July 13, 2011

The Punk Starts Here ... The Bodies....... (Lancaster 1981-82)

Art by Erik Levy, From a t-shirt screened by Jim Tesnar































I was going into seventh grade in 1981 and punk rock was just entering my consciousness. There were stories about this band of older guys called The Bodies, but by the time I could have gone to their shows, they had broken up.  We tried to catch up wearing spiked hair, safety pins, skinny ties to school and doing the pogo at dances.  My mom thought we looked cute. We started bands and put on shows before we even knew how to play instruments.  The Bodies faded into legend as "Lancaster's first punk band" without ever releasing any original material but they were probably the first band in town doing anything like it, and they really could play their instruments! Along with all the others who got involved, The Bodies helped to ignite a strong little punk rock scene that became my teenage home.

Tapewrecks is proud to dig up The Story of The Bodies...

...as told by surviving band members and their friends:

The Bodies:
Tommy Bang (a.k.a. Tommy Leanza, drums)
Johnny Scrotum  (a.k.a. John Bear, bass)
The Englishman (a.k.a. Dave Albert, guitar)
Gumby (a.k.a. Mark Gamber, vocals)

Johnny Scrotum
Johnny Scrotum: We started out playing Kansas, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Boomtown Rats and other mainstream crap. The original name of the band was George and the Dragons. I think we only practiced for a few weeks before George moved on.  Tommy brought Kenny Gross to practice one day and we immediately gelled with him. Kenny had a large number of songs he had written, and we began playing a bunch of his stuff. A couple of his song titles were “Mental Illness” and “Fart Stains.” Kenny was a talented musician, but he also had a serious drug problem. Tommy caught him shooting heroin in the bathroom of his parent’s house, which is where we jammed. Kenny had just purchased, found, or stole a female manikin which he used as a microphone stand. Once the heroin kicked in, Kenny took it upon himself to dry hump the naked manikin on the front yard. Tommy and his family lived in a typical suburban neighborhood and even a stupid kid like me knew that was messed up. At this point we all knew that Kenny was not going to work out long term. He was too much of a mess.
Kenny Gross

Gumby:  Kenny was a nice guy and extremely talented with some great songs but he had a bad drug and alcohol problem. One night Kenny stole a car, got drunk and hit a woman on Oregon Pike and that sent him to jail...

JS: One day at practice, I remember Tommy throwing on a Rezillos album, we listened to “Flying Saucer Attack” a couple of times, played it, continued on to the next track, so on and so forth until we knew the entire album. Tommy would sing (if you could call it that) so that we could hold it together.  This is how the focus of the band began to change. Never Mind the Bollocks was the next album we focused on, and a practice or two later we had that album down. I think I may have a few seconds of this train wreck on tape somewhere.  Now we just needed a frontman.

Gumby
G: ...and they started to audition new singers. Obviously I got the part and the band went from a "harder sounding Sharks" [a local new wave band] kind of thing doing a mix of Kenny's originals and stuff like Joe Jackson to balls out punk with the occasional "new wave" song thrown in for good measure.

JS: As I recall, Mark had been hanging around Tommy’s place when we played. When word got around that Kenny was out and we needed a singer, Mark wanted to give it a shot. He sang a couple of Sex Pistols songs and he was in. Mark proved to be an excellent front man, although he would occasionally drop the mic and have to retrieve it from the mosh pit… as I recall, it usually didn’t go well.

Laura Cotton (friend and photographer): I remember seeing Mark and Tommy walking around at Park City [Mall] sometime in the summer of '81- Mark had a safety pin or something like that in his face, and I thought they were the coolest thing I had ever seen in person! Later that day, we were told by someone that they were in the Bodies, a band that would be playing at Tom Paine's Backroom that night. My sister and I decided to take our chances and try to get in, although we were about 14 and 17 at the time. It certainly was no big quiz to get in and we became a part of the 'scene' there such as it was.  I had a Canon TX camera that my Dad had bought me for Christmas, and I fancied myself an artist, so I started bringing my camera around and photographing the shows.  I don't remember much else- we were all drunk.

G: Our first show was at Tom Paine's Backroom, which would later become the Chameleon. This was my first band and I remember getting on stage for the first time and snapping into a really uncomfortable sobriety. The music starts and as the time approaches when I have to sing something, I draw a total blank. Then the words just started coming out of my mouth, at least close to being in tune, and it was like I was outside of myself listening to all this happen. I'm not sure how long that lasted, maybe a few seconds or a minute or a song or two but it was the oddest thing. Then I kind of settled down and while I always got nervous before a show, that never happened again.

G: We probably owed most of our gigs to Blair King, who ran the Backroom and booked us fairly often. He was in one of those late 70's "new wave" bands, [Color Code] and may have fancied himself a "punker" so he liked us. 

Blair King: My dad owned Tom Paine's and I ran the Backroom for a couple of years.  They were a great Sex Pistols "tribute" act and tore up Devo's "Girl U Want" as well. I remember going to Tommy's house to audition them and hired them on the spot.  In my opinion, their front man was BETTER than Mr. Rotten live.

"Malcolm" by Erik Levy
G: Bill Tormas, of Web of Sound fame, was the band's "manager"...whatever that meant...and Erik Levy [Kim Su] did the band's artwork and came up with the band mascot, Malcolm, who's mohawked head sat on Johnny's bass amp. 

