Coming out of the pre-punk Boston rock & roll scene, Nervous Eaters were as tight and professional as any working band around, with links to Willie “Boom Boom” Alexander and legendary blues harp player Tony Cagnina and regular gigs at The Rat. They roared through the punk era, opening for national and international acts, then toured on their own, and just kept going. This year sees a new album and a reissue of the classic 1985 Hot Steel and Acid. PKM spoke at length with Eaters’ mainstay Steve Cataldo.
At the end of the 1980s and well into the ‘90s, a string of bootleg compilations called Killed By Death were released, gathering THE most obscure, forgotten, nastiest and trashiest punk singles of the original era (1977-81). Most of them, and other copycat comps, came out on vinyl only, in runs of, at most, 1,000. While upping the collector value of the rare singles on them, the comps themselves became rare too; and soon both the comps and the bands they unearthed became increasingly influential on the underground garage punk scene of the 1990s and 2000s.
Thanks to that infection known as “hits,” the term punk during the 1990s became associated with the pop turns of Green Day, Rancid, Offspring, and, most annoyingly, the mascara’d emo of the early aughts. Meanwhile, the Killed By Death contingent dragged punk’s original spirit through some pretty greasy, noisy underbellies, creating its own sub-genre, “KBD.” The truth is, KBD kept alive the unruliest aspects of the original punk ethos, especially the musical end. Enter the Nervous Eaters.
The Boston band’s severely ripping second 7” single from 1979, “Get Stuffed”/ “Just Head,” appeared on the 1991 Feel Lucky Punk?!! compilation and instantly established itself as one of the best of the burgeoning KBD canon. Even after a couple decades of rare punk excavation, Eaters’ leader Steve Cataldo’s voice and guitar licks remain some of the most vicious of the late-‘70s punk cycle. But their earlier single “Loretta”/ “Rock with Me” (1978) and some simple research revealed a band who’d sprung from a pre-punk, rough ‘n’ tumble bar band backdrop that would shape the sounds of Boston’s trend-averse, roots-wrung punk scene of the late ‘70s (Real Kids, DMZ, Neighborhoods). This was an American counterpart to the British pub rock zeitgeist, ala Dr. Feelgood. Then check the studio wiz musicians Nervous Eaters would record on/off with over the next ten years, a brief flirtation with Elektra Records, and the fact that Lou Reed pursued playing with Cataldo, and you’ll discover a band of crack musicians, not the diet pills and Pabst-enhanced teens of much of the KBD camp.
That unique clash – skillful dudes who probably owned Clapton albums spitting out mayhem right down there with the snottiest punks – always intrigued me ever since (full disclosure) my old band New Bomb Turks started covering “Just Head” in the early ‘90s. So, on the eve of an excellent expanded reissue of Nervous Eaters’ 1985 album, Hot Steel and Acid (Ace of Hearts Records) and the first new Eaters album in years, I thought I’d finally ask Steve Cataldo all about it.
PKM: Nervous Eaters started to come together around 1975, no?
Steve Cataldo: Yes roughly 1974, ‘75. The Eaters came out of a larger band that contained many of the musicians from another well-known Boston, North Shore group called the Fools. Originally, we called ourselves the Rhythm Assholes, but it was hard to get gigs with that name, so we shortened it to the Rhythm A’s. We played all over the place. I shared lead guitarist duties with my friend Rich Bartlett, still a fantastic guitar player. Also in the band was a talented singer songwriter, Michael Girard. Rich and Mike put together the Fools, who remain successful.
PKM: What were shows in Boston like when you started? When I’ve interviewed similar bands who started around then, they all say there were no places to play in town, or just for cover bands, and it was hard to get a following going.
Steve Cataldo: The streets weren’t exactly paved with gold for us either. We played more than most because we lived on the North Shore. We didn’t sit by the phone waiting for it to ring because we had a decent following and pestered the club owners to give us a chance, and we did a hell of a lot of self-promoting. We stuck posters everywhere and spent a lot of time on the phone. As long as the clubs were selling booze, word spread from owner to owner, you got hired then rehired. In between the Rhythm A’s and the Eaters, Jeff, myself, Rob Skeen (bass), and Rich Bartlett played the blues, which we had done quite a lot with this outstanding harp player, Tony Cagnina. Tony had played with many of the major blues cats, and he was outstanding. T played in stereo, no one was playing in stereo on stage, except cats like Magic Dick, Zappa, Jeff Beck, guys like that. It hadn’t crossed the minds of many local musicians at that time. Tony had all sorts of amps hooked up together, so he could play as loud as everyone else.…T was truly one sonically innovative cat. Sadly, he left the planet a few years ago, much to the heartache of everyone who knew and loved him.
PKM: What bands were you sharing bills with, or even just hanging around with in Boston, circa ‘75?
Steve Cataldo: After Barry and the Remains left the Kenmore Club or The Rat as the house band, we took over because James Harold, owner of The Rat, signed us up and took us into the studio where we recorded “Loretta,” “Just Head,” and more. Unfortunately, the masters were destroyed along with all the other groups that had recorded at Northern Studios in Maynard, MA. The masters were left to decay in some old dude’s garage. It was only years later when everyone started looking for their two-inch master tapes that the tragic news of their whereabouts came to light.
