When talking of Garage Rock in the 80s, in Canada it was nearly impossible to avoid the topic of The Gruesomes, a four piece Garage Punk band that would become a big selling underground act. Forming in 1985, the group initially featured John Davis (bass) and Eric Davis (drums) and guitarist/vocalist Bobby Beaton, while in their early stages the band were just learning their instruments, with drummer Eric Davis reportedly using trashcan lids and a snare as his drum set up, when the three met Gerry Alvarez (guitar/occasional vocalist), The Gruesomes were born. Taking influences from early 60s Garage Rock and R&B influenced Garage music from the likes of the Pebbles, Back To The Grave compilations and 70s Punk, the band decided to find a middle ground between the two genres. As a result, The Gruesomes fused together elements of 60s Garage Rock with the sneerful, snotty energy and attitude of 70s Punk. The band also has stated that they were influenced by bad television programs from the 60s/70s, which is rather fitting given the origin of their name. The band took their name from The Flintstones television program, they had some scary neighbours who were known as The Gruesomes. Armed with 60s styled mop top hairdos and vintage 60s suits from second hand shops, The Gruesomes began playing live gigs around Montreal shortly after their formation.
Being very young, all of the band members were between the ages of 17 and 19, the band relied on humour and banter onstage combined with their energy and enthusiasm for their music more so than their musical abilities in their early days. Their first two releases came in the form of EPs, first the Jack The Ripper EP and then the Unchained EP, both released in 1985 on the Primitive Records label. The band quickly built up a fan base, and by 1986 the band had released their first full length album, Tyrants of Teen Trash. Released on Og Records, Tyrants of Teen Trash sold well not only in Canada, but in the US and Europe as well. Combined with their large local following, the group hit the road, touring constantly and recording which resulted in two solid back to back albums, 1987’s Gruesomania, and 1988’s Hey! The bands status grew in popularity, they charted at number one on numerous alternative playlists and in high positions on many music based charts.
In 1987, The Gruesomes drummer Eric Davis left the group with John Knoll joining The Gruesomes ranks. As a result Knoll brought more of a Soul and R&B backbeat to the group as opposed to Eric, who had more of a 70s Punk vibe. Despite this change up, the group remained enormously popular in the music underground, captivating audiences with their sweaty, energetic live sets. From the very first Gruesomes release, they not only displayed their primitive Garage Punk stylings, but there was also an underlying Surf Rock influence that is not always brought up when discussing the bands music. While it is not as prevalent on their first few releases, it pops up in a more dominate form on 1987's Gruesomania on songs such as "Whirlpool" and on 1988's Hey! on songs such as "Hey!" and "El Diablo". Towards the end of their initial releases in the 80s the bands sound leaned more towards an R&B direction, while still keeping a Garage/Punk ethic, partially due to their new drummer most likely. A sign of their ultimate expansion can be heard on the song "I Can Dig It", a song that is one of their longest recordings to date. The song explores a more Psychedelic nature in the vein of The Stooges and other 60s Psych groups. This style would later be explored in further detail with guitarist Gerry Alvarez's next group The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey. In addition to The Gruesomes underground popularity, The Gruesomes had two music videos that received high rotation on MuchMuch and Musique Plus in Canada in the late 80s, the video’s were for 1987’s “Way Down Below” and 1988’s “Hey!”. Despite being at the height of their popularity, the rigorous effects of constant touring finally took its toll on The Gruesomes and in 1990, they called it quits.
Ten years later The Gruesomes returned with what is often called one of their best album's, 2000's Cave-In!. The album was just as good as their previous releases and even featured several songs that the band had played live in the late 80s, but never made onto an official studio album. The band headed to Europe for touring purposes and also toured in parts of the US and Canada. In 2003, a retrospective compilation of Gruesomes material was released on Sundazed Records entitled Gruesomology 1985-1989.
Bobby Beaton and John Davis have since formed their R&B group Fuad & The Feztones, whose name Fuad Ramses originates from a pen name that Bobby Beaton used to use when writing Gruesomes linear notes. They released a seven inch EP entitled Valley Of The Kings in 2002 and in 2008 they released their first full length album Beeramid. Gruesomes guitarist Gerry Alvarez formed The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey, whose music takes influence from 60s Psychedelic music. Gerry has released two full length albums as The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey, Candy Prankster in 2006 and Omega Tea Time in 2010. In 2007, Ricochet Sound released Live In Hell a live Gruesomes album from a show they played at the Pub Flamingo in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1989. In 2008, all of The Gruesomes albums were re-issued on CD via Ricochet Sound with bonus tracks, you can even find their 1985 Garbage Pail Kids Demo done by Gerald Van Herk and Tony Dewald of Montreal’s Deja Voodoo on the Hey! Re-issue. In addition to The Gruesomes full length releases, they have been featured on numerous compilation album series including the Og Records series It Came From Canada and the What Wave compilation series. The Gruesomes perform live on occasion.
