FM to Web: The Beginnings Of The Fleshtones

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Peter Zaremba (The Fleshtones) send to Dimitris Antonopoulos an excerpt from his autobiography "Did I Do That?' especially for the readers of Mix Grill!

Peter Zaremba writes about the beginnings of The Fleshtones, his best friend Brian Spaeth, who was a member of the band, their thoughts about  British invasion of R&B and American blues, New York Dolls and how he didn't like their appearance at first...

The "microphone" to Peter Zaremba:

Early  in the ''70s' I ran into Brian Spaeth near his apartment where Roosevelt Avenue ends in the Murray Hill section of Flushing, New York. He was clutching a bunch of 45s. I'm not sure if he had been to a shop, or had dug them out of his old records at his family home in nearby College Point.



Brian and I had become good friends over the past few years, sharing tastes in old movies, books and more importantly bemoaning the state of popular music. He had attended Flushing High years before, but it was his younger brother Gordon who I first noticed when my older sister introduced me to her school. Striding down the school corridor with his flaming orange hair and knee-high fringed buck-skin boots, how could I miss him? Later, in 1979, Brian would be in the Fleshtones line-up on tenor sax when we made our first 'aero-gig' along with Devo, The Only Ones and lots of the No-New York bands when we flew to Minneanopolis to play the M-80 Festival at the Walker Arts Center. There's a recording of the festival somewhere, but you can here Brian on the Fleshtones 'Up Front' and Roman Gods' records.

Back when the decade was beginning  however, there certainly was a dearth of listenable rock and roll. Brian enjoyed playing LPs by The Stooges and The MC5, who had appeared together at the the abandoned New York State pavilion at the former World's Fair Grounds, but mostly we escaped the garbage on the radio by delving deeper and deeper into British invasion R&B and the American bluesmen who inspired them. "What are we going to do when we get sick of listening to old Yardbird records?" Brian asked one day. 

Maybe that's why he showed me the records right there on the street -odd one-hit wonder stuff like 'Psychotic Reaction' by The Count 5 and 'Dirty Water' by The Standells -stuff that I had always kind of dismissed as Americans trying to sound like The Yardbirds -stuff with comically snotty vocals we thought of as 'punk -rock'. I can't remember his explanation for his renewed interested in these songs but Brian was starting to take things in his own hands and learn to play bass. So the on-again, off-again idea of putting together a group got a new, if fitful, lease on life. If nobody else was making music we could listen to, we'd have to make it ourselves.

I was an compulsive 'turner-over' of all the hit 45's my older sister had brought home during the heady days of the '60s, so I recommended songs for the nascent band's repertoire  like 'On The Road Again', a Loving Spoonful B-side, and stuff from the just released Eddie Cochran collection that had been compiled by Lenny Kaye. We'd hear more from him later. I also supplied a name -The Dregs, left over from a half-hearted effort to put together a group with schoolmates a few years previously. I connived to be left home when my parents drove down to Florida to visit my Aunt Renee (you can probably find my article for The New York Daily News that includes her recipe for pastera di grano somewhere on-line) and threw a massive house party (how did I imagine the neighbors wouldn't notice? the police certainly did) where The Dregs played a glorious set that included Gordon Spaeth blowing an insane version of John Mayall's 'Parchmen's Farm'. Eventually Keith Streng, who I knew from several after-school clubs at Flushing High got involved on drums.

Then nothing. I was getting seriously alienated from music. When The New York Dolls and The Harlots Of 42nd Street entertained at my school Christmas Ball, I just couldn't get past the psuedo-drag outfits -all the eye make-up, pantyhose and feathered boas -and simply enjoy their music for what it was. I might have liked it. Brian had 'hung out' with some of The Dolls at The Coventry, a nightspot where another local band, The Dictators sometimes played. "I was drinking at the bar with their guitarist Johnny" Brian revealed "he actually knows all about R&B and blues!". But I was still trapped in the '70s malaise of the times and could hardly foresee the future when I would be taken under the wing of The Dolls mentor Marty Thau to record my first record with The Fleshtones.

Peter Zaremba

The second part will be published on Tuesday 3rd of February, 2015.

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