- Perfumed - ole-019 - 1993-11-15
- Kill For You (1991) - ole-015 - 1993-10-17
The Amazing History of the CHAIN GANG
from Forced Exposure #13, Winter 1998
Regardless of the fact that you've probably never heard 'em, Chain Gang have been an operational underground unit in New York for over a decade. As such, they should be held in esteem as contemporaries of the Ramones, Heartbreakers and Manster. That they are not viewed thusly (or even as the forefathers of Teenage Jesus, Mars, Sonic Youth, et al.) is mute testament to mass stupidity. Their records have been consistent ear-cork, their live shows are legendary, but most people still remain pathetically unaware of their existence. In order to make their presence known to a few more hepsters, we offer this interview with the band's lead singer, Ricky "Don't Call Me Ricky" Luanda. It was conducted in July '87 at a bar called Brewski's, New York City.
FE: Jimmy & Byron
FE: Let's get into the Chain Gang story. It's a long one.
Ricky: Soon to be a major motion picture.
FE: Yeah. "Mondo Manhattan". When did you start filming that?
Ricky: We started that about two years ago. We expect it to be out before two years are up. No. Actually, it'll probably...I dunno, we could run off...we're thinking we're gonna make, like, a sequel. We're gonna do "Mondo Manhattan One" and "Two" and then "Three".
FE: But you've gotta finish "One" first.
Ricky: Not necessarily. Sometimes the sequel comes out first.
FE: Just do 'em all together to get rid of production costs.
Ricky: Well, if they're of ten minute length or thirty minute length or an hour and a half there's a big difference in the cost levels.
FE: How long is it supposed to be?
Ricky: Well, when I feel really ambitious, it's like an hour and a half. When I feel like, Oh no, I've gotta do it, it's like ten minutes.
FE: What stage is it at right now?
Ricky: Could go either way. We could wrap something up if we wanted, but we're gonna let it ride a little bit longer 'cause other things have come up that we're jumping into as far as the video's concerned. We're getting some new ideas for special effects. Let me give you one line from the movie. The young starlet turns to this rather whimpy client who wants to listen to soft rock. She turns and says, "Soft rock means soft cock." That's copyrighted.
FE: Is this movie what you were talking about a few years back when you said you were gonna stop doing records in favor of videos?
Ricky: Yeah. 'Cause, like, in videos a guy lives on forever. He's wiped out but he lives on forever in his video library. And videos don't cheat, you can videotape your whole life -- have somebody running next to you.
FE: So "Mondo Manhattan" ends Chain Gang?
Ricky: Oh no. No. We ride off into the sunset flush with success.
FE: But that's what it says on the record.
Ricky: Well that was a direct quote from Andre de Toth. He's a director. He did a lot of work with Randolph Scott westerns and Vincent Price's "Wax Museum" in the early Fifties.
FE: How'd you run into him?
Ricky: That goes back to '77 when we were pushing "Son of Sam" in England. He was a real man of honor. De Toth was a man of honor. But as far as talking about record success and goals and careers, that's like being a latent yuppie. Eventually you're gonna...people go, "Oh what longevityyou have." 'Cause we've been around ten, eleven years.
FE: You guys have approached it a bit differently.
Ricky: That's it. You see, most people who have some input with the punk mentality in the arts and whatnot, approach it...rather than being a flash-in-the-pan-going-for-it-whatever-they-call-it, they should look ahead, so maybe some day they could inherit the city. Or wherever they live. Like, Kansas City used to be an open city. It had fifty jazz clubs and everybody worked. And everybody was on the take. It's actually better to deal with a corrupt system, having everybody on the take, than these lily-white, clean clean sort of towns. You think, wait a minute -- you got an army out there of anarchists, right? If they're gonna mount up and ride off and do anything they've gotta figure they're gonna be around for at least twenty more years. They're gonna live that long. But that's just my viewpoint.
FE: Did Chain Gang start as part of the punk thing or just simultaneous with it?
Ricky: Well, both. We went for a gig at Max's Kansas City and they told us we had to play original music, so we went and wrote some original songs.
FE: You'd been planning to do covers?
Ricky: I can't remember that far back. I shredded those documents forever.
FE: Did you have a name before the band?
Ricky: Well, no. That was just fun, thinking up a name. Thinking up a name for something is always fun. I guess we had the name before that but, again, it's been a long time. We just take it for granted.
FE: You guys never seemed to be part of any of the movements that went on in New York.
Ricky: Oh yeah. But there are so many separate movements in New York that everybody's left out of at least ten no matter what. A band comes up tomorrow, they're gonna be left out of five movements immediately by crossing the street.
FE: But Chain Gang have chosen to stand apart.
Ricky: Well, when we lived in north Manhattan it was a much more integrated scene. In other words, we would play music with black guys, guys who were into salsa. There was more of a crossover. Downtown it's much more segregated, always has been. It's a pleasure to get above 110th Street 'cause it's a much more open scene farther uptown. Once you get out of midtown.
FE: Did you every play up there?
Ricky: Yeah, but some of the clubs' buildings have been knocked down.
FE: When was this?
Ricky: Probably '76, doing covers and whatnot.
FE: And you guys never got associated with any of the No Wave or noise crowds.
Ricky: Well, the early "Son of Sam" that we did was way ahead of noise music. I think it was the first noise record that I heard. We thought it was worth doing something different with song structure. We got over that right away. We went to CB's and saw the other bands playing straight ahead, so we threw art out the window immediately.
FE: Did you follow the Son of Sam case real closely?
Ricky: Oh yeah. Chain Gang follows all the mass murder cases. We're all buffs on that. One of the things that holds the band together is our mutual interest in mass murder.
FE: The Son of Sam thing was really big with New York punk rockers too.
Ricky: Well, in those days we hit the street trying to sell the single. People would walk by with the NY Post under their arm, selling papers for the seventh day with pictures of the dead bodies. Then we'd try to sell our record to these same people passing on 5th Avenue and they'd say, "Hey, you people are sick capitalizing on this." But they'd have thePost tucked under their arm. Right away we realized we had to compete. Because it's right next door to you. You can't avoid it. You've gotta compete and the music thing is just so much. You've gotta compete with anything else. Right away we had to compete with the Joneses and there was millions of Joneses.
