by Joe Harvard
I'm not ashamed to say it: I loved the Real Kids. I always needed at least one band around that rocked my world in order to keep my rock and roll faith alive, and they were the first. To put it crudely: if seeing Willie Loco Alexander at the Rat had broken my Boston rock cherry and Baby's Arm showed me the ropes the Real Kids were my first true romance. It was as a R.K. roadie that I took my first road trip, trashed my first (and just about only) hotel room, and "made my bones" locally. Visions burned in my mind: a couple of thousand kids dancing to the band in Grinnell, Iowa, and going wild when "All Kindsa Girls" started; Alpo standing on the roof of the rent-a-car pissing onto the hood while the same crowd streamed out of the auditorium; Howie roped to his bass drum, his face twitching in sync with his snare hits- the only solid ground as a crowd surged onstage and swept band and crew along like a tsunami; returning a brand new, governor-equipped rent-a-car to the agency after a Real Kids road trip and finding that it couldn't make the slight uphill grade after 50 straight hours with a cinder block on the gas pedal; a vivacious teenage Cindy Toomey swinging her arms on the Rat's dance floor along with sister Paula and forty other Beantown babes- not a guy on the floor -and the ladies all doing that same stiff-backed dance they did back then. It was in the parking lot at one of their shows that I kissed one of the great loves of my life for the first time, with their music ("...all right in my baby's book...") wafting out through the walls and filling the summer night.
The Real Kids were like a comet that burned white hot in the peak years of the late 70's, leaving a trail of sparks behind it that still light up the musical horizon. Sadly, just like a comet, all that light was generated by the disintegration of the object itself. The self-immolation of the Kids began exactly at that point when the band was at its zenith. They were playing some of the best shows in the history of Boston rock at the same time that drugs, booze and internal chaos made sure they would never get the national attention they deserved. This was a crash - and - burn flight plan that many of Beantown's greatest have followed. Just more proof that the Kids are truly an archetype of a great Boston band! But while they lived fast and left a beautiful corpse the Real Kids have refused to die young, thanks mainly to the songwriting abilities of John Felice which in 2000 remain just as strong as ever.
While re-releases of the Felice/Real Kids catalogue by Norton Records, 1998's I Wanna Be a Real Kid tribute album from Down Under, and a new single- produced by a fan who also happens to belong to the popular group Offspring- have helped keep the RK flame alive, it is the band's ability to perform live that is their secret weapon in the new century. Interest in the group isn't restricted just to Boston, and the band has gigged on the West Coast, the Big Apple and the Midwest in 1999 and 2000. Detroit-based DUI Records, which has recently released a new single by Unnatural Axe, financing a trip into the recording studio as well as bringing the Axe down to the Motor City for a number of live appearances, has also booked the Real Kids in Detroit. DUI head honcho Doug Giovanni and his partner Steve Sperry are doing a fantastic job of keeping some of Boston's best circa-'77 energy alive through their promotional and recording efforts; to date they have sponsored Motown trips for the Real Kids, the Axe and former Gang Green guitarist Fritz Ericson.The Paycheck's ad at right touting the DUI booking represents the Real Kids' first Detroit appearance in 20 years (see Part Two of this article for the Bookie's poster from the band's last Detroit show in '78) .
The band played it's first gigs in the summer of '72, helping to light the fuse which exploded into a full-blown Boston scene by early '77. While the history of the band has predictably followed the same course as that of leader and songwriter Felice, the early work that they are chiefly remembered for was a true group effort. The classic performances were a product of the rare chemistry between all four original recording members: Billy Borgioli (guitar,b/u vocals), John Felice (guitar, vocals), Allen "Alpo" Paulino (bass, b/u vocals), and Howie Ferguson (drums). Before Howie joined the group the hard-hitting Kevin Glasheen handled drum chores for the group. Squanto, as he was known to the boys, was a fucking madman, and a great drummer as well. True afficionados of the band remember his shows as snare-busting, stick-shredding, power-thons. A few years later, when Kevin was working the crew for the band, I drove to the midwest with him and Kevin Moore- the group's Road Manager. It was one of the most terrifying rides of my life. Kevin split to chase girls full-time, I think, and Howie filled the drum throne as though it were made for he and he alone.
