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Phil Gammage
"Adventures in Bluesland"
Phil Gammage: Adventures in Bluesland

Phil Gammage
"Kneel to the Rising Sun"
20th Anniversary Edition

originally released on New Rose (France)
Phil Gammage: Kneel to the Rising Sun

The Scarlet Dukes
"Rogue Escapade" Jump blues/swing
The Scarlet Dukes: Rogue Escapades
The Scarlet Dukes - Rogue Escapades

Certain General
"November's Heat" 1985's classic NYC post-punk LP November's Heat

Phil Gammage
"Tracks of Sound"
Edgy downtown jazz Phil Gammage - Tracks of Sound


by Susan Francis

When I interviewed Kenny three months ago, things were looking swell for the Jonny III. Kenny and Leroy had reformed with bassist Carey Steinberg. They were drawing large audiences of people new to the club scene and even some of their old Malfunction Junction devotees were returning. Nobody expected them to sound the same as they did the first time 'round so nobody was disappointed.

A couple of weeks after this interview, Kenny and Leroy moved to New York unannounced and joined up with Ex-Suicide Commando Steve Almaas. After two months there and few gigs they've returned. This is the second time they've come back only to break up. Once again they are in a state of transition.

Will the Jonny III ever play again? Who the fuck knows. After their unsuccessful attempts to record and erratic band changes, it's hard to still care. At least they have the courage to tank up and head OUT. One thing's for sure, The Jonny III were a life-changing band for punks (in Phase I) and pleasing enough for pop fans (Phase 2). This may be the first printed interview with Kenny Vaughan and the last word from the Jonny III.

kenny vaughanHow have time changes for you since the days you played in the first Jonny III at Malfunction Junction. You played other places before that, didn't you?

Let's see, we started out at the Oxford Hotel and the Aeroplane Club, they were both one-nighters and The Broadway with the Tuff Darts. Those were our initial three gigs where we sort of broke in, thanks to Jim (Nash, one of the previous owners of Wax Trax.-ed.) He sort of set it all up for us. Back in those days he was like the number one cookie in town. Whatever he said, went...he was responsible for forming a lot of attitudes around town.

In that respect, has anyone replaced him?

I hope not (laughs) I don't think there could ever be another Jim...That was a different time and a different set of circumstances.

What was different?

Well, there was no place to play and there was only about 300 people that would ever come in the whole town, and you would never, very seldom, get all 300 ofthose people in one place. Only on occasion when somebody really big like the Tuff Darts (laughs) or somebody like that came to town.

You had a fan club then.

Oh, of sorts, it wasn't official.

Do you have anything to compare to that now?

No. No, no. Not like those people were then. They were highly individualistic types of people back in those days. They were outnumbered I would say to the normal people around them, they wanted something different and we seemed to fit the bill because we came in at the right time. Jim was nice enough to let us play. We bothered him for a long time. He heard our first group, The Hounds. We weren't very good. We hadn't thought about writing music yet.

Who was in that band?

Mel, the U.S. Mel, (Harvey). Leroy and for a few moments Nick (Leuthauser) was also. Then Mel quit. Leroy and I tried to write a few songs with Mel and it had been successful so we thought, well we should stay together and write songs because we were a successful team and no matter what happened we thought it might be fun so we kept doing that and conned Nick into playing the bass. He had a p.a. system so we decided "well, we'll stick with this guy." He was an old friend of mine from Littleton.

You've been in a lot of groups, haven't you?

Oh yeah, more than I remember.

How long have you been playing the guitar?

For 14 years. And I've never had another job. (He chuckles triumphantly) Not even for a day. Never, one day, yeah. I painted my dad's wall once, seriously, and he paid me for it. And I had a paper route before I had my first electric guitar.

How'd you get your first guitar?

My dad helped me buy it with the money I earned from the paper route. He pitched in. When I told my dad I wanted to learn to play guitar, he made me go down to watch the famous jazz guitarist Johnnie Smith.

Is he a local guy?

Well, no, he's a very famous jazz player from New England somewhere and he made it big in New York and then he moved to Colorado Springs to live when he got older and he used to play at Shaner's downtown on Friday or Saturday nights. My dad would take me down there and make me watch him instead of giving me lessons. He said, "You'll learn a lot more if you watch.