FE: So that record was out as it was happening.
Ricky: We cut that single before he was caught. Besides the publicity machine that goes with the record, we were real close on his ass. We know the city so well that we knew he lived in Mt. Vernon or Yonkers. And we knew that he had taken a shot at somebody in a certain section of the Bronx and we sorta had a feel for him. We also knew some lowlifes who had broken into Berkowitz's apartment -- we found this out weeks after they caught him. The record was still being pressed, but we were out looking to grab that thirty grand reward. We needed the money. We ran across this woman...We were at this bridge. It's like a no man's land in this part of north Manhattan. Nobody walks over this bridge or this strip. We were just sort of lurking in the shadows, leaning against the car, drinking a few beers, and most people would avoid us if they'd see us. This woman comes running. We hear her coming, like in the movies, right? We hear her heels (makes tapping sounds), running down the stairway and she's panting and crying, "Son of Sam tried to shoot me!" It was unbelievable. We were thatclose. That thirty grand started to look like ours. That's when de Toth came in saying, "That's the story you guys oughta do."
FE: What about the other side of that single?
Ricky: "Gary Gilmore and the Island of Dr. Moreau". It's funny 'cause somebody heard that on the radio recently. We like that song and we still argue about the chord changes. But I'll tell ya, we're pretty consistent on the new song, "Mondo Manhattan" on the new LP. It's pretty autobiographical, I've gotta say. There's a line, "Dead women under twisted trees/He just had to touch". Well, you know, like, I guess the River Charles in Boston...wherever you guys hang out. When I was a kid we'd go down to the Hudson River and you'd see all this stuff floating around: dead animals, parts of hands and stuff. You go, "Wow." You know, you want to check it out. So we're sort of going way back.
FE: What about putting Gary Gilmore in that "Are we not men" framework?
Ricky: We did that before Devo, but we were on the same charts in England with that. Devo went a lot farther with theirs than ours did.
FE: Who wrote the lyrics to that?
Ricky: We worked on some of the lyrics together.
FE: And then you paired it with "Son of Sam".
Ricky: It looked pretty conceptual and we didn't like that 'cause it looked like we were getting too conceptual on our first record. It's hard when you've got something that looks like the a-side and the b-side. We didn't want to walk away from it either, so we just let it go. There are other songs from those days that we haven't put out that we wanted to put out on this record.
FE: Do you have tapes of old stuff?
Ricky: Yeah. Well, that song on the album, "I Don't Mind" is from an old tape. Like from '76.
FE: How'd the first record get over to England?
Ricky: It was being run by the same people that were running around pushing the Police and Squeeze and people like that.
Ricky: Yeah, they took it over there. I think they expected us to sign with 'em at that point. But I learned a lot from hanging out there. I checked all their paperwork and how they marketed. I've always liked fanzines myself. There was one that was out of here hen that I never liked too much -- Punk -- 'cause only a few bands were covered in that club. But there were other ones in England, what was that one...Glue Bag?
FE: Sniffin' Glue?
Ricky: Yeah, right. Well we had tapes of ATV's live show and a lotta other bands like that. We could dig them out and they're really good stuff. You could hardly hear what any of those guys said though, they talked so fast. "What's that? All I can hear is 'Fuck' 'Wanker' 'Fuck' 'Wanker'."
FE: So you went over there?
Ricky: Yeah. That was a while ago. Geez -- I'll tell ya, the scene over there probably still has its own system of staying alive.
FE: Did you go over for fun or business?
Ricky: It was sort of to push the record and get distribution. But it was like the old formula -- well, can't make it here because everybody assumes you're a shithead from the Bronx, so you go over there. It's like, you watch other bands do it, like the Heartbreakers...I don't know. I don't know what the scene over in England is like now, but I think it is a different world than our scene is. I'd like to go over again and check it out.
FE: Did everybody go over or just you?
Ricky: There were two trips. Ted went over and did one trip. And somebody else did another sojourn...I'm not sure where it was to. But it was, like, in this country.
FE: But you didn't work out a distribution deal.
Ricky: No. It was too expensive. It's hard to sustain somebody's interest if you're all the way over here and they're over there. You've gotta call and send things. The system today is a lot easier I guess.
FE: Well, with Wartoke you could've been in on the groundfloor of the IRS empire.
Ricky: Yeah. It's like people say, "You guys should have acareer."
FE: Well, not too many people know about you guys.
Ricky: We're aware that we haven't done too much to heighten peoples' awareness of our thing, as they say. We're not that concerned with going savage with this career stuff. Because to us it's like a sucker trip. There's ways to do it that're more on your own terms. I'm perfectly happy to continue. I'd like everybody in the world to hear the new record and we have a pretty healthy attitude towards things. We want to make sure the next record's even better.
[waitress brings more beer]
FE: Last time I saw you was in '81 with the Flesheaters at Maxwell's.
Ricky: Good club, good gig and playing with the Flesheaters was fabulous, if I can use that expression.
FE: I can really remember Andy Schwartz [then editor ofNY Rocker] jumping up and down, banging on your chair.
Ricky: Well, you know some people felt we should go more in the direction of the chair, rather than towards a more rock 'n roll sound should have continued getting rid of traditional rock instruments.
FE: That chair was pretty fuckin' great.
Ricky: We want to play someday with a big oversized chair...one that's about three stories high.
FE: You don't use the chair anymore?
Ricky: It's retired.
FE: Where is it?
Ricky: Probably stacked in Larry's apartment with about twenty other chairs of the same ilk.
FE: What other kinds of found instruments have you used?
Ricky: Oh, we did kitchen sink gigs. It just depended on what kind of partying mood we were in. It's like everybody likes to fool around with another instrument, another sound. But the chair was the only thing we really brought in. And the only reason we brought it in was that somebody stole our cowbell.
FE: Did you take the chair when you opened for X at the Palladium?
Ricky: I think we did, but it was too hard to mike it. And a lot of the time the sound guy -- unless you grease him -- will fuck you on vocals or something else.
FE: How did that gig go?
Ricky: It was a fine gig for us, because we always wanted to play a big place like that. That was a great gig, we enjoyed playing it. It was cool 'cause they had a marquee at that time. To do a Palladium gig now is really the pits. Anybody who does that is really letting themselves in for a big disappointment in terms of who comes to see them. But then...I hate it when they change a theatre into one of those clubs that'll last for a couple of months and then become a condo area.
