Sunday, October 5, 2008
The Queers Are Here!
The first known usage of the term "punk rock" was in the Chicago Tribune on March 22, 1970 in an article about a New York band called The Fugs, where lead singer Ed Sanders described his solo material as "punk rock - redneck sentimentality."
Punk was not just about making a different style of music for the hell of it, which is a common misunderstanding. Punk seemed to be a necessary step taken in the 1970s by those across the globe who didn't agree with the pompousness and sentiment of the era's rock 'n' roll bands and society.
"Punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock 'n' roll, when to me and other fans, rock 'n' roll meant this wild and rebellious music," said John Holmstrom, founder of "Punk Magazine."
By 1977, the punk movement was in full swing. England had The Clash and The Sex Pistols. The U.S.'s punk scene stretched from The Germs in California all the way to The Ramones in New York. Australia had The Saints.
While it had a tendency to spawn in urban areas, punk was not just found in big cities. Many obscure towns birthed some of the longest-living and most influential punk bands of the era. One such place was in Portsmouth, N.H.
In 1977, then-vocalist John Hayes (also known as Wimpy Rutherford) was practicing with guitarist and current vocalist Joe King when his friend, Kevin came running in saying, "'Come out to the car, come out to the car, you gotta hear this tape I got,' Hayes said.
"So we went out to his car and we sat in his car and we listened to 'You're a Loudmouth, Baby' and 'PT Boat On the Way to Havana' and I've never heard The Ramones or anything like that before and that was the day - that was the actual day - that we just stopped doing all the shit we were doing and went down a whole other road. Once I heard the energy of that kind of thing, that just sent me right down the road."
"We were just inspired by The Ramones and Black Flag and we kind of just wanted to start a band," said King. "We were fooling around with our instruments and then we just said, 'Let's start a band.' And that was really it, to just have a legal reason as it were, to drink and try to pick up girls and stuff like that," said King.
At this time, Hayes and King (also known as Joe Queer) played in a local punk band called The Bugs and another called The Falling Spikes. Then in 1981, Hayes, King and bassist Tulu declared themselves "The Queers."
"Joe and I were both just sick of the crap of the '70s, the music that was out and what people listened to, like fuckin' Steely Dan and The Eagles and all that kind of crap, and we just wanted to be anti all that," Hayes said.
King and Hayes just wanted a name people would remember that was provocative and also pissed off the art community.
"We just wanted a name that we could spraypaint around our town to piss 'em off, so that's kind of where it came from and it stuck with us," King said.
When The Queers started out, punk was just punk. There was no "this type and that type" like there is today.
"You were nasty and snotty and played power chords with no beats and it was really, everything was kind of similar," Hayes said. "The only dissimilar things you had was, you had the east coast American and west coast American and then the English."
The Queers released two 45 rpm records between 1982 and 1984.
"I remember when we put out the first two Queers records, it was so small then, I remember being at my house, I was a just little kid, living in my little apartment and in came a letter from Jello Biafra and he said, 'Hey, I heard your two singles on some radio station somewhere, where can I get a hold of them? Thanks, Jello Biafra,'" Hayes said. "So even people like that were already in touch with other people that were doing the same. It was pretty small, pretty close-knit. I sent him the singles, I sent him a letter back and I never heard back, but I had come to find out that the guy's an asshole."
In the mid-'80s, the bandmates went separate ways.
King got into the restaurant business, and owned a two-story bar/café in New Hampshire at the time that had burgers, nachos and things of the sort.
"It's creative and there's a good energy," King said. "A lot of people complain about the restaurant business, but it doesn't have to suck, you know, it could be really fun if you get a good crew in there." We had the dining room area (where) there would be a lot of grilled salmon and Italian food and stuff. It was a pretty cool place and I miss cooking. Every once in a while, I wish I still had the restaurant."
King took me back to the 1980s and early 1990s when he had his own place in N.H.
"I was really dedicated, it was a small place. We only sat 46 upstairs and 46 down in the lounge. Everything was fresh," King said. "So, I cooked my own turkey for the roast turkey sandwiches, I cooked my own roast beef, I cut my own French fries, I made my own tomato sauce - I used canned tomatoes - but I used as much stuff fresh as I could, whether it's a burger or whatever. There's a right way and a wrong way to make it, so I didn't just have a restaurant that I opened up to throw frozen French fries in the fryer, no. I didn't do that, that'd be kind of boring."
As King got into the restaurant business, original bassist, Tulu and Hayes went to Boston.
The bandmates were doing their separate things until 1990 when King put out the first record with bassist Greg Urbatis, drummer Hugh O'Neill and guitarist "Young" Sean Rowley.
"I owned the restaurant then, Hugh and B-Face (bass) worked for me - my friends, you know. We were the punks and so I said, 'Let's make one album. Let's get together and make one more album, we'll put it out ourselves and we'll call it a day, but at least it'll be a great punk album,'" King said. "OK, so we hadn't played in about a year, but we still had a bunch of songs. I met Ben Weasel out in Chicago, I sent him an old recording or something. And he got on Lookout! (Records) in 1992 or 1993 and I was working at the restaurant and Larry Livermore called me from Lookout! and he said, 'Do you want to make an album?' So here I am in N.H. and I'm thinking 'Hey, fuck it, I was going to buy a restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. There was a great deal, I had the money, I was going to go in there at the restaurant downtown and Larry called."
