Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Interview: Craig Bell (Grandmaster of Punk)

Craig Bell has been playing in punk bands since the early 1970s in Cleveland including the seminal groups Rocket From The Tombs, X_____X, and Mirrors. 
In 2003 Rocket From The Tombs reformed and have released 3 albums which has spawned a renewed interest in Bell's other work and prompting reissues of albums by X_____X,  Saucers, and others. Bell also releases music under his own name and is currently on a US tour. 

37- After nearly 45 years in the Cleveland music scene, what do you account for the renewed interest in your early punk/rock bands, Mirrors (1973-1975), Rocket From The Tombs (1974-1975), and  X_____X (1978)?

CB-I think we should give a lot of credit to that to the younger kids who have come along since the advent of the internet music explosion. They have dug deep into the early days of the Punk scene, and earlier, to find bands like us and they are very enthusiastic in their appreciation. We also must give a nod to the older generation that we came up with who kept our bands music alive by trading tapes and writing about our efforts back in the early 1970s.

37-  What was the climate like in Cleveland in the early 1970s that made it possible for so many seminal punk to be born there?

CB- Cleveland was an important stop on any up and coming bands itinerary in the 60s and early 70s and because of some great AM stations in the city and the region we were exposed to quite a bit of music other parts of the country didn't get informed about until a lot later, if at all. The Velvet Underground played in Cleveland multiple times between 1966 and 68. Their influence was tremendous in the local underground scene of the early 70s as a result. These factors certainly contributed to a lot of like-minded musicians looking for somewhere to take all that.

37- After the break up of Rocket From The Tombs, several of the musicians left Cleveland to start other bands, Cheetah Chrome moved to New York to perform as The Dead Boys and you started Saucers in New Haven CT. what do you believe was the necessity to move away from Ohio to keep the momentum alive?

CB- After the break up of RFTT, I decided that I should try and get something of my own together. I was offered the opportunity of joining both Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys (they were calling themselves Frankenstein at the time) but I declined both because I thought it was time to see what I could do with the ideas I had. I was offered a job in New Haven so I moved there in 1976 and after getting acclimated to the area, started looking around for other players into what I was doing. It didn't take too long until I met Mark Mulcahy, and Malcolm Marsden and a seventeen year old keyboardist, who to this day on this tour, claims he is a synthesizer player! That would be Malcolm Doak.

37- During the lifespan of Saucers, only one song was released, Muckraker, on the   compilation “It Happened But Nobody Noticed” in 1982. Which happens to be a fitting title, as since then much of your early work has been re-released, or released for the first time, including recordings by Rocket From The Tombs, The Saucers, and X_____X. What do you think took so long for the general public to notice and appreciate these early purveyors of experimental punk? 

CB- we also released two singles in the lifetime of Saucers, What We Do/I Didn't Get It/Muckraker (1979) and A Certain Kind of Shy/She's Alright (1980) besides that cut on the compilation LP. I think the other part of this question reverts back to the first question.  A lot of young fans are discovering us as they search deeper to find the roots of this style of music.

37- Now that the world has caught up with your impressive catalog of work over a near half century, what can we expect next from you and your band?

CB- In the past 7 years I have released music with my previous band The Down-fi, the CD America Now (2009) and Beehunter (2012) as well as a couple of 45s. I have played on the recent EP by The Gizmos, 2015s 21st Century Gizmos Fans on Gulcher Records as well as the X_____X release  Albert Ayler's Ghosts - Live From The Yellow Ghetto (2014).  Rocket From The Tombs has released three albums since our retrospective album came out in 2002, Redux (2003) Barfly (2011) and Black Record (2015). X_____X is currently recording tracks for a new album and RFTT have plans to do the same this year.  I have been talking with a few people about a new album of my songs and I plan to start recording this summer.

Craig Bell will be playing in the Dead Forest Room at Zanzabar on Wednesday, April 26th.  Columbus, OH's DANA and Louisville's Jaxson Lee Swain will open. Ticket Information here

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