Signed to Mercury the same time as the New York Dolls, Ohio-based Blue Ash was part of a pre-punk wave pushing against the pretentions and bloat of 1970s rock & roll, along with Big Star, the Raspberries, the Records, and Flamin’ Groovies. They released two fine albums that have had an outsized influence. Frank Secich, the band’s bass player, went on to play in the Dead Boys, in Stiv Bators’ post-Dead Boys bands, and has continued to play with his longtime band, the Deadbeat Poets. PKM’s Eric Davidson talked with the genial Secich about their shared Midwest roots and the events mentioned in Frank’s new book Circumstantial Evidence, including memorable encounters with Keith and Mick, Yoko, Anita, Marianne, Iggy, Chuck Berry and, of course, Stiv himself.
In a world of boomer musicians who mostly either hold grudges or were so doped up back then they barely remember the first six steps of their AA program, a guy like Frank Secich is a big breeze of fresh air. Secich (pronounced SESS-ich) was the bass player and founding member of early 1970s proto-power pop greats, Blue Ash. Sprung from the smoggy skies of the northwestern Pennsylvania/Ohio border, the band got signed to Mercury Records the same time as the New York Dolls, 1973, making for an impressive one-two punch of influential bands who sold shit and got dropped. One more album in 1977 on the forgotten Playboy Records imprint, and Blue Ash were left to record collector history.
Like other such influential ‘70s bands, they were rediscovered not long after they broke up, landing in a small pantheon of proto-power pop, as their excellent debut (No More No Less) rivals Big Star and fellow Ohioans, the Raspberries, for Beatles hooks/Byrds jangle/Who umph, anti-stadium bloat rock’n’roll. But, unlike the usual dropped musician who slinks off to a farmhouse somewhere, only to hear rumors of his/her influence 15 years later, Secich remained active, and even added to the post-punk groundswell as bass player/co-writer with Stiv Bators on his early solo stuff; and in the last lineup of the original Dead Boys from 1979-81.
Secich has retained his teen heart and hope. Talking to him puts you into the atmosphere of a great after-school diner convo about Favorite Top 10 Albums and whaddaya doin’ this weekend. Which describes much of his great recent biography, Circumstantial Evidence (High Voltage). It’s really more a bouncy collection of memories of a music-loving ragamuffin running around the streets of suburban industrial America than the ubiquitous “Rock Bio.” Along the way, as Secich offhandedly names forgotten regional TV show hosts and bands as if you should know them, he also casually mentions hanging with Anita Pallenberg, or having Chuck Berry ask him which songs he should do ‘cause the crowd is booing, going to Keith Richards’ 36th birthday party, or seeing the Doors in a bar. Then just as soon and just as excitedly jumping to some tale of the dumpster back alley of some church his teen band played in or selling Grit newspapers.
He sometimes wisely lets you fill in the end of such tales with your own imagination. Or, you know, we’re talking about 50 years ago here. His memory seems solid and trustworthy though. The insanely stacked list of area clubs mentioned throughout reminds one not just of this guy’s experience, but subtly shows how important the local “disco” was to the teen experience back then, and how they could make “stars” of local bands in a creative developmental pattern now mostly ceded to the characterless, un-geographical bray of YouTube/Soundcloud URLs.
As the book goes along, Secich circles back to name-dropped parties, crazy concerts, and having fun driving busted vans and avoiding the fuzz through arguably the best decade of rock’n’roll – all with the wide-eyed “I still can’t believe I’m having this much fun” personality he exudes in person to this day. Noteworthy are Secich’s memories of touring as a member of the Dead Boys from 1979-81, a welcome rejoinder to the usual toss-offs that that lineup was an after-thought. Circumstantial Evidence hits a kind of zany zenith on a mid-book, seven-page blitz of Dead Boys stories that include Iggy Pop, Susan Sarandon, and a prop plane, amongst other… well, I’ll leave it to your imagination. Suffice to say, Secich’s quick-jab tales lend new punches to the Dead Boys’ history.
As he ditches the biz to sell insurance for a while and raise his son, the eventual Blue Ash reissues, reunions, and a fine new band, the Deadbeat Poets, come along like needed yield signs and visons of another skyline in the distance, promising more Secich stories down the road. For now, we asked him about some more old stories.
PKM: Tell me about growing up in Sharon, PA. How did you start discovering music?
Frank Secich: Sharon was and is a working-class, provincial town resting on the Ohio border in western Pennsylvania. Growing up there was a trip. In the 1950’s and ’60’s, almost everyone there worked in steel mills and factories like Westinghouse, Sharon Steel, GATX , Malleable, and others. The big excitement was the Sharon-Farrell high school rivalry in football and basketball and annual church bazaars and county fairs. When I was a young kid, I liked Elvis and Buddy Holly, but it was first hearing and seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show February 9, 1964 that changed my life. All I wanted to do was be in a band. My life as a star Little League baseball player, a good Catholic boy, and honor student would soon be in shambles.
I started play the harmonica because a lot of early Beatles’ songs employed them; and my Uncle Jack gave me an old Stella guitar and I started to teach myself how to play. I listened to the radio constantly like WHOT in Youngstown with the legendary DJ Boots Bell, all the Cleveland stations, and CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. I started buying records with every penny I earned from my paper route and from shoveling snow. As the British Invasion invaded in 1964-65, I became obsessed with music and immersed myself in these great new sounds.
PKM: Did you go to Cleveland a lot?
