March 30, 2005
MORE THAN YOU'LL EVER KNOW:
JOHNNY CASINO'S EASY ACTION AND
THE COSMIC COMMANDER
They breed 'em tough in Hostile City (that's Philadelphia, to the rest of you) and odds are they locals don't come harder than The Cosmic Commander. A Paris model he is not, and the fucker sings like you'd feel after a week-long buck's night where Drain-O and fishhook chasers were the standard order (hold the ice). Fulltime tattooist, part-time wrestling manager, word is that Cosmo was brought up on a diet of hard liquor, Australian underground rock and roll and Philly cheesteaks...before he moved onto solids.
Onetime singer for punk rock's so-called Confederacy of Scum, Rancid Vat, when they were based in Philadelphia, he's also been the American rock and roll connection for Asteroid B612 and its principle driving force, guitarist John Spittles (aka Johnny Casino), since the mid-'90s. Cosmo was tour manager for much of the band's ill-fated '96 swing through the US of A and has been regularly coming Down Under to tattoo the fortunate and hang out in live band pubs.
Occasional live shows with Johnny in the US-based trans-Pacific band, Johnny Casino's Easy Action, spawned an EP ("Twice As Good As You") a few years ago, and now an album ("We've Forgotten More Than You'll Ever Know"), on Off the Hip. That's evolved further into live Australian gigs featuring The Cosmic Commander, a collection of like-minded Philadelphian punks and John and Grahame Spittles, so be warned. This tour will not be for the faint-hearted or sensitive of hearing. Europe is next on the agenda.
THE BARMAN decided to tug on The Cosmic Commander's coat and invite him to pull up a stool. They spoke about the murky history of Johnny Casino's Easy Action, tattooing, what constitutes Real Rock and Roll and Cosmo's new radio show commitments, among other topics.
Q Welcome to the Bar, Cosmic Commander. Pull up a stool. Our patrons are familiar with Asteroid B612 - or at least they should be. So when did you and that band's guitarist John Spittles first cross paths? And when did Johnny Casino's Easy Action actually first get together and how?
A. Thanks for the invite. Well, my first introduction to the band came in '95 when I was in Australia. A friend of mine from Geelong came with me up to Sydney and the people that we we're staying with were familiar with Asteroids and knew I'd be right into them. One of the guys had a phone number on Scotty (Nash - bass player) so he gave him a ring and I ended up staying with him. It really wasn't until my second visit in '96 that Johnny and I hit it off. That's when the seed was planted and the US tour was discussed.
The Easy Action first got together, I guess, in '98. Yeah '98. When John was in America for 10 months.
Q You're a former member of Rancid Vat from the days when they were based in Philadelphia, as well as (I think?) Limecell who I've not heard. What's the full musical c.v.?
A. I was never a member of Limecell ,just of Rancid Vat .Limecell and Rancid Vat, at the time, were the only two bands in Philly that were playing that punk rock thing. Well, what I call punk rock. The only difference between Limecell and Rancid Vat was that they were good and we sucked. For real.
Q As you mentioned, you're no stranger to Australia are you? Tell us about previous trips.
A. Yeah, I've been there about seven or eight times now. First off, let me qualify myself by saying it wasn't a mistake that I ended up in Australia. I'd been right into Australian music since the early '80s. We had all the early Citadel, Waterfront and Hot label records and we were totally into the sound of young Australia. And when I say we, I mean Geoff Ginsberg (Real O Mind Records head honcho). He pretty much turned me onto all this shit. We saw the rifles in' 86 and' 87 and the Died Pretty when (Frank) Brunetti was still in the band (goddamn they fucked me up).
So in saying all this, it was just a matter of time and cash until I made my way over there. And fuck I'm glad I did because those Fran and Sylvia Pies in Collaroy Beach are unreal
Q I know Johnny does a bit of tattooing in Philadelphia. Is that a reciprocal thing for you when you're here?
A. When I first came to Australia I had a mate who I met in the States back in 87 who lived in 'Geelong ("GO CATS!") so that was my connection. He owned a tattoo shop and I worked down there and then made my way up to Sydney, but since that time I've worked in Sydney heaps of times. At The Illustrated Man (famous Sydney tattoo shop) for two of the most solid blokes goin', Tony and Brett Cohen. Real life fuckin' pirates, they are. But then again what am I telling you for - you're all a bunch of convicts anyway.
Q Who's the most famous person you've inked?
