Baby Let’s Twist
Memoirs of a Runaway Heart
By Thomas ‘Thomaxe’ Goze
So that’s it, here I am sitting in this dive bar where I’ve already sat one too many nights, New York City of all places. This time is different though…this time all of a sudden everything seems to sort of make sense. I’m not sure how or why it is all coming together, but maybe it’s just that tonight Otto’s Shrunken Head has turned into an open-door, a vortex where worlds collide, as if trying to tell me “It’s alright buddy…have another one”.
On the small stage that can barely fit a full band I’m witnessing Andy Shernoff, one of my all-time favorite musician/songwriter, setting up alongside vocalist Tricia Scotti, and harmonica player Brian Hurd. The three of them are about to start playing the last show of their residency, marking the end of 4 weeks of unrehearsed impromptu acoustic performances of Andy’s latest songs as well as new takes on some of his Dictators classics. Oh, did I forget to mention that Mr. Shernoff was a founding member and most prolific songwriter for the legendary Dictators? Well, I figured you knew…
Sitting on my right is NYC’s underground rock artist JOff WilsOn (the man with a thousand never-recorded hit songs) who happens to also be my band mate since he brought me in his Bowery Boys on second guitar. Actually, I only ever had played punk bass on stage before meeting JOff…
But let me stop here for a minute before I go on with this story, and allow me to take you on a short journey through time…it will all make sense…I promise.
I’m standing in front of the window of a small room I’m renting holding a used Gibson Les Paul that I just purchased with the little money I had left. I strap it up on my shoulder and plug it in a tiny 12 watts amp. I’ve never played guitar…except for the crappy acoustic I bought when I was a kid and could never really figure out what to do with. Later in my early 20’s I had picked up a bass at the encouragement of my good friend Dee Jaywalker (Definitivos, Marky Ramone & the Speedkings, etc…) who taught me my first songs so I could follow the path of my favorites: Dee Dee Ramone, Arthur Kane, and…Andy Shernoff…
See where I’m getting at now?
So standing by the window, looking down at the street, I press on the drive button of that amp and only with the knowledge of power chords I start playing… “I shuffle down the street, my eyes are on my feet…I got no place to go…”. The song is Stay With Me, written by Andy Shernoff for the Dictators.
And as I’m playing my first song on guitar, I see a car pulling out of the parking lot on the other side of the street. I kind of want it to stop, just to acknowledge the fact that I’m standing there, or maybe that I exist, yet I know it’s foolish…and I know it won’t.
So I just keep playing as I watch it drive away “…my heart is calling won’t you stay with me”. The car is my ex’s, she lived in the building next door, now she’s leaving to never return, and that’s fine.
The scene looks like it is out of a movie…I mean…what were the odds? The song choice makes sense…I guess I was playing it for a reason too, though I sure don’t want her to stay, but it still sucks. She’s nothing more than the reflection of my own bad choices and life failures. She was bad news, she was poison and all I wanted was to go cold turkey… so I got myself a guitar and here I am pretending I don’t care about anything else, and I think I really don’t.
I was born and raised in France, but I’m here, of all places, in New Paltz, NY. I don’t know it at the time, but that’s also where the Dictators met, and got started…
Is this beginning to make sense?
Back to present days, our scene at Otto’s:
Andy is about to start his set when I see Ramones producer/co-songwriter Daniel Rey pop his head in…he walks in my direction and sits next to me. He doesn’t know it but I got his band The Martinets signed to European label Tornado Ride Records a couple years earlier, I’ve seen them perform many times, they even played my birthday show 4 years earlier. I’m friends with their front man/Songwriter Eamonn, but just never introduced myself to Daniel. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t speak much, unless it’s necessary.
The Shernoff trio starts playing and everything is making more and more sense…Andy, my first song on guitar, JOff who got me my first gig as a guitarist…and now Daniel Rey… who is credited for co-writing a version of Poison Heart with Dee Dee Ramone…who was an inspiration for coming from France to NYC and the reason why I joined my first band on bass in NY…The Gonedaddys, fronted by another Ramones collaborator/songwriter, Skinny Bones…
Andy keeps playing…it’s a great show and everyone is loving it…but what am I saying? It’s always a great time.
Since I learned my first song on guitar I have had the chance to see Shernoff perform on many occasions, solo and with his band the Master Plan. In fact, I even got the Master Plan signed to Tornado Ride/Nicotine Records the same way I did with the Martinets. I hadn’t gotten a chance to see him perform since his residency at the Lakeside Lounge a year ago, it was around the same time that my grandpa passed away, and on the eve of his funerals I had decided that-since I couldn’t be there and that he loved music so much- I would celebrate his memory by going to Andy’s show. That night he played a song he had written for his late mom, and it felt like it was for my grandpa too. Shortly after, it was the Lakeside Lounge that closed its doors forever.