Frank Secich: I went to Cleveland quite a bit in the 1950’s and ’60’s. We had a lot of relatives there on my mom’s side who we would visit, and we also went to a lot Cleveland Indians games and to Croatian music functions. Both of my sisters Cindy and Maryann went to school there as well. In late 1967, when I started to drive, my friends and I would go to Cleveland for major concerts and to see all the great local bands like Cyrus Erie. James Gang, Sheffield Rush, the Choir, and many others. Blue Ash played in Cleveland regularly too from 1970 until 1977. In Youngstown and Sharon in the 1960’s, I also got to see fabulous groups like our legendary Human Beinz, the Executioners, Pied Pipers, New Hudson Exit, the Squires, Schillings, and so many others.
PKM: You shook JFK’s hand?
Frank Secich: When Senator Kennedy was running for President in October of 1960, he did a campaign stop in Sharon. My Uncle Steve took me to see him and hear him speak. I was nine years old. We were right up front. When he was done speaking, he came down to shake hands. I remember he looked like a movie star! JFK also spent that night at the Shenango Inn in Sharon.
“I decided to be a professional musician in instead of a professional criminal”
PKM: Your mom worked during World War II. Did she seem like a kind of modern independent woman to you?
Frank Secich: My mom, Dolly, worked at Westinghouse in Sharon during World War II. She made torpedoes and had quite a few commendations for her work from the Navy. …She met my dad, Frank in December of 1945 on the day he came home from the war. She was artistic, a free thinker, and a free spirit with a tremendous sense of humor. One time in the late 1960’s she said to me,” I think I’d like to try LSD?” I said, “What?!” She said, “I’ve read that Cary Grant thinks quite highly of the experience.” I said, “That may be so, but Cary doesn’t have to deal with Dad like you and I do. So that’s NOT going to happen.” She loved books and was well informed, well-read, and loved arguing politics with anyone. Her favorite politicians were FDR and Barack Obama. She loved music and loved that I made a career out of music. She always supported me and bought me my first proper guitar (a Harmony Monterrey) in 1965. I was always very proud to have her as my mom.
PKM: Tell me about that carnival by the trash dump that you played?
Frank Secich: From 1960 until 1963, I attended St, Anthony’s Parochial school. Up the street there was an American Legion post, and in between was a huge open air dump where people would deposit all sorts of trash and garbage, and it was infested with rats. My friends and I would play in that dump. One day the mayor came by in his car and called us over. “I’ll tell you what, boys, I have a big jar of quarters in my office. Since you’re playing in this dump all the time anyway, why don’t you boys bring your sling shots, BB guns, traps, and bows and arrows down here and get rid of all these rats. I’ll pay you 25 cents for each dead rat!” The Great Rat Hunt was on! We got rid of hundreds of them…I once wrote a song about the trash dump called “25 Cents A Rat.” It went something like this: “25 cents a rat / ain’t nothin’ wrong with that / unless of course you’re the rat.”
PKM: Were the industrial surroundings of Northwest PA an influence of your music at all?
Frank Secich: Oh, most definitely! I write a lot of my songs about places where I grew up and about people I’ve known and the experience of knocking about in industrial working-class places like Sharon and Farrell.”Jennyburg Hill”, “Madras Man (A Blues In 3/4 Time)”, “Elvin Dabney Professional Thief”, “The Green Man”, The Goody Wagon”, and “Johnny Sincere” by my band the Deadbeat Poets are all about local places and colorful characters I’ve known. “A Million Miles Miles” that I wrote and Stiv Bators, recorded along with “Circumstantial Evidence,” both reek of Western PA and northeast Ohio. I have mined that vein of growing up and living in Northwest, PA, throughout my career. Even on the new Blue Ash album to be released in 2020, I still go there. I continue to find Sharon an endless source of inspiration and amusement.
PKM: You mention the Bob Dylan show you saw in Cleveland, and Dylan saying Cleveland and Minneapolis were the only towns not to boo him on those 1965-66 electric tours. I feel like there is something about northeast Ohio that just “gets it” when it comes to accepting the changes in rock ‘n’ roll over time.
Frank Secich: That was the first concert I ever attended, Bob Dylan at Cleveland Music Hall on November 12, 1965.This was part of his first controversial electric tour. After school that Friday I took a bus the hundred miles from Sharon to Cleveland. I had no idea of the earth-shaking, eye-opening, life-changing, mind-blowing experience that was about to happen to me. To this day, it has been the best concert I have ever attended. Dylan opened with a folk set then after an intermission came out with the electric band. The electric set was spellbinding. My ticket was right in the middle of the first row of the balcony. The sound was tremendous. There were no boos from the Cleveland fans that night
You’re right about the fact that Cleveland “gets it,” from having one of the first out of the south gigs by Elvis to Alan Freed’s “Moondog Coronation Ball,” to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, to Bobby Womack, and from La Cave to the Raspberries and the Rock Hall. Cleveland radio has also broken out more rock and roll artists than you came name. All in all, Cleveland has conducted itself admirably in the Rock ‘n’ Roll era.
PKM: Your first show you played, in September 1966. Any more memories of that?
