The line from Rocket From the Tombs to punk rock is one of the shortest and straightest that can be drawn. RFTT were a boisterously aggressive, unruly, and weird band of Velvet Underground devotees that appeared in the early ‘70s. When they broke up in 1975, their singer and guitarist formed the long running art-punk ensemble Pere Ubu (who, by the way, have a wonderful new LP coming out this month), and the drummer and other guitarist teamed up with a scrawny sparkplug of an Iggy-inspired frontman called Stiv Bators to form the raunchy, scummy, guttural ur-punks the Dead Boys.
But tellings of that well-known history typically omit an amusing detour. Before they moved to NYC, changed their name to the Dead Boys, and went down in history, Bators and company briefly took the form of the glammy, fuzzed out Frankenstein. Almost nothing survives of them, but what does found its way to an EP back in the mid-‘90s. Eve of the Dead Boys contains early recordings of three songs that would end up on the Dead Boys’ immortal debut Young Loud and Snotty. A short and illuminating piece by Jack Rabid on AllMusic sheds some light on the recording’s history:
The great Tim Sommer once played a tape of Cleveland quintet Frankenstein (who would later become the Dead Boys) on his WNYU “Noise the Show” punk radio show in 1981. It was three fascinating songs they recorded two years later when the same five members moved to New York for the first Dead Boys’ LP, Young Loud and Snotty. It was super raw, supremely garagey, and great. I always wondered if I would ever hear it again. Years later, it’s a great little artifact, with liner notes from Dead Boys’ bassist, Jeff Magnum. This live-to-two-track document, recorded in the loft of the legendary Rocket From the Tombs, the pre-Pere Ubu group they also had roots in, and remixed for release, is slightly submerged, but the performance is delightfully dirty and the playing crackles like a big, burning log. Best of all, since these versions of “Sonic Reducer,” “High Tension Wire,” and “Down in Flames” weren’t altered after the group moved to New York and got into the brand-new, thriving punk scene, this wild, wild, wild sound proves they were not bandwagon-jumpers. Instead, like Pere Ubu, they were true mid-‘70s “bad old days” pre-punk rock revolutionaries, the genuine heirs to MC5, Stooges, and tough ‘60s garage.
Despite the audio fidelity, the three songs on the EP seriously rip. Compare the early version of “High Tension Wire” to the canonical LP version:
”Hight Tension Wire” by Frankenstein
”Hight Tension Wire” by the Dead Boys
If you’d like an astonishing look at a seriously glammed-out Dead Boys, these photos of Frankenstein were posted on the Cash From Chaos Tumblr over the weekend. Bators’ stockings-as-pants move surely raised some audience hackles, to whatever degree an audience was actually present.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Young, loud, certainly snotty: the Dead Boys in 1977
Stiv Bators, pop crooner
Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome’s ‘Sonic Reducer’ guitar lesson