As a teen runaway on the streets of New York, Sonny Vincent drifted to the kindred spirits in the punk scene. His original band, Testors, played CBGB and Max’s, and attracted a following before disbanding in 1981, at which point he formed Sonny Vincent and the Extreme, and Model Prisoners (with Bob Stinson and Cheetah Chrome). He has since formed a number of bands, including Sonny Vincent and His Rat Race Choir (with Scott Asheton, Cheetah Chrome, Captain Sensible), toured with Maureen “Mo” Tucker and Sterling Morrison, of the Velvet Underground, and has just published a memoir, Snake Pit Therapy. Adam Ganderson covers a lot of this ground, and even Sonny’s pre-Testors’ days, in this epic PKM interview.
Sometime around high school it starts to dawn on most people that the game is rigged. At that point anyone who sees the world differently in danger of becoming “damaged goods.” After school, some escape, find a different crowd, even get out of their crappy hometown. But it is the same game with different rules, still rigged against the damaged goods. The people just out of school are expected to acquire stuff. Things that, we have all been taught, are real. Not earning means not succeeding. Things that are instinct for children: making art, telling the truth, helping others, often become inhibitors to success in a defective system.
If “reality” becomes a drag then what’s left is the ephemeral, the moment. In those moments is some kind of spirit. This all kinda sounds like bad rock lyrics or an over-earnest high school journal entry. But it has something to do with Sonny Vincent. Sonny has a different way of seeing and a way of capturing ephemeral, sometimes rough, things everyone has to deal with but that are offered up by this world in large quantities to the losers, the weirdos, the artists. He was a teen runaway on the streets of New York, became one of the original punk rockers, and has been a touring musician all his life until recently, when he had to become a family man. He will probably tour again, but who knows for sure. He is not rich. Slightly damaged, but not cynical. He is a success. His spirit is intact.
PKM: You probably remember Legs McNeil.
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, I remember Legs. Great guy.
PKM: I didn’t see much about you on the website and just thought it’d be cool if there was something.
Sonny Vincent: At the time when he was writing that book I ran into him in New York and when I went back to Holland, Sterling Morrison reminded Legs to call me for the book. But the thing that was going on at the moment was that I was in the throes of quitting smoking cigarettes and Buddha could have called me and I would have said, ‘No, I’m not talking to nobody.’ And it was really kind of stupid because I missed out on being in the book. Then about a year later I was in Florida doing a gig and a girl was walking through the venue during soundcheck and holding that book to her chest like it was a Bible. I was going ‘Hey, maybe I should have been in that book.’ She really was holding it dear to her chest, you know. But, yeah, I didn’t want to get on the phone because I was going crazy quitting smoking. It was so hard, but I did quit.
PKM: Maybe that kind of makes it worth it then. Man, I’ve been listening to this comp that came out with the early stuff from Fury and Liquid Diamonds. It’s cool shit.
“She’s Like Hiroshima”-Fury, with Sonny Vincent:
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, thanks man. I always held the master tapes to that stuff and it was really my formative years. Hozac decided to make an archival branch of their label and they invited me to look through my stuff and I found that stuff and the more I listen to it it just sort of got better with age or something. It kind of has this really special feeling to it, you know? And so I was really pleased that Hozac put it out and it’s kind of crazy because some people that listen to it go ‘That’s your best stuff, man!’ I’m going, ‘Whoa, that was my first stuff. So the whole rest of my life was just kind of a waste of time because my best stuff is stuff that was in some boxes?’ But I really appreciate the feedback because I did put a lot of feeling into those songs.
PKM: It’s different from what you did after, but it’s a sound similar to what certain bands were doing at that time, like Blue Cheer or that band Dust that Marky Ramone was in.
Sonny Vincent: I’ve seen their album covers when I was a kid walking around the Village, in some record store windows. I didn’t actually hear them until a couple of months ago when somebody also said, ‘It’s a little bit in the vein of Dust.’ And so I listened to Dust and said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’
PKM: Did you like Blue Cheer back then?
Sonny Vincent: Oh God, I adored Blue Cheer. A couple of reasons was: one, they didn’t have the hype that a lot of the other artists had. Like, the hype that Hendrix had. They didn’t have the hype of The Doors or the big record company push. There were so many things about them I liked. I liked that monochrome album cover and I liked the music and it just seemed there was something about it that was kind of rebellious. I appreciate it when people review the Fury stuff and the Liquid Diamonds and say that it sounds like a biker’s version of Blue Cheer. I kind of dug the comparisons. I dug Blue Cheer.
PKM: Your early bands were around in the early ‘70s and I think Testors started around 1975?
Sonny Vincent: Around there, yep.
PKM: Why do you think the sound changed to become more basic and faster?
Sonny Vincent: I think when I put Testors together I had been writing other, newer songs, and they were a little bit more basic and simple. And when I was in New York, it was kind of difficult to get shows. It was before Max’s was really jumping and CBGB wasn’t even happening. I played a couple of gigs, like this place called Club 82 and it was a great kind of a transvestite bar. But it just wasn’t a real club scene in New York at the time. And kind of the last straw was a gig that I did at this place called The Electric Circus in the Village. The Electric Circus had formerly been The Dom where the Velvet Underground played and I think (the name) changed back and forth, from the Electric Circus, The Dom, The Balloon Farm. Groups like Hendrix and The Doors had played there.
“Lament”-Distance (with Sonny Vincent):
I had written my songs and rehearsed with bands like Distance, Fury and Liquid Diamonds, and we were looking for shows. We would go to these venues like Electric Circus and we got in there and it was this leftover husk from the early ‘70s / late ‘60s. This cavernous club, but no one came to it anymore. So I played a gig there with Distance, which was my group, and The Dogs, which was sort of a cool MC5-powered kind of group from Detroit, and Suicide. And Suicide basically chased most of the twenty people that were there out of the room. Scared the hell out of everybody.
We were trying to get something going on but it wasn’t like the hippie scene or the Bob Dylan beatnik scene where every little club had somebody doing their thing. A couple of scenes were going on, but not much. So I moved down to Florida and figured, ‘Well, fuck it. I’ll just write songs and be one of those guys that has a tape recorder and just writes songs all the time to keep himself happy.’ I met Gene, who later became the guitar player for Testors, and I taught him how to play guitar. And when we were in Florida, we had gone to a 7-Eleven and I was looking at the rack where they have the magazines and you got Rolling Stone and Creem magazine and there was one called Crawdaddy. But there was one that stood out, and it said: Rock Scene. The logo on it looked like a circus, kind of a hand-made logo. It didn’t look like a full distribution magazine like the other ones, like a little bit put together in a homemade style. I opened it up and looked through it and there was this group Television playing in New York and a group called Ramones. And I’m from New York and, I swear to God, when I saw the name Ramones I thought, ‘Oh, that’s probably some cool, Puerto Rican band.’ Ramones just sounded Spanish or Latino.
