By Martin Popoff
On the blessed occasion of “Don’t You Wish We Were Dead,” director Wes Orshoski’s new documentary (out on Blu-ray in May) on the U.K. punk legends The Damned, Goldmine asked the band’s original and classic era guitarist Brian James and drummer Rat Scabies, to tell us a bit about the records that shaped the band’s sound.
First, commenting on the film, James remarked, “Wes has tried to show each member of the original band’s human side. And I think that’s come through.”
“Wes really just wanted to capture the personalities that made the band what it was,” reflects Scabies,” and I think he did that very well. The truth is, after nearly 40 years of a career, he could probably have made three movies and still not managed to capture the whole of the band’s spirit (laughs) — it’s a big story.”
Iggy and the Stooges, “Raw Power”
Brian James: Obviously, the other two albums were great — “Fun House” was fantastic and so was the original Stooges album. But when “Raw Power” came out, it was totally in-your-face. So if I had to pick between the three albums, I would pick that one. Stooges has to be part of it. They had done one show at King’s Cross, around the time that him and James Williamson were recording “Raw Power.” And I don’t know how many people were there. I wasn’t there, because I couldn’t make it. I had a gig myself, which was a real shame, because I would’ve loved to have seen it. But obviously your own gig is more important than any other thing.
Rat Scabies: They had the first punk album that came out, and it was funny, because when it all started, we would look at photographs of the Ramones and Blondie and Television in Punk magazine, and none of them had an album out. So we used to kind of have to guess what they sounded like. And then when the Ramones’ album came out, and they actually sounded like the way they looked, they kind of went up a notch. They didn’t carry that … the New York CBGBs scene was almost like Andy Warhol — Warholian — almost like an art project as opposed to the real world. And the real world was kind of what U.K. punk were about, and certainly The Damned were. But I think the Ramones were the real deal as well — everybody loves the Ramones, right?
New York Dolls, “New York Dolls”
James: The only stuff we’d heard from New York had been the New York Dolls and the Patti Smith Band. And the Patti Smith thing was good for like that couple of years earlier, but The Dolls had a sort of lovely trashiness about them.
Sandy Nelson, “Sandy Nelson Plays Teen Beat”
Scabies: I think from my own point, you’ve got something like Sandy Nelson, Teen Beat. I started playing when I was 8 years old, and there wasn’t really much around that I dug. When I was really young, jazz was the only kind of music that was on the radio, so I listened to a lot of jazz playing. The great thing about jazz is that every song has a drum solo, right? (laughs). So definitely Sandy Nelson, and also the Dave Clark Five, were an influence.
The Rolling Stones, “Out of Our Heads“
James:If you’re talking about inspirations from when you first start, then there would be the Stones, “Out of Our Heads,” and perhaps some Yardbirds; I’m from that original rock ‘n’ roll era.
MC5, “Back in the USA”
Scabies: With Brian, you’d be sitting there, and you’d be listening to Johnny Coltrane and then it would be the MC5. So he’d make a massive leap between jazz and kind of grungy rock. If grungy is the right word — it probably isn’t. With the last MC5 album, they kind of learned to play, and that’s when I went off them a bit. The Dolls I thought had a couple of cool tunes and “Fun House” and “The Stooges” are both massively influential, but I was more into the MC5.
John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things”
James: I’ve got to stick in a jazz album like “My Favorite Things,” where you’ve got the interplay. Really, what Rat does is jazz, but he would never admit it in a million years. But it is. It’s totally off-the-wall, where you are feeding off another player, like me and him used to do, like Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell used to do, like Coltrane and Elvin Jones used to do. It’s something that happens very rarely between players, and he totally inspires me.
The Who, “My Generation”
Scabies: Definitely The Who’s first album but also “Live at Leeds.” The Who turned up, and later on, Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker, and people took the drums out of just being a metronome and played them in more of an orchestra way, I suppose. When Moon played, I was hearing a lot more drums, and that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to just have a light snare drum playing. I wanted somebody that had those sexy tom-toms pounding away.
Robert Johnson, “King of the Delta Blues Singers”
James: I was influenced by blues guys. It’s a tough one, because with albums, how do you encapsulate Robert Johnson or Howlin’ Wolf, all these incredible, great people? They were the original punks; there’s no two ways about it. Attitude coming out of their fingernails, out of their ears, out of everywhere.
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, “A Hard Road”
James: I’d include this album John did with Peter Green or even the original Fleetwood Mac album, with Peter Green. Since I first started listening to music in the time of like early ‘60s, through to the punk thing, that’s a lot of albums, a lot of changes and a lot of interesting things going on. Particularly up until the very early ‘70s, and then it just went blah, terrible. But before that, there was a lot of action, a lot of attitude and a lot of beautiful playing, particularly jazz and blues playing.