Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview : Philippe Marcadé (The Senders, The Backbones)

No special introduction needs to our guest. Philippe Marcadé is a true legend. I feel very honored that he took happily my request for an interview. Light up a cigarette (this is a smoking FREE area!), put some alcohol to your glass and read what answered to my silly questions!

Hi Philippe. Thank you for the chance you gave me to interview you. I’d like to take things from the start. You are French, right? What was the thing that made you flew to NYC and leave behind Europe in the first place and when did that happened?

Well, that was in 72, I was 17 and going to Art School in Paris, where I grew up. I went to Amsterdam one weekend and met this American kid from Boston named Bruce, who was just the coolest. He came back to Paris with me, and when he went back to the States, a month or so later, I went along, planning to spend a month there. 38 years later, I’m still in New York… Never finished Art School…

Europe and especially France have a long tradition for liking American music, especially rock n roll. Are you aware of this? I mean, you were a rock n roll-rhythm & blues fanatic before you get there?

Yes, well, I grew up with The Beatles and The Stones, like everybody else, but I saw Vince Taylor play in Paris when I was 15 and that just shook my world. But most of my “Vintage R&R and R&B” education came later, here in the States.

Once Tim Warren said that rock n roll ignored totally by Americans and what’s left is only Europe and maybe Japan as a market for this kind of music. Is it true? What’s the eye beam of a European  that lives in the States?

Yeah, I think it’s true. Willy DeVille did make it to #1 in the charts in France with his version of "Hey Joe", while no-one gave a damn for him here.

The Senders were your first ever try for a band? Give us some details for the beginning and please clear up one thing. I’m a Thunders fanatic. There are several sources that claim Johnny was an original member of the Senders even though never recorded something officially with them. On the other hand some others believe that never was a true member of the band and just helped on concerts. So, what’s the truth here?

Well, he wasn’t an original member, but he did join in for five gigs! Steve, our bass player, was a friend of Johnny since high school, so he was always around. The Senders started in 76 and I was originally the drummer, but the rest of the band insisted I just sing. I’m not sure if it was because they though my singing was so great or if they just hated my drumming!  We had this cool Mexican guitar player named Jorge, but he went home to Mexico, and so when that line-up fell apart, in 78, Johnny, who was himself having a feud with Heartbreakers at the time, offered to do a handful of gigs as our guitar player. It was never supposed to be a permanent thing. We only played three nights at Max’s and two at Hurra’s. It was great, thou, ‘cause he was totally into it, even insisting on learning our tunes instead of going for covers he already knew, which amazed us. The gigs with him were a blast. One of them was filmed and is on Youtube, now. Johnny made up with the Heartbreakers and we got Wild Bill Thompson as our permanent guitarist. Thru the years, Johnny always came back to do a tune or two with us, thou, when he was in town. He was a great friend and we miss him very much.

When and were did you met Johnny? How this friendship started?

In Boston in 74. Bruce and I went to a party after a New York Dolls concert and ended up playing dice with Johnny, with big pink furry dices like the ones you hang on rear-view mirrors. Bruce got him all worked up by talking about… tomato sauce, of all things!  Both being Italians, they got into this hilarious debate on how to cook it right..!  It ended up with Johnny inviting himself over for a spaghetti dinner at our flat. We thought he was joking, and, indeed, were astonished when he called up a couple of weeks later, as the Dolls had came back to play in Boston again. He came over with Sable Starr, they loved Bruce’s tomato sauce and adopted us for life!!

For what already know and read in several books about NYC’s rock n roll scene of the 70s, no one seems to involve the Senders in that picture. I mean ok, there are few mentions for the band but to me except for the Dolls, all “first” (chronologically) bands there; wasn’t rock n roll at all. Television, Patti Smith, the Velvets? Ok arty- for sure, fresh breath-hmm, alright but rock n roll..? No way! I think the Heartbreakers along with the Ramones, the Senders and the Dictators are the real ones! What’s your opinion about it? Don’t you feel a little bit laid out being on the front and never get the credit you deserve?

Nice compliment, thank you very much. I’m delighted and surprised when we are mentioned anywhere, but, I mean, you know, I was also surprised they didn’t throw me off the stage after five minutes at our first gig!!

The Hound wrote on his blog that the Senders gigs were the perfect place to be for your nights out! What he wrote exactly is: “It was a great place to meet girls, usually skinny one with too much mascara, straight blond or black hair, black cotton tights and spike heel shoes.” Really now, the Senders attracted the female society of the city? That’s rare man for a rock n roll show, don’t you think?