So I was reading and told Gene, ‘Dude, something’s going on in New York.’ And I spoke to Willie (Mink) Deville and he was either in Connecticut or San Francisco, but the same thing happened to him. He had left New York and just suddenly discovered that, back home, there was something brewing. So I hightailed it back to New York and just started playing CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. In terms of music development, I think that the early stuff was formative stuff where I had influences and stuff that I liked coming out in my music. And then later, I just got more basic and developed my own approach which, with Testors, was kind of angular. It was different from the other bands. We didn’t have that rolling, rock and roll thing like The Heartbreakers or a lot of the bands had, like Dictators and stuff. We were more angular in the jumpiness of the music and the rigid kind of changes.
PKM: Like more minor chords and stuff?
Sonny Vincent: There were minor chords, yeah. At first I was idealistic and at the same time kind of naive. I didn’t want to come off like I was trying to sell anything, like a vendor. I mean, even these days I’ll hear a band and their music and think to myself, ‘That song was written because they really want to have a hook that hooks people in and sells a lot of records.’ It’s like screaming right from the song itself. I didn’t want to have that as the main motivation for my music: commerce. I wanted more, if I can say, art. Or at least authenticity. I didn’t want it to be commerce.
I’m from New York and, I swear to God, when I saw the name Ramones I thought, ‘Oh, that’s probably some cool, Puerto Rican band.’ Ramones just sounded Spanish or Latino.
And so we had songs in the early days of Testors that only had two parts. It wasn’t constructed how pop songs are: like the verse, chorus, bridge, and then the solo, and repeat all that stuff and then a cool ending. It’s just basically two parts. One day I did sit down and say to myself, ‘Well, do I have the skill to write a song that’s a little bit more sophisticated in structure. And I sat down and wrote “Time Is Mine” and “Together” and I said, ‘Hey guys, listen to this. Look what I wrote.’ And they went kind of ballistic: ‘Oh man, that’s, that’s our song. We got to record that!’ I was going, ‘Oh no. It’s just kind of an experiment.’ But they liked it. That was exciting, the times during Testors. But the times of Fury and Liquid Diamonds and Distance were a little bit desolate. Like I said, New York was more like Eraserhead from David Lynch, like a weird post-industrial feeling: clubs that are closed and playing gigs with fifteen people. And once CBGB and Max’s turned up the volume, so to speak, that became very exciting.
Testors-“Together”/”Time Is Mine”:
PKM: It’s tough to list all the stuff that started happening then. So much came out of that time. You mentioned how you didn’t want to be selling something. And in articles about you or Testors what always comes up is a thing about Sonny Vincent as the unsung guy from the history of punk. Does that bother you? Do you care?
Sonny Vincent: I’ve talked about that quite a few times with friends and different people. And the thing about it was that I wasn’t a schmoozer. Some of my friends were really the epitome of a schmoozer, a networker. Stiv would come onstage and there’d be beer all over the place, pulling his pants down, spitting, chewing up bologna and blowing it on the audience. But actually, in real life, Stiv was a very mannered, sweet gentleman. But also, after the show, he’d know the important people to talk to. He knew the important people in Hollywood to talk to. Stiv was just a really good, personable guy. In terms of myself, one of the things in a rare article that I read was: ‘In this song Sonny Vincent sounds like James Williamson’s more uptight stepbrother.’ Which I thought kind of described me from back then. Because I would play Max’s and would fucking put my amp and guitar in a taxi and go home. I would play CBGB and go home. I wasn’t a huge drinker. I was only an occasional drug user. There was this kind of anti-social stance about punk. But I wasn’t like a lot of the people who I’ve met over the years through my music. I wasn’t hanging around with them all the time. I didn’t endlessly stay at CBGB and sit around and talk and drink and go to other places and do things together. I was a real loner and, in a lot of ways, that is a bit suicidal. But I mean the ethos of the whole punk thing anyway, at least in its public image, was a loner, kind of suicidal thing. I mean, who names their group Dead Kennedys? When you name your group that you are not having a fantasy that one day somebody will say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Grammys and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honor the Dead Kennedys!’ You’d rather be on a kind of a suicide mission. You got something to say, but you’re not willing to fucking kiss the ass of the system. That’s basically where I was coming from. I was naive, of course, because later I learned how to be a little bit more personable at my tours and stuff. I just had a weird attitude like I didn’t even want to finish the song. It’s time to thank the audience. I don’t want to say, ‘Thank you.’ I know when I’m playing good and not playing good. I don’t need their approval. So I was kind of a difficult case in a way.
Actually, in real life, Stiv was a very mannered, sweet gentleman. But also, after the show, he’d know the important people to talk to. He knew the important people in Hollywood to talk to. Stiv was just a really good, personable guy. In terms of myself, one of the things in a rare article that I read was: ‘In this song Sonny Vincent sounds like James Williamson’s more uptight stepbrother.’ Which I thought kind of described me from back then.
One of the things that we used to do with Testors that was very suicidal, when I think about it now, was our protocol for ending songs. At least in the first year or two, we’d play a very tight song, but the end of the song should sound like someone was in a kitchen and dropped all the forks and knives and pots and pans on the floor. Because we had a reaction to the bigger groups doing those huge festival endings and rave ups and you know the concert ending where you go, ‘BAM! Dunt-duh-buh-buh-buh-buh…BAM!’ But we didn’t want the audience to act like trained seals. Like: ‘Here’s the time to clap.’ So we ended the songs all fucked up. But it didn’t really work. It was an experiment that was kind of dumb because we could’ve been doing really good, but then when you end a song like that, it’s like you made a major fault. The audience looks at you like, ‘Whoa, they are not so good. They just did a bunch of fucking shit. They made a mistake there!’ We were playing with the perceptions of what rock and roll is. Some people got it, of course. But we stopped doing things like that because it was too experimental and we didn’t want to fuck with people. We did enjoy that people liked us, but we were trying to pave a new way to react.
PKM: One thing that might’ve helped other bands from that time was management. But you guys didn’t really have a manager?