Anyway, because we were the house band, we played with many of the New York and English headliners who were on their way to stardom. Some of the UK bands really thought their shit was ice cream, so we started using a large safety pin to put tea bags on our leather jackets. The Damned and Squeeze were pretty good guys. Although we did many gigs with the Police, and I got to talk to Sting a lot. They really thought they were the second coming. Funny, it turns out they were. We opened for them many times, and saw right away they were smart jazz dudes, even though their first couple of songs were fast punk tunes. It didn’t take them long to get bored with that and for Sting to bring out gems he had hidden in his jazz/soul toolbox. Of course, those became top of the pop hit tunes. Many of the groups we opened for went on the become mega stars, still doing it today.
PKM: Did you start playing out of town early on?
Steve Cataldo: Yeah. We toured with the original Pretenders, each one super talented. Did a lot of shows with the Ramones. They were really smart guys too. Some people think they were just a bunch of clowns sitting around reading comic books all day. But anybody who knew them could tell you they were nobody’s fools. We did a show in upstate New York with the Split Enz. We were both staying at the same hotel, and around 2 am, the management woke me up. He should have been talking to our road manager, but he was already drunk as a skunk along with our bass player. Turned out those two guys got into it with two very inebriated Split Enz, and all four had fucked up the pool table pretty bad. We settled up with the hotel and put everyone to bed. At 3 am, another knock on my door – one very pissed off hotel manager demanding another $100 bucks because they caught my same two guys pissing in the hotel’s potted trees, which happened to make the lobby smell like a filthy men’s room that hadn’t been mopped in days.
PKM: When was the first time you played NYC?
Steve Cataldo: Trying to remember dates is like trying to remember what you had for breakfast last Tuesday. However, I do remember the first time we played at CBGB. We got stuck on a bill with some band of hippy freaks called the “Dumb Fucks” or something like that. But the best part of the bill was the Dead Boys! We became good friends with Cheetah Chrome. Anyway, we were sitting there drinking some beer, and had noticed previously how Hilly’s dogs were crapping all over the place, little piles of doggie shit everywhere and not a shit-scooping patrol dude anywhere in sight. Then in struts this dude, probably some big shot A&R suit, with a hot babe on his arm wearing a fur coat. The place was poorly lit, so I guess she didn’t see the pile of hot doggie loaf steaming on the floor that her high heel hit and sent her flying up and back down squarely onto the pile of squishy doggie loaf. Mortified, she screamed at the suit, turned, and walked to the front door. No one told her she had dog shit stuck on the back of her full-length fur coat. That was a sight to see. Somehow dog crap and fur really adhere to each other.
Did a lot of shows with the Ramones. They were really smart guys too. Some people think they were just a bunch of clowns sitting around reading comic books all day. But anybody who knew them could tell you they were nobody’s fools.
PKM: I recently interviewed photographer David Godlis, who took a pretty great photo of one of those CBGB dogs shitting. Before coming to NYC, he lived in Boston in the early 1970s, and said parts of it were very rough, rougher than the legendarily grimy streets of the early ’70s Lower East Side of NYC even.
Steve Cataldo: Chelsea and Dorchester had a lot of tough sections where gangs were common, later turning into dudes who loved to knock off armored cars and banks. You never went walking late at night by yourself, you were always in a group or somebody had a car. The local bars on the corner of your street were common. However, when the love power thing started happening, and rock, jazz, and folk spots started popping up – like Paul’s Mall, The Catacombs, The Boston Tea Party, the Lowell Ball Room, and The Psychedelic Supermarket – then the air started to change. The tough guys became stars of their own underground turfs. After the scene started developing at The Rat, and clubs that had original music started following suit. Of course, the scene would have taken a lot longer to happen if weren’t for people like Jimmy Harold, Oedipus, Lyn and Paul of Boston Groupie News, WBCN along with Boston College radio stations, and locals guys with cameras like Artie Freedman, Jean Renard, David Godlis, Phil n Phlash, on and on.
PKM: So as with only a few bands like yours, you kicked in around the “dawn of punk.” Did you notice something happening, as bands like the Ramones would come through town, or seeing import punk singles in shops, etc.?
Steve Cataldo: Jimmy and Hilly Kristal had kind of a “rock swap” going. Hilly would book some of the groups playing at CBGB to play The Rat, and Jimmy would book some of the top groups from The Rat to play at CBGB. So we saw singers in their early prime like Robert Gordon, Willie DeVille, both just outstanding artists, and when they sang live they sounded like a million bucks, no flat notes or missed cues. Man, when they laid it down, it freaking stayed there.
Something was happening at just about every major city on the map. Mags like Creem, Melody Maker, NME, were pushing the scene too. Every kid that had a couple bucks in his pocket were buying these mags and trying the look out. Plus, Sears was selling affordable Silvertone guitars and amps, so you didn’t need a thousand bucks to have decent gear. Guys like Willie Loco Alexander, who the Eaters dragged out of Sandy’s Bar in Beverly, MA, we learned his set list and started playing around Boston with him. Willie showed us and a lot of other Boston bands that you could get a reel-to-reel to record your best tune, get it pressed, then send it out to the college radio stations, and they might freaking play it. Willie really kicked off the “do it yourself” rock record program in Beantown, that’s for sure.