FE: But your show there wasn't too long after it stopped being the Academy of Music.
Ricky: That's right.
FE: And you set up a table and sold singles in the lobby?
Ricky: Yeah. The people who ran the place thought it was interesting that we were all so aggressive. Because we wanted to sell beer as well. They said, "Oh, no, we have that concession." "Well," I said. "How about records?" They went for that. I just don't think that most bands...well, a lot of bands do take advantage and sell the buttons and the merchandise. And it isn't because of the merchandise so much as -- Hey, you should get some sort of kickback for doing the thing, besides what they pay you as a paid employee.
FE: And the show went well?
Ricky: Yeah, I guess. I don't know what the audience reaction was, but we had a lot of fun doing it. We were happy. We hadn't done a lot of gigs in halls that big, but we didn't talk to X, X didn't talk to us, we didn't talk to the Bush Tetras. Actually, I did talk to Dee Pop, but I see him around anyway. Last time I ran into him I had this equipment for breaking into cars with me. 'Cause we had just bought three cars. I was up on Third Avenue just leaning against this cab with these big clippers and stuff -- I can break into any car on the street and take off within ten seconds. Any car. With the equipment. And we had just bought these three cars from the impounding yard up in the Bronx and we were going to blow them up for the movie. But before we got those kinds of permits together with some other people we knew they were towed away.
FE: Back to the impounding place?
Ricky: Yeah, but we'll do that again. We'll buy some more cars and blow them up.
FE: If you can steal 'em so fast, why don't you just steal 'em?
Ricky: Oh man, that's one of our songs. One of the songs we wanted to put on the LP is "Grand Theft Auto". And it's a sort of up song. Positive and up. But we just didn't get a chance to really work on it.
FE: Have you ever played outside of the New York area?
Ricky: We did make it down to Philadelphia. We played there. I'll tell ya, we respect all those bands that go out and pay their dues playing. We don't smirk and say, "Fuckin' assholes." That stuff's great. But there are so many bands that were not really needed to hold up the flag of gigging bands. To be honest with you it's sort of like follow the leader. You do these club gigs and you just go back and repeat 'em and repeat 'em for a few years. You don't want to go back and do something you did five years ago. You have to do it different. We wouldn't have the same perspective if we were involved in it. It sort of wastes a lot of bands' time doing that. Any band. It's harder to find the time to do the amount of work that would deliver an audience the goods. Because the audience deserves something. The clubowners love it if you just want to come and play, 'cause they need more bodies. Any force mentality is like that. So it's getting around that. We tried to find alternatives. We opened up a club so we could contribute. If we weren't playing at least we had a place that other bands could play.
FE: How long did you do that for?
Ricky: It lasted a couple of months, but not having a liquor license or the money to pay off the right parties knocked us out of the box once again.
FE: Did you ever play there?
Ricky: No. I'll tell ya who played there: a band called Random Facts, a band called Soma Holiday, Bob's Drive-in...But there's other places around that still do it. Dixon's place is still out there.
FE: When was the last time you actually played a show?
Ricky: Gee...I'm not copping out, but I don't remember.
FE: Have you played since that show with X at the Academy of Music?
Ricky: Probably ... Folk City.
FE: How was that?
Ricky: Well it's gone now, but that had so much history to it that I thought it should keep goin'. I was sorry to see it go. A lot of good bands played there -- the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets...Michael Hill was doing that.
FE: Michael once told me that you went up to see him at Warner Bros. and he shouted, "Chain Gang" when he say you, but all the secretaries thought he said "J-Man" and wanted to buy joints from you.
Ricky: Yeah. They were giving me dollars. I'd been in the Rock before, but that was a while ago. I think he laid a Laurie Anderson record on me but I never got a chance to play it.
FE: Who's in the band now?
Ricky: Same guys. Same exact crew: Larry Gee, Ted Twist and Phil von Rome.
FE: The line-up's never changed?
Ricky: Not really.
FE: You originally had a Farfisa.
Ricky: Yeah. That was just a fill-in kind of thing. We've done other stuff where people have been playing there too. But I don't really remember who it was.
FE: Maybe that Krackhouse guy.
Ricky: He's been in a number of bands. We played with him a long time ago, in '77. He's had Bump and U-Rang and a couple of others. And Bud Struggle, the guy who plays sax on the record, he was in V-Effect. We've always had the same guys and their alter egos are in the movie as well.
FE: So the movie's really been the big thing.
Ricky: Well, we watched the rise of the music video thing and I think that's a real waste. All it is is a promotional tool. Some of it's pretty good, I guess, but again there's so much career consciousness in this industry it's disgusting.
FE: Is "Mondo Manhattan" in black and white?
Ricky: I'd like to say it is, but it's colorized right from the get-go. One of the things that's holding up production is that we're saving up to buy buckets and buckets of gore and blood. It's mainly a gore film. There's brutal violence and we just want to make sure it looks really good when somebody is dispatched.
FE: Are the songs for the album worked into it?
Ricky: Actually the music could be part of it to some degree. But it's not going to be note-for-note image-for-image straight-ahead video.
FE: Is "Kill the Bouncers at the Ritz" in the movie?
Ricky: Hard one to shoot without really going out and doing it. You know, what really inspired that song was watching a bouncer beat the shit out of some kid. What happened was this kid got thrown out of the Ritz and I was down there leaning on a car. He was a little skinny kid and he turns around and goes, "Well, fuck you!" So then the bouncer pushes him down the stairs, the kid turns around and goes, "Well, fuck you too." The bouncer runs down, grabs the kid and starts bouncing him off a car. I go, "Yo. Asshole. You don't do your job out here in the street. Get back in the club or you're going to jail, motherfucker." So he immediately showed me a gun. You know, if you do want to kill a bouncer, or a pit bull when it's tearing your kid or your girlfriend apart, just throw gasoline on 'em or heavy duty booze and torch 'em right up. Thereare ways. You don't need a gun to take care of a problem like a pit bull or a bouncer. Though I'll tell ya, some of the bouncers are stand-up guys. I know one bouncer who got shot a couple times and he didn't rat out the guys who did it. So there is something to be said for him. I don't want to be hasty and condemn them all.