Sonny Vincent: No, I had run into Terry Ork, who was at the time a really good manager. He was managing Television and a couple other things. And I spoke to Terry at Max’s. And I said, ‘Hey Terry, let’s have a talk. Maybe you can manage my band.’ And Terry Ork put his hand on his throat, and he said, ‘Oh, I can’t talk tonight because I have a sore throat.’ And so a few months later, he was at one of our gigs at CBGB and he came up to me and he goes, ‘Hey Sonny. Let’s talk about management now. You guys are really getting good.’ And I put my hand on my throat and went ‘I have a sore throat. I can’t talk about management.’ Whereas, like I said, Stiv or Iggy, or all the people I know who are good networkers, the first time Terry said, ‘Oh, I have a sore throat,’ they would’ve said, ‘Oh my God, that’s terrible! I have lozenges at my apartment.’ And they would have got closer and got in there. But I was very protective of the music. I had maybe an inflated idea about it, or just thought it was kind of holy. I didn’t want to prostitute myself. I’d already done that my whole life. When you’re a kid you could be the kind of kid that shouldn’t have gone to school right away. Maybe you should have wandered around in the forest for an extra couple of years. But they’ve got rules. Every kid’s got to go to school. But when it came to music I wasn’t willing to make too many concessions. In some ways that was the wrong decision and in some ways it was the right decision because we had many people tell us, ‘Oh maybe you should simmer down the music, make it longer, make it more accessible, make it more radio-ready.’ We didn’t listen to that. We just stuck to our guns. And so now, over time, the people that connect to the music, maybe they have elements within themselves that can resonate with what’s in the music.
PKM: What you just said about kids who should maybe be running in the forest instead of school. We are all forced to grow up and do things to be part of society, things we maybe don’t want to do. Do you think some of the songs might be about saying ‘no’ to all that stuff?
Sonny Vincent: Well, it’s kind of an evolution, what I’ve been through in music, but you’re right. When I look back at some of the songs I go, ‘Wow, that sounds really like a little kid in his high chair, banging. Going, ‘No, no, no!’ I got a song called, “Don’t Tell Me” and that about sums up everything about the song: Don’t tell me; don’t tell me; and don’t be the next one in line to tell me…It’s almost like a primal thing from a person just entering the world.
PKM: In a lot of ways kids are the best way people should be. It sucks to have to lose that. And maybe rock ‘n’ roll can be a way of living where you don’t have to give up being young in some ways?
Sonny Vincent: That’s absolutely true. It’s like an alternative world. You don’t have to deal with a lot of the normal stuff. I know what you’re saying about the kids having the right fix on things, the right mentality. I was up in Scandinavia with one of my bands, Shotgun Rationale. And these were seasoned players. I had Spencer from Beasts of Bourbon playing guitar; this guy Tony that was in a famous Dutch band, and this guy Gary from a group called Tank which had Algy Ward form The Saints in it. We wound up playing a gig on our tour and it was like a gymnasium with a couple of bleachers in it and there were all these very little kids. I was going, ‘What the hell?’ It was like going to the circus or something. And I was kind of razzing ‘em. I was going, ‘Alright, this song is about when you eat too much candy and you get a fucking stomach ache!’ And then we’d play, then I’d go, ‘Alright this song is like when you’re at home and you’re supposed to do your homework and make your bed and you don’t do it and your mom and dad ground you!’ I kept saying that, but then I had a weird epiphany because I came to a song called “Beyond Rebellion.” And the clouds kind of opened. I said, ‘Wait a second. I’ve been razzing you guys because you’re young. But actually, this whole stuff is about you and this song especially. I want to dedicate it to you and put it in honor of you guys. And I’m sorry for pulling your chain earlier because you know what it’s all about. The way you see the world is very pure.’ So we continued the music. And, man, I had to sign hundreds of autographs that day. It was really kind of a weird experience. It wasn’t like being like an uncle or an older, it was like really getting to that source of before, when you’re young and you start seeing all the lies in the world. Like the first time little kids say, ‘Mom, what is this hamburger made from?’ ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ‘No really. What’s this hamburger made from?’ ‘Well you know, those characters on TV that talk and act like people? The cows? That’s what it’s from.’ ‘What do mean that’s what it’s from? Those things that are smiling and we drive by them on farms? You put them in front of me to eat? Fuck you! You lie!’ And so that’s a lot of the ‘saying no’ stuff.
You grow up. I grew up like, when I was younger, I was almost killed by the police more than once because I had such a big mouth. The police would stop me and say, ‘Hey, where you going?’ I go, ‘Well, officer, we’re going to a pig roast on a farm in Wisconsin. You know, a PIG ROAST? It’s where they stick a stake up a pig’s ass and out it’s mouth and they roast it.’ Then, ‘Get out of the car!’ So nowadays, when I get stopped by the cops, I minimize the amount of time that I spend with them. When I was younger my mouth got me into too much trouble. So yeah, you do learn, you do have to adjust. But that doesn’t mean it’s right, what you’re adjusting to.
PKM: Nowadays you could get shot and killed right on the spot. And that is, again, sort of rock and roll: going against the system of law and order that we’re just supposed to obey. You were almost killed by police and there have been stories about your run-ins with the law. You mentioned you didn’t drink much, but some of those run-ins must have been drink or drug related.
Sonny Vincent: Definitely, yeah. I mean when I first started playing at CBGB and Max’s, we had some managers for a little while, they didn’t last long because we were kind of unmanageable, but they came up to me with a glass of, I think it was Southern Comfort or Jack Daniels, and they said, ‘Drink this Sonny. It’ll cut the edge a little bit. You can relax more.’ So I did and said, ‘Wow dude, that cut the edge. Give me some more of that.’ So I went through different phases. I generally didn’t do drugs to the velocity of a lot of my friends and the drinking as well. But I did go through phases where I would drink a lot and do drugs. I’ve been there.
“It’s Only Death”-Testors:
PKM: Do you remember your first guitar?
Sonny Vincent: Yes. There was a guitar I got for either a birthday or Christmas. An acoustic guitar. I wrote a song on it like the first day I had it and it was on one string. I showed the other kids in the neighborhood. I was so eager to start creating with the guitar because I didn’t have many gifts or possessions when I was a kid. And so if somebody would have given me a piano or a paint set or something I would have gravitated towards that. But the guitar is what I got and so I right away wrote a song on it. I kept writing songs and writing lyrics and poems and stuff. And I never really got the opportunity to study other musicians that closely. I think one time I sat down with a record and learned that song from the Rolling Stones called “The Last Time.” And I learned that really to the T. I can play the hell out of that. I was actually depressed when I figured out Hendrix “Purple Haze” because, when I was younger, I thought Hendrix was just holy, spiritual, untouchable. And to be able to decode his solo was kind of disappointing. But a lot of my friends, they have spent time and they know all the songs and they can play them. I was too busy creating stuff of my own to have time to do that. Although it is really interesting to do. But that first guitar, a lot of musicians have said it kind of saved them. In a certain way it’s like a way to express yourself, especially if you felt sort of oppressed or underappreciated or in any kind of situation that was constrictive. If you had that one thing that would set you free then you were lucky. So for me having that first guitar was so cool.
