You're Gonna Die
Love Me Too
I'm Your Slave
Girl From The City
You've Never Had It Like This Before
Can't Get Enough
Movin' On Down The Line
(Editor’s note: I was very hesitant about leading off with this article, since in all honesty it is rather incomplete. Unfortunately Mike and Joe were unable to provide photos or rare audio and there were murky periods in the band's lifespan that no one can account for. Eventually both fell off my radar.)
IF YOU DON’T MIND, LET’S START FROM THE BEGINNING. HOW, WHERE AND WHEN DID BUTCH COME INTO EXISTENCE?
Mike: Butch was actually a product of Joe Goodman, myself and another guy by the name of John Chapman. We grew up together in Utica, NY and were childhood friends. We were pretty young then. We were all huge Beatles fanatics and we played Beatles songs together a lot. This was roughly late 1964 and I believe we were called The Ravens.
Joe: We worked out all the intricate harmonies and practiced for hours. I’d usually sing McCartney’s part and John and Mike would work out the other parts. I remember I was 14 when I wrote my first song, heavily influenced, of course, by The Beatles. It was called, “Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me”. I was also impressed by the vocal harmonies of the Everly Brothers, not to mention Elvis’ gritty rhythm and blues numbers.
Mike: A year or so later, we appeared on a Utica TV show called “Twist-A-Rama”. We were actually pretty popular on the show and the reason was because Joe told the audience his name was Paul (it really is his middle name) Austen and that he was from Liverpool, England. He even spoke with a bona fide English accent! (laughs)
Joe: The hype worked like a charm. I became somewhat of a local celebrity with girls running and screaming after me at our gigs. I received fan mail from female admirers and the rest of the band all thought, “Now this is something we’d all love to do!” A real phenomenon of the times, perhaps, or just getting the right PR to get recognition but it did the trick!
Mike: The show was quite an anomaly, in that it lasted for so long. We still have acquaintances today from our time on that show.
Joe: I recall meeting Sam the Sham when he and his Pharoahs arrived for a guest appearance. Sam had a great voice for rock and roll and a good sense of showmanship. “Wooly Bully” is also one of the greatest rock and roll songs from the period.
WHO WERE THE BAND MEMBERS AT THIS TIME?
Mike: Joe Goodman (guitar, vocals), myself (guitar, vocals), John Chapman (bass) and countless drummers. We really could never find a drummer who would stick around.
Joe: We played with many temps or session drummers over the years.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE NAME BUTCH?
Joe: I really can’t remember.
Mike: To tell you the truth, I can’t remember how we came up with that name, either. The only thing I can come up with is that my brother’s nickname was Butch, so I imagine that’s where we got it. (laughs)
WHAT WERE THE BAND’S INFLUENCES?
Mike: Well, besides the Beatles, we were influenced by a lot of other British invasion bands, especially the Rolling Stones. We liked Deep Purple too.
Joe: I was impressed by Ritchie Blackmore’s expertise on the guitar and studied the techniques of many talented guitarists from that period, like Ronnie Montrose, Eric Clapton, Mark Farner, Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer. I was intrigued by Frank Zappa’s unique style of atonal and experimental music, utilizing unusual instruments and harmonies. James Brown was also an influence, especially his early rhythm and blues material. I certainly agree with Mike that the British Invasion bands probably had the most profound influence on us. There were so many of them at the time, first and foremost among them being The Beatles, and of course, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks, Them, The Zombies, The Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers and lesser known artists like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and Billy Fury.
ONCE YOU WERE REHEARSED FOR THE STAGE, WHERE DID YOU TYPICALLY PLAY?
Mike: Around 1972, we got a house band gig at a bar in Rome, NY playing every weekend. It was a real tough biker bar and that’s really where we started developing a theatrical stage show. That job lasted three years.
Joe: It was one of the toughest crowds outside of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. The place was so wild they used to actually ride in there on their hogs revving their engines and there was always at least one fight a night. The last I heard, the bartender was still wanted for a triple homicide. We billed our show as the ‘Carnival Freak Show’ or ‘Cavalcade of Freaks’. I can’t remember which now. We figured if we could play to that audience and survive, we could play anywhere. At that time the performers included ‘Jeningo The Clown’, a guy who wore a pointed hat and told stale off-color jokes to the audience. This was long before Matt Greoning ever thought of Krusty! We also had a fire-eater who dressed up in what he thought was a red devil outfit, but who looked more like a demented Santa Claus.
I recall two memorable incidents when he accidentally set himself on fire and ran out of the club in flames. On another occasion, he threw a flaming guitar right through the nightclub window, shattering glass with billows of gray and noxious fumes gagging everyone in the club. The guitar was so hot he couldn’t hold on to it and sent it sailing through the air and crashing through the window. You can’t make stuff like this up! When the owner approached us we thought for sure that we were finished there. Instead, he enthusiastically said, “Hey, that was great! Can you do it again tomorrow night?”. We also had a glass-eater who called himself ‘Snapper’ who usually ended his performance with his mouth gushing blood.
