Interview with Bobby Durango from Rock City Angels
Calle: The band started out as a punk band called the Abusers in the beginning of the 80’s. How did you guys meet?
Bobby Durango: The Rock city angels started in late 1981 as a S. Fla. punk band called The Abusers. A kid named Andy Panikhad learned how to play the bass and was looking for some other kids to start a band with. You have to understand that there were very few punks in S. Fl. at that time because if you were just a little bit different, you just weren't accepted by anyone there. It took serious balls to be a punk, but he met me, another alienated youth, "L!" at a midnight double bill of "The Decline Of Western Civilisation" with "Rock'n'Roll Highschool", and asked if I wanted to start a band. We were both 16, and I had just quit school, a real juvenile Delinquent,"L!", so I said sure, why not? My parents were pissed coz I had left school, so I lived on his condo roof until his mom went to work and then we would jam in his room. We soon found some other kids to play with, and it wasn't long before we were playing shows.
Calle: Soon after your music style developed into a more glam inspired sound. Why?
Bobby Durango: After a year or two, we both started listening to a wider range of music and we got better as musicians. I personally got more involved in song writing and what we were listening to eventually translated to the songs we wrote. Whatever the inspiration, we never lost the attitude that punk embodies.
Rock City Angels ca. 1985
Calle: What made you change the band name to Rock City Angels?
Bobby Durango: We finally had to change our name to the Rock City Angels just to get gigs! It's important to understand that there were no places for original bands to play back then. Florida tourists wanted to hear covers! Every once in a while a club would open up that catered to a local audience that wanted original bands, but we were so crazy then, a show wasn't successful unless we fucked something up! If it wasn't our equipment, it was ourselves or the club. Needless to say, that didn't go over very well. So the only way we could get another show to play was to involve a little "trickery". The name stuck.
Calle: Who are your biggest influences?
Bobby Durango: The Rock City Angels have had so many influences through the years, it really shows with the range of music we play, but we've always tried to keep the punk attitude as an important ingredient, a constant. I mean I could say Iggy and The Stooges, The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Sex Pistols, Muddy Waters, N.Y. Dolls, Johnny Thunders, T. Rex, I could go on and on, but when you've listened and been inspired by as much music as I have through the years, all those influences become subconscious, until they're all mixed together into something NEW! A lot of songwriters don't get that, it's the way you combine your inspirations in a new way that creates a unique sound or style that keeps your work fresh.
Bobby Durango in the mid 80's
Calle: What got you into music in the first place?
Bobby Durango: My parents were hippies when I was growing up, so I was exposed to all that as a kid, we went all over the country in a V.W. microbus and hit all the music festivals. I was even at Woodstock! Of course I was only 4 years old so my memories of that time were not always about music, but I listened to all that stuff, even as a little kid. My first record was Sweet, "Desolation Boulevard", man, I must have worn that record out! As I got older I gravitated towards the punk movement because I shared the angst and alienation that music expressed.
Calle: Name 3 “older” bands and 3 “newer” bands you can recommend?
3 older bands that are essential would be The Who, The Stooges and Alice Cooper.
3 newer bands I would recommend would be The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Rocket From The Crypt, (who just broke up ) and APA State Mental.
Calle: In the mid 80’s Rock City Angles got a record contract with New Renaissance Records and soon after Geffen Records bought the contract and offered you a lot of money. How did the band react to that?
Bobby Durango: We were extremely happy to be signed to Geffen initially. New Rannaisance obviously didn't have a clue what to do with us, they were a small metal label who didn't know what to make out of a bunch of kids living the rock'n'roll they were writing. We felt like Geffen would get us to a much larger audience, which is what being an artist is all about. Communication.
Rock City Angels in Memphis
Calle:You then moved from L.A. to Memphis to make the record. Was that a vice decision when you look back at it?
Bobby Durango: Memphis was completely the right decision for us. It was the home of the soul music I loved so much, and I didn't want to sound like every other band coming out of L.A. Plus, it got us away from bad influences and allowed us to focus on making a great record.
Rock City Angels - Young Man's Blues
Calle: In 1988 you released “Young Man’s Blues” which was well received. Soon after Rock City Angels got dropped by Geffen. Rumors have it that Geffen only bought your contract to avoid the competition with Guns ‘n’ Roses. Is that a fact or do you have another side of the story?
Bobby Durango: Look, I don't really know anything about that but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, seems like it would be better to have two bands selling records than only one, but who knows their motives? We certainly didn't sound anything like Guns ‘n’ Roses! Also, we weren't dropped right after Young Man's Blues, that came out in '88 and we kept touring and recording demos for our second record until 1993! The politics of that label were crazy, we weren't actually ever dropped! They just broke their contract by not supporting the band financially.
Calle:As many people properly know, Johnny Depp was in the band for a short period. Do you think more people got to know the band after he got famous as an actor, and do you think you’ve gained more fans because of that?
Bobby Durango: We might have picked up a few fans that might otherwise have never heard the record but otherwise he was just a fun guy to write and play with.
Calle:I read somewhere that he co-wrote the song “Mary” from “Young Man’s Blues”. Is that true?
Bobby Durango: Yeah, Johnny was a very talented guitar player and he came in with a riff that I wrote a song around. He had a great ear for compelling riffs.
Calle: After the band got dropped you split up. What have you been doing since then?
Bobby Durango: We never actually disbanded, it's just as the funds and opportunities to play dried up, we all had to find new projects to make a living. That was a very hard time for me personally, rock'n'roll was my life, I didn't have any kind of "back up plan", so I went back to being homeless for a while, went to school and worked, then moved to Memphis. I never stopped playing though. I had about 3 different bands that did really well regionally and started to get exposure, but inevitably would break up. It takes a lot of patience to stick it out with a band and most musicians don't have that kind of patience.