PKM: Did the way you grew up influence your problems with authority and the type of music you made?
Sonny Vincent: I came from a background where it was psychologically and physically more brutal than a nice type of family background. So by the time I got older, I didn’t really like people touching me and especially if they touched me in a violent way. I went through a lot of phases. I’m actually an easygoing, thoughtful, dedicated person. I believe I have a lot of scruples. But back, a long time ago, I had some triggers. LIke really off the hook, unhealthy, crazy shit. I don’t want to shock people who read this, and I don’t want to act tough or crazy. But in the ‘70s and ‘80s if I was driving a car and some dudes, like some football team or jocks or whatever they’re called, cut me off or gave me the finger or something, I would take my car, and this could be on a highway, and I would push them off the road, to the side of the fucking road. I’d get out of my car. First thing I’d do is I’d cave the fucking driver’s door in because it’s just metal. I’d cave it in with my foot. I’d be there like a weird, spun out, De Niro: ‘Come on out motherfuckers, come on out!’ They’d be locking the doors terrified of me. Like five giant dudes, they could kill me. But they knew they were dealing with somebody that had issues.
I went through a lot of therapy and I was very lucky. I lived in Minnesota with a woman and she goes, ‘Dude, you need to put that switchblade away. Take that spider bracelet and put it in your sock drawer, and you need some serious help.’ And I went to therapy designed by these wonderful people who, in former times, were hippies. They had been to Esalen, which is an experimental community in Northern California where everyone is naked and swimming, and the love is just floating all around with no possessions and no control. They lived through the whole hippie thing and they decided they wanted to help people. So they got their degrees at Yale or something, wound up in Minnesota and they developed a mental health clinic. I wound up in it and that turned me around. Because, previous to that, I thought, ‘What’s a psychologist? Somebody you pay to be your friend? To listen to your stories?’ I was against all that. But these people were really gifted and it did help me a lot. That’s when I started to turn around, when I started to feel a little better (and see) that every person you meet isn’t like some kind of a problem.
PKM: There are people out there with similar problems.
Sonny Vincent: Well it’s not like I romanticize it or think that this brutal background is a prerequisite for any kind of special artistic achievement. I mean, I’ve written a song about being in jail one time but I heard a Nick Cave song that was talking about being in jail that captured the exact feeling I had when I was in jail. A real author who can put in words what that experience is can sometimes encapsulate the darkness and the dampness and the whole feeling of it more than a guy who’s been through it. A lot of my friends had cool backgrounds. Stiv Bators was playing CBGB and Max’s and touring around and every time he’d get broke he’d go back to Youngstown, Ohio. His bedroom was still there with his lovely parents and his bedroom still had a poster of Alice Cooper and all his stuff was there. And so he had a very supportive, lovely family and I think that’s beautiful. I honor that. That’s something I didn’t have, but that’s not something that I rebelled against. It’s something that’s really beautiful. What I rebelled against was more the military complex and the fucking police. The things that limit people’s freedoms is what I was always against.
PKM: The Testors line up changed a few times, broke up, and then you moved to Minnesota, started Sonny Vinvent and The Extreme and you did a thing with Bob Stinson from The Replacements, Model Prisoner, which is a whole other story. But then how did you meet and start playing with Moe Tucker? There was a real similarity to Testors in those other bands, but the stuff with Moe Tucker sounded totally different.
Sonny Vincent: The way that I met Moe was me and this bass player friend of mine, Mort Bauman, we got a little bit of money to record an album. I thought, ‘Who would I like to produce my album? Let me look at the whole world and think of who I would like to produce it.’ I thought, ‘Well, I’d really love it if Iggy could produce,’ but he was on tour and I didn’t have the best connection to him at the time. And I was listening to Moe singing “After Hours” and “Sticking With You” and I was really fixed on the idea of having someone in the studio that would protect our music from getting pushed into any kind of direction that we didn’t want, just let us be ourselves. Moe, the stuff she did in The Velvet Underground and the songs she sang, there’s no way that she would destroy our music. And somehow I got her phone number. I’d been living in Minnesota for a while and it was really nice to talk to Moe on the phone because Minnesota really has a lot of really nice people. New York City has a lot of assholes. And when I talked to Moe I said, ‘Oh my God, I love hearing your voice! And you complain all the time!’ I missed that. We hit it off really good.
Jad Fair from Half Japanese, real sweet dude, had done some tours in Europe, and those were apparently quite lucrative. He wanted Moe to come with Half Japanese and play drums. But Moe, she’s proud of The Velvet Underground. She’s proud of those achievements. And Moe never really was in anybody’s band except The Velvet Underground. She played on stuff, but she was not about to be in Half Japanese. So she had just produced my album and she said, ‘Sonny here’s what I want to do. Jad has been bugging me to go on a tour of Europe and I’ll play drums on Jad songs and I’ll play guitar on my own songs, but I want you to come as my guitar slinger dude. So it’s not like I’m in their group and I have my own kind of configuration within their group.’ It was just kind of cool because I did both sets. I played along with Jad and with Moe.
I had a long run with Moe. She introduced me to Europe and to a lot of people. I think the key to me lasting so long with Moe was that I had my own projects to be Sonny Vincent like Shotgun Rationale. I always had my own thing going where I could sculpt it into how I exactly wanted it to be. But, playing with Moe, I wanted to be her guitar player and I wanted to help her achieve her vision. Not my vision. I want to know what she needs. Moe’s biggest idol is Bo Diddley. So she has a specific kind of taste. And I took time to figure out what she likes. And I did that, supporting her for nine years. And in between is where I did my own tours.
PKM: And you played on her albums I Spent a Week There the Other Night and Dogs Under Stress.
“Stayin’ Put”-Moe Tucker, from I Spent a Week There the Other Night (Sonny Vincent, guitar):
Sonny Vincent: Yeah her stuff’s really cool. Lou Reed played on one of the albums, John Cale played on it, and Sterling Morrison came to the studio. Me and Sterling hit it off big time. It was funny because I’d already done some tours with Moe. It’d started off with that Half Japanese tour, but then we were doing just Moe Tucker, it was just her band. And when I met Sterling I go, ‘Sterling you should come on tour with us.’ And they grew up together. I think they knew each other from ten or eleven years old. And I said ‘Sterling, you’ll have a lot of fun man. Let’s do it.’ And he said, ‘Oh Moe’s gotta ask me herself.’ So then I would say to Moe, ‘Moe, we got to get Sterling in the band, that’ll be awesome.’ And she said, ‘Sterling’s gotta ask me himself.’ Ha ha so it was this kind of stalemate until I talked to Moe for a really long time. I said, ‘Moe, just fucking sell it to Sterling Think about how cool that will be.’