Mike: It was really kind of unusual for an area band to be doing stuff like that at the time. But playing at one club every weekend for 3yrs really did consume a lot of our time, so there weren’t many other places we played during our time in NY.
WHAT PROMPTED THE BAND’S RELOCATION TO CALIFORNIA?
Mike: Well, Joe left for California for about a year and when he came back to NY, he told us there was an opportunity to record an album and book gigs out west. So, I quit my job and off we went. John decided to stay behind, so Joe brought another area bassist, Angelo Alati, into the band and we all moved out to California.
(Editor’s note: Utica native, Angelo Alati, was a 20yr old hairdresser with an outrageous sense of punk style and attitude.)
PLEASE TELL US WHERE YOU RECORDED THE LP AND WHAT YOU RECALL ABOUT YOUR SESSIONS THERE?
Mike: We picked up a local session drummer, Steve Taylor, and started recording the album at Goldmine Studios in Ventura, CA. The guys who owned and operated the studio were just starting out, so we were all kind of helping each other out during the sessions. I’m pretty sure we recorded the album on an eight-track and we recorded our sessions at night, though I’m not really sure why. We recorded the whole album in maybe a week. During the recording of the album we weren’t satisfied with Angelo’s playing, so I ended up playing bass on a few of the tracks. Angelo was out before the recording was finished and we credited him as ‘Otto Ogre’ on the album. (laughs)
Joe: I recall that we were pressed for time and finished the vocal tracks in one night, between 1am and 5am. We had enough material for three albums, actually, so we just picked at random what would go on the record.
WHAT INSPIRED THE TITLE, “THE BITCH OF ROCK & ROLL”?
Mike: That came from Angelo. I never really understood it, but it sounded theatrical so we just decided to go with it.
Joe: Angelo said something about The Rolling Stones being his inspiration for the title.
SUNNDIAL RECORDS WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR RELEASING THE LP. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SUNNDIAL RECORDS AND HOW DID BUTCH BECOME ASSOCIATED WITH THEM?
Mike: Steve had connections with the guy that owned Sunndial and they were based out of Lancaster, CA. They were a small independent company and only had maybe three or four releases under their belts before they went under.
HOW MANY COPIES WERE PRESSED?
Mike: I believe there were 5,000 copies pressed. We sold quite a few of them while we were out in California.
THE SONGS WERE PENNED EXCLUSIVELY BY EITHER YOU OR JOE GOODMAN. WERE VOCAL DUTIES HANDLED SIMILARLY?
Mike: Yes. Joe and I both sang lead on the album. We even sang each other’s songs, so we weren’t singing our own songs exclusively. Whoever was best suited to sing a song did the job. I handled the majority of the lead vocals on the album, but Joe did sing “You’ve Never Had It Like This Before” and “Love Me Too”. We both took turns on “I’m Your Slave”.
I UNDERSTAND THAT A LINEUP CHANGE TOOK PLACE SHORTLY AFTER THE ALBUM WAS COMPLETED. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT PRECIPITATED THIS?
Mike: Steve had some problems with the law, you know, fighting in bars and things like that, so it became very uncomfortable for us New Yorkers all the way out in California. Once the album was finished, we let him go.
Joe: We played with a number of other session drummers the rest of the time we were in California.
I PRESUME BUTCH PLAYED IN SUPPORT OF THE ALBUM. WHAT VENUES DID YOU FREQUENT and WHAT WAS THE SCENE LIKE AT THAT TIME?
Mike: Yea, we played the area and played a lot in Los Angeles. Places like The Whisky and The Starwood. For the most part we weren’t playing top billing at those venues, but we supported acts like Ray Manzarek and Van Halen.
WERE YOU FRIENDLY WITH ANY OTHER ACTS IN THE AREA?
Mike: Well, you know we were acquainted with a lot of them but never really struck up friendships with any band. It was totally cutthroat out there. At the time, punk was just beginning to break and L.A. was mostly just a lot of hard rock bands then. We sort of fell into the punk scene, even though I never really felt we belonged. So there was a lot of animosity towards punk bands at the time.
Joe: The fact is we didn’t really have much in common with the punk bands and their rage against society. I spent an entire night with Darby Crash and some friends a week before he committed suicide, but I could never get with their pre-goth futility of life philosophy. Some of the stuff they produced was interesting and original, but I was more fascinated by the resurgence of Rockabilly. I did like Madness, though, and a couple of other ska bands.
DID YOU RECEIVE RADIO SUPPORT OR HAVE ANY PROMOTION BEHIND THE RECORD?
Mike: We received quite a bit of radio support in the area and all the way south to Los Angeles. Sunndial had some promotion people working the album and we did quite a few radio interviews to promote it.