If your dad a musician?

No, he's an artist that was hip on jazz. I had a good musical background thanks to him, well I think it's good. He listened to Bop and Swing and it was a good influence probably. He wouldn't let me take lessons. He'd just take me out to see musicians play.

How old were you?

13, 12. Right around there. I bought my first guitar from Johnny (Smith.) He had a store down in Colorado Springs. Still works down there. He's a great guitarist. Quite famous in some circles.

Is there a lot of his style in your guitar playing?

Technically probably, I used to look at the way he played and tried to copy it when I went home. I wish there was more (laughs). nfortunately, you know...

You do have a unique style. Has it evolved pretty much from your own laying or...

No, I've stolen it all from other people (laughs)

Who did you like a lot when you were little learning to play?

Oh, the Beatles and the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones.

Who do you like to listen to now as far as guitar playing goes?

Oh that's probably not a very good question for me to answer. A lot of obscure good guitarists. Not necessariy all rock 'n' roll. I listen to guitar out of my own interest. I just like guitar music and listen to anybody who's real, real good. I like Terry McClanahan, I like to go listen to him. He's a local guy, plays in Dusty Drapes and the Dusters. I think he's one of the best guitar players going today. He's got a great style, he's loose, he's technically adept, but he manages to fuse the technical and lyrical aspects together very well...And I like Mike Johnson from Charred Remains (he's no longer with the band -ed.) He's one of my old friends from high school and he's probably one of the better guitar players playing today. Coincidentally, he happens to be around, he's also the best. He's one of the best musicians I've ever known.


Oh yeah, oh yeah really. Like it or not, that guy is great, that guys has got talent like nobody. Someday I'm sure that people in New York and London will know his name as somebody that will last beyond trends and that kind of stuff.

Have you played together?

Yeah. Oh yeah. We used to play together all the time. Just dumb little bands, high school bands, garage bands...Other things too. More experimental things we used to mess around all the time.

How'd you like playing with Gene Chalk and playing country?

Well, let's see. I started playing that at the same time Leroy and I started playing together back in '77. Actually I started with Gene in '76. I used to jump back and forth all the time. Gene was always offering me a good paycheck and he's a very nice person to work for. He's crazy too, a real fun guy to hang out with. And you know, Gene has his own style and he does it well and he gets a crowd and he pays me good money and I like to say I'm good friends with Gene.

j3 poster in DenverAnd you're versatile enough to get into that...

Well, you know what he does is not really that incomprehensible for me. He does have a very accessible style of music. I find it real easy to play with him.

Do his audiences like you?

Oh yeah. Well, he has a real diverse following. They all like me, yeah. I would say that throughout my career with Gene, I was always a favorable addition to the band. I don't want to sound like I'm braggin' but it's true. I always got good reviews because I sort of an odd person sometimes. Especially back in '77 when I used to beg him for nights off to play Jonny III gigs. And I used to go into cowboy clubs and I mad much more punk rock attire than these days. For then it was pretty weird to go in with spiked hair.

Spiked hair?

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Real obnoxious. Real extremely obnoxious. And obnoxious clothes and I'd go play at Yesterday's or something, which is strictly down vest, bearded hippie, construction worker, beer-drinking, shit-kicking type of bar. Nobody gets away with that in there...I'd go play there and these guys'd look at me like "Who is this guy?"

Did you get beer bottles?

No, no, no, they didn't ever fuck with me very much. Occasionally, I would have trouble if someone didn't realize I was in the band. I was always sort of a figure of, uh, I don't know, not ridicule, but, they certainly would not. Gene would make funny jokes about me. "Look at this jerk over here." Everyone would just go "Yuk, yuk, yuk, yuk, yuk" and then I don't think they really knew what to think...Gene started out in the Soul Survivors. The had a hit called "Hung Up on Losin"...they had a minor national hit with that and that was Gene singing and playing on that..and then he was in a band called the Stone Canyon Band, ended up backing Rick Nelson and then he came back to Denver. He's also a pretty famous custom car painter. He painted Eva Braun's Mercedes....