Frank Secich: My first band in 1966 was called the Electrons. It was me and my best friend Mark “Beaver” Warner on guitars, and our friend Jack Reilly on tambourine. We made our first professional appearance at a party in Barbie Hyde’s house in Sharon. We only had two guitars, but we could sing pretty good. We borrowed a big Gibson amp from Joe at Sharon Music Center to plug our microphones through, so I don’t think we sounded too bad. I can remember clearly some of the songs we did such as “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks or “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles, “Just A Little” by the Beau Brummels, “Try Too Hard” by the Dave Clark Five…”Hey Gyp”, “The House Of The Rising Sun,” “Little Black Egg”, “Yesterday’s Gone” the Turtles version of “It Ain’t Me Babe” , Hit The Road Jack”, and “Gloria.” All in all, the kids seemed to like it, and we got over the jitters of playing out for the very first time. Right after that we set about adding to the band. We changed our name to The City Jail and got Jeff Rozniata on drums, Bill Rudge on bass, and most importantly we got Jim Kendzor on lead vocals (who would end up co-forming Blue Ash with Secich).
PKM: Tell me about the band, Holes in The Road. You claim they were the best Ohio band circa 1966-69.
Frank Secich: The Holes In The Road were from Warren, Ohio. They specialized in covering the Byrds in which they sounded note for note just like the Byrds’ records. But alas, very few recordings of the Holes exist. They also did Buffalo Springfield, Animals, Rolling Stones, Blues Magoos quite excellently. They did the most killer version of “River Deep, Mountain High” that I ever heard. It was even better than Phil Spector’s Ike and Tina Turner recording.
PKM: You broke into an abandoned house in the woods for a party place. What was that place like?
Frank Secich: Ah yes, “The House,” as we called it. I believe it had been some kind of speakeasy during Prohibition, but was abandoned and dilapidated by the time 1960’s rolled around. The whole bottom floor was open with no walls and a great old wooden bar that ran the length of the house. There were more rooms upstairs. My friends and I used to steal many cases of Iron City Beer from a drive-thru beer distributor in the neighborhood. We needed a place to hide the beer so we broke into the house. We would go there and party and drink and pretty much trash the place. We were only 15 years old or so. Long story short, we got busted by the cops, and in February 1967, had to go to Juvenile Court in Mercer, PA. We all thought we were going to the reform school. Our trial was very surreal, and at one point the judge turned to me said “Mr. Secich! Are you sorry you did it, or are you sorry you got caught?” I said,”To tell you the truth judge, I’m sorry I got caught!” “Well sir! You’re one of few honest men who have ever stood before me in this court!” Some of you boys here are actually looking forward to reform school as though it would be some kind of adventure or badge of honor. It’s not! So, I’m not going to send you there. You’ll be on probation for one year, will work hard fixing up the house on weekends, and will furnish the materials to do it.” It was a good wake up call for me. I decided to be a professional musician in instead of a professional criminal.
PKM: You mention getting bloody on stage and even diving into the crowd – this was before Iggy Pop came along.
Frank Secich: Yes, this was 1967 at St. Joe’s in Sharon. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church always put on great local rock ‘n’ roll shows. They always had two bands. This night the band I was in (Great Hibiscus) opened for the New Hudson Exit, which was Phil Keaggy’s band who were great and the most popular band at St. Joe’s. We knew we couldn’t match them talent-wise, but we were quite capable of putting on a wild anarchic show. I smashed my Teisco 12-string to pieces that night. As I axed the first blow to the stage with all my might, strings started breaking and ripped my face like razors. Now I’m really pissed off and bleeding and the feedback is howling like demons from hell. I went nuts on that guitar and the crowd was loving it. I threw all the pieces into the audience, and as we finished I dove head first off the stage into the crowd to a massive ovation. We were always a hard act to follow.
PKM: What was [early ‘70s Cleveland band] Mother Goose like before Stiv Bators joined? And did you recognize his talents right away?
Frank Secich: The Mother Goose band before Stiv was a psychedelic/soul cover band. We played all summer of 1968 at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, which was and still is a resort/vacation place on Lake Erie. The original Mother Goose was me on bass, John Hanti (organ) Marty Magner (guitar) and David Magnotto on drums. We played at a teen club on the strip called the Electric Zoo. After our summer residency at Geneva, John Hanti and David left the band, I switched to rhythm guitar, we got Manfred Kodilla on bass and Terry Murcko on drums.
We played a lot at the Dream Merchant in Youngstown. We were still a cover band, covering mostly the Beatles and Stones. During that time, I hung out quite a bit with Stiv. I quit Mother Goose in early June of 1969 to start Blue Ash. In the summer of 1969, there was a local outdoor festival near Canfield, Ohio. I knew the promoter and put together a pick-up band for it. I got Bill “Goog” Yendrek who would be in Blue Ash on guitar, Steve Acker on who would later play in Law on guitar, Myron Grombacher who would later be Pat Benetar’s drummer, me on bass and my friend Steve Bator on vocals and harmonica. Only Steve (Stiv) didn’t have a harmonica, he would cup his hands and make harmonica sounds. It was remarkable!
“So February 9, 1974 – exactly ten years from the day the Beatles debuted in America on The Ed Sullivan Show – Blue Ash played with the Stooges at their final show before they broke up at the Michigan Palace in Detroit.”