PKM: What would you consider some of the first punk shows you saw in Boston back then? I guess the Modern Lovers were around earlier, and are considered “proto-punk” or whatever, but aren’t really in the vein of what would start coming out of CBGB, etc. around 1976…
Steve Cataldo: I don’t know about that. We saw the Lovers were playing and we knew about them, so we went down to Sandy’s Bar to check them out. Sandy was a great guy; he was a one-man show. He ran the cash register, booked the bands, handled the mic, introduced the bands, and played music in between sets – he was killer. Anyway, Sandy was getting to know who we were, because we were there a lot. We also saw the Sidewinders there, and they were freaking dynamite, but the Modern Lovers actually had an act, so to speak. Jonathan introduced the songs by reciting the first line of the tune about to be played, then they would break into the song. They were tight, not too loud, and had a united look – everything you need to make it. They didn’t look like a bunch of dickheads that just showed up to fix the heat.
That bugs the shit out of me with today’s local bands. Each musician in Nirvana was an outstanding player, but they looked like they came to paint your house. Unfortunately, a lot of rock bands across the planet started following that routine. The Modern Lovers had class, brains, and they knew how to put their songs across effectively enough to make their audience become rubber-jaw zombies. If you didn’t wear a suit, Howlin’ Wolf would throw you out the door. When I was younger, the Barbarians from Provincetown came into a sheet music store that I just happened to be in. They all had on Italian sharkskin suits and cool looking hair. It did something to you, a shock up the back. Now if they came in looking like a grunge band, I would have thought they were just a bunch of guys from the next town. It takes no forethought to put on a plaid shirt, unless it’s a sharkskin plaid shirt, of course. My point being that people say what’s happening with today’s music. Well, a lot of the cats just became lazy with zero creativity. “Yeah, pick me up at 5, I just have to mow the lawn then I can jump into the van and go gig with you guys.” Duh!
PKM: Did you start playing out of town early on? If so, where did you go?
Steve Cataldo: The Living Room in Providence R.I., was a cool club. We did a lot of colleges, frat parties, and art lofts. Did a lot of radio interviews and playing live on the air. One non-gig but band-related story from very early on, the three of us – Rob, Jeff, and myself – jumped into my ‘63 Chevy Impala super sport. Now before anybody goes “Wow,” it was in tough shape. The car had been stolen a couple of times and returned to me when we were living in Boston…Anyway, when you’re young you have no fear. Go down to New York City to buy some gear, sure, we won’t have a flat tire or the engine won’t blow up, let’s just blast down to Manny’s to get some guitars and amps. We had all saved up some cash and were watching the ads in the NYC papers, so it seemed like a good time to go down, giving no thought to the fact the car could break down at any time and the gear could be ripped from our hands. We just merrily drove down. Gear was cheap then, Gibson hadn’t decided to start charging outrageous prices for Les Pauls yet, etc. I ended up buying a Gibson Black Beauty fretless wonder for about $400, new Fender Twin; Jeff bought some Ludwig drums; and Rob bought an SVT head and a white Fender Precision bass, all for peanuts, well worth the trip. Into the trunk and back seat it went, and we all squished into the front seat. It was tight but worth it. We did really nutty stuff like that all the time. No worries, no forethought, that we could get robbed at knifepoint anywhere at any time. Plus, we had beer holders on the side of the front doors and would smoke a bone or two up and back. We were long-haired hippie weirdos who never got stopped, just having a great ol’ time. Great memories, I would go back in time and do it again with those guys in a second.
The Modern Lovers actually had an act, so to speak. Jonathan introduced the songs by reciting the first line of the tune about to be played, then they would break into the song. They were tight, not too loud, and had a united look – everything you need to make it. They didn’t look like a bunch of dickheads that just showed up to fix the heat.
PKM: When was the first time you played NYC?
Steve Cataldo: Well, it wasn’t the first time we played New York, but I remember when Jimmy got us a record audition with A&M records. By that time, we were going down to NYC regularly. So were a lot of other Boston groups, the Real Kids, Neighborhoods, etc. Jimmy knew the CIA crew that worked with the Police on the road at the time, and one of their brothers was a big shot at A&M records, so they booked us into Max’s Kanas City for a two-night gig. We got a couple of rooms at a Holiday Inn across town, big mistake. The dudes running the parking lot for the hotel had a scheme “keeping an eye on” cars or vans with equipment in it worth stealing. Their dudes had broken into our equipment truck and stolen Rob’s SVT amp and Jeff’s trap case. We quickly rented what we needed and did the first night. Despite it all we did a great show, and A&M was pretty impressed and invited us into their offices. Everything looked good.
“If you guys can do another show like last night’s, you can double your money!” Jimmy and I were on cloud nine as we took the elevator down to the lobby. So we come around the next night, everybody was there, A&M, plus a lot of other show biz big wigs in the audience, Elvis Costello, etc. I couldn’t tell you what the gig gods had in mind, but everything that could have gone wrong certainly did. We had done enough gigs by then to have our act together. I can’t say how it happened but it went something like this:
We never play with just white lights on, it’s always blue, green, and reds, kind of dark, but someone thought it was a good idea to let everyone see what the band looked like in full bright light. That threw us off a little. Somehow, I had the second set list and the rest of the guys has the first list. I usually always wore low heel shoes so I’m comfortable, but Stevie decided to go out that night in his shinny Cuban-heeled Beatle boots, too many people talking at me. Big mistake by me. So we got out on stage, ready to go, the white lights snap on, I count off the first song, the other three starting a different song from the first set list. What a collision of kaka mu-sick. We stopped that boo-shit and checked out what was going on, but New York audiences don’t look at each other and say, “Oh, those poor boys, they probably don’t feel well, or maybe it’s the first night jitters.” Oh no, they just get up and leave, no second chances. Even after we changed the lighting and someone handed me the right set, and we had it all together, it was way too late. The A&M dude got up and left with his model wife, off to see another band most likely. I can still remember the look on Elvis’s face, like “What the fuck?!” And the only thing to do was to start drinking heavily, which we did. What a clusterfuck of a night. Fate they call it, fate.