There are many Squanto stories that are part of local rock lore. Frank Rowe told me about one night that the Classic Ruins played the Rat, and at the end of the night Glasheen threw a nutty because his cymbal bag was stolen. He was usually really careful about stashing the bag, what with guys like the light-fingered Stanley Clarke around who were always willing to relieve an overburdened musician of superfluous equipment. But this time the thieves were too clever for him. Kevin is a BIG boy, and scarey to be around when angry; on this occassion he punched a hole in the dressing room wall, stomping around, issuing less-than-veiled threats and glaring at the other justifiably cowed drummers and their roadies. Later, in true garage rock tradition, a benefit was held, and with the aid of some additional gig money Kevin was able to replace all his stolen cymbals with shiny new models. If this was an old movie I'd now show you the pages of a calendar being torn off by invisible hands...
...as it is I'll just say "Many, many months go by". The Ruins are playing yet another Rat show, one of several since the theft. After their set was over, Kevin told Frank that this time he was going to be safe, and hide his cymbal bag behind the piano. This ratty old upright piano had stood in the club since Neolithic times, and was used mainly as a beer and drink holder. As Squanto pried the piano away from the wall, he saw some dust-covered object back in the shadows, vaguely familiar in some way. When he pulled it out, it turned out to be his old cymbal bag, which he had apparently stuck behind there way back when, before drinking like a thousand beers and forgetting all about it. Frank says the original cymbals were so cracked and beat to shit that Kevin had made out like a bandit on the "theft". In their spent condition finding the old cymbals was no great windfall, and he seems to recall Squanto frisbeeing most of them into the parking lot behind the Rat. Another great Glasheen story- and a classic rock moment -occurred during the time he was working at a gas station on Mass. Ave, and the Cars drove up to the pumps. Dave Robinson had broken his wrist or something, and the band had a show the next night at the Boston Gardens, every local rocker's wet dream. They asked Kevin if he could get the next night off (presumably his boss called someone like Ginger Baker or Charley Watts to take his place at the pumps), and after a whirlwind practice session Squanto played the Gardens as their fill-in drummer. Then it was back to the pumps. This reads so much like every teenage musician's fantasy ("...and then they drive up out of nowhere and ask ME to play the BIG GIG!!") that I just love that story.
John Felice began his musical career as a co-founder of the Modern Lovers, along with Natick neighbor Jonathan Richman. As John told Trouser Press: "Jonathan Richman grew up next door to me, and used to do a solo thing, and I was always bugging him to do a band". As Jonathan told me in a July, '98 interview: "I wrote to John from Israel saying I wanted to start a band when I got back home...see, I lived in New York for a year when I was 18. I moved there to be with the Velvet Underground. While I was there I'd bought a little Fender Vibrolux amp and I'd left it there. So when I came home John Felice and I took the bus to NYC to pick up my amp...we slept in Central Park which is no mean feat". The effort paid off and the legendary Lovers were born. When John joined the band in the summer of '70 he was 15 years old. He honed his guitar playing as the Lovers developed something like a sound, but after quitting the group several times he left the band for good in January of '72. John saw that tensions in the Modern Lovers would break the band up- probably sooner than later -and he decided to start a band that would satisfy his urge to rock in a harder edged, more straightforward manner than neighbor Richman was heading towards. A Trouser Press interview quotes John saying "I knew the band wasn't going to last, so I quit on the verge of them making that first record". Whatever they were putting in the Natick water supply I'd like to get me some, as these two neighbors both made first albums that define classic Boston rock.