Anyway, we started our set and we’re going over fairly well with covers of “Stray Cat Blues” and “Kick Out The Jams” when Stiv pulled out a can of whipped cream and started shaking it in his crotch area at the crowd from the edge of the stage. He had them now! He then threw the microphone stand up in the air and it clipped his head on the way down. He was bleeding and was really hurt. As I looked over he was smearing the blood with the whipped cream and he looked like some kind of orangish monster. The crowd went nuts. When we were done, I took him to the hospital to get stitched up. This was Mr. Bators’ first proper appearance on stage. His reputation grew, and soon after Stiv would join Mother Goose as lead singer. By this time Mother Goose became quite a show band. There is a great film of them playing at The House That Jack Built in Vienna, Ohio. It was featured for the first time ever in Danny Garcia’s 2019 film STIV – No Compromise, No Regrets.
PKM: Another seemingly big deal you quickly mention in the book – you had a collapsed lung?!
Frank Secich: Yeah. On Memorial Day weekend of 1969, Mother Goose were playing at Euphoria in Cleveland. While loading equipment into the club, I felt a sudden stabbing pain in my chest. Every time that I breathed it was ungodly painful. I ended up playing our set in immense pain and then asked the guys to take me to a hospital. Instead, after the gig they drove the van to Geneva-on-the-Lake on the way home for some reason, and I spent a couple hours writhing in pain until eventually they took me home in the morning. By the time I got home I was in terrible shape. My dad took me to the hospital where I was hospitalized for ten days. While in the hospital, I quit Mother Goose and Jim Kendzor and I decided to start Blue Ash. I had a bunch of songs that I had written and was tired of being in a cover band. I also didn’t want to be in a band like Mother Goose or even know guys like that anymore.
PKM: Who was the toughest musician you ever played with – either tough like he/she pissed you off, or tough like he/she made you a better musician?
Frank Secich: That above Memorial Day Mother Goose Incident was the one thing in my entire career that really pissed me off. It was a good wake up call to start doing my own music that I had been writing for years. The best thing I ever did was quit that band.
PKM: The litany of regional clubs you name in the book that you went to or played is amazing. For now, can you tell me about your three favorite clubs in northeast Ohio/northwest PA in the Blue Ash era?
Frank Secich: My three favorite places to play back them were The Freak Out in Youngstown, The Bug Out in Transfer, PA, and the Penn Alto Hotel Ballroom in Altoona, Pa. The Freak Out was our home, as our manager Geoff Jones had an office there and we rehearsed there. Blue Ash made our debut there on October 3, 1969. A few years later, it was remodeled and name changed to The Apartment. We always loved playing there. We played the Penn Alto once a month from early 1972 through 1974. The Penn Alto would hold 1,000 kids and 975 of them would be teenaged girls. We loved that place. The Bug Out was a classic western PA teen venue in the middle of nowhere. It was a great gig and always packed. The late, legendary local DJ Boots Bell ruled there. Boots loved Blue Ash. On his daily after school drive-time radio show he would shout praises to the heavens about Blue Ash. “You’ve got to see these guys Blue Ash live to believe it,” and the people came to see us. He made us famous back then in Ohio and Pennsylvania. We owe him more than we could ever repay. There’s a documentary about Boots Bell coming out soon in 2020. Jim Kendzor and I are both in it as well with some classic Boots stories. As Boots would say, “Yes indeedy doody daddy!”
PKM: Can you tell us more about another DJ you mention, DJ Bob Mack?
Frank Secich: Bob Mack was a Pittsburgh DJ, teen dance promoter, and legendary discoverer of Tommy James. Blue Ash used to play all his teen clubs around Pittsburgh in 1970-71. He was a crazy, colorful character and we all loved him. He was the first guy to take Blue Ash into a recording studio, namely Sigma Sound in Philadelphia. Bob had a song called “We’ll Live Tomorrow,” written by local folk singer Terri Gruber. It was a tribute to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin who had just died. Bob asked us to record it and he produced it in Philadelphia. While we were in the studio, Wilson Pickett popped in to listen and opine. Then he turned to us and said, “You guys aren’t bad… for white boys!” We all howled! Bob took the tape to New York to try and get a major label to put it out, but no one was interested. It’s funny because the recording still holds up well and could’ve been a big hit back then. Hopefully, it will be released someday.
PKM: You mentioned a party in L.A. that Jeff Beck invited you to. Any memories of that?
Frank Secich: That was at the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Strip. It would have been in 1980. Stiv and I were staying at the “Riot House,” and so was Jeff. We were in the parking lot walking to the hotel when we saw Jeff and a bunch of people. He called us over and said he was having a party, asked us to come over and bring some tapes of the songs we were working on. Jeff is one of the coolest and most talented men in Rock ‘N’ Roll. I had met him in Cleveland in 1968 when he had the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, and in London in 1972 when he had Beck, Bogart, and Appice. Stiv and I ran into him a lot when we lived in L.A.
PKM: When was the first time you went to New York City? When/where was Blue Ash’ first show there?
Frank Secich: The first I was ever in New York City was right after Blue Ash’s debut LP came out in 1973. Blue Ash had played in New Jersey for some great gigs but never in New York. We were going to be booked at Max’s Kansas City for three days plus a week at other NYC places, but couldn’t take the gigs as we had other dates contracted in the Midwest. It was the biggest mistake Blue Ash ever made. We should have cancelled the Midwest jobs and played New York City. The first time I ever played in New York City was with the Dead Boys in the autumn on 1979.
PKM: You signed to Mercury Records the same year as the New York Dolls – was there much overlap there? Did you have the same publicists, or did the label try to put you on bills together?