PKM: Did you have a brethren Big Apple band that you frequently swapped shows with?
Steve Cataldo: The only NYC bands that we knew through our friends and road crew were the Shirts, who let us stay overnight in their loft while they were out of town, and the Paley Brothers who we became very close friends with and toured in each other’s bands a lot. We also played with the Romantics a bunch of times at Bookies in Detroit.
PKM: Can you tell me any details of recording the first single, “Loretta?” I remember thinking when I was a kid, how amazing it was when a band actually got a record out, like, “How the hell do you even do that?!” Did you feel like that when approaching your first single, or did you have a pretty good idea, being in a big music town, about how to put a record out?
Steve Cataldo: By the time we got into the studio, thanks to Jimmy Harold, we had been in a variety of recording studios and had gained quite a bit of studio experience. Plus, we had gone from home stereo two tracks to four tracks. But it wasn’t until we hooked up with Willie Loco that we saw someone send out their master tape to a pressing plant and cut a couple of hundred 45’s to send out to radio stations. Willie led the charge on that. However, Jimmy was pretty streetwise on what to do and how to do it, so our job was to practice and practice some more, and get as tight as possible for the sessions. That was easy because in those days most Boston bands practiced by day, played by night. So being tight and ready was no problem. Jimmy handled the distribution. He had a pretty good crew in this office, and they knew their stuff. It felt pretty good to know there were other guys behind you, and they were working on getting your record to the radio stations and following it up. It’s tough to do that stuff on your own as a band, unless everyone is really pulling together. It was a great time to be in Boston.
PKM: I think the “Get Stuffed”/ “Just Head” single stands as one of the Top 15 singles of the original punk rock era. Can you tell me anything about the making of that single? Was there a conscious attempt to really make it vicious, or was that just where the band was at that moment?
Steve Cataldo: It was the band at the moment. “Loretta” and “Just Head”/ “Get Stuffed” were all done at the same time over a couple of days, then mixed, which took a few more days. Like I said, it was a terrible loss to finally locate the master tapes only to find that they were no longer in any useable shape. I think if we had found them a year or two earlier, a knowledgeable guy like Rick Harte of Ace of Heart Records could’ve saved the recordings. As far as the sessions went, the engineer was Jesse Henderson, whom I had met and become good friends with many years before when we were all working for the Surf Nantasket beach.
PKM: How aware were you guys with the Australian punk scene at the time – the Saints, Radio Birdman, Scientists? I always heard a similarity there, young bands coming out of some Raw Power-era Stooges love…
Steve Cataldo: Australia has a ton of great musicians and bands. All the great bands that came out of that family of players are unbelievable, from the Easybeats to AC-DC. Angus is hilarious, and always talked about Raw Power, he has it switched on all the time. Back to the USA for a second, I jammed one night with Joe Perry (Aerosmith), and Joe is just like Angus, he has that Raw Power switch in his head, he just cocks it back and lets the dynamite in his pick hand do the talking. They’re both highly explosive players.
PKM: Speaking of which, did you ever get to see the Stooges or the MC5, or ever make a trip to Detroit in your younger days to check out that scene?
Steve Cataldo: We played Detroit a bunch of times, once with Iggy, then the Romantics, J. Geils. Detroit is a tough town. Seems like the entire city closes down at five. Every storefront has some kind of steel structure that either pulls down or comes across to seal the entrance. It’s like a battle zone locking up for the night. We opened for Iggy in a bunch of venues, but no matter where he was, Iggy always comes ready to put on a wild show. No matter if the band had Lenny Kaye in it or David Bowie, it was always excellent. We knew Lenny from some recording sessions we had done with him and Andy Paley. I think we recorded a version of “Spider and the Fly.” Lenny said that somewhere some band always records that song on the anniversary of its release – kind of a spooky tribute to the tune. So it was like an honor to be part of that session. Jeff, Rob, myself and Jonathan Paley played on it as well.
PKM: Can I assume you were planning on releasing both Nervous Eaters singles yourself back then; or was the whole idea of “DIY” still kind of new, and you were hunting for a label? Because I assume writing a song like “Just Head,” you weren’t exactly smiling and shaking hands with major label A&R guys at the time.
Steve Cataldo: No, we were managed by The Rat then, so they released both singles, we weren’t thinking about major labels. When we weren’t playing The Rat every night, Jimmy was booking us all over the place, and a lot of time he came with us. How many managers do that? He was also busy recording and releasing the Live at the Rat compilation, that was a big deal too. We were not on that record, although it probably would’ve been a smart move. However, we were already making 45’s with Jimmy way before that.
PKM: That said, you were a band in Boston, a big music town by the mid-‘70s. So did you have some run-ins with A&R people, good or bad?
