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- Posted on Feb 3rd 2010 2:30PM by Liz Worth
Although the history of the Toronto first-wave punk scene fell into relative obscurity after its early start in 1976, the Viletones' influence has held strong throughout the decades. The following excerpt is taken from 'Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond' (Bongo Beat, 2010).
We begin at Dan Ackroyd's infamous Toronto speakeasy before heading to New York where the Viletones' get knocked unconscious in front of Debbie Harry and Johnny Thunders at Max's Kansas City, dodge Dee Dee Ramones' tossed syringe needles (but not an audience member's knife through the foot) while playing CBGBs and blow their big break on Saturday Night Live. So, good road trip...
Mike Anderson (aka Motor X): Drummer for the Viletones.
Margaret Barnes-DelColle (aka Margarita Passion): Proprietor of Toronto's first punk store, New Rose.
Colin Brunton: Filmmaker.
Captain Crash: Viletones roadie.
Jeremy Gluck: Writer. Founder and vocalist for the Barracudas.
Chris Haight: Bassist for the Viletones.
Steven Leckie (aka Nazi Dog): Singer for the Viletones.
Freddy Pompeii: Guitarist for the Viletones.
Cynthia Ross: Bassist for the B-Girls.
Tibor Takacs: The Viletones manager.
Mike Anderson: Because of Dan Aykroyd's place at 505 Queen, we actually got in with a lot of people like Catherine O'Hara and John Candy and those people. We'd go to their parties and word would get around – "Oh, the Viletones are here."
Cynthia Ross: This guy named Marcus O'Hara lived in a storefront down on Queen with Dan Aykroyd, and they used to run these speakeasies once a week to pay their rent. They just used to open the storefront and sell beer. People would get up sometimes and play music. It was kind of just this fertile ground for people to be doing things in the arts and in music, and everything was really connected.
Freddy Pompeii: You'd walk in at any given night and there'd be Belushi hanging out, or Chevy Chase. That's one of the reasons the Viletones got so much attention, because part of that networking was hanging out at Dan's speakeasy. Word spread really fast in the entertainment community. That was a big deal.
Ron Gwynne was Dan Aykroyd's business manager when Dan was on Saturday Night Live, and Dan was requesting the Viletones 45 so Ron brought it down to him and put it on the Blues Bar jukebox.
Tibor Takacs: It was easy to book the Viletones into Max's Kansas City because they were notorious in the punk scene, and any punk club would welcome them for at least a night or two. These clubs never really paid well; the band would play for the door and free beer. Any punk band that played Toronto would vouch for the Viletones.
Pompeii: The band looked great all the time because of the talent up there onstage, all working together. And it wasn't a great amount of talent, it was just using the talent you had and working it the right way and letting the band do the rest; letting the magic of the chemistry happen.
Chris Haight: I looked at it as everybody had a job to do. Dog was in charge of PR, Freddy was the guy that made sure everyone looked cool, I was the guy that knew how to play, actually, and you need that to keep it together. Freddy would be like the guy that Steven would take aside if, for example, Steven didn't know if he looked right. He'd say, "Hey Freddy, do I look cool?" He was only, like, eighteen or something at the time and if he got the nod from Fred he'd go out and perform in whatever he happened to be wearing. But he had to get the second opinion from Freddy, who was the oldest guy in the band.
Motor was the guy that always had to try the hardest. He's a hard worker and he's probably the guy with the greatest sense of humour, too. He also saved the Dog's hide on a number of occasions. Sometimes the Dog would get too full of himself and it'd backfire, and he'd be crying, "Motor! Motor!" So Motor would come in and save him. So everybody had their little role to play.
Steven Leckie: It really motivated me, it really f---in' motivated me, that press thing. It was a way to give a "f--- you" to my dad who was in PR, and I was getting so much of it.
Pompeii: For our first gig at Max's Kansas City, the same summer that we did CBGBs, Steven got on the phone before we went down there. He told some of the top journalists and some of the word-of-mouth people he had done everything that he wanted to do and was going to kill himself that night onstage. He promised to kill himself.
Steven knew what he was doing as far as promotion was concerned. I always backed him up on that. But the thing is, I had no idea that he had made these phone calls before we got down there. There was a big piece of graffiti in New York on one of the walls heading west. It was gigantic, like a billboard: VILETONES RULE. It was written on the third story of a building and if you were riding down one of these streets, I think it was Third or Fourth Avenue, you couldn't miss it. So we're in New York and there was an article in New York Rocker that Nazi Dog from the Viletones promised to kill himself and it's gonna be the last Viletones show with Steven Leckie.