We mostly attracted people we owned money to!!

I found that the press of the time treated very well to the Senders. The Village Voice, the Soho News and the Trouser Press even the N.M.E. all wrote cool things about you. What happened and the band’s first release was by Max’s Kansas label and not from a major like most of the other groups?

Max’s had a restaurant, and they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Free food!! We did send our demos to some Majors. We got them all back, and were always amused by the big  “RETURN TO SENDER” stamped across the envelope.

Is it true that Max’s had on the menu a drink called “The Sender”? What’s the recipe for it?

Yes, it’s true, but I don’t remember what was in it.  You could also get a Blondie, or a Heartbreaker, or, if you REALLY wanted to die, a Suicide, which had gin, whiskey, vodka, cognac and God knows what else in it.

 To this day the Senders are remembered as “the New York’s answer to Dr. Feelgood”. I read also that when the Feelgoods came to States, after their show tried to check you on concert. What happened? They saw you? What were their reactions?

We loved them, and yes, they came to see us at CBGB, right after getting booed off the stage at the Palladium, opening-up for Gentle Giant!! We met Lee Brilleaux, that night, which was an honor.

You have played the drums for the Gang War, a band mostly remembered by the fans of Johnny Thunders and Wayne Kramer. Why did you leave them? What you recorded with them? Tell me a few things on this too. There must be a LOT of drugs there, huh?

Johnny called me up, one night, all exited, to tell me that he was starting a new band with Wayne Kramer, which, of course, I though was fucking great. They wanted to start recording right away and needed a drummer. I was in New York and they were in Michigan but before I could blink they had me on a plane that very night and in a studio in An Arbor moments later. I was thrilled to meet Wayne who turned out to be even cooler that I had imagined. There were no rehearsals or anything. Ron Cooke, a friend of Wayne from Detroit was on bass, great guy too. I just sat at the drums having no idea what we were gonna do. They rolled the tape and Johnny just looked at me and said “Bo Diddley” and so I started ..Bam-ba-bala-bam bam-bam.. and we recorded Who Do Voodoo on the spot. Then we did M.I.A., then it was Just Because I’m White, Fats Domino’s I’m Gonna Be A Wheel and I’d Much Rather Be With The Boys, from The Stones. They didn’t like the studio we were in, so the second night we went to another one. One funny thing that happened was that when we got to that studio, the guy who owned it got a little freaked out when he saw us arrive and asked to see everybody’s I.D! Gang War’s “manager” told him:
“You must be joking! These guys happen to be very famous musicians! This is Wayne Kramer from The MC5, and you got Johnny Thunders from The New York Dolls over here!” The owner didn’t seem convinced at all and spat back “Don’t try to pull a fast one on me, buddy, my son was a big fan of The New York Dolls and he’s right here!”. He then proceeded to call his son “HEY, BILLY, COME DOWN HERE A MINUTE, WOULD YOU ?!” and out comes the fat kid in bermuda shorts, eating a sandwich.. “Is this one from the New York Dolls?” he asked, pointing at Johnny. The kid took a close look, hesitated a bit, then declared, amazed “It’s Johnny Thunders, dad, their guitar player!!”. So they let us in…
Johnny put me up in this real nice house where he was staying with his wife Julie and their two babies. We recorded for three nights in a row. The band being brand new, Wayne and Johnny were obviously thrilled to be playing together and sparks were flying! Back in New York, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I couldn’t just dump my own band, you know, we were totally into it.  Gang War wanted to tour and The Senders were already booked here and there, so it would have been hard to be able to do both. In the end, for some strange reason, I kinda concluded that, with Johnny on board, Gang War may not survive very long, and decided to stick with my own droogs. But my three nights in Michigan as Gang War’s first drummer remains one of the best memories of my life.

You were for many years the city’s hidden truth. I read that when the Senders finally were ready to go massive; the deaths of Marc Bourset and Richie Lure got you back for good. Did you felt ever that you miss the chance for a wider audience or a bigger reputation?

No! We played for a total of 25 fucking years to our same beloved gang of idiots, crazed chicks, hep cats and real gone dads!  They just kept coming back, eventually with their kids! Who could ask for more?!  I miss Moe and Ritchie terribly, but that’s a whole other story…

 How arranged the contact with Marc Zermati’s Skydog label? You must be one the first acts that recorded exclusively for the label since if I remember correctly until then was a mostly bootleg company.