Who's your audience now? How does it compare with the JIII's first audiences?

...The first time it was like everybody knew everybody and there were only a few of us. There were about 60 hardcores and another 100 or 200 extra people that would come and go. But there was a very close-knit group in those days and after a while there I thought it would never get any bigger. It's only in about the last 9 months that it seems to have blossomed. Thanks to having more know Denver has always been a couple of years behind and they finally caught on to this whole "new wave" scene and all that, the thing we got lumped into. That whole bit you know, I guess it's good, it's late but it's good, it's bigger, it's nice. They seem to be as enthusiastic as ever. I knew a lot of the people come by and they say (in a dopey voice) "Well, gee it's just not like it was" and I'm always thinkin' "Thank god" you know. It's nice to see a few of your faces but a lot of people seem to think that (dopey voice again) "Gosh it was just real different in those days." I suppose they're right but so what?

What did you expect them to think of your band?

I figured they would think that it wasn't the same as it used to be therefore it wasn't any good.

Are you happy with the new band?

Well I like the JIII. I've always been one of their biggest fans. For me, it's gone on for so long that, you see Leroy and I decided that we'd keep it going because he and I were the original two and everybody else in the band was definitely not ever writing anything and therefore they weren't really involved in the musical direction. They were Nick Leuthauser and Dave Hill and Miles Gassaway.

They're not here anymore are they?

No. I just got a record of Dave's today from Dallas. It's called "Ultimate Orgasm" and ...I'm sure there are a few people in town that would like to have a Dave Hill single. Whether they liked him or not, because he was quite a character. He was in a band with Steve (Knutson) called The Front...then he didn't do anything for a long time until we gave pool ol' Nick the boot and Dave filled in.

Dave went on tour with JIII to Chicago?

Yeah. He did all that with us and then we promptly broke up.

Why did you break up right after the tour?

Aw, it's just a long story. The usual. Differences and just everything was out of hand. I was drinking all the time, everybody was drinking all the time, we were all a bunch of jerks. If you think we're bad now, you should have known us then. We were really creeps. We had a great time. And I'm quite fond of my old buddies still to this day

Leroy said in Issue No. 1 of Pulsebeat "I don't really believe that any band in the country writes better material than Kenny and I do and I'm gonna prove it someday." Do you agree with that?

Oh I'd like to agree, yes. That sounds great

Do you think you and Leroy will be writing together for a long time?

Well, yeah, I think we will. When we started we liked it and it kept developing and it's one of those things that we can both drop right into. We have almost like a third identity there when we get together. Its almost like it's easy. It's an ongoing relationship as far as writing goes. It's hard sometimes to be creative around certain people. And he and I have gotten over all those barriers. We can sit down an have fun and be creative and laugh about it afterwards...we're lucky in that a lot of the stuff we did three years ago we can still look back on and say "Hey, that's o.k. I like that." Even though it was then and times were different and attitudes were different. It seems that what we wrote has a lot of times transcended the time test - it still sounds good today. It seems we keep expanding our directions and in a natural sort of development. And it's fun because we always inspire each other. He's real good. I enjoy working with him. I hope that I'll be working with him for a long time because just this week we've had so much fun writing songs. We've written 8 new ones in the last couple of weeks. And they'll always keep coming and he's always got more to work on.

Does one of you write the lyrics and the other the music?

Most of the time Leroy writes the lyrics and then gives it to me and occasionally I come up with a song and ask him for lyrics but mostly he writes lyrics and I write music.

How many songs have the two of you written together?

Really a lot. I don't know. We were just thinkin' the other day, I said "Leroy, we ought to make a list of all of them." And I know we could remember them all if we took a couple of days. It's well over a hundred, I can say that.

Do you want to be famous?


As a team with Leroy or with JIII or as a guitarist?

Oh all those things would be fine with me. Things would be great. I don't know, we'll just keep pluggin' away and see what happens. Right now we're just trying to write our songs and getting them out to people to hear them, and get a few people at record companies to listen to them. So far, so good. All the reactions have been positive over the's hard to get into that part of the business world. It's very difficult unless you're extremely sensational or innovative or something.

