Bob Bert talks to James Marshall about his prodigious 30+ year career playing with Pussy Galore, Sonic Youth, Bewitched, the Knoxville Girls, Action Swingers, Five Dollar Priest, Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus, the Wolfmanhattan Project and many more

A wise man (actually, I think it was Scott “Top Ten” Kempner) once said to me, “You can’t have a great rock & roll band without a great drummer.” New York City’s rock & roll scene has produced its share of great ones — Jerry Nolan (New York Dolls, Heartbreakers), Marc Bell aka Marky Ramone (Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Ramones, Wayne County & the Back St. Boys), Clem Burke (Blondie), Billy Ficca (Television, Gods and Monsters) — and Bob Bert’s name belongs on that list. He has one of the most impressive resumes in music, having lent his talent to Pussy Galore, Bewitched, The Chrome Cranks, the Knoxville Girls, Action Swingers, Five Dollar Priest, Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus, and the Wolfmanhattan Project (with Kid Congo Powers and Mick Collins) to name a few.

While you may not like all those bands, you have to admit, they all achieved a higher degree of musical muscle by having the unflappable Bob Bert behind the drum kit.

I sat down with Bob recently to get the lowdown on nearly forty years of NYC rock & roll lore, as seen from behind that kit.

PKM: Let’s just start from the beginning — you’re from New Jersey, right?

BOB: Yes, Clifton.

PKM: I know it well, there used to be a great record store, Clifton Records, doo-wop oldies place — so if it didn’t have group harmony, the record didn’t have any value. All the non doo-wop stuff was cheap.

BOB: I lived in a loft right above it.  I’d go in there and flip around, but I’m not like you or Todd [Abramson]. Clifton back then was nicknamed “Little White Island.” My high school graduation class was like a thousand kids and there were two blacks, but we were surrounded by Passaic, Paterson and Newark. [Author’s Note: all towns with black/Hispanic majority]

Bob Bert at 12
Bob Bert at 12

PKM: I lived in Paterson until I was eight; back then it was totally segregated. Did you play in garage bands growing up?

BOB: Well, like Clem Burke [another Jersey native] said, seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan got everyone’s blood flowing. So I took drum lessons for a year when I was 12 and then, you know, had some jams in the basement trying to play “Dirty Water.” But then I got more into art. When I moved out of my house at 18, the idea of being a musician never occurred to me. I went to SVA [School of Visual Arts] at night. But the early seventies was a period of transition. I got out of high school in ‘73. Around that time, I went through my hippie older brother’s records and came across the Velvet Underground, and a few months later I actually won it on the Seaside Heights boardwalk for a quarter. But I was obsessed with Andy Warhol and the whole Factory scene, so that’s why I went to SVA and that’s where I learned how to silkscreen. I became a fine arts silkscreen printer. I did that for fifteen years, into the Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore years.

PKM: You worked at the Factory?

BOB: No, I worked for Andy Warhol’s right-hand man, a guy named Rupert Smith. It was on Canal Street. It had nothing to do with the Factory, really. Matt Verta-Ray [Speedball Baby, record producer] was there. He was cute and all the queens liked him, so he got to pick up Andy at the airport and stuff. I just did printing.

PKM: Is that when the Factory had moved into the old firehouse in the thirties?

BOB: Yeah, I was there up until Andy died. We were mass-producing all these print editions and all the camouflage stuff … I was just in Pittsburgh playing with Lydia [Retrovirus] and I went to the Warhol Museum and it was so cool, I’d look at stuff and go, “I did that!”

PKM: I wonder where his porn collection went.

BOB: [laughs]

PKM: People forget how not a big deal he was when he died — he had all those rightwing people around him and they put Nancy Reagan on the cover of Interview [Magazine].