FE: So Chain Gang is anti-pit bull?
Ricky: Yeah. We still have a dog, but it isn't a pit bull. Did you hear about that doctor down in Florida who got dragged under a car and ripped apart? Holy shit.
FE: Florida seems to be a good state for violence.
Ricky: Oh man... I lived down there for a while last summer. I was working as an exterminator all up and down that coast around Pompano.
FE: Were you down there when that guy shot up the supermarket?
Ricky: No, I just read about that. But if more people had firearms, then when some maniac comes in and pulls out an Uzi somebody could waste him before he got off too many shots. They had a station there -- U68. It was a great station, really good video, like video vaudeville. They had all these bands come on and do public service announcements: "Don't take drugs," "Don't drink and drive." All these guys looked like they did quite a bit of both. I though of doing one about guns and mailing it into 'em. It would have been conservative enough.
FE: When does work start up again on "Mondo Manhattan"?
Ricky: Well, John (XV-yt no. 1) is gonna be back in town any day now. One thing or another could slow us down, but we want to do it in the summertime. We want it to be a summer movie, filmed in the summertime. We want warm weather and girls without much clothes on and stuff like that.
FE: And Chris Nelson nude.
Ricky: There could be a place for that.
FE: You recorded Mondo mostly in '84.
Ricky: The LP? Well, some of that material was done quite a bit before that and one song was done this year. But yeah, a lot of it was done in the '84 sessions. That was with Jeff McGovern and Chris. They did a good job of pulling that stuff out 'cause we did it on four-track.
FE: Did you keep recording all through the early Eighties?
Ricky: Yeah. We have sessions where there's like several songs that we aimed for our live show that we didn't do again 'til last month. We've got very good live material, if I do say so myself. And there's brand new stuff that I'd like to see come out. When we get up for playing gigs, oh man.
FE: So you just did the sessions for future reference?
Ricky: No. 'Cause we're like a band -- a real band -- we play whether we have any commercial reason to play or not. And we have to write songs. When you're a musician you've gotta play whether you're dressed up in spandex or you're some guy with a goatee playing weddings. You've got to play if you're a musician. Sounds funny coming from me, but...
FE: The released version of "Are You Wearing Gold Tonight?" emphasizes the spoken part a lot less than the version you recorded in '82.
Ricky: Yeah, well it's still in there. I wanted to bury it even more.
FE: But without that part you could listen to the song and not realize it's written from the viewpoint of a mugger.
Ricky: Well, Chain Gang feels it's one of our most...it's one of the songs that other people have said to us that they like. We feel it's pretty representative of a Mondo Manhattan sound -- a city record. We're an American band, I guess, but we let the city...You've got to pick up on rap music and wrestling and stuff if you live in the City.
FE: Well "OTB" certainly had a city soul sound to it.
Ricky: Yeah I guess. OTB -- Off Track Betting. It's like being an All-American if you go to OTB. You go there and you know you're an American when you walk out. You feel it. You guys don't have it up in Boston.
FE: Just dog tracks up there.
Ricky: Really. I went to the dog tracks in Florida. Do you think they fix those races? How do they do it?
[the most ridiculous digression any interview every had, more beer arrives]
Ricky: If you guys have a tip, lemme know. I'm there. I bet on a dog once. I don't know what attracted me to him. His name was something like Dead Dog and he came in dead last. I don't know what possessed me to overlook the dog's name.
FE: Did the singles in The Deuce Pack ever come out separately?
Ricky: No. They were together. A lot of record stores were charging so much for the single that we wanted to give the public two singles for the price of one. So we slipped two records into one jacket, figuring that would get around the gouging bit.
FE: Why were they so hard to find even when they came out?
Ricky: Nobody ordered 'em, so we had no way to re-up. It just went out-of-stock immediately. I just got my first copy of it a month ago and I had to steal it from Larry.
FE: How many did you do of that?
Ricky: About 200. 300 maybe, I don't know.
FE: Why weren't there any more singles after The Duece Pack?
Ricky: Well, the band wanted to. We all want to put out more and more records, but...James Brown used to put out one record a month or something. We thought that was a good idea. That was our aspiration when we had our own record company. But quickly reality set in and...
FE: The label was always called Kapitalist?
Ricky: Yeah. Sort of a take-off on the Capitol Records look. Capitol has the Capitol Dome, so we figured we'd put Kapitalist with Moscow's minarets. I thought it looked good. I don't know what it means anymore. Not exactly.
FE: Were the singles recorded on four-track?
Ricky: Some were eight, some were four. We always just wanted to do a live rendition and work on it from there, 'cause that's the only way the song has any sort of get up and move feel to it.
Also, I couldn't see recording one part and then another. We had the option to do it on sixteen-track. We even did a single which we never put out, which was "Divine Wind/Brother and Sister".
FE: Where was that done?
Ricky: Some studios up on Madison Avenue.
FE: Sixteen track?
Ricky: Yeah, but we just went in and did it the usual way, so we have a cassette tape of it that's sort of a rough mix. We've been writing a lot of songs and we've worked them out over the last couple of years. We've written about a hundred songs.
FE: There are a hundred unreleased songs?
Ricky: At least.
FE: Written on paper or just in your head?
Ricky: On tape. We have a lot of stuff we want to put out. We have a second album.
FE: What sort of feedback have you gotten on the first album?
Ricky: The only person who called me up and told me they liked the new record was Mike Krackhouse, who's on it.
FE: Did you choose the stuff for the LP?
Ricky: Naw. Ted wanted to do "Kill the Bouncers" and I was against doing it. And Phil was behind that one as well as "Gross Out on 40 Deuce". I wanted one other, but...
FE: It was a group effort.
Ricky: Yeah. I was just concentrating on that voice-over stuff. And I felt strongly about putting in, "I Read". We didn't have much to argue about.
FE: Why didn't you want "Kill the Bouncers"?