Frank Secich: We were signed to Mercury Records by Paul Nelson in late 1972. Paul signed the New York Dolls to Mercury at the same time. We never played a gig together. I wish we had. I didn’t get to see the Dolls in Cleveland as we were touring all the time back then. We got to hang out with the Dolls at Max’s Kansas City a few times. Those were days, my friend!
PKM: Peppermint Productions Studio in Youngstown where you made the Blue Ash debut, can you describe the neighborhood it was in, and what you guys did during downtime in recording the debut?
Frank Secich: Believe it or not, Peppermint Studios is still a going concern and Gary Rhamy still owns it. It’s located on the south side of Youngstown, on Indianola Avenue a few blocks east of South Ave. The studio was right across the street from the then Woodside Receiving Hospital which was a mental hospital. In 2004, I went back to Peppermint to visit Gary and find what Blue Ash tapes were there. After we inventoried the tapes, we counted an amazing 219 recordings Blue Ash had done from 1972 until 1979. We picked 44 of the best of them for Not Lame Record’s 2004 2-CD compilation called Around Again – A Collection of Rarities From the Vault, 1972-‘79
PKM: Tell me about smashing your guitar at 5 a.m. during the debut’s recording session.
Frank Secich: We had a song called “Smash My Guitar” that was the last song we recorded for Blue Ash’s debut album. I wanted to capture the actual sound of a guitar being smashed for the recording, but I didn’t want to smash one of my guitars. So, Paul Nelson went down to Dusi Music and bought me an inexpensive Gibson acoustic to eviscerate. On the final day of recording in February of ‘73, I smashed that guitar (in one take) on a big grey brick in the studio, surrounded by very expensive Neumann microphones. It was an apt christening for the album!
PKM: You mention in the book that a lot of bands around the very end of the 1960’s/early ’70’s were getting sort of pretentious, long-winded, and that Blue Ash wanted to get back to shorter, hooky songs and not messing around a lot. Is there a particular live show you can remember when watching one of those bloated, pretentious bands and thinking, “Gawd, I do NOT want to do that”?
Frank Secich: Yes! Eric Clapton is not God! In the early Blue Ash days sometimes people would scream at us, “Do some GRAND FUNK! GRAND FUNK! BOOGIE! BOOGIE!” One time after enduring this special kind of mindlessness, Jim Kendzor said from the stage, “We would do some of their songs, but that would make us assholes by proxy!” I thought I’d die laughing. We were never into musically noodling about senselessly like that!
PKM: I’m a punk rock guy, and we all know how that era – like 1975-78 – was a lot about how the music biz got too big, pretentious…and that punk was about trying to get back to some fun roots of shorter songs with good hooks and energy. So in that way, do you feel Blue Ash had an effect on punk eventually coming around?
Frank Secich: The punk backlash was bound to happen, I believe. There had been a perfect storm brewing in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. Many people were seeding the clouds. The Stooges, MC5, Velvet Underground, New York Dolls were the vanguard, but there were also many throwback three-minute popsters like Badfinger, Raspberries, Big Star, Flamin’ Groovies, Blue Ash and more simmering in the shadows spreading discontent and rebellion with an occasional breakthrough. Many visionary writers like Greg Shaw and Paul Nelson were fanning the flames. By the mid-‘70s, that bloated music industry was ripe for revolution. The Ramones, the Damned, the Sex Pistols, and the Dead Boys and what followed were inevitable.
PKM: Pm June 15 1973, you played in Chicago with Iggy & the Stooges and Mitch Ryder, and spent the earlier part of the day hanging at Mercury Records office. That’s a pretty cool day! Any memories, especially of the Iggy show?
Frank Secich: Right after our No More, No Less was released, we flew to Chicago to play with the Stooges at the Aragon Ballroom and meet all the folks at Mercury on Wacker Drive. We had a great time at Mercury and they let us raid their vaults and take home tons of promos and swag. That was a great perk about being on a major label. We used to pilfer Columbia Records properly as well. Anyway, all of Mercury Records came to the show at the Aragon that night. We went on first and tore the place up. The Aragon has foul acoustics as anyone who has ever played there knows, but we put on a wild stage show. It was the first time we had ever seen the Stooges, and they put on an incredible performance.
PKM: The story in your book of opening the Stooges final Metallic KO show – wow! So you mentioned how messed up an earlier Cactus (a Carmine Appice band) show was, and that they were unprofessional. What, for you, made that Cactus mess stupid but the Stooges KO show so funny and fun?
Frank Secich: Precisely that! The Stooges were funny and fun, and might I add genius, whereas Cactus were just pretentious, sloppy, and annoying.
So February 9, 1974 – exactly ten years from the day the Beatles debuted in America on The Ed Sullivan Show – Blue Ash played with the Stooges at their final show before they broke up at the Michigan Palace in Detroit. The Palace had a seating capacity of 4,038. It was a great place to play and it was packed. There was another band on before us, and they came bolting off the stage saying ‘don’t go out there, it’s crazy!’ Undaunted as we always were, Blue Ash took the stage and had one of our best concerts ever. We sounded cool and went over great. We had a lot of fans in Detroit and always sold a lot of records there.