BOB: Yeah. [laughs] In 1977, I moved to Manhattan — I had a place on 23rd and 7th for $150 a month. But I was always a big music fan; my father had a liquor store next to a record store. Back then, albums were no big deal, it was all top 40 singles. Even then I started drifting towards the counter-culture. Go into a record store, there’d be the Beatles, the Stones, the Byrds; then, all of a sudden, there’s like Freak Out [the Mothers of Invention] and the Fugs, and it was like, “What is this?” I was fourteen in 1969, and I couldn’t wait to take acid. I started going to concerts really early; my first date was opening night at the Capitol Theater in Passaic — it was J. Geils Band, and Humble Pie. I just started going to lots of shows, and then in the early Seventies I went to see the New York Dolls at Max’s and then I’d go see them all the time. Also — Wayne County, and the Backstreet Boys when Marc Bell [Marky Ramone] was in the band. In addition to being outrageous, they were a great garage rock band. I became a Lou Reed fanatic so I would go to all his solo shows. Up to the early seventies, I was discovering everything — avant-jazz, Sun Ra, [Rahsaan] Roland Kirk, and a lot of that stuff. There’d be loft gigs.

PKM: I remember Rashied Ali, Coltrane’s last drummer, had a loft in Soho called Ali’s Alley, and there were gigs there.

BOB: I saw Don Cherry there! I saw [William] Burroughs read a bunch of times. Anytime Lou Reed would mention a book I’d check it out, like Last Exit To Brooklyn [Hubert Selby Jr.] and all that. In ‘75 I discovered CBGB’s. The first night I went there with my friend, it was Patti Smith and Television and there was nobody there. It was just a hole in the wall. I started going there four times a week. I wasn’t part of the scene, but back then the drinking age was 18 and you could roll joints on the table.

PKM: You could ride a tricycle into CB’s and get served back then. There were lots of high school kids there.

Sonic Youth with Bob Bert
Sonic Youth

BOB: I used to hitchhike into Manhattan when I was 13 or 14 — walk into any store and buy a bottle of wine.

PKM: Yeah, the 21-year-old drinking age really fucked up rock & roll. Bands like the Heartbreakers would play Max’s like one weekend a month and make a living at it.

BOB: I saw them at least five times when Richard Hell was still in the band. I looked up to all these people, and I never really thought I could do it. Look at the people I was seeing — Jerry Nolan, Clem Burke, Marc Bell. All the drummers were great musicians. I was working in Soho silkscreen printing and I’d heard about the Mudd Club opening, and I had just heard the No New York album [Eno-produced compilation with Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, James Chance & The Contortions, Mars, and DNA] — and by that point, around ‘78, there were already so many bands and the good ones had moved on. There were obviously things going on, especially compared to now, but I got that record and it blew my mind.

PKM: If Bradly [Field] can do it…

BOB:– Yeah — [laughs] if Bradly and Ikue [DNA’s drummer] can do it … I was really into Lydia — the stuff [Robert] Quine produced. In 1979, I saw an ad in The [Village] Voice that said “Punk Art Wanted,” and it was a gallery two blocks away. I went over there and it was this crazy, coked-up black dude, and he took a piece — it was on Wooster. Joey Ramone was in the show — a red toothbrush glued to the ceiling called “Bloody Gums”; Screaming Mad George [of The Mad] was in it. The opening was amazing — somebody rode a motorcycle into the opening. After being associated with the gallery, I met my future wife [artist Linda Wolfe] and we started dating. Our first date was Jan 1, 1980; after a year, we decided to live together. At that point, I was on the Upper West Side and she was in Jersey City, so we compromised and moved to Hoboken.

The day I moved in, we went across the street to Maxwell’s — the Bush Tetras and the Raybeats played; this was 1981 we went to this show. One of the bands didn’t show up and someone asked, “Is there a drummer?” and my wife said, “Yeah, Bob’s a drummer.” So I got up onstage and started jamming with these two guys. One turned out to be Peter Missing [Missing Foundation]. But Maxwell’s was bringing in bands like The Fall. And we started playing — I just started thinking, This is more fun than art. People would stop me on the street and say, “I saw you play!” and I was like, Whoa! That lasted six or seven months. We didn’t know what we were doing; I was 25 and hadn’t picked up the drumsticks since I was 17. Back then, I was always, always aware of what was going on; a couple of times a week I’d hit all the record stores — Bleecker Bob’s, 99 Records. I remember Glenn Branca was starting a label and the first thing he put out was a Sonic Youth EP. I remember seeing it first at Rocks In Your Head, and I got to see them a few times.

