. Bobby had this huge list of industry people and such AND NOT ONE ON HIS LIST SHOWED UP. But we had some of our crowd and had Allen From The Speedies on Drums. We did one more show w/ Allen @ Maxs then Nick again bailed and the Thrust Record thing panned out. Funnily enough Bobby Orlando actually went on to become a big Eurotech Producer w/the Bobby O sound working w/ The Pet Shop Boys etc. He was also involved in that Maxs album from 1976 so there ya' go.

A few after thoughts I will attest to always having loved Nick’s playing. He had a great 'Roar' and Rhythm but when Walter came in our sound went up a thousand notches. Walter is one of the most talented Guitarists and his sound was one of the best and 'DEFINING' styles of that genre. You could definitely hear it in Steve and Mick Jones. All of a sudden we were THIS ROCK BAND -lol but we really should have done only a few gigs w/ Walter and gotten someone our age or so and traveled and recorded more etc.

At the time The Hearbreakers were playing every so often 'Rent Partys" or whatever and certainly not recording or anything and Walter wasn't doing his solo stuff yet so the general attitude was if this takes off- it would benefit everyone. Walter and I even wrote a few songs together so I never felt like he was 'Holdin back the good riffs" so to speak. In fact one we wrote together 'Forever Fashion' he eventually did do w/ new lyrics apparently called 'Crazy Kids' I think supposedly about us. I never knew the words although I could only imagine.

After Walter left we got this kid on Guitar. I forgot his name but who cares and he was quite good. One day I open up the Village Voice and in the Maxs ad its advertised "The Blessed-July 4th"!!! whaaaa? so I call up Peter (Crowley -who booked Maxs) and he answered 'Oh, we didn't know how to get in touch w/ you so we figured we'd advertise you and you'd call and it worked did"!! As if the Village Voice Maxs ad was our bat signal or something. So next rehearsal we tell this new Guitarist we have a show in like two weeks and he got all anxious and nervous. Here we go again-Deja Vu all over again-lol and we told him you're great and we wouldn't get on stage w/ you if you weren't blah blah. So the day of the show he doesn't show up for soundcheck We go to his apt and kept banging on the door-but he went AWOL-so now what the Friggin'hell we gonna do? So I Told Howie 'Look, you were originally going to be a Guitar Player-tonights your chance. He wasn't sure if he was up for it and Mitch Zykowsky who was a good friend and roadied for us and was an aspiring Bass player would play Bass. Charlie Sox was also Drumming at this point. So on we went-lol. I remember we did 'Major Minor' which @ best is only 2 mins long, I kept telling Howie'Stretch it out-Stetch it out-jam if you have to" -lol -and Mitch was a big Who fan so we did a --LONG--version of 'Summertime Blues-most appropriate. How we got through that set, I still don't know. We actually got a good reaction!

Then between sets-yes we had to do ANOTHER ONE!! Johnny (Thunders) came backstage and was hanging out and chatting and we just said 'Hey Johnny, we don't have a Guitar player for our second set-you wanna do it?" Now, anyone who knew Johnny, you didn't have to ask him twice-he was up on stage before we were-lol -so for the second set Howie went back to Bass and Johnny was our Guitarist for one set. What we played I have no idea-lol -probably a 45-minute version of 'Chinese Rocks' after this show we Got J.F. so the story has come full circle.


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