Haight: Steve would be the guy that would play the press in little serials, little chapters, like, "I'm gonna kill myself before I'm twenty-one," and this and that. People would come just to see how far he would go.
Some nights he would just totally get sucked in his own little world, and the scars are there to prove it. Other times he would tease the audience. But he always had that knack about keeping the interest up. He was perfect for that. It's as if he knew what they wanted to hear and stuff, because they'd love him. They'd love talking about him. Ninety per cent of it was bullsh--, but it was interesting bullsh--.
Pompeii: That night at Max's everybody was there. The Ramones were there, Debbie Harry was there, the Voidoids, Johnny Thunders and his Heartbreakers, some of the New York Dolls. Everybody who was anybody in the scene; the place was packed.
Haight: Danny Aykroyd showed up. He was in the dressing room and saying hi to us and chatting and this and that.
Pompeii: We had a kind of improvisational approach because Steven had problems with arrangements and remembering where he was supposed to come in and where he wasn't coming in. So we would follow him into choruses and verses because he would forget otherwise. It wouldn't be four measures, it wouldn't be eight measures, it wouldn't be twelve measures. It was whenever he was ready to start singing again, he started singing and then we would follow. So the songs stretched out. Sometimes they were two minutes, sometimes they were five minutes depending on how he felt onstage. That's where his strength was – in the way he performed and the feel he had for connecting with the audience and the feel he had in working for the band. His contribution was large as far as being an entertainer and a front man.
So we start the show and about the first song into the set I get up on Steven's shoulders to play a lead. He's walkin' back and forth across the stage and he's drunk and he'd done some pills. He was, like, really staggering and he was singing really bad that night because he was so f---ed up. And I made the mistake of getting up on his shoulders.
Haight: We would go over the edge, and maybe this one gig just kind of pushed us over completely. We're going along, we're doing just fine and Danny's out there and that. The band's rockin' and Steven's got Freddy on his shoulders. And then it just went, kaboom!
Pompeii: Halfway through the song Steve dumps me off his shoulders. He leans backwards and I fall off his shoulders and I land on the stage and pass out. I had a real heavy Les Paul guitar and bam, I'm out for about two minutes, out cold.
Haight: Freddy falls right on his head and he's out like a light. All of a sudden it just stopped. Everything stopped.
Pompeii: I wake up with everybody around me – "Freddy, you all right? Freddy, you okay?" The curtains close and there's all this noise outside and some people grab me and carry me up to the dressing room and I start to regain consciousness.
Bleecker Bob, who owned the real famous record store in New York and was going to be selling our record, he loved us. He was in the dressing room and he decides he's gonna take care of me. He runs me over to the emergency ward and they look me over and take X-rays and everything.
Haight: Honest to God, maybe they thought we were too mental, because we never saw Danny Aykroyd again. And that was a show to remember.
Anderson: We were booked to play Saturday Night Live. But when Dan came down to see us at Max's and saw Freddy get knocked unconscious, he took a look at that and said, "Forget it." That's the last we heard of it.
Haight: It went from, "Hey guys, I love your band!" to, like, "Danny who?" But Freddy, fortunately, was okay.
Pompeii: I went back to the hotel after the hospital. They gave me a bunch of Percocets because we had another show at CBGBs the next night. So I decided to get some rest and try to keep the pain down as best as possible. Bleecker Bob went back to Max's Kansas City and said I was all right. Everybody was asking about me; if I was all right, if I was dead.
Haight: We knew we were kind of headed in the right direction when they kicked the door closed in the dressing room at Max's afterwards. I'm exaggerating this, but you could see all the hands from the outside all around the door jamb – people trying to get in. We knew that we had something going for us.
Pompeii: What had happened was, Steven wasn't really gonna kill himself; it was all just a ploy, but everybody in New York was calling him on it. He had to do something spectacular, so he threw me off of his shoulders so the show would be stopped so he didn't have to kill himself. I never forgave him for that.
Leckie [The Pig Paper no. 8, April 1978]: It was a mistake, but I have no regrets about dropping him. I'm glad I did, but I'm sorry I hurt him. I didn't mean to. I just wanted to show those jerk-offs at Max's that there is such a thing as rock 'n' roll that isn't played by long-hairs who wear black leather jackets day and night and blue jeans and tennis sneakers like the Ramones. And it worked. I was named one of the Top Twenty Punk Rockers in New York City, and I've only played there three times. I think that's an accomplishment. I'm proud of that.
Haight: When we played CBGBs I remember Dee Dee Ramone in the front row throwing syringes onstage.
Pompeii: People gave us incredible stuff. They'd just say, "You guys rock. This is for you." We'd always get handed something.
