One of the coolest things about doing interviews is being able to connect and/or pick the brains of people I grew up listening to. This is definitely the case with Bobby Steele. Bobby was one of the pioneering members of The Misfits (he joined right after the Bullet single and his first release was the Horror Business single) and the founder of The Undead. Great guitar player and all-around nice guy. If you want to read more about Bobby pick up a copy of American Hardcore.
1. First off, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years. First off I wanted to ask you about your involvement in The Misfits. All the bio’s on the web list you with them from 1978 until 1980. You recorded six slabs of vinyl with them, (approximately thirty-five songs) did you write any of the songs?
No. Despite claims by others, Glenn wrote everything. The closest I ever came to ‘writing’ for them was suggesting the idea for LONDON DUNGEON, and offering the music that became WHEN THE EVENING COMES.
2. I remember there being a few different rumors about your departure from the Misfits:
1. You quite and/or . . .
2. You were fired to give Doyle a job.
Which, if either, is true?
After decades of speculation, it comes down to one thing. Jerry wanted to control Glenn’s band. Jerry is not even an original member – only Glenn is. Jerry needed to have someone to back him up on his ‘mutiny’, and he took advantage of Doyle in doing it. HE deliberately orchestrated things to make it look as if I wasn’t interested in the band anymore – telling me we weren’t practicing on days that we actually were, and using that to convince Glenn to get rid of me.
3. Who were, and are your influences, musically and personally?
That’s a tough one. It’d probably be easier to list who isn’t an influence. If you want just the top 5, in no particular order; it’d be The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Glenn, The Ramones and Jimi Hendrix.
4. Back in a time where most of the music being produced was extremely amateurish, you were pretty polished, and professional, what was your training?
I took guitar lessons from a guy who used to play on the old TV shows in the 1950s, and wrote method books for Mel Bay. Later, I learned that he wrote columns in guitar magazines – where Brian Setzer learned all he knows. In high school, I studied classical music theory – so I applied some of the ideas, in regard to dynamics, and how different frequency ranges had different effects in the mind of the listener. While most guitarists were merely playing on the two, or three lower strings, instead of full chords, I always played full chords.
5. I hope this isn’t too far out, here’s a bit of self-analysis. The question is what does Bobby Steele bring to a band?
Whatever the band calls for. I’m about making the music its best – not making myself shine in front. That was one thing I loved about being in The Misfits – I was in the background, just playing. Glenn had to deal with the frontman pressures.
6. Of all the many bands you played with (The Misfits, Undead, Times Square, Zero Prophets, Mourning Noise), who did you most enjoy playing with?
Again – that’s a tough one. I don’t think I can answer that.
7. Of all the recordings you’ve done in your career what slab of vinyl (or CD for the younger fans) are you most proud of or best represents your skills?
I’m really proud of TIL DEATH. I was able to really work on the songs for that one, and on most songs, I spent up to 24 hours mixing and remixing them. I’m especially proud of Thorn In Your Side – because I was able to duplicate the ‘Phil Spector wall of sound’ on it.
8. Thirty-six years have past (since your first recorded release) and the bulk of your early work is still in print. Does your influence on this younger generation of “punks” surprise you?
Absolutely. I knew it’d be big, but… WOW!!
9. Tell us about some of your more recent projects, The Undead and Mourning Noise.
Those aren’t very recent… Mourning Noise was in 1982/3. Steve and his crew were a lot of fun to work with. They were always cracking on each other. Currently, I play at church mainly; and I’m working on a musical.
10. How much of a part did you play in the visual direction of the bands you played in, and the overall art direction?
Since it was Glenn’s band – I just tried to do whatever he wanted. With The Undead, I tried to keep it ‘street’, with a good amount of spookiness – but always in a fun manner. I never take myself too seriously, so you see a lot of self-deprecating humor in the image.
11. Other than being in the incredible bands you were in, give us some of your greatest memories of being the punk scene back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Okay. I’ll leave band experiences out – to make it easier. One memory was going into one after-hours club in the summer of 79. It was run by the Hells Angels, and this summer, there were Angels from around the world in town. This one night, there was a party going on, and they’d gotten the DEAD BOYS to reunite for the night. For an encore, they did ‘Sonic Reducer’ – and were joined onstage by some Danish Hells Angels, and that little old man from the BENNY HILL SHOW.
12. Our last question, rather than complain about the current state of punk rock, my question to you is: do you find it strange or maybe amusing how incredibly accepted punk is now?
I always believed punk would catch on. I just expected it to be more of the real deal, instead of the candy-coated stuff being passed off as punk rock. I’d like to see more of the poor, struggling musicians making it – the ones with real heart.