Steve Cataldo: No run-ins with A&R dudes. It’s a good thing we didn’t even know who they were, or we would have been signing anything they put in front of us as long as there was going to be cash involved. Mostly all the bands got along in Boston. I mean it wasn’t flower power or anything, just more competition than anything else. If we saw a band like the Real Kids, who were our friends, and I heard another great song by John Felice, then we’d go back to practice and try to write something just as good, if not better. So it was a healthy, vibrant scene where the bands were more concerned with writing a good song that Oedipus would play on his radio show than anything else.
We opened for Iggy in a bunch of venues, but no matter where he was, Iggy always comes ready to put on a wild show. No matter if the band had Lenny Kaye in it or David Bowie, it was always excellent.
PKM: What were favorite places to play in the Boston area at the time?
Steve Cataldo: The Rat was always the best place, we knew everyone there, plus we got free beer. The bouncers keep an eye on the stage gear for us, so we could grab some food or get laid on the roof of The Rat under the glow of the Citco sign. Later on, our road manager got a little loft apartment on the top floor of Cantones, which was a great little Italian restaurant bar by day, rock club by night. We also rehearsed sometimes in that loft apartment, sharing it with the Real Kids. The cool thing was they had an elevator so all we had to do was pile our modest gear into the elevator and ride down to the first floor, then load our gear onto the stage, then reverse the process at the end of the night. Right around the corner from Cantones was a club called the Space which didn’t last too long, a shame because it was a cool little spot.
One of the better clubs, like Cantones and The Rat, was a nicely designed bar called The Club in Central Square. The bands liked playing there because they had a dressing room, and a very nice stage, which could support a bunch of bands, All the bands shared that dressing room, so we all had a lot of fun. Plus, The Club has a balcony with tables and chairs, and was a cool place to hang out until you played. Inman Square Men’s Bar, in Cambridge, which had been around for a long time always packed them in. It was a weird set up. The bar had like 20 stools right in front of it like a diner, then eight feet from there was the stage, there was only one way on and off the stage, bands from everywhere played there, it was kind of in the loop of places to play, and the owner was a great guy, which was rare, and still is.
PKM: How about the Boston scene for you in general at the time? Aerosmith was getting big, but the more underground scene had amazing bands like Modern Lovers, Real Kids, DMZ. Where did you feel Nervous Eaters fit in the town at the time?
Steve Cataldo: We started out on the North Shore, we’d done a 45 with Willie, had been in a couple of well-known groups on the North Shore, and had also backed up a lot of famous blues cats, like Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton. We had a group with Tony Cagnina and he in turn took us along when he played harp when blues players came into town and needed a backup band. So we got into a lot of clubs on the North Shore, Boston, Providence, all over the place, way before the Boston scene started to come together. In fact, some of the bands that we saw starting to play around town came up to the North Shore to check us out at some of the blues clubs where we were playing. So we were already pretty well known by many of the bands by the time we hooked up with The Rat.
Mostly all the bands got along in Boston. I mean it wasn’t flower power or anything, just more competition than anything else. If we saw a band like the Real Kids, who were our friends, and I heard another great song by John Felice, then we’d go back to practice and try to write something just as good, if not better.
PKM: I’ve got to ask about Jeff Connolly (DMZ, Lyres). Any early story about him? How about John Felice (Real Kids)?
Steve Cataldo: John stayed pretty much to himself and close to his bands. We got along fine, and I know I was always in a songwriting competition with him in my head because he wrote such great stuff. It was just between me and myself though; it’s not like John and I were going at it. He couldn’t have cared less about most groups. But if I didn’t try to stay up with a lot of the groups, we would have ended at the back of the bus instead of riding up front.
You would have to have hung around Mono Man – Jeff now hates being called Mono Man – because he ran a tight ship, and I know he disliked dealing with club owners more than I did. Sometimes he seemed out of his mind, but I respected anybody who knew how they wanted their songs to go and didn’t just let everybody play what they wanted. Now there is a cool way to do that, and there’s a “what an asshole” way of teaching arrangements. You have to ask some of the cats that played with Jeff, how their practices went.
The Lyres were playing a gig with us once, I forget the club, and they’re blasting through, “Help you Ann,” and all of a sudden Jeff runs off stage and into the back room for 15 minutes or more. The band just keep blazing away like they were caught in a loop, and they ragged on like that until he came back. I never asked him what happened because I didn’t care.
I’m sure there’re all kinds of stories about every band’s songwriter. I made my share of boners, that’s for sure. You know, we also pulled our share of gross bullshit like all bands. However, if we opened for a group that were just plain assholes, treating us like they were king of the road, we would borrow some their beer, drink some of it, then top it off with piss, recap it with pliers so you couldn’t tell that it had been tampered with, then place at the bottom of the “Headliners Only” beer chest. After our last tune, we were long gone. “Don’t know how that happened, it wasn’t us.”
PKM: Did that original Nervous Eaters lineup get out on the road much? Favorite towns to play?
Steve Cataldo: Yes. Going down to New York to play CBGB was fun, because we had that trip down by then. Sometimes we had enough dough to get a couple of hotel rooms. We had fans who lived down there who showed up at the gigs and would go back to our rooms with us, where we would read the bible together then play Twister.