So me and Sterling roomed together on tour. Moe didn’t let the guys have separate rooms. We had to have double rooms. But I would hear all the stories from Sterling about Nico and the ‘60s, and what it was like to be in a band back then and it was really cool. Sterling was a real brother and one of the highlights was that we were playing Moe’s songs but we also played about five different Velvet Underground songs. I think it was “Pale Blue Eyes” I don’t know, but Sterling was playing one of the songs wrong from how he played it on the album. He wasn’t just doing a variation, he was playing it wrong. So I was sitting on the edge of a hotel bed and showing Sterling Morrison how he played the guitar part in The Velvet Underground. It blew my mind. It was like showing Jimi Hendrix, ‘Dude, this is how you play “Purple Haze’’. Ha, but it was fun.
PKM: Did you ever see The Velvet Underground in New York in the ‘60s?
Sonny Vincent: I never saw them. I ran into them when I was thirteen. I was a runaway kid and was hitchhiking around and was in The Village, going here and there. I had hooked up with some people and wound up in The Factory. I know I passed by them and saw the different people there and I slept there on one of the couches when I was a kid. I lied and said I was seventeen or something. Dumb. But, I saw one of the film’s projected in there. It wasn’t by any means a residency. I just wound up in there and slept there one night, but I never saw the Velvet Underground back in those days.
PKM: Around the time that you were playing with Moe you also started The Dons. That was also a bit different than stuff you’d done before, almost experimental guitar happening.
“Crazy Game”-The Dons:
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, I did branch out a bit with those guys. That album was never really available in the States. I lived in Europe for over 20 years so a lot of stuff was only available in Europe. If an album came out on vinyl or something they didn’t send many boxes over to the States because it cost a lot. So I wound up touring Europe, kind of endlessly. Like every country. And later on, I said, ‘I haven’t toured the States in so long, let me start touring the States.’ It was kind of like, in some ways, starting over again. But I would bring some of these albums from Europe with me and sell them at gigs and people were like ‘Wow, I never saw this one.’
Sterling was playing one of the songs wrong from how he played it on the album. He wasn’t just doing a variation, he was playing it wrong. So I was sitting on the edge of a hotel bed and showing Sterling Morrison how he played the guitar part in The Velvet Underground. It blew my mind. It was like showing Jimi Hendrix, ‘Dude, this is how you play “Purple Haze’’. Ha, but it was fun.
PKM: When you were starting over in the States, that was after touring with Moe?
Sonny Vincent: When I was in Minnesota I was touring with Sonny Vincent and The Extreme and Shotgun Rationale and Model Prisoners with Bobby Stinson, but then when I moved to Europe, I didn’t play the States that much anymore. I was busy playing Spain, Finland, the UK, all over the place. I think the first time I started getting back to playing the States was this short-lived Testors reunion where we did a couple of shows. And then I did this tour with a line up called The Bad Reactions. So that was wild. That was off the hook because I was already older and those guys were all in their early 20s and it was like a wild tour.
PKM: Did you get good reactions in Europe?
Sonny Vincent: In some places I was really amazed because the reaction was kind of like as if I’m in the 50s, when people were just first introduced to rock ‘n’ roll, spazzing out, going crazy. Of course, sometimes it was kind of weird like you play a club Monday night in the middle of Provence in France and no promotion, no fliers, no announcement, some word-of-mouth got around and 14 people were there. Everybody’s been through those kinds of shows. But generally speaking, I toured Europe a lot, and so I did kind of develop people who were connecting to the music and having a good time.
PKM: The ‘Who started punk?’ argument is pretty old by now but what did you think when you heard the Sex Pistols first album?
Sonny Vincent: It was a weird kind of balance because the first thing I heard about the Sex Pistols was in Florida before me and Gene went back to New York. And the first things I read about the Sex Pistols was in a normal kind of newspaper article. It wasn’t a music magazine. The way they described it was extremely attractive to me. They said, ‘They don’t really have a lot of technical skill. It’s more of a social movement than music and they’re very primitive and untrained and the music is really rebellious.’ Almost like that song by Dylan “Ballad Of A Thin Man.” ‘Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is…’ So the article is written by a “Mr. Jones” kind of guy. But he didn’t know the effect that he had: by putting it down, it made me super interested in it. But when I heard the album it was a little bit of a letdown at first because it was really well recorded for those days, the songs were great, the attitude was amazing, and the band was crackerjack tight. What I had expected was something like a cross between Howlin Wolf, (James) Blood Ulmer, The Doors, I don’t know, something really kind of deep and primal. It was just a really good group. But after I got over my perception and into listening to their music, I thought it was really good. The thing about (whether) punk started in New York or punk started in England is nowadays, because of the internet, kind of a moot point. Back in those days you’d have an English writer write a book and it would say, like, Punk From A to Z! Fuck You! and it would really be written as if punk was born in England. But now everybody knows the story pretty clearly: the whole story about Malcolm McLaren looking at Richard Hell and having an epiphany.
The thing for me that was cool about the early days of punk was the kind of deconstruction. I believe The Dolls were the epitome of the former years of rock ‘n’ roll getting more developed. I’m not talking about musically, but image-wise. So you had David Bowie, The Dolls, and you had this kind of development. Then suddenly someone like Richard comes along and he goes onstage, looks like he just got out of bed, in ripped-up stuff. So he was deconstructing the image that was current, the image that had evolved to a peak. And also that was happening somewhat in the music. And I was into that, the fact of the deconstruction, undoing a lot of the protocols and things that were considered good or bad. Do you spend hours getting ready to be on stage or do you just come on with a suit jacket you found at Goodwill or something?
PKM: Like you said, the history is laid out pretty clear now, but it’s still funny how The Pistols had the song “New York” talking shit about The Dolls or whatever, while also taking so much of their musical influence from The Dolls.
