Meet Johnny Angel, a veteran of the Boston Punk Scene something of a punk rock renaissance man. In addition to fronting the Thrills with Barbara Kitson (later known as City Thrills), The Swinging Erudites, and the Blackjacks, to name a few, Johnny Angel is a radio host and a published author of two fiction novels Looking For Lady Dee and the upcoming In This Darkness, I Disappear.
Johnny Angel Wendell as told to Ms. Moneynine
JAW: I was this goofy little guy smitten by punk rock. Living on my own, my first crib and besotted by the Dolls, Spiders From Mars and then the Ramones, who I saw in ’76. After them, I thought that I finally really found music I could relate to. Not because it was easy to play, the energy of it.
So, all I started to do was go see punk bands at the Rat. Cantone’s too. DMZ, the Real Kids, mostly New York bands, the London ones. And in the Rat, they opened a punk rock record store! Clerked by this really awful little snobby woman named Barbara Kitson. So full of herself because as a college DJ, she was supposedly the first American to play “Anarchy In The UK” on the air. I disliked her intensely and the feeling was mutual.
We tried to play with Tracks rhythm section, they didn’t work so we found our own and on 12/15/77, we played out. 14 songs in 29 minutes. All awful, that’s how we began. First gig was very funny. Cantone’s guy in front row doing his homework–I lost it! Kicked his table over and told him this wasn’t the library.
Ms Moneynine: Hahaha
JAW: I was such an asshole. Also, we did our first set and after, the bass player from the Nervous Eaters was very impressed and decided to impart some wisdom on me. (Rob Skeen) Told me that I was about to “get more pussy than I could ever dream of”.
I told him that the whole groupie thing was dead, this wasn’t Woodstock and he was a pathetic hippie because, after 29 minutes onstage, I knew it all. I had my first female admirer off that gig–she was a roadie for the group Skafish. We really dug each other, birds of a feather–I never saw her after that. She died of cancer a few years back. But that gig–that one gig–changed my life completely. Like rock and roll is supposed to do and not because of the chicks. Because I could create the “alternate me” The one I wanted to be, which is what is so great about rock and roll
You can remake yourself. And I did–I was really Johnny Angel from then on.
MM: Can you tell me about the Boston scene and Cantone’s and The Rat?
JAW: It wasn’t really like CB’s/Max’s. For one thing, the New York bands were all looking for record deals straightaway–even if the labels were avoiding them like plague. The Dolls crapping out that badly made them leery. So, there was a premium on originality. In Boston, you had to make kids dance. So, everything had a kind of driving beat Which we’d all gotten from the Modern Lovers, that propulsive VU/Flamin’ Groovies/Stones thing.
Lots of the older bands were still all Aerosmith glammy, hard rock, solos. I mean, Aerosmith was a local band that by then was the biggest band in the world, So, people emulated them. We didn’t! We loved them but they were so far above us and they required a kind of skill we didn’t have and besides, they were very bluesy I wanted no part of that. And I loved blues. Jazz too–as did our drummer, Mike Collins.
What I also loved that my bandmates couldn’t abide by was rockabilly/country. They weren’t the only ones. That was an absolute scourge then. So, the first wave of bands that played their own songs were sorta rock, Very Lou Reed-ish Or the Kinks/garage-rock. We and LaPeste and the Neighborhoods and UnNatural Axe were second wave, we took our nourishment from the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the newer bands It was a lovely scene though People generally got along. The older musicians got a charge out of us. We were so naïve. To just be a weekend headliner and maybe play Max’s or CB’s was enough. To have ambition was our ambition, as Gang of Four would say.
MM: So how were the Max’s/CB gigs?
JAW: We played Hurrah first, in May of 1979. Was a rock/disco up near Lincoln Center. Us and Penetration. Was really dark, weird sound. We did our thing, New York wasn’t blown away. A lady friend of mine who had moved there came to see me so I was happy, Day AKA “Lady Dee” The scene I described in the book with her didn’t really happen. I embellished!
MM: I still need to get my hands on a copy
JAW: Looking for Lady Dee In the book, I describe seeing her again at the gig and what a joy it was and it was. The “outdoor blowjob” was ficticious, however. Wishful thinking on my part, I suppose. She probably would have been down for it, as it were CBGB, we played maybe a few months later, showcase for Genya Ravan. Genya wanted to tape our set. Barb wigged out over that like Genya was going to steal something from us. That soured Genya Ravan. End of relationship. We were capable of self-immolating at a moments notice. Played good, great sound, had fun. We played with a group on IRS called “Fashion”, I remember nothing of them. All I knew was, probably no Mick Ronson and certainly no Day (Dee).
To be continued…
In the meantime, check out Jimmy Stagger‘s posts on the Boston Punk Scene on Acts of Vandalism. Big thank you to Jimmy, Ben, and Cribs, and especially to Mr. Johnny Angel!
Special Shout Out to Jan Crocker–– Check out her YouTube for some cool Boston Scene clips!