Friday, May 23, 2008

Down the Tracks; The Legendary Fleshtones

Some Legends are in your face, like the E-Street Band, some Legends lay waiting in the shadows waiting for us to stumble upon them. The Fleshtones are Living Legends, lurking in those shadow, secretly giving the worlds greatest R&R show, waiting to pull you in to never let you go. Once you stumble upon the Fleshtones, once they enchant you with the magic of R&R, you’ll never be free of their spell. Twelve years after their last show in Amsterdam, the Fleshtones were suddenly back in a funky little place called Akhnaton. A club that carries about 200 patrons, where you’ll still see the stage through a thick soup of cigarette smoke and that gets hot and sweaty as the evening rolls on. Not unlike CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City where the Fleshtones started out 33 years ago I imagine. Through a rough and raggedy show, filled with squealing Farfisa organs, high strung guitar riffing and a thunderous rhythm section, the Fleshtones proved their legend once over. Their hex breaking R&R casting yet another spell on a largely unsuspecting audience and some die hard fans.

The Akhnaton barely had something that you could call a backstage area, so I grabbed my chance, determined to have an audience with the Legends. Going through their road manager and drummer, I weaseled my way to the dressing room, standing eye to eye with that Roman Gods, Peter Zaremba. He would love to do an interview, but first there were fans to meet, brain cells that had to be washed away, feet that needed shuffling on the R&B beats downstairs. Zaremba took some chasing before I finally had him sitting down on the couch. During our chase we stumbled into ax grinder extraordinary, Keith Streng! He was too caught up in the evening to really sit down and talk to us, but did disclose that he was working on his Master Plan, ever chasing the magic of R&R . If we are to take his word for it, the Fleshtones are about to go reach that final frontier, recording a Christmas album that is bound to cement their status of true American icons.

A few to many Heinekens later, we’re sitting down with Peter Zaremba. The Fleshtones just finished 11 shows in a row, a new record in the history of the band. The Giant of R&R slopes down into the couch, tired but strung out on R&R ecstasy. “We’re very lucky” he admits, “a certain amount of people, though not many, say we’re the best band of the world”, allowing the Fleshtones to roll on. There was a time though that the Fleshtones seemed to be destined for greater thing than the Akhnaton, coming up in the New York Punk scene, they got rave reviews from the obscure fanzines to the NY Times. The consensus was that these guys were the hottest act in town. Yet they never achieved the same status as the Ramones. “They were just so quintessential” Peter reflects today “We tried to form a band for years. The Ramones showed us to stop doubting ourselves. It hit us, they were incredible. Within months [after seeing the Ramones] we had a band”. The mid seventies found R&R in a rut. The Fleshtones were determined to save R&R from itself, turning out to be one of the few bands to incorporate disco into their sound. Smiling, with a slight sense of pride Peter remembers “All those people saying Disco sucks, just weren’t listening, there were all those hippies, playing ‘Rock music’ with solos 20 minutes long, where you’d smoke pot and fall asleep”. The Fleshtones weren’t going to be about that, still firmly believing in the concept Peter explains that he wanted music “that made me just want to get in my car, drive fast, meet girls, get drunk and go crazy “ He makes no excuses for incorporating Disco, why should he? The energy of the evening proves him right when he claims “Whatever turns you on, makes you want to dance, whatever’s got Soul, is kind of ridiculous, you take that”.

Of course the Fleshtones were much more than Disco, few bands managed to capture the spirit of R&R like they do, few bands manage to keep going as long as they do. Today they are the only band from that CBGB’s scene still around, still rocking with a fervor that would make a lot of the young guns go green with envy. The band still enjoys being on the road, it seems to be their fountain of youth. People scuffle in and out of the dressing room, Keith Streng has found a few tasty looking girls, playing around like a young man in his twenties. Maybe the Fleshtones captured the spirit of R&R so well because they never gave up on the life style, never compromised on the music. Even today, the Fleshtones sound like they escaped from the legendary Nuggets LP, dodging the bullets of trends and hip new styles, staying true to their school. Finding their sound wasn’t easy though. After years of “Fucking around” in the studio, “The Fleshtones vs Reality” was the first record that captured some of the spirit they’ve got going on stage. Peter realizes now, “You’ll have to be more direct”. For that album, and the records since, “we stripped away many of the insane things we were trying to do”. It took years to find out that records are a lucky shot, referring to the classic Rhythm and Blues sounds coming from downstairs Peter exclaims, “That’s how these great records happened!”

It wasn’t until quite a few years in their careers that the Fleshtones managed to capture that sound. Maybe that’s why their career stalled even though they were getting all this praise in the mid seventies. Though it could be that the Fleshtones have always simply been to singular to fit into any trend or radio format. Looking back on it now, Peter seems to feel no regret about where the Fleshtones ended up in this stage of their career. He’s very proud of the band and flattered by the legendary status the fans ascribe to them. “We always admired the delusional people [in R&R] history. Peter is proud to claim his place amongst them. And lets be honest, how many R&R bands are out there that had kingdoms established in their name. Unlikely as it may seem, when traveling Spain, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon the nation of Fleshtonia, complete with its own flag and rule of the land. All though it has never been recognized by most of the international community, the Fleshtones made their mark on history.

Take a Good Look is available on Yep Roc records now!

Listen to "Love Yourself"

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