Seldom have I felt this much anticipation. Today I will interview Casino Steel, the Godfather of Punk. Cas, the living legend who contributed to so many records that mean so much to me. The artist/songwriter with bands like Andrew Matheson & The Hollywood Brats, London SS, The Boys, Holton & Steel, Claudia, Big Hand, Casino, to name but a few. Cas, the man who actually turned down the offer to become a permanent member of the Ramones. “Casino Ramone” – put that in your pipe and smoke it! Casino Steel is more active than ever. We have just seen the pan-European release of the album “There Is A Tear in My Beer” on the Wild Kingdom label distributed by Sound Pollution. This is an album mixing Cas’s original songs with covers of country songs that are especially close to his heart. Not only that, but Cas and his old brother-in-arms Honest John Plain have just finished mixing a brand new album recorded in Annecy in northern France. The name of the band is “The Last Rock’n’Roll Band”.
(Interview by Jalle Jardland, Translation by Mats Sjöblom)
Cas, I would like to open with a question about how you and Andrew Matheson met in 1971, and how you came to start “The Queen”.
Cas: We met through advertisements in Melody Maker. We were both inspired by The Stones and wanted to start a band “to annoy and disturb”! We thought everything was too polite and uninteresting.
Can you tell us what happened on that night at the Marquee when you decided to change your name to The Hollywood Brats?
Cas: We had gigs at the Café des Artistes, The Marquee, The Speakeasy and Samanthas as “The Queen”. Then Freddy Mercury and Queen had a “hit”. He turned up at the Marquee with demands that we change our name. I told Freddy to go to hell, then Andrew threw him out of the dressingroom. We had already thought of changing our name to The Hollywood Brats, which we thought was a much better name, so there wasn’t a problem anyway.
The classic “Grown Up Wrong” was recorded in 1972-73. Why wasn’t it released until 1975, and why only in Scandinavia? What happened?
Cas: Nobody liked The Hollywood Brats. Genesis and Yes were popular then. Still, Mercury Records in Norway liked the record and we released it as “Andrew Matheson & The Brats” to avoid contract troubles with NEMS. The disc sold 563 copies. Today, a mint condition copy fetches £4000 according to Record Collector.
Sick on You has been the object of academic studies in Canada. Can you tell us about that?
Cas: The University of Toronto describes “Sick on You” in “The History of Popular Music” as the first ever intelligent punk rock song.
Hollywood Brats are often compared to the New York Dolls. How do you feel about that? Clothes, musical style?
Cas: We were very much alike, but we had never heard of The Dolls before they came to London. They had the same manager as us in London, Laurie O’Leary. We thought they were terrible the first time we saw them. We didn’t like any bands those days.
Do you know what the New York Dolls thought of the Hollywood Brats?
Cas: They thought we were fantastic!!
Why did you call it a day?
Cas: Nobody wanted us! We went to Montreal to try to get into the USA that way, but they hated us there as well!
You and Andrew have continued to cooperate and write songs through the years. Which song do you think is your best collaborative effort?
Cas: “Sick on You”.
Hollywood Brats never got the recognition you deserved, but “Grown Up Wrong” still influenced many bands even though distribution was limited to Scandinavia. Can you name any?
Cas: The Boys, The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Damned, Generation X, Slaughter & the Dogs etc.
Can you tell us what happened when the New York Dolls’ ex-manager Malcolm McLaren asked you and Andrew Matheson to a meeting to discuss an idea of his?
Cas: He told us that he was setting up a project that he wanted us to front. Andrew said “That’s the most ridiculous suggestion I’ve ever heard. Fuck off!” With those words we left Malcom’s office!
Was the project the Sex Pistols?
Cas: Yes, it became the Sex Pistols the year after.
How did you come to meet Matt Dangerfield and start writing songs with him?
Cas: Andrew and I got introduced by one of our friends, Geir Waade, who knew Mick Jones and Tony James. We were to start London SS, but Andrew thought Mick wasn’t a good enough guitar player. Then Andrew left for Canada and Matt and I carried on.
Matt had a studio by his home in Maida Vale. Did you record there often?Who else used to be there?
Cas: We rehearsed and recorded songs all the time! The regulars varied but included The Clash, The Boys, Generation-X, The Damned, Wreckless Eric and some lesser known bands.
What was the London music scene like back then?
Cas: Crap, until the “Roxy Club” turned up. Actually, there were some good pubs, where bands like Dr Feelgood, Eddie & the Hotrods, The Pirates etc. played.
What other musicians or bands did you socialise with?
Cas: None, but a few good football players.
Anyone in particular who liked to hang out with musicians?
Cas: Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Frank Worthington, George Best, Charlie George, Martin Chivers, Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson etc.
In “The Boys”, did you consider yourselves a “punk band”?
Cas: Well, maybe not from the beginning, but we did some performances with Lemmy & Motörhead, where they were presented as “The Loudest Band in the World” and we as “The Fastest Band in the World”. Also, the press called us punk rockers.
You hung out with Sid Vicious. What was he like as a person? What did you use to do?
Cas: Sid was a “hang-around” in Matt’s studio! I went to an Abba concert with Sid and Lemmy! We thought they were great!
You opened for the Ramones on their “Baby I Love You” tour. Is it true that they didn’t play their hit song because they didn’t know the chords? And that John taught them how to play them?
Cas: That is absolutely correct. Johnny was very impressed when we taught him E minor.