 I think he just approached us at Max’s or something. It may have been thru Johnny.. I can’t remember. He was really nice and quite interesting. He had produced The Dogs in France.

 I’d like to ask you about your book "Au-Delà De L'Avenue D", some things. Unfortunately I don’t have read it yet because it’s only in French. Are you planning to re-publish it in English and if yes when?

 Yes, absolutely! I finished the English version a few months ago (it’s called Beyond Avenue D) and I am presently looking for an American publisher.  Do you know one?!

 By reviews on the net it seems like fun thing to read. Tell us few things about it. I guess that the entire city’s rock n roll intelligentsia passes on from the pages, huh?

It’s the story of my first ten years in the States, from 72 to 82, so from age 17 to 27. It takes you on a wild ride from Paris to a Federal Penitentiary in Arizona… From stealing plants from hotels in Boston to moving to New York and having the Ramones play their very first gig at your party… From Max’s and CBGB’s backrooms to the Tropicana Hotel in L.A… Along the way, I smoke a joint with Bob Marley and quite a few more with a 94 year old guy named Conny, spend summers in Provincetown with Nan Goldin and Cookie Mueller, fall down a mountain, get attacked by Nancy Spungen’s junkie cat, become a junkie too, have a crutch on Debbie Harry, help her write the French lyrics for Denis, adopt a dog who eats my pot, open for The Clash at Bond’s Casino, open a store named Rebop, throw up in some girl’s mouth, go see the Cramps, talk about vacuum cleaners with Sid Vicious,  hit some guy in the face with a paper-weigh, get arrested again, get glue in my eye, get mugged at knife point, bring home Johnny Thunders and some Blintzes from Kiev, get mugged at gun point, live at night... never sleep…  And a lot more! It’s a very funny book. I really hope you can read it soon.

By the way, have you read Andre Williams’ “Sweets” book?  It’s on Billy & Miriam’s KICKS Books Original. I found it fantastic! I thought these guys on whatever touches their hands (Norton, Kicks, the A-Bones and the Zantees) it’s a sure A-class thing. The Senders played with both of their bands. What do you think about them?

Billy and Miriam are fantastic and I love ‘em all up! Norton has never put out a record that’s not way-cool or very interesting. I always loved the Zantees and the A-Bones. Bruce Bennet is a pisser, and Lars, and all of them Bones, they’re sweet kids! And they play the coolest shit too! I didn’t read Sweets yet, thou, but I’m gonna. Andre Williams rules. Now pass the biscuits, please!

In my mind, you, the Hound, the Norton/Kicks guys, Nick Tosches, the Cramps, the Ramones, the Dictators, the Heartbreakers and many others from the NY scene of the 70s, were the coolest party/company ever! It always fascinates me the thing that all bands, writers, record producers, photographers of NYC were a huge company and the “gossips” or stories in book like yours or Legs’ “Please Kill Me” told in this hilarious way! It must be a great thing to be young and be a part of that scene, huh?
Yes. And on top of that I just happened to see all this stuff during my very first months in the States, which made it all the more exciting. I remember not being able to tell if this was this exciting because the bands were so great or because the city was still so new to me. In retrospect, I think it was great because it was a very small scene. Very local and underground. Everybody knew everybody, no-one was signed, no money, no… internet! One must also remember that these were the freest times in the entire history of man kind, simply because the pill already existed but AIDS didn’t yet.  I miss that sense of freedom. Times have changed alright… Can’t even smoke on a plane anymore!! 

On Freddy Lynxx’s “Full Cover”, you re-invented “Baby Glows in the Dark” I must admit with a SUPERB result! Freddy’s a hero of mine but whenever tried to gather information or find him I came to a dead end! On that record there are so many LEGENDS gathered together that I can’t stand not to ask you to tell me some details or stories for the procedure of this record! Whatever you want, just please tell me!

Freddy’s great, definitely one of the sweetest guy I know. I met him after a Senders show at Continental Divide. He was with a girl who told me she had met me before at Marc Zermati’s flat in Paris and had passed-out. Much to my surprise, she then promptly passed-out AGAIN! We had to call an ambulance and rush her to the hospital. While they were looking her over, Freddy and I started to talk about Johnny Thunders and I couldn’t believe how much he knew about him. In the end we talked for hours and completely forgot about the girl! He came back to New York in 99 to tape some stuff and offered to produce some Senders sessions in exchange for us backing him up on some of his own stuff. He had Kevin K. there too. We ended up having Freddy join us on guitar on some of the songs we recorded.  This became "Goodbye Cruel World".   