We played one night with the Dead Boys at CBs, and I was in this small change room behind the stage, I had no idea what was going on out front, as one of the opening bands was playing loudly and I was concentrating on my guitar, BANG! Our drummer, Jeff, comes running in through the curtain/door, jumps on and off of this table I was changing guitar strings on, and catapulted himself onto this loft space just above me. A couple of seconds later half of the Dead Boys come charging in, shoving me out of the way, they’re yelling and trying to pull Jeff down from his perch. Our rhythm guitarist at the time, Stanley Clark, got in the middle and shouted, “Hey Cheetah, it’s cool, you guys it’s cool, that’s our drummer, he didn’t mean anything, he’s just drunk, man! It turns out, Jeff had chucked a half glass full of whiskey at the opening band for some fucked-up reason. The glass had shattered, showering cheap whiskey and glass all over the band and the stage. That was Jeff. Since we had to go on next, it felt like a fuck up for a while, but it blew over the more we played. I think only Jeff and Stanley knew what had really taken place. Maybe the CBGB’s sound man saw it, bet he wasn’t too happy about it.
The next day we stopped by the club before we left town. Jeff jumped out of the van, pulled out his trusty can of spray paint, and decorated the outside wall of the club with his version of our name in Jeffery Wilkinson type lettering – about 10 times all over the place, up and down the street! it was a riot, and although I didn’t give it much thought at the time, it was rather a good idea. I recommend that to any band trying to leave a mark wherever they play.
PKM: When did Jonathan Paley play with you? Also, how did Ric Ocasek (the Cars) come to make the circa ’79 demo; and will those recordings ever see the light of day?
Steve Cataldo: Jonathan came into the band after those two singles were recorded and released. He started with the band a few months before we got signed to Elektra. We asked Ric if he had the masters to those demo sessions, and he said he didn’t know what happened to them, so I will take him at his word. Too bad, because they were way better than the record we ended up making for Elektra. However, the only versions of those fully mixed songs are only on cassette, Penniman Records is excellent at pumping up the EQ and squeezing life back into old cassettes, so one never knows.
PKM: As far as the infamous invitation from Lou Reed — I’ve heard it as he wanted the Nervous Eaters as his backup band; but then I’ve heard he just wanted you to play guitar. What happened there?
Steve Cataldo: Lou invited me down to his friend’s apartment in New York. He had just finished part of the Rock and Roll Animal Tour. He had heard some of my songs, plus he saw me backing up Elliott Murphy at the Bottom Line in NYC one weekend. We talked about some of his songs, he played me some of the new songs he had written, but he was some distance from doing the next record.
Lou kept offering me prescription drugs, but since I was just getting to know him and it was two against one, I thought it best to keep my wits about me. He was showing me different song ideas, and though I’m sure he thought he was singing different cool new tunes each time he sang, it turned out to be the same song all the time. He’d offer me another pill, and I would pass. He got irritated and said, “What the hell is wrong you, are you perverted or something?” In hindsight, I should have taken a couple. Good thing Jeff wasn’t with me, he would have ended up splitting half the bottle with Lou.
I had given him a couple of songs I wrote, and he thought they were pretty good, and I was hoping he would pass them on to someone who might take an interest in the Eaters. But Lou was hoping we would record them with god knows who and put it out ourselves. So, unfortunately, it was like a Mexican standoff. Lou was getting pretty plowed and wanted to get some sleep, so I took off.
Meanwhile back home in Boston, the new management that Ric Ocasek had got me hooked up with already had landed us a deal with Elektra. Jeff, Rob, and I had been together so long that it wouldn’t have been fair to them to just wait around while I was out having a ball with Lou; plus Lou didn’t have any real plans that were firmed up yet. So we went with Elektra.
I had a great, weirdo time of a visit. Lou was different every time you talked to him, well at least to me he was. But now I know why Sally Can’t Dance – she was too fucked up to walk!
PKM: I assume you guys must’ve opened some shows for Lou around that time?
Steve Cataldo: No, he never asked us to open for him. We would have for sure. He had his own management, and they had their ideas about where things should be going, although no one told Lou the way things were going to be. He had been at it too long for that.
PKM: Tell us about making the self-titled Nervous Eaters debut album on Elektra. What was the state of the lineup at that point?
Steve Cataldo: Our manager at the time was Fred Lewis, he hooked up with, Maxanne Sartori who had worked for WBCN as a radio personality and by that time was an independent publicist. They had put together our record deal with Elektra. The band that went into the studio to do that record was Jeff Wilkinson, Rob Skeen, myself, Jonathan and Andy Paley, and our road manager at the time, Kevin Moore.
PKM: How did you get along with the producer, Harry Maslin? How did it come to him producing the record?
Steve Cataldo: I got along great with Harry, he is a pretty nice guy with a good sense of humor. We were told about all the groups he had produced or engineered, like David Bowie’s Young Americans and Station to Station, Eric Carmen, Earl Slick, and the Bay City Rollers to name just a few.
PKM: What was it like working with Nicky Hopkins and Steve Cropper?
Steve Cataldo: For Steve Cropper it was great, it was just another session for him. He did his thing and then got lunch. Nicky was another story. I think Jeff and I scared him to death. We asked him so many questions about the groups he had worked with during the British Invasion era, and Who and Rolling Stones questions. He had done so many that he really couldn’t remember half of them. And here we are saying, “Hey Nicky, do a little of that piano style you did on ‘The Ox’ with the Who!” It was so many hundreds of years ago to him, and we knew more of what he had recorded than he did. I could see he was getting weirded out. We finished up his session, and he asked if we could drop him off when we left. He made sure we dropped him off quite a few blocks from where he lived, just to be safe I guess. Ha!
