INTERVIEW BY NICK GAZIN, PORTRAIT BY RICHARD PETRUCCI
Bobby Steele has been dicked over so royally throughout his life, he might as well change his name to Dick Royale. First, God pulled a fast one by giving him spina bifida followed by polio. Somehow he got over both and went on to become the guitarist for the Misfits from 1978 to 1980 (aka their totally untouchable period), until Jerry Only got him ousted in order to replace him with his "cooler-looking" brother, Doyle. Instead of crying about it for the rest of his life, Bobby formed the Undead and spent the next 28 years putting out extremely good records and becoming an elder statesman of the East Village punk scene. While he may not have found the commercial success of Danzig's solo career or the reformed Misfits, he's also never written a song for a hockey team.
When I met Bobby in Tompkins Square Park to interview him, a bunch of bums came up to us and kept repeating "I take off my hat to you, I take off my hat to you," until Bobby waved them off. I still have no idea if they actually knew who he was or were just on some weird genuflection trip. Anyways, that doesn't really have anything to do with what we talked about, but I thought it was worth mentioning cause it seemed really messed up. Here's what he had to say...
Vice: How did you join the Misfits?
Bobby Steele: I ran an ad in The Aquarian, the New Jersey music paper. I was looking for a punk band that had management and a record deal. A few days later, I got a call from Glen Danzig. At that point, all I had heard was the “Cough/Cool” 45 on a jukebox, and I thought, “God, this band really sucks.” So when I got the call from Glen, I didn’t take it too seriously. I was at a point where I was doing auditions just to get used to auditioning. When I got there, they played the "Bullet" 45 for me, and it just clicked. After years of reading record reviews of people like David Bowie and all these British glam bands described as “high energy music,” I’d had a picture of this exact sound in my head and it was always a disappointment when I heard the actual bands. But the Misfits nailed it. So right on the spot I was like, “I’m in,” and I went and told my friends, “This is gonna be the biggest band since KISS.”
You were with the Misfits during their attempted UK tour in '79. How did that go?
We got invited by the Damned to tour with them, but I guess their management wasn’t too keen on the idea and they didn’t want to honor our agreements. Dave Vanian was behind us. I don’t know about Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible, because those guys were just clowns. They would rip on you nonstop just to bust your balls. Rat and Captain were so obnoxious. On the second night of the tour, I punched Captain Sensible in the face.
Is that what got the band kicked off the tour?
No, it was the problem with their management. We'd been told that we were going to be making about a hundred bucks a show, and once we got to England they said we weren’t getting anything. Glen had sent Jerry over in advance with contracts for the gigs, and he'd called back after a couple days saying, "OK, I got all the contracts signed. Come on over." So Glen asked Jerry for the contracts to take to the Damned's management and Jerry was just like, "Um, I didn't get the contracts signed." He'd been lying about the whole thing.
I heard that “London Dungeon” was written after you and Danzig were attacked by skinheads on that tour.
There were no skinheads. I was there, man.
OK, OK. What's the real story then?
We were drinking in this pub across the street from the Rainbow Theater. Glen was getting pretty buzzed and he started going on about how “Those skinheads back there are talking about us.” And I’d turn around to look and he’d say, “Don’t look! Don’t look!” I told him, “Glen, I don’t see any skinheads.” But he believed they were there and kept saying, “There are skinheads there and they’re planning on fighting us.” He’s getting into this fantasy about these imaginary skinheads conspiring to beat us up. I got fed up and went to get some fish and chips. As I was walking back I saw Glen crouched on the sidewalk outside the bar, scraping a piece of glass against the ground to sharpen it. Just as I got close enough to ask him what was up, these bouncers came running out of the Rainbow Theater, grabbed him, and dragged him inside. I had no idea what the fuck was going on. I ran in and threw my bag of chips in one of the bouncers’ faces, and one of the others pinned me to the ground. Eventually somebody recognized me from the show the night before and said "Hey, that guy's OK. Let him go," but Glen got hauled off to jail and he was holding all our cash that night. I tried going to the police station to see if they'd let me get some money off him to get back to where we were staying, but they didn't give a shit. So then I tried calling the US embassy collect, saying, "You got an American in trouble out here," and they refused the call. At that point it was like three in the morning, so I figured the safest thing to do would be to go back to the police station and try to get myself arrested. My plan was to piss on the floor, because they'd refused to let me use the bathroom earlier that night.
Did it work?
I never got the chance. As I was approaching the station, one of the security guards from the Rainbow Theater came out and started threatening me. This guy is like three times my size, and he's saying, "Let's step around back and I'll kick your ass right now." So I just hocked up and spit in his face, and seven cops came charging out of the station dragged me in.
Did they put you in the same cell as Danzig?
We were in separate cells until we got to the courthouse and they put us in the same holding tank. That's when we came up with “London Dungeon.” We were sitting in the jail cell slapping out the drum beat on our thighs, and humming the bass line. It was a real echo-y jail cell and it sounded really cool.
What were Misfits shows like back then?
It was a different scene. You could get away with a lot more, because everybody knew each other better at that point. Misfits shows back in those days were always fiercely violent gorefests. Tables and chairs would be turned into splinters. I remember one show in particular, March 20th, 1979, I got dragged out in handcuffs. One guy had his arm slashed open, another girl got her jaw crushed. And that was strictly injuries caused by the band. There was plenty of other shit going on in the audience.
What do you think of the current Misfits?
It’s just Jerry Only doing the Al Bundy deal, trying to relive his glory days and fucking up the whole thing in the process.
He made a swing album, didn't he?
With the Nutley Brass, yeah. I remember seeing that album.
It looked pretty embarrassing.
I never listened to it. For years, I’d been talking about doing an album of 50s cover songs and that’s where Jerry got the idea for that 1951 thing.
You mean Project 1950?
Yeah, the version of “Runaway” he recorded is just hideous. My biggest problem was that he shouldn’t have done “Runaway” if he couldn’t hit that "wah, wah, wah, wah." You don’t do a song and leave out the main part. It’s like doing “London Dungeon” without the "dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah."
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