Sonny Vincent: Well The Dolls’ music was very primal. It had that cool kind of ‘50s jungle vibe. One time a guy wrote me an email, I was living in L.A., and he said, ‘Hey Sonny, we are going to do a tribute to Chuck Berry. Would you contribute a song?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t usually do that kind of stuff.’ But I thought, ‘That sounds challenging. How do you do a Chuck Berry song without massacring it and changing it so much that you just screw it up, but also don’t do a duplicate?’ So I said, ‘Sounds interesting. Tell me what the deal is because I’ve had a number of record companies promise me the world and then you don’t get the world. So what is the actual agreement between you guys, as the record company, and me.’ He said, ‘Well if you can send us a master tape of you doing a Chuck Berry song we’ll send you ten albums.’ And I looked at that and I thought, ‘That is fucking honest. It is really fucking point-blank honest.’ It’s ridiculous, considering that that pays for the taxi fare. But what about the recording studio? What about everybody’s time? But I thought that was so directly honest that I was sitting there in LA and thought ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to do “Carol” by Chuck Berry. Who do I get to play drums on it? Somebody who will not destroy it. Someone who will give it honor, but kick it in the ass a little bit.’ And I called up Clem Burke. I said, ‘Clem, would you play on a Chuck Berry song with me and your payment is gonna be one album when it comes out? Will you do that?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, sounds like fun.’ So then I was thinking, ‘Who can I get to play bass on it?’ And I was looking for Arthur (Kane) but the phone number I had for Arthur was from long before. So I was asking people in L.A. about Arthur Kane. And they said, ‘Arthur is under the table. Forget about Arthur, blah, blah, blah.’ So I finally got a phone number on Arthur, called him up and go, ‘Hey Arthur, this is Sonny Vincent. Tell me something right now. Are you sitting on your couch playing along to the theme songs of television shows with your bass?’ And he goes, ‘How did you know?’ So he wasn’t under the table, he was still connected to his bass. And so I got Arthur Kane to play on that song and he had the coolest kind of ‘50s, ‘60s, kind of thumping bass that really fit the Chuck Berry song without having to dial it in at all. It fitted perfect.
PKM: Chuck Berry’s more upbeat songs are party songs done in that ‘50s version of stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll. But a band like Testors were not quite melancholy, but almost an inverse of that early party rock. Something darker.
Sonny Vincent: Totally. The guitar player from Testors described that once when we were doing an interview and I forget his exact words, but he was talking about the punk scene and goes, ‘A lot of bands were dissatisfied. A lot of people felt disenfranchised from their society. A lot of the bands weren’t happy with the way things were going, but in the music it came across in a different way. Testors music wasn’t something warm and fuzzy that you could wrap your arms around and feel good about, because there was nothing to feel good about.’ I think what he was referring to is something that I’m totally in support of. I’m in support of joy. Who wouldn’t be? Except maybe Rasputin or something. But it’s like “Rockaway Beach” that song should have been a number one hit for summertime, like that’s a joyful song. Most of the Blondie songs are very joyful. And so we were just a different flavor. We were not really focusing on the joyful things. Not on purpose, it’s just that’s how we were expressing. So if you went to a small club and saw Testors, you’d have to be the kind of person that connects to this desperateness that was in our music. That kind of edgy desperateness. If you wanted to just have a good fucking time, you could see the B-52s or something who come on stage in slim outfits and just have a good time. And that’s valid as well. It’s just that wasn’t our thing. We did our music and the way it was expressed was a little bit darker. Later, I did get some joy into my music, which was nice, and was a good way to branch out. But for the most part there is this kind of desperateness. When I listen to young bands nowadays, bands that are not known, I always get attracted to the ones that are a little bit desperate. The ones that put their songs together like they want to make a big hit, that doesn’t move me.
PKM: It’s like it can’t be reproduced. You have to live through it. There are mentions in your lyrics of philosophers. “It’s Only Death” has that line about Socrates. Or there’s the song “Voltaire” even though that doesn’t seem to be about Voltaire.
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, also I had a song called “Sex With Noam Chomsky” that had nothing to do with Noam Chomsky in the lyrics. I was just daydreaming one day like, someone as honorable and respectful as Noam Chomsky, how does he initiate sex or on a first date? Does he think ‘If I were to place my hand upon your leg, would that be crossing any borders?’ The difficulty, you know, is because he’s so fucking nice. I love Noam Chomsky. But yeah, I did connect to a lot of the thinkers and philosophers, especially when I was a kid. I think I wrote the lyrics to Voltaire when I was 13 years old.
PKM: To go back again to the Fury days, there’s that song you did called “Flying” which has a great riff at the beginning. It is practically the same riff played by Fast Eddie Clark about ten years later on a Motorhead song called “Shoot You In The Back.” But I don’t know how he could have ever heard your riff.
Sonny Vincent: That is weird. Back when that song was recorded it wound up just sitting on a shelf for many years. It didn’t come out till 2012 or something. It’d be different if it was just one part of a riff, but it does the riff and then goes into a change that’s also similar. That group, Fury, we were gonna get signed by Polygram records and the woman in charge of A&R became pregnant and decided to have a family and said, ‘Sorry, you can send your stuff to the new guy.’ We didn’t even bother. But there were some demos record companies had of that very early stuff floating around. So, who knows? He could have heard it from somebody or it could have just been just one of those coincidental things. But if it is a coincidence, it is a very bizarre one. Some people just hear things and put it in their lexicon.
PKM: Since you moved back to the States you had been doing some work repairing amps. Do you still do that?
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, kind of. I was living in Holland and was getting ready for a really long US/Canadian tour. But I’d done so many tours up to that point that I just thought, ‘Oh God, I’m fucking not going to tour this time. I’m going to take a little break.’ But then I had a couple of agents reach out to me and I thought, ‘Well maybe a good way to get out of it is just to double the amount of money I’m asking for. They’ll say no.’ But they said, ‘Yes.’ And so I said, ‘Oh great, I’ve got to do it.’ So I was living in Europe, but I was in Thailand because Thailand is where I would get ready to do tours. You can live in Thailand for like ten bucks a day and it has the same kind of atmosphere you would have in Hawaii for 500 bucks a day. So I would go to Thailand and swim and just kind of get ready for a real unhealthy road tour.
So I was over in Thailand and got a call that my family who was living in North Carolina at the time had been in a gas explosion fire. When I arrived they were on life support. One of the people was my nine year old grandson. So I stopped everything. I stopped playing, I stopped recording, and stopped touring. I was a grandpa and was raising my grandson for five years. So everything just came to a halt. It was a bit weird because for my whole life I had toured and basically did music. And I started getting an odd feeling of losing my identity. I was taking my grandson to Boy Scouts, taking him to soccer, working on homework and all this stuff. I said, ‘I’m no longer Sonny Vincent. I’m a soccer mom now.’ But that’s how I roll. I couldn’t turn my back. Things are a lot better now. But at first my friends and fans were supporting me. But I’ve always been very independent and it wasn’t comfortable for me to ask for donations and help. So I started buying old amps from the ‘60s, and ‘50s and ‘70s and restoring them and then reselling them. I got some pleasure out of doing it: out of taking a vintage guitar amp and cleaning it up, changing the broken parts out, and bringing it back to life, like a piece of history that’s now looking killer and good. Then I would bring it to the music store and sell it. So that’s how I was paying the bills for a long time. Even now.