The Stooges were up next and there was a sinister, foreboding feeling in the air. As we were changing gear between bands, we left one of our guitars (Jim’s Epiphone Sheraton) on stage on a guitar stand. We stood on the side of the stage to get a good view of the show. Iggy was in rare form that night even for him, and you just knew it was coming. After the opening song, Iggy yells, “Ow! Ow! Riots in the Motor City! Kind ladies and gentlemen, the Stooges next presentation this evening will be for all you boys and girls who want to slow dance. It’s called “I Got Shit!” He was literally egging on the crowd so to speak with “I Got Nothin’” – eggs, beer bottles, ice, jelly beans, and all kind of debris were flying at the stage. “Our next selection tonight for all you Hebrew ladies in the audience is entitled ‘Rich Bitch.’ Hey, I don’t care if you throw all the ice in the world, you’re paying 5 bucks and I’m making $10,000 baby!”
“The Stooges were up next and there was a sinister, foreboding feeling in the air.”
Then the intro to “Gimme Danger” – “What do you want to hear? Say, you wanna hear, ‘Louie, Louie?’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’” Then in falsetto, he goes, “Baby baby, where did my cock go?” After “Gimme Danger,” the automatic self-destruction continued in high gear. “Well, well ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your kind indulgence, and for this evening’s next selection I’ll be proud to present a song that was co-written by my mother entitled, “I Got My Cock In My Pocket,” and a one, and a two, fuck you pricks!” Then after one more rambling soliloquy they broke into, as promised, “Louie Louie,” and all hell breaks loose. We were on the side of the stage laughing our asses off. Then after the fall-apart “Louie, Louie” ending, “Thank you very much to the person who threw this glass bottle at my head and nearly killed me. You missed again, keep trying next week.” At the end when we retrieved our stage guitar and there was yellow egg splatter all over it. Jim left it on there and never cleaned it and just let it dry. It was a souvenir of a historic night. Jim still owns that guitar, and I’ll bet the egg splatter is still on it.
PKM: When you met Yoko Ono, you said Warhol was there as well. Any memory of talking to him?
Frank Secich: I just remember saying “hello” to Andy. I wish I had talked to him more. Yoko was very friendly and cool. Our manager, Geoff Jones, gave her a Blue Ash album and she asked Jim Kendzor and I to sign it, which blew our minds. David Johansen and Elliott Murphy were there that night too, and we all hung out together. Yoko’s show was pretty cool as well. I remember her passing around a bucket and asking everyone in the audience to puke into it and pass it along. I thought that was quite funny!
PKM: The Raspberries – when did they first kind of pop up in your world? And were you two bands friends?
Frank Secich: Actually, Blue Ash started about 10 months before the Raspberries. I always thought they were a great band. One of the biggest influences for us starting Blue Ash was Cyrus Erie, which had future Raspberries Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, and Mike McBride. We loved how they sounded. Blue Ash and Raspberries played all the same club circuit in Ohio and PA. We also played a few gigs on the same bill, most notable being Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio in front of 3,000 screaming kids.
PKM: Blue Ash is often compared to Big Star. Did you ever see the band or know much about them when they were around?
Frank Secich: Paul Nelson from Mercury Records took Jim Kendzor and I to see and meet Big Star at Max’s Kansas City in what I believe was December of 1973. We hung around with them and had a great time. We were big Big Star fans, and Blue Ash ended up in a lot of articles and reviews with them. My favorite Big Star song is “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” which I rate as amazing.
PKM: So for the second Blue Ash album, you got signed to Playboy Records. What was their pitch to you, as far as what kind of label they wanted to be? Were there centerfolds hanging around their offices?
Frank Secich: In 1976, we signed a production deal with Steve Friedman who had previously worked at Peppermint and had managed Left End. Steve took us to Criteria Studio in Miami, and we recorded four songs. Steve took the songs to L.A. and shopped them around. He got us a singles deal with Playboy, and in May of ‘77 they released the single, “Look At You Now.” It became a regional hit in the south and in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It hit number 1 in a dozen places in Texas. Playboy offered us an LP deal, and we flew to L.A. and finished the album at Village Recorder. Front Page News was released in October of 1977 and distributed by CBS and started taking off selling around 34,000 copies when Playboy Records folded, and Blue Ash were once again left out in the cold. We never did see any centerfolds hanging around their offices!
PKM: You were in the Dead Boys at their end. Can you tell me about a favorite or infamous show with them?
Frank Secich: I toured constantly with Stiv and various Dead Boys’ line-ups from October 1979 until January of 1981. My favorite show with the Dead Boys was January 25, 1980, at the Whisky A Go-Go. We played a three-day, two shows a night weekend and sold out every show. On the first night, we had a very special guest come up and play drums with us and that was the legendary actor and comedian, John Belushi. John was a huge fan of the band, but it was the first time I’d met him. After we finished our set, we got a rousing encore! When we came back to the stage, Stiv got on the microphone and said “There’s this guy backstage who has been bugging us to let him come up and play the drums on “Sonic Reducer.” So we’re going to bring him out. As John climbed on the drum riser the applause built into a deafening roar as the crowd realized who it was. John was one of the biggest stars in the world. We did a blistering rendition of “Sonic Reducer,” and the jam-packed crowd went manic and wild. As we finished the song, the roar sounded like the Beatles at Shea Stadium, even though the club probably had only 600 jammed inside. I never heard anything like it. After we finished the song in the midst of all this mayhem, John jumped off the drum riser and walked right up to me. He shook my hand then he yelled in my ear, “Did I fuck up?” And I said “No, you were great!” Then he bowed to the crowd! Afterward we went back up to the upstairs dressing room and partied for about an hour. Then John went next door to the Roxy and jammed with Muddy Waters. The next night Joan Jett joined us on stage. The next week there was a feature story in People magazine of the Dead Boys and John Belushi along with some great Donna Santisi photos from that wild night. That was a time I’ll never forget.
