“Is New York losing its soul?” and similar utterances are the hot topics of the day it seems. All this talk triggers one to reminisce about New York “back in the day”. How can you not? New York pre-9/11 qualifies as “back in the day” at this point.
One thing or rather a band that has been on the scene in NYC for a loooong time and haven’t changed that much and still HAVE SOUL are The Fleshtones. I’ve just finished a great bio on the band called “Sweat” The story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band” by Joe Bonomo. After reading this book I am honored to come from the same place that this band comes from. I had no idea that "Super Rock" band the Fleshtones originated out of the Flushing/Whitestone area in 1976. And HAVE NOT STOPPED since forming there. Not once. The Fleshtones have always been the live band to see and rarely disappoint. In the 30 years they’ve been around they have played over 2,000 shows (!) with, “no hits” and “no sleep”.
The first album I bought by the Fleshtones was “Roman Gods”, which happened to be their first one, a classic as all first albums by great bands usual are, since then they have released 20 subsequent albums, many singles and have been on countless compilations.
As for the book, it’s full of tales of the Max’s Kansas City/CBGB era and also what borough life was like in those days. Some of the arty CBGB crowd saw them as a “mindless twist band” which The Fleshtones, as Dick Manitoba is quoted as saying, “wore like a badge of honor”. Despite that, they were a twist band with an edge and they opened for Jayne/Wayne County & The Electric Chairs regularly and were respected by many such as Blondie, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and The Dictators.
Fleshtones sounding a bit Velvet Undergroundish on their first video made in 1977.
The book chronologies in amazing detail the who, what’s and wheres of the band through the 80’s, 90.s until the present. The band has been touring seemingly non-stop throughout these last 30 years. It is still nothing to them to play Europe, fly to the West Coast, tour the mid west shoot back to NYC and then go off somewhere else with no turn around, and get this, they still drive their own van! That is doing it for the love of rock & roll. Some might call it stupidity but this is what “soul” is people! Doing it because they HAVE to because they don’t know what else they can do.
I can attest that their live shows are pure energy and consistently have the crowds dancing because what they play is dance music. There are certain things that usual happen during a typical Fleshtones show. They may all jump off the stage and continue to play their instruments while walking through the club into the street. They may do the whole show from the top of the bar, do a montage of Fleshtones songs, play each others instruments or do their famous "Fleshtones Power Stance". Any or all of the above and more might happen. I think one of the reasons the Fleshtones never got hugely famous is because their live shows usually surpass their recordings. The music has roots in 60’s rock and soul but their attitude is modern and Peter Zaremba’s heavy Queen’s accent is still adorable. One thing I learned about Zaremba that shocked me was that he was heavy into the 1970’s Studio 54 disco scene. He hung out with Warhol, Bianca and that whole crew, he said the energy was “pure rock & roll” as rock music at the time, was pretty dull.
This book is an exhausting yet exhilarating journey of 30 years with a REAL rock&roll band that had all the cliché rock & roll type problems but always managed to sweep them under the rug once they hit the stage. The Fleshtones still give 100% whether in front of thousands or a few. Read this book if you have ANY interest in the Fleshtones, the New York East VIllage area rock scene or even if you want a great story of a relentless "never say die" touring rock & roll band. Viva le Fleshtones!!!!
F.I.B review of Fleshtones at Magnetic Field last March, here.
Top photo by Ann Streng taken from the Fleshtones "Hall of Fame" website.