Haight: I thought it was flattering that Dee Dee would be doing that. At the time I thought this was cool, but I didn't want my mom to find out that this guy's throwing syringes onstage. I still had a little bit of altar boy in me. Dog wasn't much of a shooter. He kind of popped pills and drank his face off, basically.
Pompeii: The stage at CBGBs is high enough that a person can sort of stand up and throw his hands forward and rest them on the stage. I think what happened was Steve was going through his stage antics and he sort of struck a pose in one position, and this guy took out a knife and tried to stick his foot to the floor. But I don't recall how it happened or why it happened. It was just one of these crazy things that the audience does sometimes.
It was like a dream. Not being awake, sometimes you just felt like you were along for the ride.
Leckie: I was on the stage and some chick had something in her hand – I didn't quite see it – and she came down and it landed right through my Beatle boot. That's when the arc really changed. This idea of punk and real, raw Clockwork Orange violence – real, serious violence – introduced itself to me. The knife went through, but I was too young and still too strong to think I should go to the hospital over it. But that was a turning point.
It had that kind of reaction, that this broad would stab me. I thought, Wow, what does that mean? That's kind of going past what Iggy [Pop] did. Iggy was peanut butter and certain mutilation, but when you're getting to the point where the performer could possibly be stabbed, you're introducing other things. You had darker forces come in to the American brand of punk but not the cool, Toronto/English brand. So that's how getting stabbed in New York was. I think it got a little bit of press up here but it was wildly talked about down there.
I think a lot of kids partake in a certain kind of private self-mutilation just to feel, and maybe when this girl saw me exhibit it in more of a performance art aspect, meaning in a public display of self-mutilation, it probably was her attempt to actually f--- it; to actually come with it. If I'm reading my Freud right, it doesn't sound like I'm too far wrong. She'd probably be making a conclusion from her own mutilations to this guy who could do it onstage, get paid for it, and I'm going to be in union with that; she's marrying it. In other words, I never interpreted her act then or now as a negative thing.
Jeremy Gluck: The thing with Steve is he had genuine charisma and that's very, very rare in a front man. And I think that's why people were quite compelled and horrified. I mean, he was genuinely horrifying in many ways, literal and figurative. He had that potential to be developed, if he'd had proper management and patience and a disinclination to destroy himself rapidly. Look at Iggy – same sort of thing, and that was his role model, obviously. Iggy though, of course, had a rich benefactor and stuff who rescued him, but for the Steve Leckies of this world there's no such person.
Leckie: I think the timing, when I was doing it as a performance art, bringing it to a rock 'n' roll theatre; to put it on a rock thing and to take it one step higher than Iggy meant this is for real. Iggy's was a little mythic; there's no witnesses. There's this myth that a case of beer was all cracked up and smashed and torn on the ground and he writhed in it. Realistically you couldn't do that, it would kill you. But what I wanted to show was you could almost smell it. And that's nasty, of course, but that's punk.
So of course not everyone was doing it, but there were a lot of disenfranchised people who were in the punk audience. This was the audience that felt alienated from every other form of music. So when you factor that in, when punk came along it gave them a voice. When you were the lead singer in the Viletones, you were introduced to more shamanistic and demonic things, perhaps just by virtue. Steve Davey's [from the Dishes] not gonna get stabbed onstage, or Paul Robinson from the Diodes. I will, though, and it wasn't good but I recognize in it that that girl was making a transference without knowing.
Captain Crash: I was disappointed in him when he didn't kill himself when he got to twenty-three. He promised all those years – "I'm gonna kill myself when I get to twenty-three." He lied. I don't think anybody took him seriously, but the thing was you never knew.
Colin Brunton: With the Viletones, you didn't know what to expect as far as spectacle. I remember him advertising one show on Halloween at David's, and the cutline on the poster was, "It's my party, I'll die if I want to." And the rumour was he was gonna kill himself onstage.
So that was the big difference with bands like the Ugly and the Viletones. With those guys you never knew what to expect. Like, god, is Mike Nightmare going to jump off the stage and pummel somebody to death? Is Steven going to cut himself open? Is he going to kill himself?
Haight: I think that was half the fun. Nobody really knew what to expect, like where it would go or that kind of thing, so there was always some intrigue with every show. It was always, "Hey, we gotta come back next week to see if he really kills himself!"
Barnes-DelColle: What I'm trying to remember is if he went to the hospital. He swore he wasn't going to live for very long.
Crash: I mean, f---, he'd slice himself up onstage; somebody would take him to the hospital to get stitches. I forget how many he was up to. He used to count them. "I got seventy-two stitches for you guys," that's what he would say. "For you guys! Lookit, lookit, this is for you!"
No, Dog, this is for you.