Ricky: I thought it was out of date. We don't pay attention to the clubs, so we didn't realize that it was still a shithole that deserved that sort of thing. We didn't think it was relevant, but it's more relevant now than ever, from what I hear. But if the audience that went there wasn't so horrible they could actually turn that around. I was in there one day -- I don't know if I was trying to get into a gig for free or what. I think I was trying to find out if I could come in and shoot a band. They said, "Well..." They wanted to charge 700 dollars, but I went around that. In any case, I heard the bouncers -- all the on 'em -- get the pep rap: how to act and how to treat the audience. They said, "Look -- this door hits you on the ass on the way out. If there's anybody who needs take care of, you come to these three guys. You don't get involved." They were letting 'em know that these were three heavies that had the license to fuck people up. So...it was a goon squad. There were always good squads. It's infuriating to deal with and most people don't go to clubs because it's shitty like that.
FE: Do you go out to see music at all?
Ricky: I caught Bo Diddley on a boat. There's a couple of bands I always like to see...a coupla friends of mine. Like, I've always meant to go see an Agnostic Front show, 'cause I know one of the guys in the band. I go see some of our labelmates on Lost. Last night I saw Fish and Roses, The Scene is Now and Mofungo. All three bands played much harder and more rock 'n roll...
FE: Did Lost have any input towards what went on the album?
Ricky: Well, Chris did work in terms of mixing and matching the bits. It was an unbelievable scene. I couldn't believe how he did it, 'cause there's music coming in from cassette...technically he did a great job. But we had complete say-so on what songs. "Satan Cut Down" and "Pal" -- "Pal" is actually part of "I Read", in a way. One of those songs came out of the other one. They don't sound much alike, but...My favorite cuts are the first two on the a-side and the first two on the b-side. But other songs we felt we should have done we didn't get around to doing.
FE: Who's idea was it to do the album? Had you wanted to do one for a while?
Ricky: Yeah yeah yeah. We had the title, Mondo Manhattanfor at least a year ahead of time and we were very hot to do it. We didn't know when it was going to happen. Then Chris came through. He gave us a phone call, then a couple of months later, they came through. It was great. It's funny, 'cause when we think about gigging, we go, "Wow, we'll probably have to play some of the songs from the album." That's the idea. But we don't do that material much when we're playing. We're doing new stuff.
FE: Do you play old songs at all?
Ricky: Sure. We do everything. We play long sessions. We play six-hour, non-stop sessions. We run through a lotta material. It's pretty savage.
FE: Where are the tapes of those?
Ricky: We 've got 'em all. We tape everything. You know who does that a lot? Psychic TV.
FE: Yeah, but you blow those guys outta the water.
Ricky: Those guys are pretty radical. I saw them at Danceteria, they were great. I'm a big fan of most bands, but Psychic TV goes a lot further than most of 'em.
FE: They're holding back now.
Ricky: Well, most of the stuff we hear comes off the radio. We just turn the dial and see what we get. It's always more fun when they play you records than it is playing records yourself. It's like cooking for yourself.
FE: You guys could do a set that would be like spinning a radio dial.
Ricky: We though about doing that on Mondo Manhattan.Larry wanted to just cut songs off in the middle. But the rest of us didn't want to go that way. We wanted to hear the whole songs.
FE: College dj's are having enough trouble with the record. One clown I know was really concerned with finding out what "Pictures of Dead Presidents" was about.
Ricky: Oh, come on. That's an old expression. I can imagine them just hearing the first ten seconds and whipping it off.
FE: Have you sold any mailorder videos?
Ricky: I don't even know if we've sold any records.
FE: I was tempted to send nineteen bucks for the movie, but now I may wait a couple of years.
Ricky: Well, maybe it will make your local venue's video bin. It's really gonna be good. I'm looking forward to it.
FE: I just hope it's not a ten minute job.
Ricky: Well, a ten minute job can deliver the goods for what it is, but it's short. The album costs so much you've got to give a little bit more in terms of music. The visual that goes with it is interesting enough that it can easily go on for twenty minutes, yet still have ten minutes of music, 'cause it had dialogue. It's all in the edit. See, it's not like film. Video is cheap. Very cheap. Tape is cheap.
FE: The whole video thing has gotten very different in the last few years.
Ricky: The good thing is that everyone can have it. There are a number of occasions, where people are either getting killed or robbed by thieves or police, when people have video cameras right there and it works for evidence. You go down to another country and you start shooting, you're breaking some laws already. In that way, it's not bad here. You whip out a camera and it's guaranteed evidence in court. But things happen, like somebody gets pushed in front of a train -- you've gotta have a pass to see most of that stuff. But there's other ways to get ahold of that material. We were sitting in front of Larry's house -- Ted and Phil and I. We were hanging out and this cop came over and told us a bunch of information that people just don't know about. I don't know why he told us about it, but he gave us a bunch of information about different things in the city that aren't publicized. It was very interesting.
FE: When did you start doing the shirts?
Ricky: Well, that was a few months ago. Larry designed the shirt pretty much. He did most of the work. Then we had the shirt out and it's "Say No To Drug Testing", right? So we wanted to put out a record with it or a cassette. We wanted Lost Records to get behind us putting out a single of the new song. The t-shirt came first, but then I was driving around and I heard Mojo Nixon playing on the radio: "I'm Not Going To Piss In A Jar".
FE: There was that picture of your shirt in The Village Voice, he probably stole the idea from that. You should still do the single -- it's the sort of sentiment that can't be overstated.
Ricky: I agree. There's far too much ass-kissing. People are lazy. They have a lazy president, so have lazy Americans. That's what happens. He sets a poor example and everybody follows it. Then you think about a nineteen-year old and he's gonna live sixty years longer than the president, so what the fuck does he care? I think that all of the bands and the people who have a head on their shoulders -- like in the music scene or whatever scene they're in -- should have a little bit more access to stuff. Like unions or joining a band or joining gang, whatever they want. But again, this isn't at odds with people who subscribe or have an anarchist A tattooed on their ass. They can still join the local Republican or Democratic club and take it in the wrong direction with all that punk rock energy, so called.
FE: Do you have any punk rock fans?
Ricky: We have friends.
FE: "I Read" sounds pretty punk rock.
Ricky: That was at a gig at A-7. Probably around seven in the morning.
FE: Did you play there often?
Ricky: I think we did one gig there. It's still there, but I think it's a trendy bar with new glass windows. I like a bar that's dark with the windows painted over.