A PETE PATTERSON from THE MELTING SKYSCRAPERS. Just kidding - he's a pain in my ass really. Will somebody take this guy home? He's been in my country far too long. As far as famous goes, I tattooed a bunch of basketball guys from the NBA and some actress chick. But the most famous people I've ever tattooed are these guys named Harvey Dugan and the The General, Tommy Eberhardt. Harvey has a beer keg tattooed on his gut that Johnny did and a bottle of pills tattooed on his hand so he wouldn't forget to take his meds, and The General had a swastika tattooed on his forehead that made the one Manson had look like a joke. He's since covered it up with a huge star that again was done by Mr.Casino.Just regular folks are the famous people we like to tattoo cause they all got a story to tell, believe me.
Q So how often have Johnny Casino's Easy Action played live in the States? I heard that live-tin-the-studio you did at WFMU.
At this point i really can't even remember how many times we've played. Like I said before, we started up in '98 and played a heap and then he came back over and we played a bunch more times. We recorded that first record and Johnny and I put it out , then we recorded another album in , I think, 2000 or 2001 that never came out. And now this latest thing that we did with Grahame Spittles, Steve and Kevin McCarthy from Limecell and John Illisco jr. from this band called Officer Roseland.
The latest thing is called "We've Forgotten More Than You'll Ever Know" - which, by the way, is the truth.. you know it Barman - you just don't wanna admit it! The thing is out right now on Off the Hip, put out by the Crusading Stoneagehearted Sir Mickster, yeah!!!!
T hat WFMU thing was pretty raw...no shit. We we're in the studio all day and drove the two hours up the Jersey Turnpike to WMFU, which could be - oh fuck, it is- the coolest radio station on the east coast. Did the live radio to air with Pat Duncan and Diane Farris, engineer for the millennium, and had a blast as always. If there are any touring bands out there you should play there - where else can you play for six-million people on a Thursday night???
Q So where do the Chrome Horse Diplomats fit into the picture? Both Johnny and his bro Grahame have played with the band in Philadelphia, as well as Mark Sisto. I know Pete Patterson (ex Melting Skyscrapers, Mother Jones) is doing a show with them on March 5.
A Chrome Horse Diplomats are a cover band, period. A good one at that, but just a cover band.we just get up there and give it a go. We do everything from "Television Addict" to "Teenage Head" to "20th Century Boy". Just good old rock and roll.
When Sisto was in town we got the old cronie up there to do some Visitors stuff and a Birdman thing which the marks went wild for. It was a gas to have him around even though he's as crazy as a loon. Pete Patterson's been here for awhile now and he sang in the Diplomats as well. It was a whoever-wanted-to-get-up-and-belt-out-a-couple kinda thing, with me being the Master of Ceremonies.
W hen Johnny and Grahame were over the last time we played a bunch of shows. The ones that stand out are with the Bad Vibes (GREAT PHILLY BAND) and Dead Moon. It's all fun when me and Spittles get together - we just got that kind of thing.. Can't buy it at a store kinda thing, if ya know what I mean. We have fun - something that most people that play music forgot how to do
Q The story of that ill-fated US tour by the Asteroids is pretty well documented all round the place, not the least being the liner notes for the live "Greenback Blues" CD. You and I had a pretty straightforward exchange of words on that matter. Dwelling on the past for a moment - and I know it's a moot point - could Asteroids have made a bigger dent in the USA if they'd followed up and gone back?
A. That really is a good question. As you well know i was there for 80 percent of the tour and what i saw was a band that was running on lets say 60 percent and they were fuckin' minds up. It's always fun to be with a band that you know is just far better than every other phony wannabe MC5-type bullshit band out there. Asteroids were, and still are, the cat's ass .I have yet to see a band that laid it down like they did. Except the early Rifles. It's just a drag that the shit had to go down over here .
Albeit, I had a hand in organizing some transportation and some gigs but I was not a member of the band. I just saw what went down and it was, just for a lack of a better term, childish. impact?? It took a lot of wind outta their sails when they went home and I think as a whole they got disillusioned with the band. And then popped up Kenny (Watt, now guitarist with The M-16's, but briefly with the Asteroids).
What a good time that was .Could have been the best I saw the band. I was lucky and saw them with Kenny a heap of times.. That's when they should have come back. But (singer) Bullet and Kenny split and in steps one of the most talented and soulful singers (Grahame) that I'd heard in a long time...same attitude just a different vibe. Took a lot of people by surprise at first, the change, but that's what growing up's all about now. It'd be kinda silly if you we're still singing the same protest song 20 years later right??
