In a world of imitators, pretenders and wannabes – Bobby Steele stands alone as the genuine article. A one-man army who has paid his rock n roll dues, over and over again. To coincide with the release of The Undead’s killer new album ‘Til Death’, Vicious Kitten present to you the Bobby Steele story. Most fans of punk rock are familiar with, or at the very least are aware of the Misfits – the influential punk rock band who existed in a web of mythology and cult appeal. Long after their demise in 1983 the Misfits still hold worldwide appeal for their spine-chilling mix of horror-movie imagery and hardcore sound. One man chiefly responsible for the enduring legacy of the Misfits is Bobby Steele, the band’s original guitar player. A native of New Jersey, Steele grew up listening to the influential beat sounds of the 60’s, a time when rock n roll was leaving it’s mark on thousands of America’s youth. Steele says ‘I had a lot of influences. Doo Wop, Dion, the Beatles. My best friend’s father was the bus driver for the Dave Clark Five, and I met them when I was about eight. Virtually everything from the 60’s influenced me.” Consequently, the inspired Steele picked up a guitar and by 1978 was already earning his stripes playing guitar with The Scabs, before he auditioned for the Misfits back in November of that year. The next two years were a haze of touring (including opening up for the Damned in England) and recording, building on the band’s reputation as blood and guts kings of the punk underworld. Steele’s contribution to the band’s recordings have often been down played, and indeed discredited, but his influence on those songs are one reason why they remain punk standards today, some twenty years after the fact. Songs like ‘Horror Business’, ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, the classic ‘Halloween’, ‘London Dungeon’ and countless others all bear his unique crash n’ burn guitar sound. 1980 saw the band again intensify. Not only in sound and appearance, but also dissent crept within its ranks as egos and invincibility grew. As a result, Steele was kicked out of the band in October of that year and was replaced by Jerry Only’s younger brother Doyle. I asked Bobby if one special moment from his Misfits days stood out in his mind. “Yeah, walking on top of the crowd – that was the biggest rush. The crowd was pressed so tight against the stage that me and Jerry were able to walk out on top of them – and they just held us up ! It was unreal”. The electrifying power of the Misfits was indeed absolutely compelling. Steele recounts a further tale from the glory days of early eighties hard core. “I was in the middle of a riot at a Black Flag show in 1983, when someone bumped into me. It was Glenn Danzig – my ‘arch enemy’. We looked at each other, and Glenn said “this is fun !” and we shake hands. Just then some kid with blood running down his face pops up between us, does a double take and says, “hey, you guys aren’t supposed to be friends !” We just laughed. I think it was the last time I saw Glenn.” Steele however, wasted no time in putting together his own rock n roll creation – the Undead, who played their first shows in 1981. Since that time, the band has been breaking the rules, pissing off the music establishment and catering to no one. Steele has done what he’s had to, to sustain his existence as a musician, and indeed survive in the dog eat dog music biz. From appearing in Penthouse Magazine, to making cameo appearances in such films as Martin Scorsese’s ‘After Hours’, and alongside Bette Midler in ‘Outrageous Fortune’. 1982 saw the Undead release their first EP ‘Nine Toes Later’, and reputation alone saw them become one of the biggest draws on the NY club circuit, outselling both the Misfits and Bad Brains. Yet as has often been repeated in Steele’s career, murphys law reared its head. Larger success at differing points in time seemed assured, yet then an Undead member would jump ship, leaving Steele again stranded, or industry fat cats would snub their nose with an assured indifference. Such adversity has become common place throughout his life. He could have thrown in the towel and quit rock n’ roll dozens of times, yet has always soldiered on despite the setbacks. I asked him why. “Total madness I guess. I mean, what am I supposed to do ? It’s useless to sit and cry. It’s just not productive. I’ve been fucked out of close to $200’000 in the past 2 years, and live far below the poverty level, but I don’t really give a fuck. I believe I’ll get justice in the end. I’m not gonna stoop to the level of the people who’ve fucked me over.” Being unable to consolidate a regular line-up of the Undead has no doubt contributed to the cool reception Steele received throughout the band’s existence. Mind