FE: Did you guys have a punk rock phase?
Ricky: Well, we like variety.
[waitress brings another round]
FE: You should do a Miller Lite commercial.
Ricky: No beer commercials! We were going to do one commercial, which was for condoms. We were going to buy a lot of condoms and put our own Chain Gang brand name on them. It would be like a business card. "Hey, I'm a scumbag. Check it out." But then everybody's handing out scumbags these days. If we were doing a beer commercial it'd be for our own brand, like Bum's Rush Beer. We wanted to put out malt liquor called Lolita with a cool picture on the front. Again, one of those pipedreams. And they'er always coming out with new hearing aids all the time, so I guess someday Chain Gang will be getting intothat concession.
FE: They could be packed in the condoms.
Ricky: There to a customer.
Ricky: Three to a customer. "Why do I want three when I have two ears?" "Well..." But about punk rock, we thought once, "Wow. Maybe we can make everything sound the same like other bands." We used to think that, way back, but we realized that we were too gnarly for that.
FE: How long did you have that mohawk?
Ricky: What mohawk? (laughs) You know, it cost me, like, a hundred dollars to get that mohawk.
FE: Were you driving a cab when you had that?
Ricky: Well, as a matter of fact, I was. It's the kind of thing where... There was always a kid in the neighborhood, when I was growing up, who had a mohawk. Then he'd wear a baseball cap for the rest of the year. But mohawks've been around forever. I saw a picture of a guy who was in the Korean War and he looked great.
FE: You had sort of a radical mohawk though.
Ricky: Yeah. Well, it got trendy. Now everyone has one, but I think all the guys in the band had 'em at one time.
FE: What is Trunk Show Inc.?
Ricky: Trunk Show is one video company. Red Shoes is another video company. I'm associated with both of them. I'm not the camerman, but when we did was end up shooting our video and so we started a little company.
FE: Have you done anything else?
Ricky: I made a living doing the video thing for a while, shooting all sorts of stuff. Some of it's very Mondo. My partner and I would go out and cruise. We'd see a car accident and we'd just pull over. Some of it's pretty horrible stuff. Relax and watch. Some people like it... I used to go and see all these movies on 42nd Street and I'd go back and say, "Hey, you should see this scene where a woman's face is ripped off." But they're all on video now, so you can't impress people at parties by saying, "Hey, I saw ' Savage Man Savage Beast'." But they still cut up the videos and you want to see movies uncut, whether it be a popular movie like "Halloween 2" -- which had a couple more scenes if you saw it at the theatre -- or something else. Most movies they really trash.
FE: What sort of paying video work did Trunk Show do?
Ricky: Well, a lotta different stuff. We'd do anything. There's such a thing as depositions for lawyers. For instance, let's say somebody's been fucked up in an accident, you come and photograph the person saying, "We lost our loved one." It's really pretty gruesome stuff. It's not something we're looking to do, but... My partner's done more stuff that was pretty wild, but there's so many companies. There's more video companies than bands, to tell you the truth. But to us...
FE: Would you like to get involved with a film that'd have a theatrical release?
Ricky: Oh yeah. But theatrical release means a big distribution deal. And getting distribution for records has a much clearer avenue to follow than getting independent films distributed.
FE: How about just getting prints made of "Mondo Manhattan" to show when you play?
Ricky: Well, years ago we were in a film. They used one of those pull knives and blood dripping off of spiked bracelets. I don't know what they shot it for. I think it went over to Germany. We never saw it, but it was on video.
FE: Your big screen debut and you didn't see it?
Ricky: Well, there was no point to it, y'know? To me, there would have been more point if they opened up the hood of the car and just photographed the engine running. There was less point than that, to my way of thinking. And less action. I know I was boring. I guess the rest of the guys thought they were boring too.
FE: Is "Mondo Manhattan" scripted out?
Ricky: Yeah. The sequels too. A couple of them go to the point of being tv shows. Like, there's a treatment and... there's a lotta ways you can write it up. When you go to shoot it, it's gotta be different than the way you write it. Because all of a sudden it's not a sunny day, it's a rainy day. And somebody doesn't show or they're in the wrong clothes. So then you've got to shoot something else. To get people to show up and hang around after the shot... I was an extra in a movie over here with some friends' friends. I was in the background of a shot and I was it. It was called "The Romancer". It was okay. It was on sixteen.
FE: In "Mondo Manhattan" you guys play a band called the Glow Boys.
Ricky: Well, the Glow Boys is sort of what Chain Gang's become in the movie, in a sense. I don't know how much, in the final edit, we're gonna be there. We might do gigs under that name though, just for kicks.
FE: Instead of doing a righteous Chain Gang gig?
Ricky: The one thing about a Glow Boys gig is that we could have a lot of fun with that. Whereas a CG gig would be more serious. We'd have to send out fliers and all that stuff. As the Glow Boys we could just go our and do a gig. You don't have to worry about people.
FE: What's it gonna take to get Chain Gang to play again?
Ricky: I don't want to talk for all the guys, but there's no band in the whole world who wants to play as bad as Chain Gang.
FE: But you guys have turned down gigs.
Ricky: Yeah. Well, it just wasn't... we didn't want to go out and rip people off by playing a shitty gig.
FE: How many gigs have you guys ever played? Not that many.
Ricky: I'll tell ya -- we've played more times than I've gotten laid.
FE: Why didn't Chain Gang play the Lost Records thing last night?
Ricky: Well, I videotaped it for 'em. I was out there with my camera. I did work for the company (laughs).
FE: Chris has you bought now.
Ricky: We're in his back pocket. He's the godfather.
FE: Do you have any plans to play live?
Ricky: We rehearse.
FE: How often do you rehears?
Ricky: You want me to give away trade secrets? Right now we're pretty much in a period of a loose month or two. We're planning a gig within six months for sure. Maybe we'll come up and check out New England in the fall. I never get out of the city so it would be a good excuse to tourist around.
FE: Are you from New York?
Ricky: Well, not Manhattan, but the Bronx. We're all from the Bronx, but for most all of the band's life we've lived in Manhattan.
FE: In a lot of ways you guys seem like the most thoroughly New York band.