PKM: I have a vague memory of seeing them at The Kitchen or A’s [Arleen Schloss’s loft] or someplace like that with Richard Edson on drums — or did I imagine that?

BOB: Yeah, I don’t think Richard Edson knew what to make of what they were doing. His drumming on that first EP — I love it! I was there at the Mudd Club and at CBGB.

PKM: Had portable tuners been invented yet? That must have been fun — every song needed a different tuning.

Sonic Youth – taken in Hollywood by Naomi Petersen.

BOB: A different guitar! I went on that first tour, we went to Europe the first time with 13 guitars — I’ll get to that — at one point I was in Rocks In Your Head and I saw a flyer that they needed a drummer. My first show with them was Nov 3, 1982. Lydia Lunch and Arto Lindsay were two of the 15 people who were there — I was like, Oh my god — that’s the night I met Lydia, and we’ve been good friends ever since then. Swans and Marc Cunningham from Mars were on the bill.

PKM: Swans would deafen anyone. I think that’s when I first wore earplugs, seeing them.

BOB: Michael [Gira], the singer, never wore earplugs — that’s why he’s deaf now. When I first met Sonic Youth at Leshko’s on Avenue A, we were rehearsing at their concrete bunker on Sixth and B. Shortly after that, we went on the very first tour, which was Sonic Youth and Swans — like ten people in the back of a van with no seats and a U-Haul attached. I was the only one who didn’t smoke cigarettes; the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see each other. We went down south and did five or six shows. That’s a whole story in itself. I think in the last year I did four interviews on people writing books about Swans.

After we got back from that, we had a gig at the Mudd Club and I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t calling me up. Finally, I get a call from Kim — and they fired me from the band and hired Jim Sclavunos. So Jim replaced me and ended up playing on most of the first album [Confusion Is Sex]; I’m on a few songs. But he didn’t last long either — like two or three months. His touch was so light and they were so loud, it was just a wash.  Meanwhile, I was playing with other people and really improving my drumming skills. I wasn’t pissed off like I should have been. So one day I get a call — I was working at my dad’s liquor store — and they said, “You wanna come back…” blah blah blah. So I came back and rehearsed with them and they were like, “Oh god, you’ve been practicing”. The thing is, Thurston [Moore] was into the hard-core scene at the time and he wanted me to play like that, and I didn’t want to and couldn’t. Anyway, they ask me to come back and play this festival at the White Columns gallery in Tribeca called Speed Trials. That was great — the Fall, Swans, Sonic Youth, Beastie Boys, all these cool bands. So the next day, Thurston and Lee [Ranaldo] fly to Europe with Glenn Branca and set up the first Sonic Youth tour of Europe. So they asked me if I’d come to Europe with them. So I made an agreement that a) you’re not going to fire me at the end of the tour and b) it’s not going to cost me a penny. In 1983, on my birthday, June 11, I flew from JFK to Paris, where I waited six hours to get a train to Lausanne, get picked up at the train station and driven right to the stage and play my first show in Europe. And it was nuts, people went nuts — they’d never heard music like this before. That tour, we didn’t have a van, the gigs were set up sporadically, and we were touring Europe on a rail pass. Thirteen guitars; I had a cymbal bag and a snare and used the opening bands’ other drums. Sonic Youth really paved the way for indie bands touring Europe. I think I played 90 shows with them all together; and the last tour I did with them was touring England, opening for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on their very first tour — Rowland Howard on guitar and they were still doing The Birthday Party songs as an encore.

PKM: How did you end up in all the bands that weren’t drug addicts in that world? Nearly every one of those bands were dope fiends…

Knoxville Girls— Kid Congo, Jack Martin, Bob Bert, Barry London, Jerry Teel. photo by Ali Smith
Knoxville Girls— Kid Congo, Jack Martin, Bob Bert, Barry London, Jerry Teel. Photo by Ali Smith

BOB: Sonic Youth was a very normal, art school kind of band. Growing up in a liquor store scared me off of drinking. I took psychedelics as a teenager. I tried heroin once — hanging around Max’s, some girl offered to get me high, she went and got a bag of dope and we snorted it and I didn’t feel a thing, so she got another bag and we shot it and nothing happened; I figured it was an omen to leave it alone. That’s why the books about Sonic Youth are so boring. Bad Moon Rising is the first full album I play on. It was released on a major label; I got a royalty check yesterday. I’ve played on over thirty albums since then, but that’s the one people come up to me and say: “That record changed my life.” After I left, they got even more acceptable in a way I would have never imagined — that we’d still be talking about it today, that they’d have gotten anywhere. The guy we hooked up with, who almost scared me off the band, this guy Paul Smith, he had Blast First records and he said, “I’m gonna make you as big as The Birthday Party.”