PKM: I know there were some weird feelings about how the album came out, and the way the label worked, or didn’t work, the record. Can you give me a general idea of how the band felt about it after it came out; and how much you worked it from your end?
Steve Cataldo: We got shit for help. We went to one Elektra meeting in Boston to ask them what the hell they were doing. But they were told to put their time and energy into the Cars new album, and the Kings from wherever, the Midwest I think. We were unhappy about the mix. I don’t blame them, with the music history that Harry had, it should have been much more rock, ala Bowie, etc. In hindsight, we should have taken the cash we received from the record deal and built a studio on the North Shore or in Boston, done the basic tracks there, then mixed songs at a good studio. Maybe I can become friends with a physics professor at M.I.T., we can build a way-back machine, and I can get a second chance.
PKM: So that debut LP came out in 1980, then six years roughly until the Hot Steel and Acid mini-LP, which was a different lineup. What was going on with Nervous Eaters between that time? And what were some other music or non-music related things you were working on during those years?
Steve Cataldo: The line up on Hot Steel was Jeff Wilkinson on drums, myself, Jonathan Paley on bass, Alan Hebditch on guitar and backup vocals, and our friend Billy Looisigan came in and did some guitar leads on a few songs, also added some great feedback sections. I had a few other groups at that time, the Reflectors with Boston All Stars, Deric Dyer, sax player who has played with Joe Cocker and Tina Turner. Jim Perry on lead guitar – an out of sight player – Jonathan on bass, and J. Muzz on drums. Another group called the Strange, with keyboard virtuoso, Wes Nagy. We had some pretty cool tunes, and of course all the while I was playing the blues with Tony and various blues cats.
PKM: How did the labels New Rose and then Ace of Hearts come into the picture? And was there a sense by then — kind of inspired by the new era of DIY and indie labels — of trying to do things without dealing with major labels and all that?
Steve Cataldo: Our friend, excellent record producer, and owner of Ace Of Hearts records, Rick Harte, got New Rose involved with ourselves and the Real Kids. We had bugged Rick for a long time to go into the studio with us, but he was always busy with his other groups. We finally caught him at the right time and he said yes, for Hot Steel. We learned a lot of cool stuff from Rick; he always records live as much as he can. Knows his stuff and is very well respected by all who know him. Yes, the majors were only interested in bands that were going to be mega groups with at least half the album containing hit songs. Indie labels were more interested in development and seeing where the group would go creatively, as it should be. I mean no one in business wants to lose his shirt, but at the same time you’re not going to win any races without tweaking those engines.
PKM: Much of Hot Steel and Acid is just as ripping as the earlier singles, but kind of clearer and bigger throughout. It’s obvious that the original Eaters lineup had more musicianly chops than your average 1977-era punk band. But was there a feeling at this point that you kind of wanted to distance yourself from the “new wave” tag?
Steve Cataldo: I think it was just a progression or advancement in songwriting and playing with musicians that really had talent. If you play and hang out with great players you’re bound to pick up tips, flavors, and shortcuts. If you hang out with just winos all the time, you’re bound to get drunk a lot. I prefer to advance.
PKM: Any memories of making that record? And where did you feel you fit in the Boston scene by then?
Steve Cataldo: The Eaters fans were really pissed off by the Elektra album. Any other band (and many got the chance in Boston) had deals that were honored by their record company at getting a chance to do a second album. Elektra was extremely short-sighted in that department. They lost a lot of dough – well, to us it was a lot, but peanuts to them, or they should have sold cars instead of records. We would’ve fixed our mistakes and the next album would’ve done much better. Right after the one and only Elektra record, we would’ve been out touring the world, meeting more groups, playing cool clubs and arenas, and learning stuff we hadn’t picked up on yet. But no, into the pit you creepy Eaters, “nuttin’ but muttin” for you chumps! Thank god for Rick Harte, that’s all I can say.
PKM: How did that new Hot Steel and Acid reissue finally come about? And what was it like rooting through the old recordings?
Steve Cataldo: That was all Rick’s idea, and he is excellent at not only saving recordings, but restoring old records, two-inch tapes and such. Like if he records a group, and they find some older tunes that have been in somebody’s moldy basement, he knows a process to save those moldy tapes. He is a god in the fight against mold and time itself. You should see my room, it looks like my brain, what a mess. I’m lucky to find my slippers, never mind old recordings.
PKN: As the 1990s rolled in, were you aware of the underground rediscovery of the early Nervous Eaters 7″ singles, via the Killed By Death compilations, new bands covering your songs, etc.? And just the general rediscovery of some of the more cult acts that flew just under the trend of that late-70s time?
Steve Cataldo: Yeah, everything goes in a circle, bound to repeat itself no matter what it is. We never wander very far from the cave as humans. I had lots of groups writing me for lyrics. I would tell them to make something up, that way it would get played on the radio, and your record company wouldn’t get sued. Little Richard said it was better not to stick the lead vocal too far out in front, let them put in their own words, the song might mean more to them. However, that could be because he was either writing dirty songs or he forgot the lyrics. But who wouldn’t give their left nut to have written “Tutti Frutti”?
PKM: Really! Speaking of the more cult punks acts, were you friends with the Queers back then?
