Having lead a garage/psych/punk revival since the time of Ronald Reagan’s election, NY/LA expat and career Fuzztone Rudi Protrudi has played with everyone from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The New York Dolls to The Cult and The Damned. In fact, Protrudi’s something of a legend himself. Rudi will play at Bassy on June 6.
It’s been almost 30 years of rock’n’roll: what was the best time?
There were a couple. When the band first toured Europe, was a very major time for us because we brought over a form of music – known now as garage punk – which people were totally unfamiliar with. During that tour we had to open for The Damned, who brought in a very strong punk audience: they were throwing beer bottles and lit cigarettes at us every night. But we stuck it out for three months and by the end of the tour we won them over. And we got a very loyal following that continues to this day. Maybe the other biggest time was the 1990s, when the L.A. version of the Fuzztones got signed to the world’s biggest label, RCA, at a time when bands that were associated with garage rock were finding it hard to even get an indie record put out.
You were one of the only garage revival bands to get signed to a major label. Did this bring new attention to the 1960s bands?
We helped the old and the new bands. Garage punk was a really short-lived phenomenon: it lasted from 1966 to 1967. The Fuzztones brought it back to public consciousness in the 1980s and kept it there for 29 years, inspiring thousands of other bands. Even better – its popularity has inspired many of the original bands like The Sonics, The Electric Prunes, The Chocolate Watchband or Question Mark and the Mysterians to reform. So I’ve gotten to see them live and to meet them and make friends with them!
Why did the original garage era only last a year?
Garage wasn’t taken very seriously at the time because most of it was based on a three chord structure and played by musicians who weren’t really virtuosos. In the 1960s, it wasn’t called “garage music”, it was pop more than anything else. Many bands made it to the top 10: The Standells with “Dirty Water”, The Seeds with “Pushing Too Hard”, the Blues Magoos with “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”. Then, in 1967, drugs started to take hold of music and musicians became more introspective, more proficient – Jimi Hendrix came along and everybody was bowled over by his musicianship. They started to look at bands like Question Mark and the Mysterians as an amateur band, a joke. And the music was forgotten.
Garage lasted maybe another year, but they changed its name to “bubblegum” and started to play it for 13-year-old girls. You had bands like the 1910 Fruitgum Company singing “Yummy yummy yummy/I got love in my tummy” or Tommy Roe singing “Oh Sweet Pea”, which is actually the first song about golden showers but parents ironically would see that as very inoffensive. Garage music was more explicit, so they were glad to get rid of that.
You’ve pushed on while more celebrated bands have fallen by the wayside.
Maybe some other bands don’t enjoy playing together anymore. The Ramones were a great example of that – through the last years of their career they traveled separately because they all hated each other! We like each other and when we’re on tour we have a blast, and I think you can see it on stage.
There are a lot of garage music clubs in Berlin now.
I think it’s recent. We used to play Berlin in the 1980s and I never liked it. It was very dark, very heroin-infested and very jaded. But since the Wall came down, there is a very strong hunger for rock’n’roll in this town – living in Berlin was a big inspiration for our new album.
Post-White Stripes, garage is becoming hip again.
It’s become a formula. The Fuzztones never set out just to imitate a 1960s band. We used that music as a template to create our own style. Now bands copy this garage formula, taking the most shallow aspect of it. Nowadays so many bands are willing to play for practically nothing and I think that’s the reason why they get a lot of gigs. It doesn’t seem like club owners care at all if they’re providing good or bad entertainment.
They don’t even advertise shows anymore; they can’t be bothered. Do they believe we’re gonna go out and flyer the city after 29 years of this bullshit? No! And so they say the Fuzztones don’t draw, let’s get Joe Blow and the Schmoes ’cause they don’t draw either! But the difference is, if you advertise Joe Blow and the Schmoes they won’t. Advertise us and we’ll pack your house!
Of all the musicians you collaborated with, who was the most fun?
My favorite was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Not only was he fantastic, but it gave us a chance to tackle something different, musically. At that time, Jay was playing real dumps. We arranged to have him do a guest appearance with us at a gig in NYC, but he never came to rehearsal! We learned the songs anyhow, and when the night of the show came, he was nowhere to be found! We ended up going onstage and doing our set.
Towards the end of it, I look over and there’s Jay, in the wings, dressed in a long cape, with a bone in his nose, and Henry, his human skull, on a stick. I introduced him, he came on and we did the two songs – like clockwork. Afterwards, as we walked off the stage, he announced that we “hadn’t even started yet” and proceeded to start playing another song. We jumped back onstage and did a few more – totally improvised. The whole thing was later released as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the Fuzztones – Live.
Originally published March 2009