G: I can still close my eyes and picture Tommy's "Blow me, pal!" pin like it's in front of me. We were interviewed and played on Millersville [University] radio fairly often.  One of my favorite Tommy moments was when we were on the way to the radio station and I had a swastika in my ear. Two girls passed us in the hall and as they passed one half whispered to the other "Did you see what he has in his ear?". Tommy does a Tigger bounce into this girl's face and in his loudest, most obnoxious, punk rocker voice yelled "YEAH, IT'S A FUCKING SWASTIKA!". I thought the girl was going to piss herself...good times! 

Tommy Bang
G: And let's not forget when Tommy threw Tormas through the window of his own house when they lived on Fairview. That was freakin' hysterical! I don't remember much but I do remember some good stuff! 

Tommy Bang:  He did not actually go through the window!!! And I sure as hell didn't throw him...I mean really...Bill was a big guy back then...

G: LOL....ok, cool. I had vague memories of him having to come back in from outside but that's probably just blurred memories running together. I know I passed out on Bill's mom's lap because I didn't hear the end of that for...oh....10 years?

G: To the best of my knowledge, out of 3 full sets of songs, we had three whole originals and I don't think the band lasted in public for a full year.  I remember doing Sex Pistols; Bad Brain, Teenage Lobotomy and We Want the Airwaves from the Ramones; Policy Story from Black Flag; I Kill Children from Dead Kennedys; One More Time from Joe Jackson; Girl U Want from Devo; Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head (Kicked In Tonight) from the Rezillos. Bodies originals were Riker's Island Addict", Punks in PA, and Skull Fucker. We usually played for a pretty good crowd and people seemed to like us but if you play other people's songs and you suck, you're idiots.
John Brubaker skanking

G: One of my favorite shows was at the Lititz Rec Center. The kids were slam-dancing and the guy that ran the place thought it was a fight and he turned off the power. Carl [Wolfe] apparently threatened him and the power went back on and the show continued. At one point I announced the next song, "WE'RE DOING POLICE STORY!" The song starts with guitar feedback for a second, then the band kicks in and I belt out the first line "This fucking city....is run by pigs!" and as I'm getting out the second half, I lift my head and see that the back of the place is lined with Lititz, Warwick and PA state police. "Aw shit, we're in it now". There were some arrests made outside and so on but the cops saw the kids slamming, knew was it was and didn't bother them or us. It was one of the longest 15 seconds of my life.

JS: I knocked the calluses off my fingertips during the first set and began bleeding, by the end of the a second set my bass was covered in blood and my fingers were killing me. Someone had some super glue and I used it as instant skin.

G: The last show was July 4th of whatever year it was at the Backroom. Tommy decided he had enough and "broke up the band" which John and Dave decided meant he quit. They asked me to stick around but I wanted to go in another direction, like back to school, and declined and, as far as I know, that was that. 

JS:  I was bummed when Tommy decided to leave. I do remember Tommy telling me some time later that he regretted leaving. I think given some time, we could have developed our own stuff and done some things. I also think we could have better utilized our young following and did more all age shows. We had a strong high school following, as we were all teenagers ourselves. 

JS: The Englishman and myself practiced with a new drummer a couple of times, but I was returning to high school that fall and trying to get my act together so I told them I was no longer interested.  I started playing for a heavy metal band the following year and continued playing through college, and during my teaching career. I eventually left the music scene in 1993 as my first child was about to be born.

Dave Albert - The Englishman
Kenny went on to write hundreds of songs, played in the Psycheholics, Future X, the Thunder B Band, and had a brief solo act called Kenny Gross' Suicide. Sadly, he died of a heroin overdose in NYC in 2004.  Dave Albert "the Englishman" apparently also died some years ago, but I don't know the details.  Mark Gamber went on to sing for Jack Lord's Hair and The OOgies. Tommy Leanza continues to drum and currently plays in The Sleeping World. Laura Cotton continued her photography and, with her sister Sue, opened State of Confusion, a punk clothing and accessory store and friendly hangout for anyone who didn't fit in anywhere else. Erik Levy aka Kim Su is a tattoo artist and played bass in Blackeyed Susan. Bill Tormas and Carl Wolf opened the Web of Sound record store and promoted dozens of shows in and around Lancaster. Blair King moved to Florida and formed the Beatlesque tribute band. Tom Paine's Backroom changed hands and became Chameleon, Central Pennsylvania's biggest club for original music. Dozens of original punk, hardcore, and garage bands sprouted up in Lancaster from the early-80s on.

TB: omg Mark.. we should keep in mind that all this BS is being documented on FB 4eva... we may NEVER live this stuff down now!

G: Yeah...but it was what, 30 years ago? Even going by the line in The Terminator "In 100 years who's gonna care?", we're a third of the way there! 


This wreckage was rescued from Johnny's basement, but there are rumored to be other tapes out there.


Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight
Anarchy in the USA
Did You No Wrong
Bodies






Thanks to the band members for all the memories and to Laura Cotton for her photos!

If you were around Lancaster in those days and remember the bands, clubs, music stores, record labels, or any other part of the scene, please help us salvage that history!

.....

The Bodies spawned a whole family tree of Lancaster bands starting with Johnny Scrotum in Last Knight. Gumby later sang for Jack Lord's Hair and the Oogies. And Kenny Gross was always Kenny Gross.

The Bodies are back from the grave and playing again. Stay tuned for the news....

2 comments:

  1. Have a wee look at this! I think I met Dave!

    http://www.blipfoto.com/entry/1432375

    ReplyDelete
  2. As the son of "Johnny Scrotum" I love coming back to this site from time to time to see the pictures of what once was. The looks have changed, however his personality has not one bit, Thanks for the great page!

    ReplyDelete