Former infamous Misfit finds his niche with The Undead
by Marc Savlov
It's been 18 years since NYC punk rock guitarist-cum-scene fixture Bobby Steele was forcibly ejected from a then-relatively unknown band of horrorcore ne'erdowells called the Misfits.
Almost two decades later, you'd be hard-pressed to go to a single punk show in the country, much less enter a high school, without spotting at least one of the Misfits ubiquitous "Crimson Ghost"-logo'd T-shirts. Arguably the most famous of all the early-'80s hardcore groups, the Lodi, N.J.-based 'fitsled by horror film aficionado and walking anabolic steroid Glenn Danzigare more popular now than they ever were. And, although the group broke up in 1983, a new version, sans Danzig, is currently making the rounds.
Suffice to say, Steele has seen little benefit from the resurgent popularity of his former band. He's punk rock's Pete Best, but unlike that tragic Beatle, Steele has gone on to form another groupThe Undeadand continues to tour and crank out more and more reckless NYC punk as only he can. At the Neptune show this weekend, he'll be backed by Knoxville's own ghoul rockers the Malignmen.
I spoke to Steele on the phone from his home in New York, and bugged him until he told me to bugger off and go play in traffic. (Actually that last bit's a fib. Steele, despite his raucous punk rock upbringing, is a helluva nice guy. Really. I'm not kidding.)
Pulse: How'd you hook up with the Malignmen?
Bobby Steele: I actually hooked up with the guitar player on the Internet. There's a thing on there called the Misfits Bible, and he had approached me as a fan, sent me a tape of his band, and we've just kept in touch over the past two years.
Pulse: So you're not bringing The Undead along this time.
Steele: Right. The band I've got together right now just couldn't make it and so I sent [the Malignmen] an email asking if they'd be interested in backing me up and now I'm on my way down to Knoxville.
Pulse: Are you going to be mostly covering Misfits' songs, The Undead, or both? Or neither?
Steele: We'll do mainly Undead stuff. Of course, I have to do some Misfits shit. I'd started doing the Misfits songs again around 1985, I guess. I began to realize that the people coming to my shows expect to see it, and since nobody else was really performing the songs anymore, I might as well give it to 'em. So we'll be doing about four or five Misfits songs, and then the rest of the set is split between old Undead and new Undead.
Pulse: What Misfits songs do you exhume?
Steele: It varies. Over the years I've done "London Dungeon," "Attitude," "Bullet..."
Pulse: The classics.
Steele: Right. The real Misfits' stuff.
Pulse: What do you think of the new, regrouped 'fits?
Steele: I don't really consider them the Misfits, you know? Glenn Danzig's not writing the songs, so it doesn't really have that...touch.
Pulse: Speaking of "London Dungeon," didn't you co-write that in a jail cell somewhere? That's gotta be one of the all-time punk classicswhat's the story behind that one?
Steele: The song was my idea, but Glenn wrote it. I came up with the idea of writing a song about our experience in jail in London.
Pulse: What did you do, piss off the Queen?
Steele: Well, this was in December of '79, okay? Glenn and I were hanging out in a pub across from the Rainbow Theater and we were both getting really drunk, but Glenn was also getting really paranoid about these skinheads sitting over in the corner. He figured they were up to no good, so when I went off to buy some chips, he smashed the pub's window and tried to grab a piece of busted glass to defend himself against the very non-threatening skinheads. He was carted off to jail, and eventually so was I, although it took me spitting on a cop to get there. So there we were sitting in this jail in London, and I said, "Glenn, we should write a song about this," and the next thing you know we're slapping out the beat on our thighs, Glenn's mouthing the bass riff. The whole jail cell was perfectly square, huge, hard walls, and with a perfect echo. And that's essentially how the song came about.
Pulse: It's been 18 years since you exited the Misfits, but your membership in that band is still how most people know you. Does that ever grate on you? Don't you ever want to deck the 'fits fans that refuse to see beyond that?
Steele: I get that a lot from fans, you know? They ask a lot of questions, but we've got that website up there [www.misfits. plan-9.com/bible.html]. The ones that annoy me are the ones that ask "what songs did you play on?" I mean, hey, it's up there on the web site. Some people will come up and want me to write out the lyrics and the tabs to songs because they're too lazy to look it up on the web. I mean, c'mon!
Pulse: So what's up with The Undead?
Steele: We've got a new album that came out in July, it's called 'Til Death. I spent a good two, two-and-a-half years working on new songs.
Pulse: I haven't heard it yetclassic Undead?
Steele: Right. I think the songwriting is better and the production, too. This time I wasn't watching the clock or counting the dollars, so I got to spend more time on the actually music. I'm a big fan of that Phil Spector wall-of-sound production and shit like that, and I think it really comes through on this.
Pulse: One last thing: what's Bobby Steele doing for Halloween?
Steele: We might have a show, might not. At this point I'll probably just be hanging out in New York City, looking for a party to go to. The Chiller Theater convention is going to be going on, so I might go to that.
Pulse: Is [TV horror host] Zacherle going to be there?
Steele: Oh, man. If Zacherle's still alive, he'll be there. He's a fixture. The only thing that could keep him out of there is if he dies.
Pulse: Probably not even that.
Steele: [laughing] Right. They may just drag his bones up there if that's the case.