Legendary frontman of The Fuzztones, Rudi Protrudi talks about the Rock Counterculture, NYC and Screamin' Jay Hawkins

"I would hope that people would finally have enough of this homogenized crap they pawn off as music nowadays and demand something substantial. But that's highly doubtful."

Rudi Protrudi:

The Dark Zone of High Energy Rock n' Roll

THE FUZZTONES' Dark Zone, finally on vinyl (APR. 23rd 2018)! And expanded! New York City legends The Fuzztones released this collection of their darkest sounds only on CD in 2009 and it had come the time to put it out on vinyl. Full of rare songs focusing on their shadiest material. Dark psychedelic and fuzzed-up songs. In Fuzz we trust! Cover design by RUDI PROTUDI. Rudi Protrudi was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Both he and his younger sister, Rene Laigo, inherited their artistic talent from parents, John and Janet. Rudi attended school in Camp Hill, Lemoyne and New Cumberland, where he graduated from Cedar Cliff High School in 1970. He attended York Academy of Art from 1971 to 1972. At the age of 12, after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Rock & Roll became his obsession. Through The Beatles, he became familiar with Chuck Berry, who quickly became his idol. Like Berry, Rudi chose guitar as his instrument, and by the age of 14 had formed his first band, King Arthur's Quart. He continued to play in local bands until 1976 when an audition for the Dead Boys provided him the opportunity to play bass for them at CBGBs. Soon afterward, he founded Tina Peel with then girlfriend/live-in partner, Deb O'Nair and they moved to New York in 1977, where their serious music careers started.

Bubblegum-Punk band, formed in 1976. Rudi says that this band was heavily influenced by The Monkees, Cryan' Shames, 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Dave Clark 5. It is also Rudi's first band, where he performed as frontman. Rudi wrote or co-wrote the majority of the original material recorded by Tina Peel with then members Deb O'Nair, Jim Nastix and Jackson Plugs. Tina Peel broke up when members Rudi Protrudi and Deb O'Nair went on to form The Fuzztones in 1980. Their first studio LP Lysergic Emanations (1985) achieved gold record status. The band also released a live album with blues legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 1984. One year later the band toured for 3 months in the UK and Europe opening for The Damned, and introducing the 60’s garage/ psych sound to a European audience. After the tour the band broke up, and in 1987 Rudi and new drummer Mike Czekaj moved to Los Angeles, where they reformed the Fuzztones. Their album, In Heat, was produced by the legendary Shel Talmy. A later line-up has recorded the third studio album called Braindrops (1991), followed by and Monster A Go-Go in 1992. A live album, Lysergic Ejaculations, was released after their break up in 1992. Rudi wrote or co-wrote the majority of the original material recorded by the Fuzztones. Their version of The Sonics Strychnine reached No. 1 in Italy. In 2000 Rudi reformed the band with founding member, Deb O'Nair and again toured Europe frequently. In 2003 they released the critically acclaimed studio album "Salt For Zombies". In 2010 they began their new album's tour. The album, named "Preaching to the Perverted", was released in 2011. The band is still touring and releasing albums.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Rudi Protrudi, Thimios Latsoudis (Heathen Natives), and Rudy Martinez

How has The Rock n’ Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Through the originators, like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, I saw that Rock & Roll provided an alternative to the mundane 9-5 existence most everyone in my small hometown of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania aspired to. They showed that you could be an individual, a non-conformist - you could be yourself. That impression continued to be true throughout the 60s and 70s with bands that influenced me greatly - both music-wise and image-wise, not to mention lifestyle-wise. From the British Invasion bands to the 60s garage bands on through to Alice Cooper, MC5, Blue Cheer, Stooges and NY Dolls. The more outrageous the band, the more I identified.

What did you learn about yourself from the music industry?

Probably that - like almost every young whippersnapper who enters the "biz" - I was profoundly naive and trusted the wrong people, and therefore got ripped off big time. If I've learned one thing over the years it is to NEVER trust ANYONE in the "industry."

Always get everything in writing. Always have a lawyer who has your best interest (I say this because lawyers are every bit as sleazy as music industry types)! double-check any contracts. Ask for references and check them!

What characterizes your music philosophy and mission?

My music philosophy has always been to play the music I love, play it from the heart, and give it 100%. Everything else is icing on the cake. My mission - with The Fuzztones at least - was to bring a certain form of music, which was what is now labeled "60s Garage"- to the awareness of a public that, up until the Fuzztones, was pretty much unfamiliar with that style of music. And not surprisingly, I might add. I mean, 60s Garage music - bands like Question Mark & The Mysterians, Seeds, Shadows of Knight - were a commercial phenomenon in America for about one year (1966) and then just kind of disappeared off the charts.

Why do you think that The Fuzztones music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because, when it comes down to it, what we do is basic balls-out, heartfelt, high energy Rock & Roll! Although the media and today's radio and TV shows would have you believe that Rock & Roll never existed, and that kids actually love all the watered down pablum that passes for music these days, the fact is that there will ALWAYS be a market for the kind of music we play. Music that sets you free to be yourself! To let go!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences?