Do you think the Ramones – or rather demon producer Phil Spector – used session musicians when recording “Baby I Love You”? As they couldn’t play it live and didn’t know the chords?
Cas: Yes, they used a lot of session musicians on “End of the Century”.
What was it like to be playing Hammond organ and singing harmonies with Duncan “Kid” Reid and Matt Dangerfield on Ramones’ UK gigs?
Cas: It was totally fantastic. I did many gigs with Ramones without the Boys. That is probably why they eventually offered me a place in the band.
Yes, you were invited to join the Ramones as “Casino Ramone”. Why did you turn down the offer?
Cas: Because they had no social life within the band. They would fix me up with an apartment in the Bronx, but I wasn’t very temped to be sitting there all on my own!
Did the tension between Joey and Johnny influence your decision?
Cas: Yes, of course! They hated each other then!
You recorded “To Hell with the Boys” in Norway – in the town of Hell, to be specific. In my opinion, the cover is a masterpiece, with the band outside God’s expedition at the railway station cleary marked “Hell”. Norwegian producer Bjørn Nessjø had strong preferences as to who should sing lead on the record. Did this cause dissension in the band or did it strengthen you?
Cas: I recall no problems. Maybe Duncan had a problem with Bjørn wanting Matt’s “John Lennon” approach as much as possible.
You left the band before the fourth record, “Boys Only”. Why?
Cas: I was a wreck and becoming an alcoholic. I had to get out of the circus. Also, it didn’t seem like The Boys were going anywhere.
You and Gary Holton left London and went to Norway. What happened there?
Cas: We became megastars there. We were on top of all the charts and sold out all our concerts.
What was Rig Rock?
Cas: We conned the press into believing that we had met on an oil rig where we were both working as roughnecks. They bought it, and christened our music “Rig Rock”.
How come your plans to break in the USA failed?
Cas: We never had time to go there and play.
How did Gary feel about living in Norway?
Cas: He liked it very much! He made good money and could take his pick of the ladies.
Why did you hang out with all those bikers?
Cas: They always threw good parties with fine girls.
Why did you disband Holton & Steel after four fantastic albums?
Cas: We took a break while Gary was doing [tv comedy series] “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”.
And then he died. I’m sorry to ask this, but were you at all surprised by Gary’s death, or was he living so hard it was merely a matter of time?
Cas: I actually thought he had cut down on his drug use, so it did come as a surprise.
I found this information on your web site: “The follow-up to Holton & Steel was supposed to be Gary Holton, Casino Steel, Ellen Foley and Carlene Carter. After Gary’s death CCCP was formed with Carlene Carter, Claudia Scott, Casino Steel and John Payne. The album sold well, but the magic wasn’t there, so CCCP disbanded after one album only.” How did Carlene Carter come to be in the band? Did you ever meet her mother June Carter or her famous step-father Johnny Cash?
Cas: Carlene was acting in a play with Gary on a West End theatre, “Pumpettes & Dinettes”. I have toured with Johnny Cash, and then I also met June Carter.
The Boys play a few gigs a year ever since 2001. What made you go to Japan for the first concert?
Cas: The Internet had made us popular again in Japan. Vinyl Japan sold over 80 000 of our LPs that year.
What did it feel like to do two sold-out concerts at the Camden Barfly last autumn, with almost everyone in the audience singing along to all your songs?
Cas: All Boys gigs are special, the one at Barfly maybe especially so, as we met so many old friends.
You have a faithful following in the “Backstage Pass” members; hard-core fans who follow you all around Europe. What does that mean to you?
Cas: “Backstage Pass” are fantastic! I’m not sure we would be playing together today if it hadn’t been for our good friends in BSP.
Have you in the Boys closed the door on ever recording another album together?
Cas: I think so! John and I both now concentrate on The Last Rock’n’Roll Band.
How do you feel about playing with Honest John Plain again? After all, John was in The Tequila Band, backed up Holton & Steel and was also involved in projects like Ian Hunter’s Dirt Laundry with you.
Cas: It’s completely ace to be playing together with John. We have always gotten along and like the same types of music.
How do you think John has evolved as a songwriter, guitar player and singer since the time in The Boys?
Cas: He has become a song writing machine. Together, we can spew out songs! As a guitarist and vocalist he is excellent!
Which song is the best John has written?
Cas: “First Time”
Tell us what was on your mind when you picked out the songs and recorded the album “There’s A Tear in my Beer”, that is now being released through-out Europe.
Cas: This album was recorded at a time when I was deeply depressed. It was a necessary thing for me to do!
You once said that “There can be more Rock’n’Roll in Country than in Rock’n’Roll”. Explain!
Cas: Country lyrics mean a lot to me. I am more interested in “smoke filled bar rooms” than in “street fighting”.
One last question. Which song is the best you have written so far?
Cas: Possibly “Heroine”.
I’d like to thank you for the interview, and wish you luck with the release of the album “There Is A Tear in My Beer” on the Wild Kingdom label, distributed through-out Europe by Sound Pollution.
Cas: Thank you!
And of course, the best of luck to the new super group The Last Rock’n’Roll Band. In fact, Cas brought the record, so I could listen to it after the interview. After listening to it with a big smile on my face, I really look forward to its release! Good songs potently performed! Maybe I will get to interview John & Cas about The Last Rock’n’Roll Band presently… That would be great fun!
If you want to find out more of the wonderful life of Mr Casino Steel, The Godfather of Punk.