The group, according to Steve Davidson, was actually started by John Felice, Rick Corraccio and himself -- in close enough proximity to the Swingin' Sixties that Felice, who has rarely if ever been seen in anything but a t-shirt (generally black) and leather jacket (ditto), is still sporting a groovy neckerchief and suitjacket in the rare photo below (provided courtesy of Steve Davidson) from that earliest period! I'm inclined to rub my eyes when I notice what appears to be a unicorn pin on John's oh-so-wide lapel, but he still is one stylin' mofo for ... what ... fifteen or sixteen ...and his shades, straight outta Electra Glide in Blue, are a harbinger of the badass to come. Steve knew John through mutual friends, and sometime around the end of '73 or the beginning of '74 they had a fateful conversation. Davidson recalls "I was a mere 15/16 years old when I went to a Modern Lover's gig to meet John and discuss forming a new band that we ended up calling 'The Kids'." Steve played lead guitar on the luscious '68 Gibson SG seen in the photo, and John was probably using his Gibson Melody Maker (sort of like a Les Paul suffering from anorexia nervosa)...and both as can be seen were sporting the too-hip threads. On bass was Rick Corraccio. Already on his way to becoming one of the mainstays of the indie scene, Rick would one day play with DMZ, the Only Ones, the Lyres, and fill in or jam with just about everyone who was anyone among Boston's underground pioneers.
Steve Davidson: "We were a glitter rock band before anyone really knew what glitter rock was. I remember one big one (show) where we opened for Tommy James andThe Shondells!! Back then I thought he was this old hasbeen dude. I bet he wasn't more than 28 years old!!
This Felice-led vehicle was first to carry the monniker that would survive, in modified form, the next three decades: The Kids. Davidson says "John even wrote us a theme song we used to play: 'We are The Kids, we are the stars! Don't push us too far!'." The group had a drummer named Norman Bloom, who had a booking agency called "Silver Fox"; interestingly enough, I remember doing business with Bloom in the mid-to-late seventies, when he either bought a pair of Altec PA horns from me, or vice-versa ... those things were like a venereal diease: they kept getting passed between musicians and later on noone seems to remember when they had them or who got 'em first (yes, kids, once upon a time, before bi-amped powered speakers, you had to buy the midrange horns, treble horns, and bass bins separately, WIRE in a mechanical cross-over, and then stand back as your zillion pound Phase Linear amp fried your Altec Voice of the Theater horns again and again).
After the Kids Steve Davidson remained a musician, and he remains one still (in 2004). He was kind enuff to send a bit of a bio along: "Back in the 70's I was the singer/lead guitarist in a very popular 'Rat' band called Slash. I went on to form 'The Modes' which culminated in a major label deal in the late 80's. I was also in other bands such as, Steve Davidson's BanDeluxe, Ultra Blue (with Robert Holmes), a 60's revival band called The Waybacks - on and on. Still playing lead guitar. I'm now in a band in South Florida." While I never saw Steve's other outfits, my own alma mater the Bones did a show or two with the Modes circa 1980; I recall them as being a solid power pop outfit with above-average polish and professionalism. Steve includes these Slash and Modes links: (http://www.dirtywater.com/a2z/s/slash/index.html) (http://www.dirtywater.com/a2z/m/modes/index.html ) (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/modes)
Jeff Jensen was the bass player in the second version of the band
that included Felice, Squanto, and Curt Naihersey,
and was known simply as the Kids. Later, they became a trio when
Curt (better known as Mr. Curt from his tenure with Pastiche)
left the band. Jeff says:
I asked Jeff for
any recollections about those early days, and he sent me this very cool
As an aside, that "record store (Music City on Boylston)" Jeff mentions is the place that Felice's neighbor and former bandmate Jonathan Richman was hanging a "Drummer Wanted" sign in when Dave Robinson walked over and said "I'll be your drummer". Six degrees of seperation and all that.
The original, and many would argue finest version of the band featured Felice on guitar and lead vocals, Billy Borgioli on guitar, Alan "Alpo" Paulino on bass, and the ever-amazing Howie Ferguson on drums. The post-'78 Felice-led bands produced some wonderful sounds and memorable gigs as well, but the quality was less consistent and depended on the strength of the personnel Felice put together. My second-favorite lineup was the incarnation known as the Taxi Boys when it featured Billy Cole on bass, the late Matthew McKenzie on lead guitar and the late Ricky "Rocket" Rothchild on drums. There have been a boatload of other talented Bostonians who were members of one or another version of the Real Kids or one of its descendants. The Real Kids morphed into various different outfits over the years and the only constants were John Felice and the songs that he wrote. Like a biblical tale the Real Kids begat the Remakes who begat the Taxi Boys who begat the Primevals who begat the Real Kids again and most recently spawned the Devotions. Bobby McNabb, Dave "Bone" Pedersen, Pete Taylor, Ricky "Little Man" and his brother, Kevin Glasheen,these are just a few of the Felice alumni. Then there are the bands built around Billy "Boog" Borgioli and/or Alpo, like the Primitive Souls and the Varmints. Howie Ferguson, my all-time absolute fave Boston drummer, has been a member of Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, the Lyres and other primo groups since leaving the Kids.
