The Undead Punk
Bobby Steele / The Undead
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Always The Misfit
In January 1981, the Lower East Side was one of New York City’s most dangerous, drug infested neighborhoods…a forgotten and long neglected slum. But something was about to happen that would ultimately rocket this square mile of Hell to international prominence in the art world, and change it forever.
That “something” was the debut performance of a new band, THE UNDEAD, formed by Bobby Steele, the famously exiled guitarist of New York’s most notorious and violent punk band, THE MISFITS. Bobby had been relegated to finding THE UNDEAD a new venue after being blacklisted and banished from every established (reputable, that is) NYC nightclub because, he says, of a few “minor” indiscretions…like leaving Beatle John Lennon covered in vomit, the alleged “stabbing” of the younger brother of a popular TV star, and an incident that involved corrupting the morals of the underage daughter of a Middle-Eastern diplomat leading to an international scandal! Bobby says, “those respectable NY dives had no qualms serving liquor to 12-year old girls, but found these ‘pranks’ reprehensible…and we were banned forever from crossing their hypocritical thresholds.”
“Playing in THE MISFITS, and especially working alongside Glenn, definitely had an influence on both my approach to songwriting, as well as artistic design for posters and record covers. But it was mainly my own hard-work that helped me to push THE UNDEAD into prominence."
The Undead Invasion
Bobby had moved to the Lower East Side two years earlier, and quickly became familiar with its desolate streets, where few outsiders dared to set foot…unless it was to buy heroin…or die tryin’. Always “The Misfit,” Bobby stood out in the neighborhood…a target of scorn for the deviant hoodlum locals who shouted racial epithets when they saw him. Bobby really didn’t have to work hard to establish a reputation among his neighbors…that crazy Gringo…driving his car on the sidewalks, walking the dark streets at night checking out the “hot” spots carrying a 6-foot long, hooked meat rack, and challenging dope dealers and cops alike.
“My music was heavily inspired by my experiences living in NYC's East Village - from the drugs, to crime, and the desperation of poverty ... though I generally chose to poke fun at these negative situations. I've always had a knack for laughing at my worst predicaments."
The Birth of NYHC Scene
Bobby had noticed what appeared to be an old-fashioned “speakeasy” on the corner of Avenue A and East 7th Street…The A7 Club. So, after recording his new band’s first demo, he brought a copy to the club’s owner, and convinced him to book them for a Friday night gig. On January 31, 1981 THE UNDEAD debuted to a packed house.
Thanks to some creative, aggressive promotion, the small venue was overwhelmed by the 80 paying punks who came to see THE UNDEAD…and what they witnessed that Friday night was the birth of the New York Hardcore Punk scene! In time, the NYHC Scene had grown…festered…into what is now the EAST VILLAGE…recognized as one of the leading tourist destinations in the world.
“My strategy in THE UNDEAD differed from THE MISFITS, because I had the say in how things were run for THE UNDEAD, while my ideas were regularly brushd aside in THE MISFITS. So, with THE UNDEAD I was able to do all the things THE MISFITS had scoffed at. I was right, since THE UNDEAD accomplished more in our first six months than THE MISFITS had acomplished in the previous 4 years."THE UNDEAD was the first band out of the NYHC scene to ink a recording contract with a prominent label…STIFF RECORDS…the seminal British punk record label that had launched the careers of THE DAMNED, MOTORHEAD, THE GO-GOs, ELVIS COSTELLO, and numerous legendary punk acts. Getting the label’s attention, in true Bobby Steele style, began by crashing a party at STIFF’S new Soho offices, and graffiti-ing every inch of available wall space. The result was that STIFF representatives went to see THE UNDEAD, opening for THE MISFITS at the RITZ on December 17, 1981…and immediately arranged to meet with the band and discuss a contract.
"Part of our tactic of getting signed at STIFF involved grafitti-ing our name all over their office, as well as our catch phrase, I WANT YOU DEAD."
The Indie Revolution
THE UNDEAD would lay claim to numerous “firsts”…fighting oppressive forces every step of the way. Openly “blacklisted” by an industry that resents his strong will and sense of independence, Bobby has managed to operate on the fringes of the legitimate record industry. When he laid the groundwork for the “Indie Revolution” in the 1990s, Steele, the anger magnet, really provoked the bean counters at the majors…who he openly mocked.
One prominent industry insider told Bobby, “You are a phenomenon. That’s something we all agree on. We also have agreed that you will NEVER get a record deal.” Statements like this one would have led any sensible artist to give up…then and there. But Bobby is not always sensible…he chooses to do what he wants, and he accepted the comment as the badge of honor it was. He had shown the experts, and made a success of an album they all told him “sucked and would never sell.” On the day of its release, ACT YOUR RAGE sold out its first pressing of 6,000 units, and broke the 10,000 unit mark in under 8 months…while labels that had blown off the release were boasting that their best-selling title broke the 2,000 mark “after only 2 years.”
Today & Tomorrow
It’s 2007, and THE UNDEAD is still alive…outlasting nearly every one of their contemporaries, aside from the few lucky ones who managed to find success with a major label or Indie subsidiary. This year there are plans for new releases and tours, beginning with the upcoming release of “Still UNDEAD After All These Years”, a 19-track collection of obscure 45s released since 2000.
An album of all new material is slated for 2008, followed by tours of the US and Europe. The band is also in negotiations to license their recordings in South America, and tour the region. Bobby says, “The only place that hasn’t made an offer…and where we have a very strong following…is Japan. Hopefully, we’ll have that taken care of by 2008.”
Other planned projects for THE UNDEAD is a collection of forgotten Rock ‘n Roll classics…to be produced by none other than former MAX’s KANSAS CITY promoter, producer of Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers legendary LIVE AT MAX'S album…Peter Crowley…and will feature guest appearances by many of Bobby’s favorite MAX’s legends.
The drugs and violence have been replaced with “ATTITUDE,” and Bobby, at 50, is still the “Bad Boy of Rock ‘n Roll.” He’s demonstrated time after time that even bad boys can do good things…like make some of the finest Rock ‘n Roll since the day Elvis took off his blue suede shoes. For this Punk, “Never Say Die!” is not just a saying…it’s a way of life!