PKM: Hard to imagine it would eventually get David Geffen’s attention.

BOB: Sonic Youth’s career was like a ladder — I left in 1985, they signed to Geffen going into the nineties. They just kept going and going and going.

PKM: Eventually the money offers will get so big they’ll have to get back together — gotta pay taxes, divorces and all that.

BOB: Well, Thurston and Lee are still working. Thurston has Steve Shelley playing in his band; he lives in London.

PKM: The second time you left — did you leave or they fired you?

BOB: I quit. I was on good terms; I fulfilled my commitment. I’d been to Europe with them three times, three long tours, I was happy with what I did, we played in the desert. I was a newlywed. I would have never imagined they’d get so big. I remember when I was in Pussy Galore, one of the British papers referred to me as “Bob Best” — but Pete Best [the Beatles’ first drummer] didn’t record.

Thurston was doing an interview with one of the British papers and they asked what I was up to and he made up this story that I had a band called Bewitched. So I went into the studio, got a label to put up the money, made a record — that became a band for a little while. Then in 1986, I went to the Cat Club to see Einstürzende Neubauten, and Thurston was hanging around and he said this band just moved to town and need a drummer and I look around and see these people with their hair dyed black and brand new leather jackets from Trash and Vaudeville — they were like 19-20 years old and I was already 30. I walked over and introduced myself. I was working at Pier Platters in Hoboken. [Jon] Spencer gave me a copy of their record Groovy Hate Fuck and I wrote his number down, I hooked up with them. First rehearsals I was just playing regular kit and John Hammill was banging on metal, and Jon [Spencer] said, “I’ve been thinking about combining the two elements.” We went to a junkyard and made this drum kit — a bass drum with a gas tank on top and a cowbell and snare drum with metal around it, and Steve Albini donated his cock ring, and I played with a drumstick in my right hand and a metal rod in the other. It made this great sound. I was really into that — it was this perfect combination of industrial music and garage rock. Jon [Spencer], when he moved to New York he had his records at my house, and it was all Pebbles and Back From The Grave — [sixties] garage stuff.

As soon as I joined Pussy Galore, Sonic Youth were kinda mouthing off, saying they wanted to record a version of the Beatles’ White Album, we got through Back in the U.S.S.R. in rehearsal, but it never amounted to anything except them mouthing off about it. So in response to that, Pussy Galore said to me, “We’re thinking of doing a cover of Exile on Main Street,” and I said, “Yeah, it’s a much better record, sounds great.” The band was just kind of getting together — Neil Hagerty was just showing up from Virginia. We went into this rehearsal space and we had this really beat up 8-track cassette recorder and we did all of Exile on Main Street, and then they made it even crazier with all these people screaming at each other overdubbed. It came out on cassette. I have a copy of it with just the songs played straightforward and it’s still fucked up, just not as crazy as all the shit they added on to it. I gave a copy of it to Larry Hardy of In The Red Records and he’s been begging for years to do a limited edition vinyl with elaborate packaging and everything, but for some reason Jon [Spencer] just doesn’t want to do it … Yeah, for some weird reason we were popular right off the bat — when Jon was delivering the cassette to Caroline [Records] for distribution, someone called there and signed us right off the bat. Before that, we had done an EP, Pussy Gold 5000, which allowed us to be on “The Uncle Floyd Show” — which, being from Jersey, was a big deal for me … The silliest lip-synched versions ever. Then we recorded the Right Now! album for Caroline.

Pussy Galore
Pussy Galore

PKM: That was their most straight-ahead rock & roll album.