The following interview was done between myself Dave Konstantino (host of Revolution Rock), Gerry Alvarez of The Gruesomes/The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey and John Davis of The Gruesomes/Fuad & The Feztones. We talk about The Gruesomes early days, Surf Rock, recording and both of Gerry and John's respective current musical groups the Gerry Alvarez Odyssey and Fuad & The Feztones.
RR: Let’s talk about the early days, how exactly did you guys meet and when did you decide to move forward as a band?
Gerry: We got to know each other from mutual friends who were into the same kind of music. I had been playing with different musicians for a while and was looking for a band to play with when I heard John, Bob and Eric got instruments and wanted to jam. That was back in the winter of 1985, we were between the ages of 16 and 19. I showed them three chord tunes such as “Gloria” in John’s basement in NDG. We came up with a name, practiced a bunch of times, till we were moldy enough to play basement parties and have a bunch of friends over to watch us play, including my old buddies Shawn and Stu. Back in those days we had no video games or DVD, so we didn’t do much else than play guitar and listen to vinyl records most of the time.
RR: The Gruesomes were known for having a large local fan base, but what do you remember about your first live gig? Where was it and why do you think your music appeals to your fans?
Gerry & John: Some guys from a local band called Terminal Sunglasses saw us play at a party in The Davis house basement and asked us to open up for them at Le Steppe on Parc Avenue in 1985. I was a bit nervous cause I overheard some guy say we were gonna be the next Rolling Stones. We got popular right away, a Local Paper, the MTL Mirror wrote about us a lot gave us favourable reviews. It seemed that every second weekend we another gig lined up. We played and toured constantly for years after. It all happened quite quickly. I guess it was cause we had a look, style and a different sound than anything going on… a schtick. Plus a lot of teenage energy to spare, you can hear it on those records. We dressed the part and played exactly what we were really into which was 60’s garage rock. We could perform anywhere from the toughest skinhead punk dives and college frat holes to the big venues and still get the crowds rockin’.
RR: Something that isn’t always brought up when talking about The Gruesomes is your Surf Rock influence. You have several straight up Surf Rock songs, was there a plan do Surf styled songs and do you think that Surf Rock and Garage are connected in anyway and why?
Gerry: Yeah, sure they are connected, it’s that guitar sound, the tremolo and the reverb, we loved that. They were simple to play, riffy, few chords and sounded great played loud, sloppy and dirty.
John: There was not really a surf movement back then so anyone who liked sixties tunes tended to also dig surf.
RR: What are some of your favourite all time albums?
Gerry: Amongst my favourites I would say “We Are Paintermen” by The Creation, The Standels “Dirty Water”, The Beatles “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”, “Tomorrow”, The Seeds”, The Who’s “My Generation”, The Kinks Singles collection, Thee Milkshakes “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Isolation Drills” from Guided by Voices.
John: The Gruesomes were really into the pebbles and back from the grave comps. That along with releases on the Midnight records label from NYC were our main inspiration.
RR: The Gruesomes recorded some demos with members of Deja Voodoo in 1985 referred to as the Garbage Pail Kids Demos. What do you remember about recording those demos and how did you get Gerard and Tony (of Deja Voodoo) to record them?
Gerry: We taped “For All I Care” in John’s basement with Gerard and Tony which was our first recording. I remember Bobby fiddling with my distortion pedal, while I had the guitar and earphones on, till a happy expression came on my face to signal him that the sound was good. The Voodoo guys had seen us play live and were interested in adding us to their “It Came From Canada” punk compilations on OG records.
John: We recorded a total of 5 songs which we handed out to clubs to get gigs. WE cut out the logo from the Garbage Pail Kids stickers (which were popular at the time) and stuck it to a photocopied photo of the band. It is really primitive!
RR: Gruesomania and Hey! were both released within a year of each other. Were the songs all recorded at the same time? Where and when were those albums recorded and how did the recording process differ from the recording of Tyrants of Teen Trash?
Gerry & John: Tyrants of Teen Trash was recorded on 8 track while Gruesomania and Hey! were recorded on 24 track. Hey! and Guesomania were not recorded at the same time, “Gruesomania” we did in 1987 and “Hey” was in 1988. We were supposed to go on a tour in the summer of ‘87 to promote Tyrants but got into a car accident, coming back from a show in Toronto at Lee’s Palace, wrecked our van, so we did “Gruesomania” instead. That was a good thing coming out of a bad one. They were recorded pretty much the same way.
John: In retrospect, we should have stuck to 8 track recording. We really had no idea what we were doing. “Hey” sounded better but people never dug it as much as “Tyrants”. “Gruesomania” had stronger song writing but terrible recording!
Gerry & John: Our best record is “Cave-In” I would say. We are all very proud of that LP.
RR: The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey differs musically from the music that was created with The Gruesomes, how would you describe your new groups sound?
Gerry: The Odyssey is an evolution of the genre or style, I’ve always been into the same guitar sounds and music, it’s just taking it further. Having my own band allows me to be more experimental and do things that are out of The Gruesomes mold which is a nice change. I don’t want to bend over backwards to recreate a copy of The Gruesomes, it would probably be impossible for me to pull off without the other guys anyway, not really interested in doing that. The Odyssey is who I am now with Flavio Monopoly as drummer and producer, it’s more psychedelic rock and pop with a bit of garage cause that’s were I come from. The Gruesomes were early to mid 60’s purists while the Odyssey is very 60’s influenced but with more of a contemporary sound and feel.