Q The point I suppose is that you don't get bands like Asteroid B612 in the States - or most other places...
A. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
Q The Johnny Casino's Easy Action CD is killer. How long did it take to record and what was the song selection process?
A It took four days working with Johnny. Ain't no joke. DID YOU EVER SEE THAT THUG PLAY GUITAR? Really he's got the whole process down without being stressed. Unlike me who is a hopeless cunt in the studio - I'm like a blind man in a whorehouse.
Q Tell us about the touring line-up. And how do you manage having three vocalists on stage?
A At first it was just me and Johnny doing the vocals. Then Johnny talked Grahame into coming over, so I was freaking out saying: 'Yeah this is gonna be alright' and adding Kevin McCarthy (the lead singer from Limecell and a unreal punk rock singer) it just made sense. So now we have myself, Johnny, Grahame, Kevin and Steve, and the drummer, John singing. Fuck, we're like the Beach Boys.
Q Of the vocalists, I' not familiar with Kevin "The Big Gee" McCarthy's background. What's the story and which of the album tracks does he sing on?
A Kevin sings "Katrina Katrina" and "Midnight to Six", which is a killer. Kevin's background is he likes beer - and lots of it.
Q The album has some fucking ball-tearers of songs on it - and the covers ain't half bad either. What's your fave original to sing and why? What about favourite cover?
A. I think the best rocker is "Roy the Boy". That's no joke, that song. "She's a Deceiver" is a good one too. Johnny and I wrote that one - he's really becoming a good singer . As far as the covers go, I think they all have their own appeal . But my favorite is "Sorry " by The Easybeats. Little Stevie - fuck that Bon Scott guy! That was Stevie's job all along, you know, and so does everyone else. "Black Eyed Bruiser". Need I say anything else?
Q Not many co-writes apparent by you and Johnny. What's the story there?
A The motherfucker did the same thing in Asteroid. He does that so he can get all the royalties from APRA. His momma didn't raise no dummy.
Q On the EP the band put out a few years ago, Ray Charles got the Easy Action treatment. This time, the Pretty Things and the Easybeats (as you mentioned) get steamrollered. Any surprise covers of a similar vintage in the live set?
A Not sure, but we do have some special people gonna get up there with us - and Steve Lorkin ain't one of them....
Q I have to ask - do people get you confused with the Easy Action band fronted by John Brannon (ex-Laughing Hyenas) in Detroit?
A Not that I can see.. maybe ?? Never really came into play, and to be honest I think we started around the same time. I'm a fan of theirs, they just keep changing the rhythm section too often.
Q The Australian tour dates are locked in. What's the story with the planned European tour later in 2005?
A Looks like the record is gonna come out in July on Scarey/Nicotine then we have a booking agency that is all jazzed about putting it together. Really, fuck the States. We're all about playing Europe, that's where it's at.
So we'll see. You know you'll be the first to know. As much as I hate to admit it, lot's of people come to your site and see what's goin' on around the world.. Which really is a feather in your cap ..
Couple more things..if you're in America, I'm going to be on Sirius satellite radio on Sunday nights at 1am Eastern (10 pm Pacific). The name of the show is The Cosmic Commander's Sonic Reduction and I'll be playing the shit ...so tune in if ya got one.
Also, if in Melbourne go to Rocco's and buy a pair of handmade shoes by the master himself
Q Since we're in a bar, Cosmo, what are you drinking?
A. BARMAN EVERYONE KNOWS THAT THE COSMIC COMMANDER DON'T DRINK THAT POISON. INSTEAD, C'MON GET ON THE PHONE MAKE THAT CALL AND CHASE THE DRAGON!
Johnny Casino's Easy Action
"We've Forgotten More Than You'll Ever Know"
+ Intercooler + The Steak Lovers @ Mona Vale Hotel , NSW - Mar 18
+ The High Society and Special Guests @ Empire Hotel , Annandale - Mar 19
+ Airbourne + Tiger By The Tail @ Ding Dong Lounge, Melb - Mar 24
+ The Shimmys @ The Town Hall Hotel ,Nth Melbourne - Mar 25
+ The Drones + Osterberg + Vegas Kings @ The Esplanade Hotel , St Kilda - Mar 26
+ The Blurters + SC Trash + The Unfuckable @ Lansdowne, Sydney - Apr 1
+ The Boobytraps @ Rocks Rhythm Boat, Sydney Harbour - Apr 2
BUY THE ALBUM HERE
READ A REVIEW HERE
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