Rock City Angels - Rock City Angels
Calle: In 2000 New Renaissance Records released “Rock City Angles”. This would have been your first release if Geffen hadn’t bought your contract. There isn’t a single song from that record on “Young Man’s Blues”. Why is that?
Bobby Durango: The self titled Rock City Angels album, that was released by New Rennaissance in 2000, (known as the "Glam Album" by fans) didn't have any songs from Young Man's Blues because it had been recorded in 1984-85 as a series of demo's to try to get a record deal. It was never meant to be released as it was, the songs weren't even finished! By 1987 when YMB's was recorded we had grown so much as a band and as songwriters, it would have been a major step backwards to put any of those songs on it.
Calle: In 2001 Rock City Angles reunited. You started the work on “Use Once And Destroy”. Why did it take so long to get the CD released?
Bobby Durango: I only agreed to let New Rennaissance put out our old demos if Ann Bolynne, (the owner)agreed to finance a NEW disc! She told me that was a great idea, so I got financing to begin basic tracks on USE ONCE AND DESTROY, with the promise that she would pay me back on delivery. Of course after we recorded that at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, she was never to be seen or heard from again! Yet another rip off! It took me six years to get the money to go back into the studio to finish and mix the album. So many people suggested putting it out as it was, just basic tracks, but thankfully I never gave into that temptation, I wanted this disc to be our masterpiece! It's probably as close to a perfect rock'n'soul record as I'll ever come.
Rock City Angels - Use Once And Destroy
Calle: How do you write the songs in the band?
Bobby Durango: I write songs all different ways, sometimes I might have a song all worked out already and the band and I work up the arrangement, other times I will just write lyrics to a partners idea or riff. I've worked up songs from scratch with the whole band writing together. There's no "one" way.
Calle: Where do you find the inspiration for the songs?
Bobby Durango: Inspiration is an intangible; an idea can be inspired by a film, a book, a joke, a political idea, hell, another song! One can never tell where an idea might come from, and I don't believe in limiting myself.
Calle :If you could name one song you wish you had written, what song would that be, and why?
Bobby Durango: Man! That's a tough question! Most of the songs I "wish" I could have written aren't technically rock songs, 'coz I can write those. It would be more along the lines of "Some Velvet Morning" by Lee Hazlewood, for it's mood and crazy feeling of epic mystery. Or Serge Gainesbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde" for it's cleverness.
Calle: How will you describe the music scene and the music business now compared to when you started?
Bobby Durango: The music business is way more in favor of the artist now, which is how it should be. It was in the record label's best interest to keep the band needing them and their backing. But that system helped nobody but the suits!
Calle: Rock City Angles played with a lot of great bands back in the 80’s, like L.A. Guns, Jetboy, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction etc. If you get the chance to play with or tour with some other bands, who would you like that to be?
Bobby Durango: Man, I'll be honest Calle, we will play with any band, any time, anywhere! We just want to play and have a great time! When you're having fun, the audience does too, yanno? Having said that, of course I would love to play with my heroes, The Stooges, Joan Jett again, Nick Cave, Ray Davies, X... the list is too long!
Calle: How was it to be part of the rock/glam scene in L.A. in the late 80’s?
Bobby Durango: Everybody seems to think there were so many great bands playing at the same time, all the time, but the truth is for every great band, there were about 10 terrible bands, and the great ones were usually touring or in the studio. It was quite rare to see a bunch of "great" bands on the same bill.
Bobby Durango (Vocals and guitar)
Andy Panik (bass) and Jimmy James (guitar)
Calle: How would you describe each member of the band in only three words?
Bobby Durango: 3 words would not begin to describe anyone in the Rock City Angels, now or ever.
Calle: If you could put together your dream band, who would be in it?
Bobby Durango: I HAVE put together my dream band, that's the whole point, isn't it?
Calle: You have changed your name a few times from Bobby Bondage to Bobby St. Valentine to Bobby Durango. Why is that?
Bobby Durango: Just as it took a while to develope my style as a singer, I had to find myself as a person as well. I was in the mirror the whole time.
Calle: What’s the best advice you can give to up-coming bands?
Bobby Durango: Best advise I could give is don't give up and always follow a budget. Oh, and your fans and friends are what is important, fuck the rest.
And now some questions outside music:
Calle: What was the first CD/LP you ever purchased?
Bobby Durango: First record was Sweet, "Desolation Boulevard".
Calle: What was the latest CD you bought?
Bobby Durango: Last cd was Brian Jonestown Massacre, "Bringing It All Back Home, Again".
Calle: What do you do when you’re not playing music? What’s your other interest?
Bobby Durango: Art, film and revolution are my other interests, not nescessarilly in that order.
Calle: What’s your favorite drink?
Bobby Durango: Favorite drink is Sobe Lizard Juice.
Calle: What did you do before joining The Abusers/Rock City Angles?
Bobby Durango: Before Abusers I wanted to write and direct films.
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Calle: Any last words for the fans?
Bobby Durango: I just want to thank the friends and fans of the band for still believing in and supporting us after 20 years and to promise to keep 'em on their toes and rocking for as long as I can. Hell, there are kids out there who are just hearing us for the first time, I'm just glad to be around to show them what a real fucking rock band is supposed to be. It ain't safe and it ain't pretty. It can push you to the breaking point and change everything you ever believed in. Most of all, a good rock band connects in a way few things EVER do in your life and makes you stronger.
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