Ricky: Thank you. That's the nicest thing anybody's said to me. The thing is though, we feel like there's so many good bands out there. We're not really with it on the scene. New bands come out and there's not that many places to play because of the shitty club scene not hiring live bands. Now that there's this many new bands we're thinking more of hiring people who need the work and could stand to get paid as well as ourselves. Like, for instance, one thing we want to do is a sort of benefit for a buddy of ours who's working for the homeless. It's not like we're looking to be a benefit band, it's just that there's a number of very good musicians -- saxophone players, piano players, drummers, everything -- and they're over fifty years old and maybe they've got a good pension and mybe they don't. But they're excellent musicians and they should have a venue that allows them to play music all the time. We don't want to be just four tight-assed white guys playing music. That gets a little bit old at this point. I feel like we should be a little bit open to making sure some of these guys out there are moving around in the music biz. We want to turn over some of the action. They don't have the access that we obviously do. We don't want to wind up doing anybody any favors, but it's more supportive than just being four whiteys in a band playing downtown to another five whiteys. It's a bullshit scene. Everybody has to know it's a sham. Maybe it's got to be, in a certain area like the suburbs. But here you pass so many people and you talk to 'em and you realize this guy's a great horn player and he's not gonna see the light of day even. They're much older guys than a band like ourselves, so...
FE: You'll have an expanded line-up for your next show?
Ricky: Yeah. I think so.
FE: Would this be a long-term thing you'd rehearse, or just a one-off?
Ricky: It depends. We want to do seven nights running in a theatre, 'cause you end up... The theatre district is right up the street. In fact, the Bowery used to be the theare district and you cn't really separate things with barbed lines. Again, that's the downtown scene. They don't cross over like they should. That's not necessarily our mission in life, but that's one of the things we've run across in our video. Like, Small's Paradise is one of the locations where we might do some playing and everybody tells me, "Well, if you go up there nobody will se you." 'Cause it's 135th and Lenox. So I say, "Fine. There'll be a video shot of that and it'll be available."
FE: Have people been trying to get the band playing out over the last few years?
Ricky: Well, we had a booking agent and we did a buncha gigs a while ago. Recently we haven't really... we talked to a friend of ours in New Oleans, I talked to some guy in Atlanta. If we leave town for a month to tour...
FE: But what about playing around here with Sonic Youth or something?
Ricky: I guess we could do a gig with some of these bands. A couple of guys asked us to play, but I can't remember at what.
FE: Not a good enough deal?
Ricky: No, it's not that. Sometimes it's a week's notice, sometimes it's like six weeks notice and I don't know who's going to even be in town. There's periods when I go out of town or get tied up. All the guys... one guy was out of town for three months. Somebody wanted us to do a gig and he wasn't in Connecticut, he was thrown away in Connecticut. I couldn't say, "We're gonna do a three man gig." We decided not to do it. People think I'm lying when I say, "Oh, no, Ted's out of town." "Phil's out of town." "Larry's in jail." No one believes me. It just happens that way. Other things are happening and we sort of take off. Oh well.
FE: Are there any bands around that you like?
Ricky: Well...I like all bands. We all listen to music and we all get it from different sources, so we're really up-to-date on all the bands that are out there. Phil will go to a couple of shows and come back and tell us about it. Ted buys tapes and we listen to them in the car. El Gee had the club and he was getting tapes for a lot of bands. We're very much in touch with a lot of it and all bands, actually, are good. Otherwise they wouldn't be bands. Most bands are good. Individually, I don't know 'em.
FE: What sorta stuff do you like to listen to?
Ricky: Well, there's vocalists out there I happen to like...Paul Robeson, Richie Havens... What I've been listening to a lot -- 'cause I hear it all the time on the college radio station -- is jazz. Like Louis Armstrong or Jack Teagarden. You listen to Louis sing and play the trumpet and it's really something else. His whole phrasing, without getting techincal, it's pretty wild stuff.
FE: Teagarden's pretty straight.
Ricky: Yeah. He doesn't even like bongo drums on records. (laughs) Well, the jazz scene... I've got friends who play with different jazz people and I tell those guys that they ought to make videos. 'Cause they're always complaining that the jazz audience is shrinking. So I say, "Turn it around. Make videos. I'll show up." But they don't want to commercialize it. I talked to this one guy and I brought up Eric Dolphy in the same conversation as Charlie Parker. Well, I thought he was going to knife me. He's a fucking older, real staid guy and all of a sudden he's really very aggressive. People take their music very seriously and everybody's very opinionated. It's like, a lot of the bands are very opinionated and limited -- they're so-called purists. It doesn't work. It never works. Well, with jazz it works, but with other kinds of music I can't see the purist.
FE: That's just 'cause you guys play in so many styles.
Ricky: Well, it always comes out sounding the same to us. Whether we like it or not, it's sort of a norm.
FE: What's the band's taste in movies?
Ricky: What Chain Gang watches...now, Ted's got a lot of Cornell Woolrich movies on tape. You ever see, not "Deadline at Dawn" but "Phantom Lady" with the Elisha Cook drum solo?
FE: That's one good thing about videos, having that stuff around.
Ricky: Yeah. Everything's gonna be on tape eventually. Everything.
FE: What other movies are you guys into?
Ricky: Phil, the drummer, he's a connoisseur ofr Abel Salozar films. They're Mexican films and they're really excellent. You can compare them to anything. Larry watches a lot of kung fu films. We're all into the same things: kung fu, slasher, Hershell Gordon Lewis -- he was the first one to make gore films. And they say the gore films today are going further. Well, Lewis went further thatn most. You take "2000 Maniacs" or "The Wizard of Gore". But I even like his most commercial stuff, like "Color Me Blood Red".
FE: You ever see any of his girlie movies?
Ricky: No, just the gore. But it'll all be out eventually. He doesn't even know where the prints are coming from. I videotaped an interview with him. He was on stage and I shot him. I talked to him about it and sent him a copy of it. He's pretty good, a cool guy. But there's a lot of stuff. I was reading that RE/SEARCH book and I was thinking, Wow, there's so much I haven't seen. A lot of 'em got away. But what about Russ Meyer? I've missed all of his films. People say, "You've got to see 'Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill'." I've tried to get into Russ Meyer, but I haven't had the time. You guys probably get stuff out of Boston that's pretty good. I see some of the channels listed in Boston and they're pretty good. But one of the things we started to do -- and this involves Chain Gang, as well as Red Shoes and Trunk Show -- is satellite feeds. We want to send out information all over the country via a satellite link-up. This way we'd get out information. There's certain information we think about...not just self-serving, soft-core commercial shit, but other information that would be good to put out there.