BOB: Sort of, with metal drumming and no bass … Through the whole thing they were in their early twenties, and they were always fighting amongst each other and I was the grown up in the band trying to keep it all together. Then we did Dial M For Motherfucker. At the end, we were touring Europe, and were doing an interview in London with the Melody Maker magazine, I think, and Jon was being a dick I guess to some journalist — I can’t remember his name, somebody pretty big; he got pretty pissed off and walked out of the interview and stumbled across the street to the pub and Julie Cafritz was saying stuff like, “I don’t know why he’s being such an asshole” blah blah blah, and of course they printed everything she said, [laughs] so that was the end of her. So then we ended up doing a six-week tour of the U.S. and Canada, it was a pussy-less Pussy Galore — that’s where the infamous basketball story comes from. The band broke up; played our last show at CBGB, it was recorded and released on In The Red. It was pretty smokin’.

Then Jon called up and said he wanted to do a record with just me and Neil [Hagerty]. So we recorded a cover of Elvis’ “Crawfish” and a half-assed version of “Little Red Rooster”; then we made Historia de la Musica Rock and that’s actually kind of — well, I had brought a cassette on tour of Elvis’ singles, and you can really hear Jon’s Elvis-isms on that record.

So Pussy Galore fell apart completely in 1990. Jon actually called me up and said, “I got a guitar player and I’m thinking about starting a new band.” And I figured, since the band broke up, let me move on and play with other people — I kind of turned him down and he couldn’t figure out why. He told me the band was going to be called Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and I thought, “What kind of name is that?”

PKM: It seems like Pussy Galore broke up right on the verge of their big payday.

BOB: Yeah. We did one reunion show at Maxwell’s, for one of those Yo Lo Tengo things [nightly Hannukah shows with guests, a YLT tradition] and it went well. If you look at the video of that show, Jon’s got a big smile on his face. We got a bunch of offers, but for some reason Jon didn’t want to do it; I heard a few days later he didn’t want to deal with his angry past or something.

So then the nineties come and I just wanted to keep playing. My band Bewitched got off the ground as a real band and we made two albums. We were actually opening a tour with Sonic Youth but got bounced for some band called Nirvana. In addition to that, I was doing the Action Swingers — the best thing to come out of that was becoming good friends with Howie [Pyro, of The Blessed, Danzig, D Generation] and Bruce [Bennett, of A-Bones].

PKM: You replaced Johan Kugelberg on drums?

BOB: That was the very beginning for them — one night I get a phone call from Thurston [Moore], who says he’s playing a gig with Julia [Cafritz] and this guy Ned Hayden. I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to play with Thurston and Julia, who I’d been in bands with and I liked. So I showed up and learned the songs during soundcheck. But things got crazy ‘cause — ya know, I don’t even want to talk about it. We went through a bunch of line-ups. D Generation were just starting, and I think the only reason Howie did it was because he’d never been to London before and he’s such a fan of everything. He had his suitcase, it looked like it was from the thirties, and in it he had a couple of shirts and four cans of hairspray, and the rest just D Generation stickers. We had to go to the place where the sex shop was, which is now a fancy woman’s shop [Vivienne Westwood, at World’s End].

PKM: Bruce came back all excited at doing the [John] Peel Show because Buffin [Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin] from Mott the Hoople was the soundman.

BOB: Yeah. He was this gnarly old drunk, who obviously didn’t want to be there until I told him I’d seen Mott and was really impressed with his drum riser; then he came alive and was really nice, he said it was really hard to get up on that thing. He told Howie and Bruce he thought I was a good drummer but my kit was a piece of shit — it was just some rented crap.

PKM: A producer would never let a drummer play like he played on Brain Capers on a record nowadays. The idea that drums are an instrument that can sound different and be played differently has been lost. Ringo didn’t play like Charlie Watts who didn’t play like Elvin Jones; drummers all had their own sound and styles — a lot of them didn’t even keep perfect time. Now all the drum sounds are the exact same sound, all in perfect time; the same drum hit, it’s the one built into your computer. It’s like we’ve been robbed of that. I think it’s the commodification of our culture that has led to things like Trump being president. Music was a very important part of our life; nowadays, young people don’t care about music — they only care about taking selfies and their personal one second of fame … Anyway, let’s get back to your story.