So the show goes on and I’m sure of it now…Otto’s has turned for one night into some kind of a vortex…and under this new light it appears as if everything happened for a reason…ultimately leading all the way to here and now…
I just wish my old friend Dee Jaywalker could be amongst us…he took me under his wing after we met when he played lead guitar in Marky Ramone & the Speedkings. It was in France in 2002 just a few months after Dee Dee passed away, and that night I got invited on stage to sing one song; and then to join in the van for a few shows. Later Dee got me to pick up a bass, and then we organized Walter Lure’s first euro tour in 25 years back in 2007…and went on the road. So here I am thinking about him as he seems to be the only piece missing in right now here at Otto’s…
Then I look down, and smile…realizing that the leather jacket I’m wearing was a present from him…it used to be his own favorite…
The puzzle is now fully complete, all the pieces are in place, it just needs one final touch…so at the end of the show, as everyone is applauding and asking for more, I turn around towards Daniel Rey…pull up my sleeve, and show him the tattoo on my left wrist (I got it there so that I could see it whenever I’d play)… “I thought you’d appreciate it” I tell Daniel; he looks at it and smiles…It reads “Poison Heart”.
As I step out the door and start walking in the cold to catch a subway back home, I realize I’m feeling OK…because I may have been born with a runaway heart…but it sort of got me somewhere after all…
Where are they now:
Dee Jaywalker: After touring/recording extensively with Marky Ramone, Dee Jaywalker played with his solo band and later joined Walter Lure on guitar for a Euro tour/record in 2007. Since then Dee started playing again with Belgian legendary punk rock band The Definitivos who got reunited. He also performs with his Rockabilly band The Greyhounddogs. https://www.facebook.com/dee.jaywalker
Skinny Bones: After the critically acclaimed release of his Gonedaddys album Shot My TV, Skinny Bones embarked on a successful euro tour ending at the Ramones museum in Germany. The Gonedaddys have been on hold since but Skinny- who is working as a sound engineer- keeps writing/recording music when his busy schedule permits and is planning more in the near future.
JOff WilsOn: JOff plays live in NYC on a weekly basis might it be with The Bowery Boys or with various well respected musicians of the Lower East Side. He is planning to finally record some of his songs this year. https://www.facebook.com/joff.wilson1, www.theboweryboysnyc.com
Daniel Rey: Daniel just finished recording a new album with the Martinets who are currently looking for an appropriate label to do the release. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Martinets
And as for Andy Shernoff….read it from the man himself:
-So Andy, You just finished a month residency of acoustic shows at Otto’s Shrunken Head, and already booking more clubs. Can you tell us how this all started and what is the idea behind it?
I’m a songwriter and the only way for me to know if a song connects with people is to play it live. It’s a bit nerve-wracking playing new songs in public but what makes you uncomfortable also allows you to grow. That was the purpose of the Otto’s residency. Overall, I’m going through a very difficult transformation from a bass player known for aggressive punk and hard rock to an acoustic singer/songwriter ….or as I like to call myself the ‘insensitive singer -songwriter’ so I’m constantly putting myself in uncomfortable situations.
-How did you meet Tricia and Brian with whom you’ve recently been playing?
We travel in the same music circles and have many mutual friends
-Last year you released a 7inch, how, when and were was it recorded?
You are referring to “Are You Ready To Rapture”. I recorded an intricate demo at home where I mapped out all the parts. Then I tracked it at Headgear studios in Williamsburg using my demo as a guide. I overdubbed in my home studio and then mixed it at Headgear with John Agnello who’s an old school Record Plant engineer but is now an indie rock kingpin producer
-One of the songs was written with Joey Ramone, was it ever recorded before?
I recorded numerous demos with Joey over the years. Some made it to Ramones records while others like the song you are referring to, “Make Me Tremble” was simply not appropriate for The Ramones. However I thought the tune was really cool and showed a different, softer side of Joey that should be heard. I wanted to put it on my single so I approached the people who handle Joey’s estate and they were kind enough to let me use it. We ran into a problem was we couldn’t find the master tapes. We had to use the rough mix I had on DAT tape so we couldn’t remix it. The version you hear is what we walked out of the studio on that day in the early 90’s.
-Can you tell us a little bit about your friendship with Joey?