From the Senders’ trip through the years, I learned a lot of excellent songs thanks to your cover versions. Tell me your favorite artists, songs, books - anyway, things you can live without. It surprised me also that on “Goodbye Cruel World” album you did a great version of the Sin Alley classic, “Crazy Date”! The only other cool band I know that did the same thing was the Nomads from Sweden. You know not a common track to cover. Do you like obscure compilations such as “Sin Alley”, “Savage Kicks”, “Desperate Rock N Roll” etc?

 Yeah!  The Hound turned me onto Crazy Date, by Crazy Teens, He made me a couple of compilations on cassettes “The Hound’s Rockers”, and I use to tape his show on WFMU. Discovering “new” old obscure records kept the Senders going forever. We’d plan to quit soon then hear a song like Crazy Date and go “WOW! We gotta do that one!” and book more shows. This went on for years. Sophie Lo, a good friend and a graphic artist in England, made a real cool video of Crazy Date, with Flip The Frog, the Ub Iwerks cartoon caracter. More recently, she did two more with two original Senders songs: You Really Piss Me Off, then an incredible one for Don’t Fuck With Me, which you should check-out ‘cause it’s a real beaut’ ! They’re all one Youtube.
As for my favorite artists, books, songs… I love Howlin’ Wolf, Gene Vincent… Korla Pandit… ! I love Cherokee Dance by Bob “Froggy” Landers with Willie Joe  and his Unitar. I also love The Monkey Speaks His Mind by Dave Bartholomew. My fav’ book may be Crackpot by John Waters, a must read!

And what about the Backbones? No matter how I searched for this band I didn’t found much. It was a soul group, right? Did they record something? Can you give me some more here please?

I sang with the Backbones from 83 to 88. I started that band with Brett Wilder and Bill Dickson, who were from the Rousers. I wouldn’t say we were a “soul” band, no, but more soul-ish than the Senders, yeah. White trash Soul!! We did open for Wilson Picket, once! We did stuff by Johnny Taylor, Howard Tate, James Carr..  It was a joy and there were some real good players in that band, like Kenny Margolis, from Mink DeVille on keyboards, and Steve Johnson, who is a great guitar player, Brian Hudson, from the Kingpins, on drums, and especially Danny Ray and his fabulous saxophone. We did cut an LP for Midnight Records in 86, and we had a single: Static Soul b/w Ike Turner’s I’m Fed Up.

 You did also some graphic art on records. The one I had is the 3rd X-mass album by Midnight Recs. I noticed also that a lot of garage groups choose to cover the Senders (The Vipers and the Ultra 5 are two that I have in mind this moment) and I’m quite sure that I have a boot of Thunders somewhere with a version of “The Living End”. What do you feel when someone choose to cover the Senders just like the Senders did with artists like Howlin’ Wolf etc? What are your favorite covers on the Senders?

Bands who covered songs I wrote really gave me the most sincere compliment I could ever dream of. I love the Vipers version of No More Fooling Me.  A French band called the Greedy Bastards covered Devil Shooting Dice, Don’t Mind Me and a couple of others. A Sender-cover band! And they’re great too! Made my day!  And yes, you’re right, I did do some graphic art for a few album covers. I did one for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, I hope he liked it and didn’t put a spell on me!

One last thing. I asked Walter Lure the same question. How do you feel after the shutting down of CBGB’s? It was the last one from an era that gave so much to world culture and rock n roll. I mean a place like Max’s now selling hamburgers…That are sad things…

All the action is in Brooklyn, now.  CBGB had a long boring slow death and by the time it closed down places like Continental Divide or the Lakeside Lounge were where it was at, anyway. It was a good thing Max’s closed when it did. Die young, stay pretty.
What did Walter said?!

Read what Walter Lure said HERE!
If you already know French buy "Au delà de l'avenue D" HERE! 


  1. Brilliant interview !!!!
    You did a great job and Philippe is a one of a kind. I really enjoyed reading it ... Thanx

  2. philippe mercade is one of the coolest guys out there! good job!
    liubo and vikie
    endless party

  3. Hey guys! Glad you liked it! We lost touch, hope you're OK lads! Cheers!

  4. Great interview! I must admit, my knowledge of the late 70s NYC punk scene is not so great. I just looked at some of their stuff on youtube, though.

  5. Marvelous job. Phillipe is colorful--a real study--lively and fun to talk to. Brought out by the interviewer who knows his subject!

  6. Thanks for sharing...excellent...Dan from the Chatterbox forum.