Right from the start the Real Kids seperated themselves from the pack, playing an aggressive brand of straight-ahead, no-bullshit rock which harkened back to Chuck Berry, had overtones of the British Invasion groups at their mod finest, yet pointed the way towards the Punk to come. John wrote real songs, and while he seldom drifted very far from the holy 1-4-5 progression, his reworking of the formula had all the earmarks of another great 1-4-5'er: Buddy Holly. Songs like "All Kindsa Girls" and "Baby's Book" crashed ahead like locomotives that'd gone wildly out of control but then gotten adjusted to the pace and started to enjoy it. Tunes like "Do the Boob" matched riff-happy bands like Led Zep hook-for-hook, while "Raggae Raggae" - one of my personal favorites -had MC5-like speed-demon energy. And you could dance to them! It was no surprise that they became the Rat's biggest draw and were featured prominently on the Live at the Rat album, as well as becoming favorites of the local music press. The band was punched by Marty Thau for his Red Star Records label and released the legendary eponymous first album in 1977. Norton Records re-released that record as "Real Kids" tho' we just used to call it the Red Star record.
I began to roadie for the Real Kids in 1978, when my Record Garage co-worker and then-best friend Billy Cole realized his dream of becoming a member of the band (as a guitarist- he returned to play bass later on) and took me along for the ride. I already loved the band so it was a blast to go to all the shows and watch from the stage. Not that it was by any stretch an easy gig. The band was using Vox Super Beatle amplifiers at the time, with these gigantic fucking cabinets that had the usual 4 x 12 inch speakers as well as a midrange horn built in just like a PA cabinet. This, coupled with their cheesy solid state design, gave them the honky middie sound that John loved, complete with super-cheesy solid state fuzz pedal built right into the amp. The only problem was that they were like six feet high and weighed a ton- that, and they had a nasty tendency to explode regularly onstage. We had to have two for John, plus an extra head or two to replace blow ups. Billy Cole was still using his Vox AC30, a rare Top Boost model with the 2 x 12" box on a swivel stand, that he used as a guitarist in Baby's Arm. Felice was using Rickenbacker guitars at the time to enhance the twang factor, and he broke strings a lot because they forced you to strum hard to get sound out of them. Every gig was a constant flurry of changing Super Beatle heads and pain-in-the-ass Rick strings, trying to find out which Vox the smoke was coming from, and protecting life and limb during the frequent mayhem which broke out on or around the stage.
One especially raucous incident happened when the band was playing at the Club Merrimac in New Hampshire, a bar that was frequented by bikies and lumberjack types. John always liked to hang out with greasy bikers, despite the fact that he was basically a nice suburban kid who could be sweet as hell in private. We were set up on this small stage, and the club was small too so that the crowd was extremely close to the band as they played on this low stage. One of the bikies got excited and sprayed his beer all over the stage, spattering Billy Cole's rare, prized 1960 red Les Paul Mary Ford model. He also sprayed Billy and Alpo in the process. Alpo, the smallest guy on stage (and in the club) at that time, didn't even blink. He just picked up his drink, threw it in this guy's face and hurled the glass at the guy. The front row erupted, with half a dozen Harley jackets attacking the stage. I managed to jump onstage and catch Cole's irreplacable Mary Ford just as it was about to hit the stage floor. dragging it to safety behind the stage and returning to haul guys off the stage as bottles flew through the air and smashed against the amps and the back wall. John seemed less eager to mix it up at first, but they warmed up to it. We were lucky to get out with our lives, loading out from the stage right into the van and boogying back to Boston in hysterics.