you, some rather luminous names have passed through the Undead too, including Jack Natz of Blacksnakes and Cop Shoot Cop fame, and ex- Samhain man Steve Zing, together with Inger Lorre of the Nymphs and Steve Sloppy of Sloppy Seconds. Plus various members of the Lunachicks, Cycle Sluts From Hell, US Chaos and the Chosen Few have also cut their teeth with the band, yet split when the going got a little tough. Despite good sales of the Undead’s first three self-released 45’s, Steele could not manage to shop a deal for a debut LP. Fed up with the negative responses, he set up his own label, Post Mortem records and released the Undead’s debut LP himself, 1989’s ‘Act Your Rage’ – which ironically sold 14’000 copies, making the Undead the largest selling unsigned band in music business history. The Undead toured heavily to promote the album, with the Fiendz becoming Steele’s backing band. A live album was released in 1991 called ‘Live Slayer’ (a pun on Slayer’s ‘Live Undead’ LP) which magnificently captures the band in all their bone crushing glory, and shows Steele in devastating form. Ironically though it hit the stores on the same day as Slayer’s ‘Decade of Aggression’ and was mistakenly placed in the Slayer bins ! Despite the album shifting 50’000 copies, Steele has yet to receive much by way of royalties. 1991’s ‘Dawn Of The Undead’ saw the momentum continued. This CD was released locally on Melbourne’s Shagpile Records (an offshoot of Shock records), yet to a largely unaware Australian record buying public. However the Undead did garner airplay on Melbourne’s 3RRR, the station initialising a campaign throughout record stores for the Undead to tour Australia. (If you want to add your name to the campaign, e-mail Tim Watson at Killbaby@hotmail.com, or contact the station direct). Further singles have been released in the 90’s and are well worth chasing down, as the Undead continued to tour the States and Europe. Yet only now is the real horror show beginning. The Undead have just released their best effort to date called ‘Til Death’ (see review in Fresh Grooves), and it is a fucking monster ! Steele has again delivered the musical goods in a way few others can. Why ? He knows the fine art of not only being able to create a killer punk tune, but is also well versed in the art of the radio friendly, hooky three-minute pop song as well. The quality of heavy pop songs represented by his other band Times Square, a NYC outfit formed by female world boxing champion Jill Matthews, is testament to this. In finishing, I serve notice that when the Misfits toured earlier this year I was not in attendance. No Steele, no Danzig, no Misfits. Like Status Quo, they have become a parody of what they once were. C’mon, Dave Vanian was being strongly hyped by Jerry Only as the man to front the re-united Misfits back in 96 ! Or would it have been the Damned Fits ? Dear me. Spinal Tap anyone ? I asked Steele what the rest of 1998 holds in store for him. “We just started work on a new Times Square album, and I’m doing a lot of touring with the Undead. Also I’m handling some of the distribution, most of the US radio promotion, and I also book the tours – with some help from Evil Presley of the Independents, who double as my backing band.” When asked if a tour downunder was on the cards, Steele said, “I wanna play Australia. I know about the petition drive in co-operation with 3RRR radio to get us down there. I’ve bugged Shock, but they don’t seem to think that bringing a punk legend to Australia will be beneficial. I don’t get it. If there’s any booking agents reading this, get in touch with me at Undead@juno.com. Winters coming in the Northern Hemisphere and I’d much rather be in the sun !” I guess it’s true that in a fair and just world, the Undead should have been the rightful successor to Alice Cooper’s throne, not some cardboard cut out like Marilyn Manson. To see Bobby Steele burst out of a coffin on stage is rock n roll personified to me. Just the right amount of shock and a heady combination of horror imagery and punk as fuck rock n roll. The Undead’s music is a hybrid of all the various styles of rock n roll & pop that originally inspired Bobby to get involved in performing. Combined with a punk rock attitude and aggression that makes up Steele’s personality, and possesses an energy that invokes reaction. I asked Bobby what the Undead meant to him. “Immortality. Never say die. Defying the odds – and surviving. I’ve cheated death more times than you’d want to know. I looked it in the face – and spit in its eye”. Indeed, the Undead cannot be killed. After twenty years, Bobby Steele’s musical integrity remains intact, like the man himself – true as steel.
Note: Article originally appeared in Vicious Kitten Fanzine – 1998