Denver doesn't have much of a rock 'n' roll tradition...

Well it did in the 60's and it died out right about the time when rock 'n' roll sort of became political I would say, about '67. The psychedelic era and all that. In the early and mid-60's there was whole heyday of bands like the Moonrakers and the Soul Survivors, The Galaxies and the Jags, the Police (they were really good), The Fog Cutters, there was a whole bunch of bands...

Did they cut records?

Most of 'em yeah. They all were pretty good. I've got a few of them.

What are they doing now? Are they still musicians?

Not really. Most of 'em if they are are just playing in some bar somewhere doing some terrible thing for money.

Remember Lothar and the Hand People?

They were a great band. Fantastic. They were killers. Really good.

Did you grow up in Littleton?


How did you hear about these bands as a little kid?

I was a real groupie. I loved guitars and rock music and I followed it any way I could. Listened to the radio, there was a show on called "Discoteque" or "Discote" whatever, it was on Channel 2 in the afternoon and they had some guy, I don't remember his name, host the show. They'd have a local band on and a whole bunch of kids dancing. It was like a cheap American Bandstand. I'd watch all those groups, in those days, it seemed that all those groups would end up playing at your high school or junior high school dance 'cause it seemed the kids were more into that kind of thing. All those bands were always playing around Littleton. There was a little place called the Cave. We used to park our bikes in the back and listen to the groups when we were too young to get in.

How do you think of yourselves as musicians? Not revivalists, I'm sure.

That's so hard to say. I don't know. That's really hard to put your influences into your writing when you're writing with someone else because there's a certain chemistry that sort of goes beyond your own little...if Leroy and I sit down and work on a piece of music or an idea it usually ends up going somewhere where either he or I expected it to. I'm sure my influences are there but you'd have to dissect it all. I could certainly tell you what I thought my influences were if you played me a certain song that made me come up with that melody or that kind of chord progression but boy they sure are diverse in my case....those influences aren't always rock 'n' roll.

What else - jazz and country?

Yeah. For the most part for what we do. Although I listen to classical music sometimes, the 1920 and after period, maybe 1910, I don't listen to much 18th or 19th century at all. I've always been into modern-day classical music.

Have you heard the Rockpile album?

...I've always liked those guys. I've always been a fan of theirs. Ever since I heard "I Hear You Knocking."

What you just said makes it clearer to me, because I've wondered how musicians like Dave Edmonds and Nick Lowe could maintain their - vision.

They've got such a straightforward approach to the music they play, it's very defined, and it never wanders from that one style. I guess it's mostly because of their collaborating... It sort of takes the weight off of your shoulders. If I sit down and write a song by myself; it's not nearly as fun as if I sit down and write one with Leroy. Because if I write one with Leroy it's more "Let's just see what happens" sort of attitude, it's more carefree. I've always gotten along with that guy and I've always admired him as far as the way he writes lyrics and the way he thinks about music. We've always had that common ground. It's my experience that if you get somebody that you can work with you might as well stick with it because it's very seldom that I ever get anybody that inspires me or that I'm enthusiastic about even going over to the guy's house and sittin' around with 'em. Leroy's always entertaining.

How did you meet each other?

I was in some rock band; we were playing at places like Sam's on Lookout Mountain and places like that. It must have been '75...he happened to move in next door to where we rehearsed and I think I went over and bought some pot from him or something like that and we became friends after that. Then he bought a drum set and started playing and then I started this band called Chromotone. We had a very short-lived bit of playing here in Denver-about 6 months.


Yeah. We used to go down to the Broadway and play on Sunday nights. We did real well, got good reviews. He used to come down and watch me and say "Come on down and play with me sometime" and I'd say "Yeah, sure Leroy, yeah sure." So finally I did, we hit it off and I've been doin' it ever since. I hadn't been playing rock 'n' roll for a while because there was nobody to really play it with around here our own style..somehow everything worked, I don't know how. We managed to overcome a lot of obstacles....

I've talked to people who used to listen to you in the first JIII, and I'm sure people exaggerate when they get nostalgic.