The Kids spawned a host of imitators and a local industry of sound-alike bands. Bands like the Only Ones based their entire style and stance on the Real Kids. Their songs have been covered since they were first written and performed, and the I Wanna Be A Real Kid tribute just goes to show that the rest of the world feels the same way that Boston fans have for 20 years. The Felice bands have also served as a training ground for local musicians, sort of a Parris Island of the Boston sound. John isn't exactly a paternal figure with young guitarists sitting at his knee, but you can hear his style in the playing of a whole mess of Beantown regulars that keep the tradition- and the idea -of a distinct Boston sound alive.
Later on the fun and games ground to a halt. Towards the end of the band's history John had made some remarks about gays to (and in) the press and been branded a homophobe, especially harmful as at the time some of their biggest advocates in the local press were gay men. I know of at least one who made it his life's work to dog the Kids whenever he could, and the band gave him plenty of ammunition. They could do no wrong at one point, and now they could do no right. This is bordering on sacrilege but I'm only saying what everyone who was really there already knows. The Real Kids seemed to have stopped giving a shit, and many of the inner circle of devotees lost interest. Not that they liked the band less; it was just getting painful to watch. What happened later, after '81 or so I can't really say. I lost my desire to be Number One Real Kid Fan.
My relationship with the girl I kissed in the parking lot took me to London several times and then to Karachi, Pakistan three times, so I saw the Kids less and less, and with Howie, Billy and Alpo gone it was a new crew. A trip to Europe only pumped up the bad habits that were developing, and the gigs lost a bit more of that original spark. The recordings from that trip were great, but the personal costs were obviously growing. I had acquired a nasty jones myself, and while tried to keep my shit together I was often occupied "taking care of business". Just like a lot of other cats coming out of the too-cool seventies into the harsh light of the 80's, myself included, the fun had gone out of the stock rock lifestyle. The Keith Richards rulebook was a blast to follow until the repercussions hit. We had all had a great time getting high, but many of us were now hitting the wall HARD and it was no fun anymore. Chipping turned to a habit and then a nasty-ass jones and a half, and music was something you did after you got straightened out and not before. Things like gigs and songwriting were sandwiched into the little time left between copping and hustling to get the cash to cop.
Hey, we all make mistakes, and I know I'm still paying for a lot of the bad habits I nurtured in those days. When I had moved to Cambridge in 1983 I owned a sleeping bag and my guitar and a few amps. Getting out of East Boston let me focus a bit on cleaning up, and for 3 years I was narcotic free. During that time John had the Primevals together, and he brought them in to So-So Sound, my home 8-track outfit that I ran out of my bedroom and the upstairs living room. John was working his way back from that early 80's crash time, and he sounded strong. We recorded "Nothin Pretty (In My Life Anymore)" and it went on "Buy American", the demo later distributed as "1984: the Year at So-So". I lost touch for a long time after that. In '96 I ran into John and we got together, hung out a bit and played a little. John was booking the Kendall Cafe then and he gave me a gig there, sitting in that night playing and singing. Then he came to shows I had at the Plough & Stars and at the Middle East and joined me again, doing my stuff though I would have loved to have played his material. We just didn't have time to practice his new songs. Later I learned a half dozen of his songs in anticipation of a recording project we'd discussed where I'd produce and maybe play guitar, but we were both busy doing other things and it all came to naught. It looks like I missed the boat on producing a Felice project, something I would like to have done. I last saw Felice at a Valentine's show booked by Billy Ruane at the Green St. Grille in February of this year ('98). He played his Telecaster and sang and of over a dozen acts that night he received the biggest ovation. Here at home he is still much beloved for the great music he's given us.
UPDATE, April 1999: Well, they say hold on to your old clothes because they'll come back into style. There's currently a resurgence in interest in the Real Kids, including a prospect of touring again and a recording project, possibly to be produced by a member of the Offspring, professed RK fans. I am pleased and proud to mention that at the Kids' New York City gig on New Year's 98/99, I got up on the Coney Island High stage with them and performed "All Kindsa Girls". Even without sufficient practice under their belts, the band rocked as hard and as strong as anyone out there doing it today.
Boston Rock Experience