PKM: Things seem to be getting better?
Sonny Vincent: Yeah things got better. A lot of therapy for my grandson. They’ve gotten better to the extent where I could start doing music again and get into projects.
PKM: There’s this band The Limit that you started recently with Bobby Liebling from Pentagram, who are generally known as a metal band, but Bobby Liebling was heavily influenced by The Stooges and Blue Cheer.
Sonny Vincent: His favorite album of all time is Raw Power. I’d never heard Pentagram and Bobby never heard of Sonny Vincent. A driver who was a mutual friend of both of us who had driven for a couple of my US tours and knew Bobby for many years, he played Bobby my stuff and Bobby was knocked out like ‘Who is this guy? How come I don’t know Sonny?’ And so he called me and we at first we connected on a very immature kind of schoolboy level. We made jokes and were cracking up and I was thinking, ‘If I knew Bobby when I was in grade school we’d always be in the principal’s office.’ Then he wanted me to produce an album for him. So I wrote a bunch of riffs and songs and sent them to my friend in Portugal and said, ‘Hugo, go into the studio and make these songs slowed down and make them a little bit more like doom, something along the lines of Pentagram, re record them and send them back to me and I’m going to send some of them to Bobby.’ But Bobby said ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ So we talked for a long time. I go, ‘Bobby, this sounds like you want to make a Sonny Vincent album, but with you singing.’ He goes, ‘Well, kind of.’ So I sent him all the original stuff and we got together somehow in the studio and had a lot of growing pains. But the thing that was really cool was that the music clicked. You can get together with musicians and you can play music, but once in a while it just kind of fits and we all did fit together. And we have our own things going. Bobby’s got some Pentagram re-issues going on and I think he’s writing some songs, and I’ve got an album coming out in September called Snake Pit Therapy, and that’s going to be on the same label. We both got our own stuff going on. But The Limit became very dear to us. It wasn’t an easy album to make. The music part was easy, but the logistics and the personal stuff we had to get used to was a bit challenging.
PKM: You recently had a book come out, also called Snake Pit Therapy, on Far West Press. Is the book something you’d been working on over the last few years?
Sonny Vincent: A small amount of it was written recently. I’d always been writing since I was a kid, just collecting the stories, and I had a bunch in my archives. This guy, Willie, used to be in a band and I helped this band get a tour and get on a label. I was pretty connected in Europe and they wanted to come over to Europe. So I hooked them up and they did some touring. I hadn’t heard from them in years and it turns out that Willie is a publisher now. He remembered that I had a lot of stories and he’d seen some of them so he invited me to put out a book. I basically sent him a bunch of my stories and he kind of curated it and chose the ones that he liked. The record coming out in September is on Svart Records and they’re gonna bundle the album and the book together in some cases.
PKM: We spoke about the primitive aspects of rock around the mid-‘70s. Didn’t you guys play some early shows with The Cramps?
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, that’s true. I loved Hilly Kristal, but Hilly was really not into most of the music that the bands were playing. It was a different kind of music from what he liked personally and different from what he connected to. It just kind of fell in his lap when Television started playing those Sundays at CBGB. A lot of the groups that people like, Hilly thought were terrible. He thought the Ramones was a bunch of noise. He liked The Shirts, he liked Patti, he liked Blondie, but he didn’t like everything. Hilly was a little bit disconnected from the kind of music he was presenting.
I was pretty close to The Cramps and the story was Hilly always had an audition night. It was on Tuesdays. So bands would come in Tuesday night, set their gear up and play. And then Hilly would say, ‘Go rehearse some more and come back.’ Or he would say, ‘Oh shit, that didn’t work.’ The Cramps played and Hilly said, ‘Go practice some more and come back next Tuesday.’ And then, again, he’d go, ‘Practice some more and come back next Tuesday.’ It turned out when The Cramps were playing Tuesdays more and more people were coming, until it was kind of equal to a weekend night. So they started to get better nights, but they were disappointed because Hilly would have a band from Long Island (open), with some waitress who Hilly was attracted to or whatever the hell was going on between them. So it’s her brother’s band from Long Island and then they would come and they weren’t really fitting. They’d use a lot of histrionics from Woodstock: playing guitar between their legs and licking, and all this ‘60s kind of sexy stuff that wasn’t the same as what was going on in CBGB. It definitely wasn’t Devo. It was more like ‘60s rock star behavior. So there would be like two of those groups before The Cramps. And finally after a bunch of gigs like that The Cramps wanted to kind of design the night a little bit better. They said, ‘Hilly, we’re going to have to insist on choosing the opening groups ourselves.’ And the first chance they got to have an opening group of their own choice they chose Testors. And that was cool for us cause then we could play to more people.
The Cramps played and Hilly said, ‘Go practice some more and come back next Tuesday.’ And then, again, he’d go, ‘Practice some more and come back next Tuesday.’ It turned out when The Cramps were playing Tuesdays more and more people were coming, until it was kind of equal to a weekend night.
PKM: Was Miriam playing drums in Cramps at that time?
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, I remember Miriam at the beginning. I did (later) play on a song with Moe Tucker down in Georgia and Miriam came and she’s featured on one of Moe’s songs playing drums. So I met Miriam again in that situation. I mostly knew Nick (Knox) but I was really shocked with The Cramps because before I met them, I’d seen them around. I remember seeing a picture of them in a magazine and I was very taken aback by Bryan (Gregory). He had this look: this shocking kind of streaked hair and pockmarked face and a switchblade and stuff, and I was thinking, ’Holy fuck!’ Then when I met Bryan I asked him, ‘Bryan, on that song “Human Fly”, how do you set your amp?’ He goes, ‘Well I take the reverb and I turn it up a teeny-weeny bit…’ I was going, ‘Whoa what happened to the serial killer-looking guy?’ He was a very sweet dude! They were all sweet: Lux, Ivy, Bryan. They were crazy though. We did a number of shows with them and at CBGB you would play two sets. And none of the bands had two complete different sets of music. You’d play an early show, and then the two or three bands that night would, later, play all their songs over again. It was like a show, then a break, and then a repeat of the show. And one night when we played with The Cramps, they said, ‘Oh Sonny, we’re going to be gone for a little while. We’re going to go take acid because we want to watch you guys while we’re on acid.’ I said ‘What? But you guys have to play after us.’ They’re going, ‘We know, we know!’ And that was funny because there weren’t that many people taking that particular drug at the time. That was a little bit of a remnant like, ‘What are you, a hippie?’ So they were kind of against the mold and I have no idea what they experienced that night: taking acid, watching Testors, and then playing their own show on the acid.