Sure they do.

But still you made a very big impression on them. It was their first taste of live rock and roll.

I suppose that's true. A lot of them were young enough to where it would be. And a lot of them were old enough to know that there hadn't been very much good rock 'n' roll around Denver for a while. We weren't that good, really. Listen to the tapes, I've got the tapes. We were o.k. We were fun, I think is what we were. That's why we do it, because it beats everything else as far as day-to-day life. We didn't know what we were doing in those days. We just did it...

Do you think you'll cut a record soon?

We'd love to but I don't that's going to happen. We sure would like to. We certainly have enough songs to record and we have plenty of experience of recording. We'd love for somebody to give us the money to go into a nice studio to make a nice little single.

I would think that you could sell quite a few...

(laughs) Yeah we could couldn't we? That's what we always said. We've been so close so many times and we had so many good offers that we turned down but I don't know. Maybe it's good and maybe it's bad. We'll wait and see what happens.

Do you want to go on tour again?

Yeah. We're going in a couple of weeks. We're going to L.A. to the On Klub, the rest is all tentative. We've got a load of good things goin' on out there. Thank goodness all of our old contacts seem to be popping up again.

Do you have a van?

Yeah... our sound man, Tom Carson, is an auto mechanic also. We can make it. We're really lucky to have him...he's definitely the fourth member of the group.

Do you know of the writer Tom Carson?

Uh, uh

He's written for the Village Voice and Rolling Stone.

I haven't read the Voice for quite a while. I don't like the way they do their reviews at all. Good art reviews but lousy music reviews. The guys who write the music reviews have their head up their ass. They're all so stupid and so utterly trendy and they are so worried about what somebody's going to think about them and therefore, they just mess up on their values completely. They write these ridiculous reviews that don't say anything.

There's an attitude in Denver like that among the bands lately. A lot of groups are worried about their image. I supposed bands have always been concerned with that but because of the unfortunate term "new wave," they think they might be only temporary musicians. I've heard opinions from people who've just visited bigger cities like Chicago, L.A. and N.Y and they've all said the same thing. That the bands here right now are more exciting and vivacious and diverse. I would be inclined to go along with that. It most of the bigger cities the bands are totally idiots. They're completely trash. Most of the bands that we've met up with on the road, now and then, it seems to be a rule, that mostly there's a lot of garbage going around. It's not very good in any sense-entertaining or artistically. There are so many crummy bands around and here there seem to be more good bands.

Are there some bands here that you think could make it?

Rock groups? I don't know. I can never pick a winner.

Can you think of anyone who deserves to?

Yeah, my friend Mike Johnson I would say. And Lin Esser. And Bob Drake. I think those three guys as individuals are quite talented. I would single them out of the crowd right off the bat.

Does it worry you when you see the kind of audiences that you get now?

Worry me? How so?

That many of them trend-followers.

No, it doesn't worry me, they've always been like that...people who go to see rock 'n' roll...rock 'n' roll's a trend you know.

A hell of a long trend.

20 years is a long trend but what the hell it's still a trend, it's not going to last forever. I like it. Parts of it. I don't like most rock 'n' roll I suppose...Some people seem to have a knack for it and others don't. And that's that.

You appear to be shy on stage. Do you like to avoid the crowds between sets?

(He seems surprised) No, I like to go out and drink with the best of 'em. And worst of 'em too. For the most part, yeah, I love to go to bars and love to go play. Why else would I do it? Certainly not for my good health or the money.

So what are some of your secret fantasies, Kenny?

My secret fantasy, let's see (time passes.) That's a damn good question. (laughs) I wish I knew. That's a rough one.

What do you do when you're not listening or writing or playing music?


A lot?

No, not too much. Not as bad as I used to. I'm not terminally alcoholic like I used to be. I used to worry about it.

Leroy says the same thing?


That he's kicked the habit.

Well, I don't think we've kicked the habit.

Do you guys jog together too?

(laughter) No I don't jog, it's bad for your back...that's my play guitar. I like to go shopping but that's totally stupid and petty.

It's good to be stupid and petty on your spare time.

Hey! What the hell you know, you only live once.