Read an Excerpt from ‘PUNK AVENUE’ by Phil Marcade
Frontman of the Senders, Phil Marcade, is out with a new memoir today (May 2), and he was kind enough to share an exclusive excerpt with TIDAL. The French-born musician cut his teeth during the heyday of New York punk, rubbing elbows with the likes of the Ramones, Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls and Nancy Spungen (of Sid and Nancy fame). Below, he talks an encounter with Thunders and Wayne Kramer of MC5.
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“Return to Sender”
From PUNK AVENUE: Inside the New York City Underground 1972-1982 by Phil Marcade (May 2017, Three Rooms Press)
In May, Johnny called to tell me he had put together a new band, this time with Wayne Kramer from MC5.
“Wow, that’s great!” I told him, knowing right away that this was going to be something spectacular.
“We’re gonna start recording a few demos, but we need a drummer. Do you want to join in?”
“I wouldn’t want to dump The Senders, but we have nothing else booked this week, so sure. Where are you?”
“We’re in Ann Arbor, next to Detroit.”
“Ann Arbor? I’ve been there — it’s far. How do you want me to get to Ann Arbor?”
“We’re buying you a plane ticket right now. We’ve got this guy taking care of everything, he’s our . . . manager. I’m gonna call him. Can you come tonight? We’ll pick you up at the airport. That guy has a house for me, and I can put you up. You’ll see, it’s great! I’m here with Julie and the kids.”
So that evening I took a plane to Ann Arbor, and Johnny and Wayne Kramer picked me up at the airport. I immediately felt that Wayne was a righteous dude — very funny and with a positive energy that was contagious.
“What are you gonna call the band?” I asked him in the car.
“Gang War!” he said with a big smile, studying my reaction.
My reaction was mostly that I was thrilled to meet him. I had been a fan of MC5 for a long time — and was particularly in awe of him and Fred “Sonic” Smith. They were so cool — the American Stones, the Detroit hoods. Manufacturing Center 5, Motor City 5, or even Marijuana Cigarette 5. They were the first group to have released a hit record in which they yelled out “Motherfuckers” and that was in 1969! MC5 had helped build the foundation of punk rock, as did their little brothers from Detroit: Iggy & the Stooges.
Johnny’s house in Ann Arbor wasn’t bad at all. It was big and didn’t have the junkie atmosphere I’d expected. It was clean and filled with kids’ toys and baby chairs. Julie was always very nice to me, and she and Johnny seemed quite happy at the time. We got to work that very evening, and we kept recording for three days straight. On the way to the studio, we picked up Wayne’s friend Ron Cooke, a local bass player. Their manager had rented the studio; all he’d been able to find was this little room where they recorded ads and jingles. They’d never done rock ’n’ roll before. When we arrived, the owner — a very straight-laced guy — panicked at the sight of us. He nervously asked that everyone show ID!
“You’ve got to be joking,” the manager replied. “These happen to be very famous musicians: Wayne Kramer of MC5 from Detroit, and over there is Johnny Thunders from the New York Dolls.”
He looked at Johnny and said, “Don’t try any bullshit with me. My son was a fan of the New York Dolls. I’ll get him, and we’ll see about this!” He yelled out, “Billy! Come down for a minute, would you?” Their house was directly above the studio, and his son — a fat kid in Bermuda shorts — came out munching on a sandwich.
“This one,” the father said, pointing at Johnny. “Is he in the New York Dolls?” The son came closer to take a better look, then exclaimed, in absolute shock, “Dad, that’s Johnny Thunders! Their guitarist!” From then on, the atmosphere improved significantly. The owner called for his wife, and she came out with an Instamatic to take photos of themselves with Johnny. Hahaha! Such a Disneyland, Mickey Mouse-type picture to hang in the living room!
This fucking guy was always asking me questions about what was going on, like: “Why is he going to the toilet so much?” or “What’s wrong with him?” Every ten minutes, he would say to me, with a desperate look in his eyes, “But he’s singing completely flat — he can’t sing!” to which I would always reassure him, “Ah, no, he sounds great!”
We recorded “MIA,” one of Johnny’s new songs. The other tunes were “I’d Much Rather Be with the Boys” by the Stones, “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel” by Fats Domino, and two other Johnny originals “Who Do VooDoo” and “Just Because I’m White (How Come You Treat Me Like a N*gger)” with its sure-to-be-a-hit title. There was, of course, no rehearsal, but that wasn’t really a problem. Wayne and his pal were pros, and by now I was used to this kind of thing with Johnny. He’d just look at you and say, “Just play Bo Diddley” or “Just play ta-ta-boom, ta-ta-boom, okay? One, two, three, four. . . .”
This project was brand new for both Wayne and Johnny, and you could feel their excitement. Sparks were flying—they were both on fire. It was magical.
I was sitting there at the drums, banging away, just thinking, Pinch me!
Johnny came back to the studio wearing the same ripped-up T-shirt every night. It must have been his new favorite shirt. The last day, the owner handed me a perfectly ironed and folded white T-shirt and said, “I understand that times have been hard, but it truly saddens me to see that this musician who was once so successful has nothing left to put on his back than this torn-up rag. Can you please give him this from me so he doesn’t have to feel ashamed anymore?”
I loved Gang War, and I was certainly tempted to take them up on their offer to be their full-time drummer, but I couldn’t leave my beloved Senders. I also told myself that with Johnny on board, that band might not last very long. What a strange idea. . . .
So I went back to New York to continue my life as a Sender, but I was overjoyed to have had the chance to participate in those sessions in Ann Arbor.
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