At that time, Lookout!'s own Green Day was just hitting it big.
"I said, 'You know what, I haven't gone down that path in life and I need to learn those lessons. So I know I'll probably regret this, but I'm not going to buy that restaurant,' so I didn't buy it," King said. "The people went in there and they made a lot of money. But I went down that path in life with music and I traveled and that's what happened."
To King, it was weird because he and his friends just wanted to have fun and play on weekend and work the restaurant business.
"That's the point where we made 'Love Songs For the Retarded' and put it out ourselves, we pressed like 500 vinyls or something and called it a day, but here I am," King said. "Then all of a sudden, I went down that path in life and that's how I met my wife and all my friends now are through music, so this whole big life I have was all because I took that decision not open the restaurant and take a chance and go on the road and play music and meet people and learn about life. It all worked out."
Before 1993's "Love Songs For the Retarded," The Queers' 1990 release, "Grow Up," was the band's first and, undergoing numerous lineup changes over the years, The Queers today have over 15 releases between full-length albums and 45 rpm singles. The band's 2007 release, "Munki Brain," deviates away from straight punk and into bubblegum pop and surf.
It's rare that a punk band outlives The Ramones' 22-year career, but The Queers have done it and are still traveling the world.
"You kind of get to the point doing music where listen, all of want to party, at least a bunch of us musicians, want to party and do drugs and drink and not have to work a regular job and sleep with girls you wouldn't meet otherwise," King said. "You want to do all that stuff, but ultimately, it was something inside, that I had to do music. Once I started doing music, I realized it was all about punk rock to me, and music was about being the better person and learning about life and becoming a better person through it. People think it's just about playing a gig to a bunch of drunken people, but its so much more. It's like a journey; if you don't learn anything from the journey, then I should've just stayed in the restaurant."
To King, musicians are lucky to take on the job of going out and touring and playing music to lots of people.
"Not many people get to do a job where they cheer, you know? And say 'MORE MORE MORE.' That doesn't happen when you're flippin' burgers or writing for the paper or whatever, right? You know, if you don't learn from this lucky trip that you're on right here, then you might as well go manage a fuckin' Taco Bell 'cause you're a fuckin' asshole and you haven't learned anything."
"Like George Harrison from the Beatles said: 'We woke up one day, we're the biggest band in the world but then we looked at each other and said, 'Now what?'' So yeah, that's the way I look at it, it's all about learning about life," King said.
Over the years, a lot of now-famous pop punk bands have opened for The Queers.
"A lot of the pop punk bands that got famous like Lit or Good Charlotte or Fall Out Boy or Blink-182 and tons of those other bands - Sum 41 - but really, the only truly great one was Green Day. I'm inspired by it, it's great and that's cool and more power to 'em, I mean, I did it 'cause it was something inside, but bands like us, Green Day, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Screeching Weasel, The Muffs, we didn't do it 'cause it was a career move," King said. "Now it is a career move. If you look like you dress at Hot Topic and got eye shadow on and you write some gay ass songs, you can get famous whether you have fuckin' talent or not, if you got the look.
"It was like a loser's proposition. You were either fuckin' 'Welcome to Burger King, may I take your order ma'am?' or a punk rocker. There wasn't any fuckin' safety net under you. You did it because something told you to do it. Green Day, they were going to do those songs on 'Dookie' whether they got fuckin' famous as hell or they didn't. They had those songs written - we saw 'em, they were showin' 'em to us - before 'Dookie' came out. Some of us got really famous, some of us got semi-famous and some died, some lived, some learned, some moved on, you know. But it touched all of us. Punk rock really did a bunch of cool people out."
King is now married, but playing more than 30 years of punk rock, he is definitely not looking to call it a day anytime soon.
The Queers, who tour a lot, can live off touring, but the band needs a break, King said.
"I'm opening up a recording studio and starting my first session next week, working with The Riptides from Ottawa, Canada," King said. "We're going to do a split with them and a couple other projects. I got a bunch of bands coming in. We're starting slow, but it's pretty cool. I'm spending all my money on stuff, but it's fun. To be honest, I'm more into getting behind the scenes. I see some of the newer pop-punk bands, not many of them really excite me and none of 'em can really hold a candle to Screeching Weasel or Mr. T Experience or The Muffs back in the day. So, I get inspired to show 'em how it's done properly."
Hayes is currently fronting The Jabbers, G.G. Allin's first band. The Queers' current lineup consists of King on vocals and guitar, The Bugs' Dangerous Dave on bass and backup vocals and Ryan from the Atom Age on drums.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, October 5, The Queers will be rolling through Urbana, stopping to play a show at The IMC, 202 S. Broadway, with The Independents, Roberta Sparrow and Dizzy Chair Time. Admission is $10.