FE: Political stuff?
Ricky: Well, we would cover the political beat as well as the social beat as well as the fashion beat as well as anything. We would cover all the beats.
FE: What else do you have on those notes in your pocket? A manifesto?
Ricky: A statement. "Yo--A real statement!" No. Just wanted to see about a coupla things I was supposed to put out there. The guys wanted me to.
FE: Where are the guys?
Ricky: They didn't want to be jumping all over the place and answering questions and popping in. They didn't feel comfortable about it. I don't either, but... It's like, since I wrote the majority of the lyrics, they figured I should be responsible. If anybody wants to punch somebody in the mouth, it's gonna be me.
FE: Like the bouncers at the Ritz.
Ricky: I've gotta take the weight for that one.
FE: It should be the theme song of New York City.
Ricky: Hey -- people threaten to kill each other all the time. We were doing a gig at Maxwell's and some guy came up to us and we're all carrying equipment and he comes up to me and says, "I'm gonna kill you." He came out of nowhere and he's got his hand in his pocket. He looks like an older guy, dressed sort of like a cop. He was some ugly motherfucker and the guy goes, "I'm gonna kill you." So, we all looked at him and we put the amp down and went into the trunk. He was following us back. And I said, "I think you got the wrong fucking people here. You better leave." We didn't think he had a gun, so we were going to fuck him up. But right away the singer's the one who gets everything thrown at him. So that's why they put me out here. You guys want to hit me with a bottle and roll me... I only got ten dollars on me. You guys could commit the perfect murder, 'cause nobody knows you're here. Just murder me and split. But these guys... we don't like the whole interview thing and taking pictures.
FE: Why'd you guys wear suits for that Spin photo session?
Ricky: Well, that wasn't a dress-up scene. That's our midtown business outfit. Sure. We're watermelon salesmen. Really. You guys should come back on another weekend and get a couple of free slices. We sell literature. We work the Deuce. We're for real that way. You catch us on Times Square. The gigs we've done on Times Square--and Phil will back me up to the max and Ted and Larry as well--are some of the best gigs we've ever done. Selling melon and one or two other gigs we've set up. We've got literature stacks this high [indicates a stack three or four feet tall]. Literature that goes for a dollar each. Now you can sell, in this town, without a license, books. They can't stop you from that. You can't sell other stuff. You can't sell t-shirts, but you can sell literature. So what we do is... you buy a slice of watermelon for ten dollars and for free you get a t-shirt. That's how we get around it. And we include music. To get an audience around you, whether it be at a funeral, a wedding or on the Deuce during lunch or on Saturday, you've gotta compete with the boys doing break dancing--they're all in outfits and you've gotta compete. You've gotta compete for the schmuck tourists walking by. They wanna see someting. You think the suits look fruity? Wait 'til you see it in the streets. It's like fuckin' neon. That's what it is--like a portable neon sign, really. You wanna attract, you've gotta compete with fifty-foot Japanese video displays. In Times Square there's a lotta neon. And those are some of the best gigs we've done. Great gigs. And we play music. Like, a number of... all sortsa stuff. We play jazz...
FE: Why not your own stuff?
Ricky: Well, believe it or not, it goes against our... you probably think I'm fulla shit anyway, but we do draw certain lines. A
News From The Matablog
It is with considerable sadness that we share the following news : CHAIN GANG's Ricky Luanda passed away earlier this year from esophageal cancer. Chain Gang (in general) and Ricky (in particular) provided a window onto a side of NYC much of the city's cultural gatekeepers would've sooner forgotten. Though their 1977 7", "Son Of Sam" b/w "Gary Gilmore And The Island Of Dr. Moreau" has achieved mythic status in recent years (the A-side covered by JSBX, Ty Segall and Fucked Up amongst others), subsequent recordings, performances and films were that all too rare combo of the genuinely weird but always fully realized. Their discography is slim, but close to flawless. Bruce Springsteen recently argued that Cleveland's Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is shamed by their oversight of Suicide ; whether or not you agree with this statement, Chain Gang long ago earned their place in the Smithsonian, the Museum Of Natural History, and perhaps even Universal Studios in Orlando, FL. We were very lucky to work with Ricky during the early days of Matador and we're beyond lucky to have experienced his friendship and observed his artistry-in-action. NYC, nay, the world, is a poorer place without him. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and musical co-conspirators.
October 3, 8pn Anthology Film Archives (2nd Ave. & 2nd Street) (Never Mind The Oscars, CHAIN GANG ARE BACK, 2/23/12)
...on the big screen, anyway. Chain Gang's centuries in the making "Mondo Manhattan" receives a screening Saturday, March 3 at 1pm as part of NYC's Demented Film Festival . You really don't want to know what kind of VIP gift bag opportunities there are at this event. This monumental occasion comes very quickly on the heels of Chain Gang's Ricky Luanda releasing a limited edition 7" to accompany the deluxe paperback of Boo-Hooray's "Ed Wood's Sleaze Paperbacks". WIth all due respect to Lana Del Rey, Jeremy Lin and Rick Santorum with this flurry of activity, 2012 is quickly shaping up to be The Year Of Chain Gang.
If this isn't enough to spearhead a U68 revival, I don't know what it will take. Thanks to Ricky Luanda for providing a link to the above clip for Chain Gang's 'Cut Off The Drug Czar's Head", as heard on the 1993 Matador CD, 'Perfumed' (and more recently, on our sprawltastic 'Matador At 21' box set)
...and it's not "The Dark Knight", "Hancock" or even "Space Chimps". Instead, much like the rest of you, I'm breathlessly awaiting the release of Chain Gang's long-awaited "Mondo Manhattan". There's every chance I'll be writing these same words 12 months from now, but there's worse things than watching this trailer, or basking in Ricky Luanda's spirited narration.
Where are Chain Gang?
I have no idea. In the meantime, why don’t you read The Amazing History of the Chain Gang and use that as a starting point? (5/01)