NORMALS “RADIO INTERVIEW ON WPIX-FM NEW YORK, CIRCA JANUARY 1980″ (+UNRELEASED DEMO!)
*Be forewarned- this is going to be another long post, as I have a lot to say about The Normals and Louisiana punk in general! Yes, there is some audio included here so if you don’t feel like reading all this then just scroll way down below for it.
PART 1: BACKGROUND
I have been meaning to post this radio interview for a while, as it’s interesting, plus- surprisingly- I haven’t seen it posted elsewhere yet. I guess all of the buzz lately about the in-progress, 3-years-in-the-making New Orleans (although it’s not pronounced that way- I’ll explain later) punk documentary from Al Champagne and Pablo Romero-Estevez called “Almost Ready” finally prompted me to do so. Check out their bountiful Facebook page which is full of HUNDREDS of rare, vintage pictures and flyers from the late 70’s and early 80’s of all yer fave New Orleans/Louisiana bands from both the punk/KBD era and later HC era- The Normals; Skinnies; Mandeville Mike; Toxin III; Men In Black; Red Rockers; Shit Dogs (who were actually from another part of the state- Baton Rouge, but close enough); Sluts; Disappointed Parents; and many others.
I must point out in a separate paragraph something that I thought was very nice to see on the film’s site- a rare live picture of the mysterious Fugitives whose only song committed to vinyl, “Mystery Girl”- a great, very catchy tune- was on 1980’s No Questions, No Answers comp LP on Vinyl Solution (and then rediscovered when it was comped in 1998 on Killed By Death #22). The only other picture I’ve ever seen of the Fugitives was the small one on the back of that 1980 comp.
The Almost Ready Facebook page also highlights some powerpop, “New Wave” and “not-punk-but-in-the-same-spirit” type-of stuff if that’s your cup of tea- The Cold (with Ellen DeGeneres’ brother Vance on bass); The Dukes; The Models; RZA; and many others. AND lots of rare pictures of “national” acts playing down in New Orleans like The Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Cramps, The Misfits (including their infamous 1982 cemetery arrest incident!) and more. The site is great (is this enough of a plug for it?), and I for one am very much looking forward to seeing the documentary when it’s completed. Some of my wife’s relatives are from New Orleans and I have taken MANY a memorable trip down there over the years so I also have some personal connections to the city.
[Not to get off on too much of a tangent, but New Orleans is very unique charming city, all of the tourist-y or drunken, Bourbon Street frat boy
stuff aside of course- it’s in the South but not like the rest of the South in many ways. The food is different, the musical scenes and ethnography is rather unique, language, accents and euphemisms are different, etc. And you can get hot, fresh beignets (the official state doughnut of Louisiana- yeah, you right!) 24 hours a day at The Café du Monde which has always been a plus for me. And let’s be clear- the unique drawl of the city is why it is not pronounced how it is spelled- think “Nu-AW-linz”, like it’s all one word and not two, and I guess it could even be “Nawlins” (although some people think that’s how tourists trying to “be down” and cool pronounce it). I have NEVER heard someone from down there pronounce it like it is spelled, “New Orleans”. Personally, when I see that way, I picture some linguist carefully enunciating every single letter and that’s just not the way it rolls off the tongue of Crescent City area natives.]
PART 2: THE RADIO INTERVIEW
ANYWAY, here is the deal with this late-period Normals interview which is below. This was recorded during the 6-to-9 month period in late 1979 and early 1980- with manager and road crew in tow- when the band relocated and lived in New York City trying to “make it” and get the elusive record deal. Well, that didn’t work out and in some ways that is why I feel sad when I listen to this interview- not because the band sounds sad in the interview or talks about depressing things. Quite the contrary- the band sounds excited and enthusiastic as you will hear. I feel bummed because, from being schooled via the liner notes from 1998’s great Your Punk Heritage reissue CD, I have heard of what stress and disappointment was going on behind the scenes- this New York period of the band ultimately led to their demise and their break up. In New York City, original drummer Chris Luckette left (and was quickly replaced with Mike Fell who is in this interview); they only had like 12(!) gigs total in 9 months which must have been very disheartening for a band who loved to play live; and they (meaning 9 people- the 4-person band, their manager and the 4-person road crew) ALL lived in the same apartment in the Bronx. Plus the band was full-time and it sounds like no one had day jobs to support things. But as you will also hear in the interview the bass player, Steve Walters, was no longer living with everyone else- they say in the interview, while chuckling, that he was “kicked out” so I wonder what happened there.
I mean, shit, it must have been frustrating because you are a tight, loud band with good songs and an amazing single under your belt but no record labels seemed to care in the Big Apple. In 2014 punk hindsight, it’s easy for us all these years later to say “OF COURSE no major label was going to sign a punky band like The Normals! Why didn’t they just do the DIY-thing and self-release their LP or other singles?!”. But I guess back in 1980 a few U.S. bands had been signed to big labels without having to water down or “new wave”-ize their sound too much so there was some hopes or dreams to chase. Plus the DIY route didn’t become the go-to, standard and assumed method of releasing a full-length “debut” LP until several years later during the ’80 hardcore era. In the late 70’s you might have a single or EP on an indy label (as did The Normals) but the hope for many bands was to get a big label to release the rest of your output.