Steve Cataldo: We did a couple of shows with them. They had J.J. Rassler in the band then, so we hooked up with the band through J.J. Man, they had great songs.
PKM: So basically, it seems like Nervous Eaters as an entity disappeared until the 2000s.
Steve Cataldo: I moved to Chicago at some point and was out there for about seven years. I was trying to get into established blues bands, but it was a tight scene out there. I got to hang out with Hubert Sumlin, drove him to the airport a few times. He smoked a lot throughout his life and it finally caught up with him. He came on stage with the Eaters and we followed him through a bunch of blues standards. I was lucky that some of the guys in the Eaters at the time had played a lot of blues. Hubert had a great time and the audience was good to him. I’d get up and jam at the Checkerboard Lounge, Buddy Guy’s club in Chicago. His good friend and sometimes road manager was a friend of mine, Jose Gonzalez. We’d go over to Buddy’s house and hang out, Buddy let me look at the tons of guitars that different companies had sent him over the years, boxes and boxes of them! He kept them all too. He deserves every one of them, but he stuck with his Stratocaster. I could talk for hours about it, but we have punks reading this, right?
PKM: Ha, right. So when did notions of revving up Nervous Eaters come about? You have been doing some shows around Boston since the mid-2000s, no?
Steve Cataldo: I had married an ex-Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. She was a sweet kid, Playboy bunny stuff, but went through every dime I had, like a termite chewing through tasty wood. When the meter read empty, she developed a bad case of “walking feet.” So that’s what happened. I filled up this old slant 6 telephone truck with everything I had and headed back to Boston. My friends let me sleep on their couches and stuff until I got some money together. I called Walter Gustafson (the Outlets), Billy Loosigian (the Boom Boom Band ) and Brad Hallen (Ministry) and we started back out. It was an excellent band and we did some very good shows.
PKM: On the new album, I noticed you thank, among many, Clapton, Page, and Beck. As a fan of your most raw, punkiest material, that was a reminder that you formed your rock’n’roll tastes before that infamous 1976-77 punk explosion.
Steve Cataldo: We were only called a punk band because we were managed by the Rat where all da punks played; and our songs were fast, tight, and energetic. Oh, and rather nasty. But a lot of us, like the Real Kids, the Neighborhoods, and the Lyres were garage bands or hard rock bands.
PKM: And yet, considering your earliest influences, your age, and the time between albums, this new album is, of course, not a speedy affair, but the energy and riffs are still there! Did you feel any consideration towards what “Nervous Eaters” had been when approaching this album?
Steve Cataldo: Yes, there are lots of songs on this CD that fans from now back to day one will really dig. Show me one really good band that stays exactly the same album after album, and I will show you one boring goddamn band. We try to have songs our fans will like because they get us. Our deal was always stay fast, tight, and hard. We did a couple of slow songs here and there because you have to have some dynamics in your set, at least we do. Yes, we fucked up on one record. Do you feel the Clash are a punk band because they stuck patches on their jackets? Fuck, they are a hard rock band when it comes right down to it. Sting had a short wacky haircut, man, he must have been a punk. Then they went and recorded that silly triple million seller, “Every Breath You Take,” and zoomed to the top of the charts, damn punks.
We were only called a punk band because we were managed by the Rat where all da punks played; and our songs were fast, tight, and energetic. Oh, and rather nasty. But a lot of us, like the Real Kids, the Neighborhoods, and the Lyres were garage bands or hard rock bands.
PKM: Can you tell me how the Eaterville Vol. 1 comp came about?
Steve Cataldo:Eaterville Vol. 1 has been remastered and is being reissued; I thought that Penniman had plans to put Vol. 2 on it as well. Somehow that idea has changed. However, I have been told for the last four months that Vol. 2 was coming out as well. Many companies have called me through the years. They only want old stuff. They think I have boxes full of old two-inch tapes in pristine condition hanging around my attic. But Enric (Penniman Records) was the only guy who dug the band enough to take the songs I could find and spend a decent amount of time in the studio EQ’ing the life back into them. He always does a great job, and his guys do a superior job on the album artwork. He digs music and is one hard working cat. While looking for Eaters stuff that Penniman wanted, I came across all kinds of tapes, songs, live gigs and such of the Eaters and other groups I had throughout the timeline. Great to hear to Jeff, Rob and all the guys again!
PKM: How did the new album, Record 10, come together?
Steve Cataldo: Bands always want to make records, original bands, that is. If you want to hit the road and play, recording and gigging go hand in hand. We made the newest one, Record10, at Wooly Mammoth sound in Waltham, owned and operated by our good friend and fellow musician David Minehan (the Neighborhoods). We have known David for many years; he was the first guy we called. We recorded and mixed the CD on and off throughout the winter of 2019.
PKM: Can you tell me about the lineup on the new album, and if they’ll be the live lineup too?
Steve Cataldo: Yes, we will be playing through the rest of 2019 and 2020, as we have one more CD coming out shortly, the 2009 rarities compilation, Eaterville Vol. 1, expanded. All the while we are promoting Hot Steel and Acid too, so 2019 has turned out to be an Eater-rama of sorts. This version of Nervous Eaters has two original members, Al Hebditch and myself, Alan’s son, Nick, and our drummer, David Mclean (Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band), is an excellent percussionist. They are all seasoned players. The band played live in the studio, and so far, that group of Eaters will be the same band playing out.