I'd have to say meeting, and eventually becoming musically involved with, various members of several different line-ups of The Fuzztones over the years. Deb O' Nair was an integral part of both the early Fuzztones and Tina Peel, our band prior to the 'tones. We were partners in the creation of both bands, as well as in the managing, booking and promoting end. Meeting Michael Jay, our bass player from '83 to '85, was also a milestone, as he was a hardcore 60s freak who brought in Elan Portnoy, another 60s freak, on guitar. That particular line-up recorded "Lysergic Emanations, "and was probably the most influential of all the Fuzztones line-ups. Meeting our next drummer, "Mad Mike," was of inestimable importance. I had been trying to get him into Tina Peel back in the late 70s and continued to pursue him all the way up to '85, when he finally joined. Besides being the prefect drummer for the band, he had the amazing ability to make up harmonies on the spot, and had a sharp wit that we exercised often with our back-and-forth impromptu adlibs. And finally, there's Lana Loveland. I met her in 2003 when she was playing organ for Sean Bonniwell's reconstituted Music Machine, and her playing blew me away. She joined the band two years later and has been my partner-in-crime ever since. She handles much of the business end of the band, as well as contributing heavily to songwriting and arranging. Finally, I'd have to include the members of our newest line-up. For years we were making do with a line-up that didn't quite gel with our vision or work ethic. I finally dismissed them and found Marco and Damon, who've been with us for two or more years now. They are great players, performers, team players, and friends - the sort of camaraderie I haven't really enjoyed since the New York line-up back in the early 80s.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Probably "Get a real job." Of course, I didn't listen to 'em.

"In the 50s and 60s it actually helped break down the racial barriers, as well as to loosen up the sexual constrictions that society had firmly in place. That was, of course, the reason it was looked at with such disdain and horror by parents and authority figures who labeled it "the Devil's music," and tried to squelch it." (Photo: Rudi Portudi on stage with his Gretsch, NYC)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Well I've been playing professionally since 1966 so there's an awful lot of memories! You know The Fuzztones have been together for 38 years now!

I've told it often but I guess my favorite Fuzztones memory was when we played Pukkelpop, this giant festival in Belgium, back in 1988. We were on the bill with the Mission and Wire. Sonic Youth opened. The Mission were the headliners and were really snotty to us. So when we came on we came on like gangbusters. Delivered the most over-the-top performance of that particular line-up's career and quite literally blew them off the stage. By the time they went on the audience was still chanting "Fuzztones! Fuzztones!" The singer got all pouty and called the audience a "bunch of wankers" and they pelted the band with mud! They went off after about three songs! In the end it was US who were the headliners! Of course, another highlight for me was when we played some another big festival in Belgium and had trouble with a rowdy bunch of skinheads in the audience. I jumped down into the audience, feet first, into the biggest one's face. That was quite exhilarating.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past?

Pretty much every aspect of it. The fact that it was real music, played on real instruments, by real people. It was played with heart. With soul. With energy and conviction! I miss songs! Melodies! Bass runs. Ever since the Ramones, rock bass players seem to think all they need to do is beat on one note for each chord. 60s bass players were inventive. The bass runs in 60s songs are often more interesting than even the guitar lines.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I would hope that people would finally have enough of this homogenized crap they pawn off as music nowadays and demand something substantial. But that's highly doubtful. Look at Hip Hop for instance. I can't stand Hip Hop. Never could. No melody. No hooks. Usually insipid lyrics promoting violence, racism and sexism. Yet it's been here for at least 38 years!!!! What do people get out of it? I mean, it all sounds the same! But the music industry WANTS it to stay forever because it's so profitable - FOR THEM! See, all they have to do is find a ghetto rapper, promise him a Cadillac, some bling and a bunch of white girls. They put him in a studio (that they usually OWN), churn out some lame-ass formula crap just like the last rap "artist" that sold for them, get a "hit," and then tell the rapper that he's in DEBT from all the studio costs. Next thing he knows he's a has been, back in the ghetto, and ANOTHER new "star" is plucked for the assembly line. It never ends. And as long as the media pushes Hip Hop as "hip" the kids will continue to buy it. Saddest thing to me is that bands like The Fuzztones have suffered from being labeled "retro" and "revivalist" just because we reinvented (notice I didn't say "imitated" - there's a difference!) a barely know music style that almost no one remembered. Now I ask you, which is retro? Us or the same "music" for 38 years?

"My music philosophy has always been to play the music I love, play it from the heart, and give it 100%. Everything else is icing on the cake. My mission - with The Fuzztones at least - was to bring a certain form of music, which was what is now labeled "60s Garage"- to the awareness of a public that, up until the Fuzztones, was pretty much unfamiliar with that style of music. And not surprisingly, I might add."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That mainstream radio would play all styles. There IS room for everything!