This interview was making the rounds in the tape trading world (at least in my circle of traders) back in the mid 1990’s- I got it from good ol’ reliable J.T. as part of a nearly 90-minute Normals tape that he dubbed for me which- aside from this interview- included the astoundingly good “Almost Ready” 7″ of course; the unreleased “Vacation Is For You” LP (before parts of it were officially released in ’98 on the Your Punk Heritage CD); and some enthusiastic live stuff circa 1979 when they were still in N’Leans (I gotta rip those tracks one of these days!). Interspersed within the interview are some early, raw Normals demos circa early 1978 like “No Cigars” and “Seventeen Percent”. These early demos, a few of which were on Your Punk Heritage, were not officially released in their entirety years later until late 2006 on the nice 1978 Recordings CD that was on the Nat Records label out of Japan. Now I am not sure if those early demos were part of their playlist during the radio interview or were spliced in later by someone but they could most likely could have been on the actual tape that The Normals brought to WPIX-FM that night. I included the entire playlist from the radio interview side of the cassette below so you can see what all was included. I did not include rips of all of most of these tracks, as many of them have been officially released on various reissues that have come out over the years.
But what I have included is a song that, for some odd reason, has never been released- a very good, catchy, hooky rave-up called “Shot Down”. This song sounds like it could have been recorded in late 1979 during the Memphis recording session that eventually spawned the “Vacation Is For You” LP. But I scratch my head wondering why it was never included on any of the various Normals reissues over the years since it’s definitely not a cutting-room floor track. I guess the band or someone associated with the band would have to explain that glaring omission.
Back to the interview- my favorite part is at the beginning of it when “Almost Ready” is over and the DJ is almost speechless and is genuinely surprised by this song that he admits he has never heard before that night. The interview starts with a bang and they definitely have this DJ’s attention! (By the way, the DJ never says his name so he’s kind of a mystery guy). The band tells him “Almost Ready” was released “nearly 18 months ago” (the single came out in August of ’78 so, doing the math, that is why I’m placing this interview in early 1980). Then, funnily enough, the DJ and band clear up that they are NOT the English synth band The Normal with the TVOD/Warm Leatherette 7″ and that this band has an “S” on the end of their name. I wonder how many times the band had to repeat the same speech to people in New York or other cities- both how they were not “The Normal” AND how their single came out 18 months ago.
I kind of did a loose transcript for the interview below which has some more musings of mine and nuggets of info that the band mentioned which helps put all of this in historical context.
*Dig the Patricia Field’s fashion store ad at the end of the interview which has a cool UK DIY song playing in the background (“In A Moment” by Airmail, which was actually later comped on Messthetics #6) while what sounds like a drag queen talks about what fashion accessories and clothes could be gotten there (a referee jacket, anyone?). I dug around on the interwebs and it turns out that there is a backstory behind that Patricia Fields aka The House of Field store (which was located at 10 East 8th Street in Greenwich Village)- go here to read that.
** Also cool which I included are uncut fan interviews (including the “25 cc’s of morphine” girl and “the pussy guy”) which, for some reason, were cut out of the fan interview track that was on 1998’s Your Punk Heritage CD. The fan interview track on the CD is only like 30 seconds l
ong while the one I included is more than twice that length.
There is ALSO a backstory behind the station that this interview was on, WPIX-FM, which was not a college station on the low end of the dial, but you can dig around yourself for that whole thing or else this will be my longest posting ever. Argh, the researching madness never ends!
LOOSE INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
The band members who do most of the talking on the interview appear to be guitarists Charlie Hanson and David Brewton. But what I love to hear is when bassist Steve Walters talks, because his New Orleans drawl is nice and THICK.
The band talks about the gumbo mixture of circumstances and culture down in New Orleans that is conducive to punk.
How the Sex Pistols show in early 1978 was influential for the band [my note: the Pistols’ Louisiana show was actually not in New Orleans but in Baton Rouge and took place on Monday, January 9, 1978 at a place called The Kingfish Club- go here for more on that night. Kingfish, by the way, was the nickname of notorious 1920/30’s Governor Huey P. Long, Jr.]
The band talks about going back to New Orleans “in like 3 weeks” for a show- does anyone know the date or venue of this return show? I guess I’d have to dig around old issues of Final Solution ‘zine to figure out the particulars- another research project!
The band mentions the Tulane University station- WTUL- who, incidentally had an influential show that played punk early on [my note: the show was called “The WTUL New Wave Hour”, and you can read more about it here].
The band disses Cheap Trick and Joe Jackson, which is funny.