RR: How has the song writing process differed from your days with The Gruesomes as opposed to The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey? Is the process pretty much the same or different and why?
Gerry: The Gruesomes didn’t have computers or fancy demo recording equipment. These days I make demos at home on my Mac. After a while, I learned how to do it all on my own, it’s just a natural progression.
RR: What are your plans for the future musically? Are you working on anything new with any of your current music projects?
Gerry: We just played an Odyssey show in Toronto at The Sister and are planning on more gigs in the Ontario, Quebec area. I’ve been living in Toronto for ten years now. I’m always working on ideas for tunes, we’ll see when the next CD comes, we just released “Omega Tea Time” a year ago so no rush for a new one yet.
RR: Fuad & The Feztones differs musically from the music that was created with The Gruesomes, how would you describe your new groups sound?
John: The Feztones play music from a slightly earlier time-period that the Gruesomes. Bobby has really been into the 1960-64 twist sound for just about forever. The music we play is similar to what one might have heard at a frat house party circa 1962. We throw in this whole middle-east/ Egyptian thing as an excuse to make bad puns in our song writing. We had a real toga party last year that was a total blast.
RR: How has the song writing process differed from your days with The Gruesomes as opposed to Fuad & The Feztones? Is the process pretty much the same or different and why?
John: The process is about the same, only the reference points have changed. In the Feztones we ask ourselves "how would some dumb sixties teenager interpret James Brown?" as opposed to the Gruesomes where we imagined how the same kid would interpret the Stones and the Kinks. We have always loved early sixties R&B only now we get to play it exclusively. Also, we don't have to resist writing goofy contrived words anymore – in fact our wordplay and gag lyrics are so important we even included a lyric sheet with our CD. The Gruesomes never did that!
RR: Raye (from Ricochet Sound) tells me that Tyrants of Teen Trash is getting re-issued on Vinyl, do you prefer to listen to music on vinyl or digitally (CD/ipod) and why?
Gerry: Well, I grew up listening to vinyl and will always enjoy that but now I listen to my ipod for the convenience. Don’t really like mp3, much prefer CD quality, with a good pair of speakers or earphones. I got my computer hooked through the stereo.
RR: Are there any further planned Gruesomes releases in the future?
Gerry: Not really.
John: Not really but who knows.
RR: When was the last time that The Gruesomes played together and do you plan on playing anymore live shows in the future?
Gerry & John: The last time we played was in Montreal for a Garage festival with the likes of ? and the Mysterians, The Cynics and more in 2009. We don’t have anything planned for now, we’re all busy with our new bands,
Gerry: Bob and John have been playing with The Feztones for a while now. It just gets a little more complicated each time to get the old band together for a show once every two years, it’s how it goes. You never know.
More info on The Gruesomes, The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey and Fuad & The Feztones can be found at:
The Gruesomes Myspace Page
Ricochet Sound Facebook Page
The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey Myspace Page
Fuad & The Feztones Myspace Page
Gruesomes Play List:
1. No No No (Cave-In! 2000)
2. I Can Tell (Gruesomania 1987)
3. You Gotta Believe Me (Cave-In! 2000)
4. You're Not The Boss of Me (Cave-In! 2000)
5. Thanks For Nothing (Hey! 1988)
6. Won't You Listen? (Hey! 1988)
7. I Try (1985 Garbage Pail Kids Demo)
8. For All I Care (1985 Garbage Pail Kids Demo)
9. Bikers From Hell (Live In Hell 2007)
10. Jack The Ripper (Part II) (Jack The Ripper EP 1985)
11. No More Lies (Jack The Ripper EP 1985)
12. What's Your Problem? (Tyrants of Teen Trash 1986)
13. Things She Does To Me (Jack The Ripper EP 1985)
14. Fuad & The Feztones - Valley of the Kings (Valley Of The Kings 2002)
15. Gerry Alvarez Odyssey - No Man's Island (Omega Tea Time 2010)
16. What Wave (Mr. Garager’s Neighbourhood Compilation 1989)
17. El Diablo (Hey! 1988)
18. Undecided (Live In Hell 2007)
19. Leave My Kitten Alone (Gruesomania 1987)
20. Unchain My Heart (Unchained EP 1985)
21. Fuad & The Feztones - Welcome To My Castle (Nardwuar The Human Serviette and The Evaporators Present Busy Doing Nothing! 2012)
22. Gerry Alvarez Odyssey - Candy Prankster (Candy Prankster 2006)
23. Cave-In! (Cave-In! 2000)
24. Hip-no-tyzed (Cave-In! 2000)
25. Way Down Below (Gruesomania 1987)
26. I'm Down(Live In Hell 2007)
27. Hey! Live In Hell 2007)
To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for February 14. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.