The band I waited 35 years to see.
"The early 70s music scene in Cleveland maintains its fascination, not only for its oracular take on the then-nascent punk-rock explosion, but also because the ferment there has been so slimly documented... It's flabbergasting stuff-- especially considering that these Midwestern musicians were working in geographical and artist isolation, essentially without sonic models, foraging their own curdled instincts and a few askew contemporaries to formulate a bile-spitting style without any true precedent... This is historic music that has been hidden in the shadows too long."
"But singer David Thomas has said he doesn't consider Rocket From the Tombs a punk band. In the mid-1970's Rocket From the Tombs drew on 1960's styles - Iggy & The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, early psychedelia and garage-rock and sang about adolescent frustrations and destructive urges with a mixture of bluntness and savage irony that was very punk."
New York Times 2006:
"The standard story goes that punk rock was invented in New York by the Ramones. They distilled The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, one-shot mid-1960's singles and the Detroit ferocity of The MC5 and The Stooges, into the formula that came to define punk: short, fast, catchy, unstoppable."
"But in some alternate realm, punk might have traced its genesis to Rocket From the Tombs. The initial Rocket From the Tombs was a Cleveland band that lasted less than a year (1974-5) and never made a studio album. One of its songs, "Sonic Reducer" - with lyrics like "don't need no human race" - was as straightforward a punk song as anything the Ramones were devising in 1974."
Village Voice 2002:
"History is unmade at night: In 1975 Rocket From The Tombs had all of the ingredients, from the coolest name (shades of Edgar Allan Poe fronting the Shadows of Knight or 13th Floor Elevators) to the darkest, most desperately unforgiving sound. With the Stooges and Velvet Underground as role-remodels, a payload of achingly funny-brutal-mortifying songs and Cleveland's rust-belted heart/wasteland as ground zero, Rocket From The Tombs were the little engine that exploded. Breaking up without releasing so much as a single, the band molded its legend from debris and fallout, raining down the years in the form of rumor, fable, and ultra-scarce bootlegs... With as near to decent sound as homemade recordings and the band's distort-o-rama performances will allow, The music is a napalmland cornucopia of lost and found claims to immortality... The Rocket Saga stands as a story of what might have been: a mix of riotous elements (populist, dadaist, teen-revanchist) that coulda-shoulda resonated beyond the fringes of subculture."
OTHER RECOMMENDED READING...
My story of Rocket From The Tombs begins in 1982...
That year, a friend and I each purchased an album by UK new wave/punk band, The Lords Of The New Church. We soon learned that the singer was originally from the Cleveland punk band, The Dead Boys. In fact, this singer was in Rocket From The Tombs briefly near the end of RFTT's existance.
In attitude, The Dead Boys were punk to the Nth degree. They only existed 1977-1978, released two studio albums and one live album (with a reunion in the late 1980s). But their music was clearly rooted in 1970s hard rock. We investigated The Dead Boys and they quickly became a favorite.
The Dead Boys Wikipedia
Also in 1982, my friend bought a 1981 album by the Cleveland art-rock band, Pere Ubu. He insisted that I MUST hear this album. He wasn't wrong and it became a favorite. Although bred in the same geographic era as The Dead Boys, this band sounded like no one else. They label themselves "the avant garage".
Pere Ubu Wikipedia
We quickly began to get all the material released by The Dead Boys and Pere Ubu.
A couple of years in, we learned that these two bands had been born from the ashes of the implosion of an earlier band called Rocket From The Tombs (RFTT). In fact, many of the two bands' songs originated from RFTT. My friend and I thought this to be quite cool that two favorite bands had, essentially, once been one.
Although the seeds were planted in late 1973, RFTT only really existed for a year between 1974-1975. But they were Cleveland underground favorites. Notably favorites of late famed Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Jane Scott. (Side note: Jane was a really cool gal. We met her a few times in the 1980s when she was well into her 60s.)
When we first heard of RFTT, we learned that there were a few rare recordings floating around trading circles. Two stemmed from broadcasts on WMMS Cleveland radio - one a recording from the band's rehearsal loft, the other a live performance at Cleveland's legendary Agora Ballroom. There was also another live recording and a couple of ramdom demos.
Not knowing where to find the recordings, we sort of forgot about them until another friend acquired the rehearsal loft recording. However, he got the tape because RFTT performed a couple of Iggy & The Stooges songs. Otherwise, he had no real clue as to what he had.
Suffice to say, my first friend and I were quick to acquire a copy of the tape. While the best of the rare recordings, it was all we had for some time.
Finally, in 1990, much of the material was semi-legit (basically a bootleg but with no objections from the band) released on an album and two 45s that included a few songs from the live recordings.
In addition, to date, several of their songs have been covered by other bands and artists. Most notably by Guns and Roses, Living Color, Peter Murphy, Henry Rollins and Pearl Jam who regularly still include the RFTT song "Sonic Reducer" in their live sets.
Rocket From The Tombs - Wikipedia
In 1994 and 1996, a few additional songs were officially released on 'anthology type' compilations. Along with another bootleg release in 1998 of the live recordings.
By this time, the internet was in full swing and all the recordings became reasonably available on bootleg CDs. I was even selling bootleg copies on eBay for a while.
That is until 2001, when one of the band members emailed me and asked me to cease. Not because he objected but because they were planning to officially release the recordings. He even bought one of my bootlegs simply because I had used a photo for the cover that he had never seen before. Needless to say, I honored his request.
The true official release came in 2002. Urged by the release and its success, in 2003, the band entered a real recording studio for the first time to make proper recordings if their songs. This along with a limited series of live performances. (Side note: I didn't see them then because I was unaware of it.)
Only three of the original members were aboard for the new recordings. An original singer-songwriter-guitarist had died in 1977 and the drummer simple opted out. They were replaced by the guitarist and friend from the late 1970s New York City alternative band, Television and the new young whipper-snapper drummer was an optimum pick from one of the member's current band.
Late 2011 brought another surprise... a complete new album by the band and the announcement of a new limited series of live shows.
The 2011 album
One writer describes Barfly this way...
"I hate to see this album get ignored. For those of you who feel there is no new music of worth, give Barfly a listen. True, David Thomas has a voice that requires understanding, but this band is firing on all generators. No pyrotechnics, no showing off, just a knowledge of what to leave out as opposed to what to put in. This is fierce, economical playing by veterrans who know their stuff. The Chrome/Lloyd duo just puts it down hard, with true punk/art attitude. Anyone with an interest in rock and roll played dark and dirty with an offbeat lyrical sensibility really needs to hear this. Hurrah for the AARP set, showing how to do it, and do it well indeed."