Chrome Cranks: William Gilmore Weber III, Bob Bert, Peter Aaron, Jerry Teel
Chrome Cranks: William Gilmore Weber III, Bob Bert, Peter Aaron, Jerry Teel

BOB: So now it’s the nineties and there’s this band that moved here from Cincinnati called the Chrome Cranks…

PKM: Now you’re in the Crypt Records world.

BOB: Yeah, I saw Tim Warren [Crypt Records founder] in Berlin last week. I hung out with him and Alberto [Camarasa, owner of Wowsville Bar], he’s working on some pre-Real Kids stuff, with a 225-page book and everything.  It’s pretty rippin’. But the Chrome Cranks were kinda stalking me so I joined them, and the thing that sold me on them was Jerry Teel — he had Funhouse Studios, which was our home away from home. We could rehearse and record there. I played with them for a long time, went to Europe a couple of times and they fell apart, and that’s when the Knoxville Girls come together — because Jerry [Teel] and Lisa [Wells] from the Honeymoon Killers broke up and Kid Congo moved into Jerry’s place, living upstairs, so that fell into place. We made two albums, we went on tour opening for Davie Allan & The Arrows. [laughs] That fell apart because we were booked to play this big garage-fest in Las Vegas and it was right after 9/11 happened and at that point no one wanted to get on an airplane. That was the nineties.

2000, I’m still with my wife in Hoboken, and I played in a band with Marc C. [Live Skull] called the International Shades and we couldn’t get that off the ground. I played with Ron from Speedball Baby and Norman from the Swans in Five Dollar Priest. But I couldn’t travel because my wife [Linda Wolfe] was getting more and more ill — I couldn’t even leave the house for more than a half hour. Luckily, at the time, I had some money and had health care and stuff. We had also done BB Gun Fanzine together, me and Linda; I interviewed Legs and Gillian a year before Please Kill Me came out; Linda died in 2012. Shortly after that, I got the call from Lydia [Lunch], and I’ve been doing this [Retrovirus] for five years. I love playing these songs, I love the band, I’ve gotten to places I’ve never been before — I finally got to Australia, Brazil a couple of times, Moscow…

Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus — Tim Dahl, Lydia, Bob Bert, Walter Weasel, Lydia. Photo by Jasmine Hirst
Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus — Tim Dahl, Bob Bert, Walter Weasel, Lydia. Photo by Jasmine Hirst

PKM: Lydia is truly a force of nature.

BOB: Oh, she’s never stopped…

PKM: Talk about uncompromised…

BOB: She’s avoided the mainstream 100% — and the only job she’s ever had was selling sandwiches when she was sixteen. Now she’s back in Brooklyn, she’s got a thing next Monday with the guy from the Last Poets and she has another band called Brutal Measures with Weasel [Walter, Retrovirus guitarist] where he plays drums. She’s just all over the place.

PKM: I’m surprised Queen Of Siam hasn’t really gotten its due for being such an ahead-of-its-time masterpiece. I guess it would be too expensive to play live.

BOB: She has! I think in South America, places where they have a budget to put together a big enough band to play the entire album.

Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus, “Final Solution” [Pere Ubu cover]:

PKM: She had the Billy Ver Planck Orchestra [Jazz for Playboys] and Robert Quine — that would be hard to recreate. I don’t think ZE [Records] really knew how to promote it back then, but the whole cocktail lounge thing in the nineties and all that, she predated that by twenty years.

BOB: She’s conquered every musical genre. I’m the wrong one to talk to because not only am I in her band, I’m her biggest fan.

PKM: A lot of oddball side projects. I remember seeing the Devil Dawgs [her early eighties blues band] at Maxwell’s; she was playing a frying pan and doing songs like Elmore James’ “12-year-old Boy”. She peed herself onstage that night — I think those are her best shows, when she pees herself…

Bob Bert with Lydia Lunch 1997, Pittsburgh - Photo by Bart D Frescur
With Lydia Lunch 1997, Pittsburgh – Photo by Bart D Frescur

PKM: At this point in your career, everything, just life in general, is so much more expensive and brutal and all, and you play an instrument that’s been sort of culturally devalued by technology — how do you see your future as a musician?