PKM: Any other memories of Keith Richards’ 36th birthday party?
Frank Secich: In late 1979, the Dead Boys we playing a lot around New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey. Anita Pallenberg and Nico would come to a lot of our gigs. Anita invited us to Keith’s 36th birthday party December 18, 1979, at the Roxy Roller Disco in Manhattan. Cheetah was already at the party. Stiv, Jimmy Zero, and I took a cab to the Roxy and Anita met us at the door. She introduced us to Keith and Ron Wood as soon as we walked in. Keith said to us, “Your Cheetah did it! He broke his wrist roller skating. My driver took him to the hospital.” Keith was very cool and friendly. He was everything you’d expect him to be.
Later on, at the party we noticed Mick Jagger talking to two Jamaicans. We hadn’t met him yet. He was on roller skates and had a full beard and was drinking a bottle of Michelob. I kid you not. I saw Stiv moving toward him and said to Jimmy, “We’d better go with him, he’s going to do something.” So Stiv walks up to Mick from behind and taps him on the shoulder. Mick turns around and gives Stiv the most condescending look I’ve ever seen. Then Stiv says, “Where’s the men’s room?” Jagger says “What?!” Stiv says louder, “I said, where’s the men’s room?” Jagger shakes his head and says, “It’s over there around the corner.” So, we went off to the rest room and just fell about laughing. I said to Stiv, “I can’t believe you did that!” Mick Jagger was always his hero. He just had to do something. That was a great night. Also, that was the night when Keith and Patti Hansen started going together.
PKM: More from that summer of ‘79, hanging in L.A. a lot, getting on Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show. Any other fun memories from that summer?
Frank Secich: We did Rodney’s KROQ radio show, “Rodney on The Roq,” a couple of times. When Stiv and I got the acetates of “It’s Cold Outside” we went over to Bingenheimer’s apartment and played it for him. Rodney invited us and Bebe Buell to be his guests on his next KROQ show. On the air the first thing Rodney asked after introducing us was, “So what have you guys been up to?” Stiv jokingly said “We’ve been very busy running around the hills starting all those forest fires.” And I chimed in, “but we had to stop ’cause we ran out of matches.” I think Rodney always liked having us on his show.
PKML Kirk Yano’s After Dark Studio in Parma, Ohio. I grew up in Parma, but don’t know about the place. Where was it?
Frank Secich: Kirk Yano’s After Dark Studio was on Pearl Road. It was in the cellar of an office building. Stiv. Jimmy Zero, Johnny Blitz, and I recorded the original demos of “It’s Cold Outside” and “The Last Year” there in November of 1978. Stiv took those recordings to L.A. right after that and played them for Greg Shaw, and in April of ‘79, Greg signed us to record for Bomp Records. I ran into Kirk in New York City last March when Danny Garcia’s STIV documentary premiered at the Theatre 80 in St. Mark’s Place last year.
PKM: In the book, there’s a story of playing at the Mudd Club for Bebe Buell’s birthday – any other memory from that night?
Frank Secich: In the summer of ’79, Greg Shaw sent Stiv and I on a promo tour to New York City along with Bomp Records’ VP, Meryl Hauser, to promote our new 45 “It’s Cold Outside” b/w “The Last Year.” As we ended our interview at WPIX, I looked through the studio glass to see none other than Marianne Faithfull and Meryl Hauser talking, and Meryl was showing her the picture sleeve of “It’s Cold Outside.” I couldn’t believe it. There was Marianne Faithfull and she was as drop dead gorgeous as Marianne Faithfull should be. She was there to do an interview after us. As I walked out of the booth, she walked up to me holding the picture sleeve and said with her charming British accent, “What a great picture sleeve! I’ve always thought that the artwork is just as important as the music.” Then she held out her hand to me and said, “I’m sorry. I’m Marianne!”
It was July 14, 1979, and it was Bebe Buell’s birthday. Stiv had been going out with Bebe for a while, and we were having a party at the Mudd Club that night for her. I asked Marianne and her friends if they’d like to come the party and they did. While we were on the air. Stiv invited everyone in New York to come down to the Mudd Club and celebrate Bebe’s birthday. When we got to the club there were a lot of people outside. As we were standing there, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was John McEnroe with Vitus Gerulaitis and two beautiful girls. John said, “Mind if we crash your party? We heard you on the radio and it sounded like fun.” So we partied with all of them that night. Stiv and I later got up and jammed with David Johansen, Johnny Thunders, Rick Derringer, and Clem Burke. I remember we did “Pills” and a few other songs, and it sounded very good. Anita Pallenberg and Nico were there that night as well. So between Bebe, Marianne, Anita, and Nico I found myself talking and hanging out with four of the most interesting women in the world. It was one of my best days!
PKM: How was Stiv Bators in the recording studio? Got a good memory of going out with Stiv after a recording session?