Joey was a sweetheart. We had a common bond in music and growing up in Queens. When I first met him he was very shy and awkward but as The Ramones grew in stature he became more confident and assertive. He had a sly sense of humor and severe case of OCD, which has been documented in several books. At the time everybody I knew was weird so he was just another in my collection of weirdo friends. I think Joey made the world a better place by demonstrating that outsiders and weirdos can contribute to society…. and Joey definitely made the world a better place.
-You also wrote with Dee Dee, how was he to work with?
Dee Dee was probably the most amazing character I ever met in my life. He was certifiably schizophrenic, literally a different person every day. One day he was your best friend and the next day he thought you were plotting against him.
He was the most spontaneous artist I ever met, capable of writing a great song on demand.
I call him the idiot savant of rock and roll…. in the Ramones he was an absolute genius but outside of the band he had a hard time getting through life.
-Tell us about your latest hit, the Are You Ready To Rapture…what inspired you to write the song? Is it pissing some people off?
I was ignorant of the Rapture growing up. The only person I knew who believed Jesus was returning to Earth was the crazy preacher standing on a box in Times Square screaming at everybody to repent for their sins because the end was nigh.
A few years ago I became fascinated with evangelicals. I saw these people entering politics and trying to make other people live by their personal delusions and superstitions. It was obvious how dangerous they were….war was inevitable in the Middle East because it is a precursor to the return of Jesus and climate change was a hoax because god said he wouldn’t destroy the earth after Noah and the great flood. I wanted to write a song that accurately represented their beliefs, though I assume they might quarrel with my referring to the resurrected Jesus as the Jewish Zombie.
-Who made the animation for the video? Did you know what you wanted or did you give freedom to the artist to get inspired by the song and come up with his/her own thing?
That was the brilliant work of Brian Musikoff who has done animation for comedians like Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn. I loved his style and felt his sense of humor would really take the tune to another level and I feel he really brought the lyrics to life. Animation is a very long and slow process but we worked together exchanging ideas until we made something we knew we would be proud of.
-It got an award right?
Absolutely, it was a finalist in the Atheist Film Festival
-So what’s with all the religion-themed songs lately you’ve got at least 2 others that I believe you’ll be recording soon?
My new EP “On the First Day, Man Created God” will be four interconnected songs about religion and faith. It’s such a great topic with cool stories and tons of drama about the human condition.
-What was the Reason Rally in DC that you recently played?
It was the largest secular gathering in the world, sort of a Woodstock for atheists. It was held on the National Mall in Washington DC, the same place where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech so it was a pretty big deal. . I performed along with Bad Religion, Eddie Izzard, Penn Gillette and speakers like scientists Richard Dawkins and Laurence Krauss. It was a highpoint of my musical life and the largest crowd I have ever performed in front of.
-Your second single just came out, and is dedicated to your mom. Can you tell us a little bit about this record?
It contains four songs that I worked up during my residency at the late and lamented Lakeside Lounge. I dedicated it to my mom who died about 2 years ago. She was slipping into Alzheimer’s which is a cruel and dehumanizing disease, so I wrote the title song -Don’t Fade Away – about my experiences and dedicated the record to her.
-Some people might not know –shame on them- but you are also an acclaimed music producer. Which albums did you produce are the ones you are the most proud of? Did you produce your latest two singles? Are you looking into doing more producing in the future?
I produce all my own records these days. I know what I want and I know how to get it, I also work cheap. Outside of The Waldos’ record I won’t choose favorites. I’m also not really looking to produce these days. It takes my energy away from my own music.
-You’ve got an acoustic version of a Dictators song on the single, do you plan on re-recording more?
Actually, I’m planning on an EP of acoustic versions of Dictators songs for next year.
-Your band Master Plan performed in Europe in 2012, any more shows coming up? Any plan to record a 3rd album?
I love playing with Master Plan but the members live all over the country so getting together is very difficult, so no plans for that band in the near future.
-So what’s next for Mr. Andy Shernoff in the year 2013?
More music and more videos!
-You started out as a music reviewer/writer when you were in college, do you miss this kind of writing?
Not at all, I was very young at the time and to be honest it was all a scam to get free records.
-Ha ha, I originally did it to get in for free at shows! How can people find out about your next shows/records/etc…and purchase the singles?
You can buy the records here…
and I’m on all social media
Andy Shernoff Appreciation Society on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andy-Shernoff-Appreciation-Society
-Any word of wisdom for kids who are picking up instruments now that more than ever R’n’R needs some serious saving?
Don’t be a phony!!!
Interview by Thomas Goze, April 2013