BOB: Funny that you say that, because one song that we finish all our shows with is “Frankie Teardrop”, and I have to keep this beat [keeps beat on table] for fifteen minutes, and now I’ve been hired to play for this “Sally Can’t Dance presents Suicide Sally” tribute show — and at first I thought I’d just sing a song or something, but they told me, “No, you have to play drums.” So, I can do that, I just don’t find that as a threat. I can keep a beat all night long; I’ve been compared to a drum machine. I’m really grateful that me and you grew up in the time that we did, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in my life. When I talk to people, even people ten years younger than me, and I say that I saw the [New York] Dolls in ‘73 or Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death tour, and they’re fascinated. I remember once, in the early seventies seeing a little ad in The Voice and it said “Rock and Rimbaud” and an address, so I went to the address and saw the Patti Smith Group perform in somebody’s living room. Shit like that is never going to happen again.

PKM: We caught the tail-end of the golden era of popular culture. I love that line in the Robert Crumb documentary where he plays a Geeshie Wiley 78 and says, “This is the best part of the common people”.

Bob Bert singing at Suicide Sally, Jan 2018 - Photo by Johan Vipper
Singing at Suicide Sally, Jan 2018 – Photo by Johan Vipper

BOB: I have to tell you about the Wolfmanhattan Project: it’s me and Mick Collins [Gories, Dirtbombs] and Kid Congo Powers [Cramps, Gun Club, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Pink Monkey Birds]. We recorded it almost three years ago now, but it’s just coming out this spring on In The Red. We played a show last summer on the Pier.

PKM: I saw the show — it was totally great. How did that come together?

BOB: Just happened. I’d been in Knoxville Girls with Kid, and we both knew Mick and were fans of what he did.

PKM: It’s certainly an all-star line up…

BOB: We just got together to jam and see what would happen and the chemistry was just there; we recorded it at New York HED Studio with Matt Verta-Ray. It just came together really fast and we got these songs down in a couple of weeks; just straight-ahead rock — simple, straightforward. Hopefully after the album comes out, we’ll do some shows, see what happens.

Bob Bert singing at Suicide Sally, Jan 2018 - Photo by Johan Vipper
Wolfmanhattan Project: Bob Bert, Kid Congo Powers, Mick Collins – Photo by Jackie Roman

PKM: Mick Collins is a unique talent for sure.

BOB: Yeah, but to get a hold of him you pretty much have to go to him, he’s not good at returning emails and isn’t on social media, and Kid tours a lot with his band [Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds] — but I’m really excited about it.

PKM: I love the single — “Smells Like You.”

BOB: Well, like I said, it’s almost three years old now — but I think we sound great together and it’s really fun to play with those guys.

PKM: Well, I guess we’ve covered it — I mean, anything to add?

BOB: I’ve made over thirty albums, played in all these bands; there’s only two people I’ve been in bands with that I’m not friends with. I’ve had some falling outs with people; I felt like I was kinda treated wrong by Ron Ward with Five Dollar Priest, but eventually we patched things up.

PKM: Yeah, I had my problems with him, too.

BOB: Which resulted in the song “Lakeside Story.”

PKM: Right, not that great a story — he punched me in the nose because I told him he couldn’t drink a beer from the deli in front of my bar. He’s lucky the doorman [Derrick Green of Sepultura] didn’t punch him. Derrick’s fist is the size of a cinderblock. Later, I ran into him at Coney Island High and I kicked him in the ass pretty hard. Eventually I told him I didn’t have the attention span to stay mad and we shook hands.

Anyway, maybe we should run this like The Financial Times with a sidebar of what we ate and drank at lunch and what it cost. But I feel like I’m now caught up on New York rock history — I spent the eighties and nineties looking for 45s and 78s made before 1966; you really got a good inside look at everything. The drum seat is a good spot to observe from.

BOB: Yeah, I saw it all from the stage and the van…

I have to add the actual point of this whole interview—- I’ve got a book coming out called I’m Just The Drummer that HoZac who did the Denim Delinquent book. Lydia wrote the forward. Also they’re doing a book of B.B. Gun reprints, the fanzine I did with Linda (Wolfe, RIP). I interviewed Legs and Gillian two years before Please Kill Me came out.