WERE THERE ANY OTHER RECORDINGS MADE BY BUTCH DURING ITS LIFESPAN?
Mike: No, not really. Nothing that was recorded in a studio anyway.
Joe: We had the material but it just didn’t pan out. I still have three notebooks full of original songs, or bits and pieces of them.
WHAT BROUGHT ON THE DEMISE OF THE BAND?
Mike: We left California after about a year and went back to New York around the end of 1977. We were doing well out west, but not well enough to take us to the next level. So we went home. We played a few community college gigs in preparation for a showcase we were doing at CBGB’s. Joe never showed up for the gig and Butch basically split then. I still don’t know, to this day, why Joe never showed up but he ended up going back to California and I never saw him again.
Joe: I really don’t remember why either.
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT EACH OF YOU DID, MUSICALLY OR OTHERWISE, AFTER THE BREAKUP OF BUTCH?
Mike: I continued playing in area bands until last year. Now I’m playing the area solo with just an acoustic guitar. I also was a corrections officer for NY state and was the treasurer for the corrections officers union here in NY until I retired. John Chapman ended up working for a company who produces advertising and promotional spots for national bands. They’re one of the biggest in the country.
Joe: After Butch split, Angelo and I worked together in a number of bands, most notably a band that included ex-Captain Beefheart and future Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer, Cliff Martinez. Around that time we were appearing on the cult TV show, New Wave Theater. Cliff and I collaborated on a few songs when he was working with us. I think they were “Tractor Trailer Tragedy”, “Human Bacteria”, “Dunce”, “Ricky Ricardo”, “Split Personality” and a depressing little dirge entitled “Suicide Sally”. I remember one tune we actually covered was the old instrumental by The Tornados, “Telstar”. We jammed it out ‘a presto’ and I added a smoking lead where I relied on the whammy bar for maximum effect. “Tractor Trailer Tragedy” made it onto a compilation album. Try finding it today! I remember we had to bring in a new female singer at the last minute because our primary singer was indisposed.
I should also say something about Angelo. Angelo was heavily into the theatrical aspects of performing and was studying books and techniques relative to stage makeup and so on, and that was his real area of expertise, but there’s no denying his commitment to music. He loved music with a passion. He was also a good friend and I was very saddened by the news of his death. The last project we worked on together was called The Teddy Boys. I had written new material for the project, but shortly after our first few rehearsals, Angelo became ill and I never heard from him after that.
After the breakup of Butch, Mike and I both continued to independently perform a song we had written together called “Ward 8”. It’s one of my favorite tunes from the period but I never got around to recording it in a studio. However, we did perform it live and I remember someone telling me that Ray Manzarek of the Doors was in the audience and was duly impressed with it. I think Mike has a version of his own that he recorded back east.
(Editor’s note: Angelo Alati returned to Utica in the mid-80’s after testing HIV positive. He continued to perform with area bands until the mid-90’s, when he sadly succumbed to the AIDS virus).
MIKE, WHAT ARE YOUR RECOLLECTIONS OF YOUR MUSICAL PARTNER, JOE?
Mike: Joe was an exceptionally talented guy. He was able to learn guitar without any formal training and he was pretty darn good at it. He played a right-handed guitar left-handed, so it was upside down. He was a genius. Even as far back as our teenage years. I mean, the guy got on a TV show posing as a kid from England and wound up with every girl in town showing up at his house. (laughs) He was a showman and really the driving force behind the band. There’s no question about that. It was basically his brainchild and I just went along for the ride. (laughs)
AND JOE, YOUR RECOLLECTIONS OF MIKE?
Joe: Mike underestimated his own talent and indisputable creative ability. He was and probably still is, one of the finest vocalists and lyricists I’ve ever worked with and he is also a gifted songwriter in his own right. I always regretted not being able to record one of his compositions entitled “Winds of Time”. It was an exceptionally well-written song and my modest contribution was filling in the bridge. But even more than that, he and John are and remain my lifelong friends and it doesn’t get any better than that.
ALL THESE YEARS LATER, BUTCH HAVE BEEN MENTIONED IN A NUMBER OF COLLECTORS PUBLICATIONS AND THE ALBUM HAS RECEIVED SOME PRAISE BY OBSCURITY AFICIONADOS. ARE YOU SURPRISED AND WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THIS?
Mike: Yes, it’s very cool. Very surprising. My question is, where were those people 35 yrs ago? (laughs) But no, I do really appreciate it and talking about it has brought back some great memories from a long time ago.
Joe: Actually, I’m still flabbergasted by it. Whether 35 years ago or today, it really doesn’t matter to me. When music is in your blood, it stays with you until the day you die. What matters to me is that we lived the life and pursued our dream, and now people have responded in a very positive way to our music. If Angelo were alive today, he would be more pleased than anyone.
Special thanks to: Mike Surprenant, Joe Goodman, Austin Centolella and Jack Tobin