Frank Secich: We recorded the album Disconnected at Perspective Studio in Sun Valley, California. The album was recorded on a basketball court that was adjacent to the studio. The wooden floor had an extremely “live” sound, so we did most of the basic tracks there. Cynthia Ross and the fabulous B-Girls from Canada came to town and added harmonies and hand-claps for “Swinging A Go-Go.” For the explosion sound on “Too Much To Dream,” Stiv and I dropped a Fender Twin Reverb amp – rented of course – off a ladder and recorded it. While recording “Ready Anytime,” Stiv couldn’t quite get the vocal the way he wanted. He said he had to go to Hollywood to get some inspiration. We did overdubs while he was gone until he returned four hours later very drunk with some girl. He went in the vocal booth and started to perform while she performed on him in front of us. It was a keeper. To top it all off for the real climax of the album, I wanted an 1812 Overture type ending for “I Wanna Forget You (Just The Way You Are)” – big, bombastic and over the top. We got our friend Kent Smythe to bring in thousands of fireworks. We dutifully and strategically placed microphones around the fireworks we had fused together, and producer Thom Wilson started rolling the tape as Stiv and I lit them on fire. One MAJOR problem – as the fireworks went off the studio immediately filled with smoke. In the midst of all the explosions, Stiv and I couldn’t see or breathe. We were suffocating and choking and had to literally crawl for our lives out of the studio while David, George, Thom, and Kent were falling about laughing. We spent the rest of the session clearing the smoke out of the studio. To top it off, when we played it back it sounded so fucking crazy we couldn’t use it.
One night after recording, we were driving back on the freeway to our hotel in West Hollywood. Stiv and David Steinberg were driving in the car ahead of me with a couple of girls at 75 mph down the freeway. Stiv crawled out the window, stood on the roof, and proceeded to engage in a ‘sick’ sport (that he alone invented ) called “car surfing.” I had seen this many times back home, but on the L.A. freeway with thousands of cars at night, it made me particularly nervous. Stiv sensing this, looked back at me and smiled. Then, he dropped his pants to his ankles. He wasn’t wearing any underwear. I almost wrecked the car laughing.
PKM: What was it like to sit in for the recording of that Midnight Special TV show with the Records, Iggy Pop and the Cars?
Frank Secich: Stiv and I were in L.A. in the Power Pop Summer of 1979. The Records from England had a huge hit that summer with “Starry Eyes” and were touring with their first album. They had covered one of my songs “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?),” and that came on a bonus 7″ EP that came with the album. Stiv, my wife Lisa and I went to the taping of that Midnight Special. The Records were great guys and a great band and we had a lot of fun hanging out that night. If you ever see any old clips of the show, you can plainly see me, Stiv, and Lisa right up front in the audience.
PKM: Club Wow – how long did that band last?
Frank Secich: Club Wow was together from 1982-85. The group was Jimmy Zero (rhythm guitar), Billy Sullivan (lead guitar), Jeff West (drums), and me on bass guitar. We were based out of Cleveland. Club Wow was one of the best bands that I was ever in, and one of Ohio rock ‘n’ roll’s best kept secrets. We were together for three years and only played out once a month, usually at the Phantasy or the Agora. We spent a lot of our time rehearsing in our loft in Cleveland and writing songs and recording. We tried very hard for a major label deal, even doing a big major label showcase in New York, but we just couldn’t get a deal. More’s the pity, but you can still enjoy the Club Wow retrospective CD/DVD that has been released by Zero Hours Records from Australia. It contains 18 never before released recordings, music videos, and vintage concert footage!
PKM: I always wonder what influential bands think when the music they played – and was somewhat ignored – is suddenly being called an influence later on. When you started to see the term “power pop” around, what did you think? Like, did you hear the Shoes or the Knack, and think, “Well shoot, we used to just call that ‘rock’ eight years ago.” That said, I guess you thought the power pop trend was a good thing – like the sounds Blue Ash wanted to hear again were finally coming back.
Frank Secich: With Blue Ash and even with the Deadbeat Poets (the current band I’m in) we still get referred to as power pop. I have never minded that designation as we’re usually lumped in with some greats like Flamin’ Groovies, Badfinger, Big Star, Raspberries, the Records, and all the usual suspects. I’m glad that so many new bands over the last four decades have taken to it. Power pop never seems to die, and that’s a good thing. There’s a new film, The Power Pop Movie, by Justin Fielding coming out soon that will be definitive about the genre.
PKM: Your book is kind of a collection of quick stories, rather than the usual drawn-out biography? How did you decide on that kind of style?
Frank Secich: I never had any intention of writing a book. For a couple of years, George Matzkov from High Voltage Publishing in Australia wanted me to write a book. I told him I was so busy with all of the Deadbeat Poets and Blue Ash recordings and tours that I just don’t have the time. Then in May 2015, I had a serious accident and was rushed by ambulance to Pittsburgh for emergency surgery. I spent five days in hospital, and when I got home I got an email from George: “Now you have time to write that biography!” I said, okay, if I can find a good opening line, I’ll write it in three months. Twenty minutes I wrote back to him, I’ve got it – “Ed Sullivan… that bastard ruined everything!” So I wrote three to four pages a day for three months. I used mostly little anecdotes almost in a kind of conversational way. I had fun with it. It just went into a second pressing and is available everywhere through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and directly from High Voltage Publishing in Australia – that comes with a companion CD
My current band the Deadbeat Poets have been together since 2006. The current line-up Pete Drivere (lead guitar), John Koury (drums), John Hlumyk (bass) and me on rhythm guitar. Guitarist/songwriter Terry Hartman was in the band until 2015. Our ninth album will be released later in 2020. We have also toured Europe three times. Our records are on the Pop Detective label and are available there and on Amazon and record stores everywhere. There will also be a new Blue Ash LP, featuring original members Jim Kendzor and myself as well as All of the Deadbeat Poets. Stay tuned!