The Fleshtones emerged in the punk and new-wave scene in the 1970s and became well-known at New York venues, including CBGB, Club 57 and Danceteria. They have opened for James Brown, Chuck Berry, The Police and even shared a rehearsal space with fellow garage-rock contemporaries The Cramps.
By sticking to their trademark garage-surf-rock sound, The Fleshtones have maintained a strong fan base for more than three decades. Taking time from their busy touring schedule, lead singer/organist Peter Zaremba was able to share a few words with The Daily Texan about the good old days of rock ‘n’ roll, and the love of touring and performing for audiences today.
The Daily Texan: You have been a band for more than 30 years. Who were your initial influences, and who are your influences now?
Peter Zaremba: We were thrashing around for a couple of years, always talking about starting a band, wanting to play old Stones, Eddie Cochran and Yardbirds-type R & B. Seeing the Ramones in 1975 settled all the confusion, and we put together The Fleshtones and played CBGB in May of ‘76.
DT: How would you describe your sound?
PZ: We call it ‘Super Rock’! Half joking, but yeah, all of those influences are mushed up in there. It’s all the music we got a kick out of listening to as we grew up. We don’t discriminate.
DT: You’ve opened for James Brown and Chuck Berry. What were those experiences like?
PZ: I had seen how shabbily Berry treats other musicians, so we were very pleasantly surprised when he was civil to us. It turned out he wanted to borrow one of our tuners. I always figured he expected everyone to tune to him. It was on the feast day of Barcelona; about 100,000 people were there — by far the largest crowd we ever played in front of. We opened for James Brown at the Zenith in Paris, a big arena kind of place. It was all very professional, an honor really.
DT: What was the best show you’ve ever played?
PZ: There have been many. Our first show in Paris, at The Palace, comes right to mind. It was mayhem: screaming fans, riot police in the streets, dancing and singing on top of cars, then a late, late dinner with the French Hells Angels.
DT: And the worst?
PZ: Actually, we haven’t had too many. Something usually redeems our performance one way or another. However, a really bad time onstage was opening for The Police at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The lights came on, and I think the audience fully expected to see The Police, although I don’t know why — they weren’t due on for hours. Instead, they got our completely stripped-down, rinky-dink, anti-rock-star, ridiculous selves. They hated us from the first moment. There was no way to win them over, so there was nothing to do except hurl profanities back at them and try to avoid getting hit by quarters. I collected quite a bit of money off the stage at the end of our set.
DT: You used to perform at CBGB as well as other popular New York venues. Could you describe how your live performances might have changed from playing those venues to playing venues now?
PZ: Well, sets were much shorter then, a precedent set by the Ramones. Also, people “posed” a lot more then, something I didn’t like. But there was always the feeling of being part of something very secret, yet important, something you had been waiting most of your life to be part of. We were lucky to be there, and we knew it. Oddly enough, I enjoy playing more now, and I’ll actually sing into the microphone, which greatly adds to the song quality. We also don’t destroy equipment the way we used to. Not me, certainly; you can’t buy a used Farfisa for 50 bucks anymore. Well, maybe somewhere in Texas you can. Let me know.
DT: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
PZ: [Vocalist and guitarist of The Fleshtones] Keith Streng. What do you expect? Elton John? Most artists I admire are better off doing what they do alone, or have already done what I’ve wanted to hear a long time ago, like Ray Davies. Plus, I’d guess a lot of these people can be very “difficult.”
DT: Some people view music today as being very progressive while others view music today as lacking the soul and spirit of past generations. Where do you fall on this spectrum, and where do you think music is headed?
PZ: People have always accused the contemporary music scene as lacking soul and creativity. There has always been mindless stuff taking up a lot of the airwaves and popular imagination, even when guys like Jackie Wilson were burning up the stage. It does seem things are particularly lame now, especially as bands like us do draw on the past a lot. But I remember thinking that The Beatles sounded “old-fashioned” the first time I heard them as a child — they certainly were drawing on the past to create music they didn’t think was being made at that particular moment.
DT: Any parting words for the folks who are going to come see you guys play?
PZ: Don’t miss us. It’s a hell of a lot more fun seeing us than reading about us. You never know what’s going to happen.
WHAT: The Fleshtones
WHERE: The Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave.
WHEN: Saturday at midnight
TICKETS: $12 at the door