Give the underdog a chance! The one thing I noticed when we used to tour Europe in the 80s - their version of MTV played all kinds of stuff. We were in rotation with Nick Cave, The Fall, Damned, Springsteen - you name it. Much more open-minded and not so cliquey. I believe that cliques are detrimental to the music as well.

I like all kinds of music - if it's GOOD.

What has made you laugh from the streets of NYC?

Strange question. New York isn't exactly known as the Happiest Place on Earth. I lived in the Lower East Side in the late 70s and early 80s. It was an extremely dangerous ghetto. Not a lot to laugh at. Still I wouldn't have changed it for the world. Best experience of my life. As far as "laughing," I guess I laughed most when attending performances at Club 57, a members-only dive on St. Marks place, where the members would put on shows and get quite out-of-hand. Much silliness, craziness and creativeness! A few pretty big names came out of there - Keith Haring, Ann Magnuson… and me, of course (laughs). Just to give you an idea of the wacky stuff we used to do there… Ann was the proprietor and den mother of the whole congregation, and one night she threw a model kit party. Everyone brought a model kit to assemble and we all sat at table and made our kits while the DJ played 60s garage music to accompany our endeavor. There was absolutely no ventilation, so in essence what we were really doing was having a big glue-sniffing party!

And if it got busted, the model kits would have been our alibi!

What touched (emotionally) you from Screamin' Jay Hawkins?

When I first met Jay he wasn't doing well, career-wise. Gaining his trust was not an easy thing, especially because he "didn't like white people," as he told me when I first approached him. I was determined to help him get out of the rut he was in and did so by hooking him up with the label we were on at the time. After that we became friends and stayed in touch all the way up until he died. So I'd say winning his trust and friendship was what touched me.

"That mainstream radio would play all styles. There IS room for everything! Give the underdog a chance! The one thing I noticed when we used to tour Europe in the 80s - their version of MTV played all kinds of stuff. We were in rotation with Nick Cave, The Fall, Damned, Springsteen - you name it. Much more open-minded and not so cliquey. I believe that cliques are detrimental to the music as well. I like all kinds of music - if it's GOOD." (Photo: Rudi & Screamin' Jay Hawkins, 1984)

What is the impact of Rock n’ Roll culture on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

In the 50s and 60s it actually helped break down the racial barriers, as well as to loosen up the sexual constrictions that society had firmly in place. That was, of course, the reason it was looked at with such disdain and horror by parents and authority figures who labeled it "the Devil's music," and tried to squelch it. They actually succeeded - first shipping Elvis off to Germany, putting Chuck Berry in jail, and blackballing Jerry Lee Lewis for his shocking marriage to his 13 year old cousin (a commonplace practice in the deep South at the time). They replaced the real stuff with pale imitations like Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell - teen idols. Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice. They did the same in the 60s, after the extremely suspicious and convenient deaths of the three major Rock spokesmen for the hippie generation (Jim, Janis and Jimi). They put a photo of a deranged Manson on the cover of Life magazine, and at the same time the Hell's Angels killed Merideth Hunter at a Stones concert in Altamont - all these events successfully ended the Hippie movement, and replaced the dangerous-to-the-establishment music with stuff like Yes, Kansas, James Taylor, Carly Simon, ad nauseum. But every ten years or so it seems that some real and "threatening" musical force comes to light only to be eventually repressed - in the 70s it was Alice Cooper, then later the NY Dolls. By the end of the decade it was the Pistols. The last gasp seems to have been Nirvana. Sad to say, it appears that, if there ARE any Rock bands left that could shake things up, the mainstream will definitely keep them a secret.

Let’s take a trip with a "time machine". So, where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Although I was very young, I'm old enough to remember the 50s and, more distinctly, the 60s. When Rock and Roll first appeared in the 50s, it was very exciting. I mean, can you imagine what a thrill it would be to hear Elvis or Chuck for the first time, after hearing nothing but Patti page and Perry Come on the radio? Or what a thrill it was when Beatlemania took hold. For those who didn't experience it, it is almost impossible to describe, because - no matter what the media would have you believe about Michael Jackson mania - there had never been, nor probably ever will be, ANYTHING even remotely like it. Four guys who looked TOTALLY different from anyone you ever saw, SPOKE differently from anyone you ever heard, and played Rock and Roll in a way you never heard!!!

They were the first to introduce jazz chords in teen music. They had three or four top ten hits on the charts AT ONE TIME!!! I could go on and on, and of course either of these times would be great to revisit - especially if I could go back as a teenager and not a child. But I WAS a teenager in the late 60s, and that was a truly exciting time as well, both musically and socially - barriers were being broken down, the youth were making stands and being heard, fashion was exciting and the new music was creative. Musicians were looked at with awe and respect. The taboo of sex before marriage was broken down with the introduction of the pill. I'd have to say that's the time I'd like to revisit - although, in all honesty, that's where I've been ever since - in my head.

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