They brought in a tape with the 1979 Memphis demos on it, which they say was recorded “within the last 3 months”.
The band reads song credits on the air: “Don’t Pick Me” by The Normals; “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles; “Ain’t That A Shame” by Brian James; and “Shot Down”, the elusive unreleased track which I included above. [my note: looks like the WPIX show that night was not just playing punk-y stuff because The Normals were there, eh].
The DJ asks why they moved to cold New York City (which was 32 degrees on the day of the interview)- they talk about their bigger ambitions to expand their influence outside of Louisiana [my note: for those of us who grew up in areas with four distinct seasons, 32 degrees can be balmy in the winter- especially after this past January when the temperature with wind chill was negative 45 degrees by me. But 32 can feel cold to a person from warmer climates not used to brutal winters- The Normals incidentally did not bring it up or complain about it, just the DJ].
They talk about how they opened for national touring acts in New Orleans, like Miles Copeland, and got New York contacts for booking agents and how “the word spread” about how good The Normals were.
Briefly mention about kicking bassist Steve Walters out of their apartment
They actually say they’ve played “just about every place” they can think of [my notes- this differs from what the Your Punk Heritage CD liner notes say, but I am going to cut them some slack since they wanted to make a good impression on their big radio interview and didn’t want to let on that they were actually frustrated from not getting many gigs (12 total in 9 months!)].
Here are the venues they mention playing in NYC during their sojourn- Tracks (twice); Hurrah’s (3 times); Max’s Kansas City (“quite a few times” but no specific number); but not CBGB’s this time around. They say that they played CBGS’s “the last time we were down here” [my note: this was actually July 5 through 7, 1979 when they played there- see flyer below].
DJ asks about the existence or growth of Southern punk- oops, I said “The P Word”- excuse me,”new wave”- audience or scenes. David Brewton says Atlanta has a big scene. And points out that smaller Southern cities like Biloxi and Bay St. Louis have scenes too- he calls the latter a “small hick town”.
David Brewton talks about doing mail order for punk records a few years earlier because there were “only two record stores” stocking that stuff. [my note: oh, the things we take for granted nowadays with the accessibility thanks to the information superhighway! No one nowadays is geographically isolated when it comes to acquiring or accessing good music- a kid in the smallest Southern town can get online and hear and buy whatever their hearts desires].
The band credits David Brewton with writing most of their material.
The Normals talk about how after the “Almost Ready” 7″ came out, someone brought over a copy of The Normal “TBOD” 7″ and that is how they found out about the existence of that UK band. The band also says how that the guy from The Normal never released another record under that band name [my note: so were they inferring it was because of The Normals?]
Then the talking portion of the interview abruptly cuts out, comes back in briefly, and then back out for good so perhaps some of this interview is missing and is actually longer- if you know more, please leave a comment and let me know.
Here is the complete interview track listing that I promised from above. Like I said, I don’t know if all of these songs were played that night in 1980 they were being interviewed on WPIX or if some were spliced in later but here is what makes up the full 40 minutes of what was labeled “Radio Interview” on the old 90 minute Normals cassette I had dubbed for me in the mid 90’s (originally it came to me with no track listings of course- ah, the good old tape trading days).
1. Interview, Part 1
2. Shot Down
3. Interview, Part 2
5. You’ve Got Nothin
6. (Fan interviews)
7. No Cigars
8. Seventeen Percent
9. Jump Back
10. Running Around
11. Running Around, Take 2 (alternate version?)
12. You Took You Got
13. (slower, ballad-y song- almost reggae-ish- forgot the name. Perhaps another unreleased one?)
14. (Patricia Field’s Ad just before 38:30 mark)
15. (DJ reads closing credits at 39:30 mark)
Here is a flyer from the band’s second
visit to New York which they reference in the above interview- at CBGB’s, no less, between July 5th and 7th of ’79 (and
before they relocated to The Big Apple later that year). Man, I bet
they played their hearts out at these CBGB shows more so than usual and
it would have something to see. The Normals got around- you will notice
that the quirky artwork for the flyer (a lightbulb with glasses,
anyone?) is by some guy from Oakland named Pete Thorpe.
I know this post is long, but one more thing I had to include. This is a flyer for what looks like this was
their last show while they were based out of New Orleans, and before the
relocation to New York City later in 1979. They played this show with
The Cold, so maybe Ellen DeGeneres was there watching her brother Vance
play bass. Interesting how The Normals called it a “Tour of The West”,
sounding like they would return to New Orleans at some point after they
triumphantly conquered the country. Unfortunately, and sadly, that
would not happen and the band would meet its demise in the sometimes
unforgiving environ of New York City (does that sound too dramatic?). Ironic to me in this flyer is how, post-Normals, drummer Chris Luckette ended up playing in The Cold.
But even though they broke up in 1980, The Normals were not gone forever. They did their first reunion show in New Orleans in 1981 and then did them every year until 1984. Then it was sporadic after that and it appears that the final one was as recently as 2000- nice!