One of my best friends from that whole scene was Scotty Asheton. I did a bunch of tours with and albums with Scott and we hit it off really good too.
PKM: Did you have much experience with acid?
Sonny Vincent: Oh yeah, when I was a kid. Very young. I was like twelve. We were very medicated when I was a kid. We took every drug we possibly could. If we went over to another kid’s house: first thing you do is go to the medicine cabinet and see what kind of cool pills were in there. That was just the protocol. One time my little cousin, Jeffrey, who was only 11, came home and he goes, ‘Hey man, I was just over Billy Mumford’s house and I took these pills but they were weird. They were very small and they were on this disk that had: ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…’ I said, ‘What? Dude, you took birth control pills!’ He goes, ‘Am I gonna get pregnant?!’ I said, ‘No, but I don’t know what’s gonna happen man.’ I took a lot of drugs back in those days. I didn’t take as much later, in the New York scene, when it got kind of a little bit depraved when all the heroin got into the scene. The music was important to me and like I didn’t want heroin to become more important, so I didn’t go that direction. I experimented, did it for a while, said, ‘Uh-oh. I don’t want to spiral into this shit.’ So I didn’t do it anymore.
PKM: Taking drugs at such a young age could have been a disaster for some people, but you were able to create an artistic career and maybe that saved you?
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, I believe so. When I was in sixth grade, I did not pay attention at all to the teachers. I just thought, ‘This is really tedious and boring.’ And the English teacher, who was a young smart graduate type of person, was watching me. She came over, and I was reading Howl by Allen Ginsberg. And she just let me go, just figured ‘Well, he’s reading Howl and On The Road.’ She didn’t bust me because she knew this was a bit more than what she was teaching the other kids. So it’s this kind of typical story of a person who feels like an outcast and the things in the culture that are there to be used to connect to the outcast. So I didn’t pay attention in school, but I had a different kind of literature in front of me.
PKM: You were pretty good friends with Joey Ramone. Were you close with Johnny or the other guys?
Sonny Vincent: No, I was only close with Dee Dee and Joey. Dee Dee wanted to come live with me, which was crazy, because I was living in Holland and had two little daughters. I get a call from Barbara, Dee Dee’s girlfriend from Argentina at the time: ‘Hey Sonny, Dee Dee wanna come and live with you in Holland. He likes Holland.’ I was thinking, ‘How does that work?’ I’m in Holland. I’m very straight. I don’t do drugs. I don’t even drink that much at all. I got two little kids and he’s going to come live with me? So I hooked him up with some friends of mine to go live with them. I was close to Dee Dee, but I always kept enough distance so I didn’t get involved in his shenanigans, if you know what I mean.
PKM: Yeah, maybe Holland doesn’t seem like it woulda been the best place for him?
Sonny Vincent: God, Dee Dee was such a sweet soul. It’s so weird that a lot of the damaged people along the way, when you get into the core being, they kind of have this golden soul aspect about them. But their behavior often times doesn’t work for them. I did a show in Detroit and backstage was Rob Tyner, Scott Asheton, Scott Morgan, different people. It was funny because the first thing Rob Tyner said, he came to me with his finger in his ear and goes, ‘You guys were great, but fucking loud!’ I go, ‘Rob, isn’t that like the pot calling the kettle black?’ But that was really great to meet them and the next time I came to Detroit some of those guys picked me up at the airport and they drove me around Detroit and said, ‘Okay, that’s the Trans-Love place, where the MC5 lived and hung out. Over there’s the Funhouse where the Stooges camped out in that apartment.’ They, honestly, treated me like a visiting dignitary, a lot of respect. And it’s due to the music. They connected to it when they heard it. And I spoke to Dee Dee once, he called me and goes, ‘Hey how did you wind up hooking up with them Detroit guys?’ I said, ‘Well, they heard my stuff and came to my show and we became friends.’ And he goes, ‘They treated me so bad when I went to Detroit.’ I go, ‘Why?’ And then you hear the story and you can see why they treated him bad. Like, ‘Well, I sold this guy an ounce of pot, but I took some of it…’ and these convoluted crazy stories. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved Dee Dee. He was like a beautiful kid, you know? But he was in Amsterdam and he went to Hanky-Panky, which is like a very famous tattoo artist in Holland. Dee Dee had brought one of his oil paintings with him. He was doing a lot of painting at the time, cool stuff. And he brought his painting into Hanky-Panky and said, ‘Hey, I’m Dee Dee Ramone, I got this oil painting I made and want to trade it for a tattoo.’ And the people at Hanky Panky said, ‘Oh, cool! But the owner isn’t here right now. So we can’t authorize that.’ He goes, ‘Come on, look at this oil painting. Let’s go. I want to trade it for a tattoo.’ And it just went on like that until they had to call the police to get Dee Dee to leave. So he would undermine himself a lot.Dee Dee was so cool. He had this crazy, almost genius savant-ness about him. The very first time I met him, he came backstage and announced to everybody backstage, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I walked around New York City all day today and everybody said ‘No’ to me, but I was only saying ‘Yes.’ I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s fucking brilliant.’ He was a very sweet soul, but had some crazy behaviors.
PKM: You’re still pretty good friends with Wayne Kramer, right?
Sonny Vincent: Yeah, Wayne is an inspiration to a lot of people. When I was in Testors, I had not yet been exposed to the MC5. But later, when I heard them, I said, ‘Oh man, this stuff is awesome.’ Wayne played on a number of my songs and anyone who meets Wayne knows that he’s a very erudite, stand-up kind of dude. One of my best friends from that whole scene was Scotty Asheton. I did a bunch of tours with and albums with Scott and we hit it off really good too.
PKM: Yes. Do you ever speak to Cheetah Chrome much?
Sonny Vincent: I don’t really speak to Cheetah that much. I don’t know what’s going on with him over the years. But we had some good times. And, you know, some rough times.
PKM: Isn’t there a Testors documentary that’s supposed to happen?
Sonny Vincent: Well we were working on it, but it became such a massive project. For now, it’s kind of on the back burner. It’s too much for me to captain at this point because it’s too big of a subject. This guy, a really experienced documentary guy, threw me a ball out of left field, so to speak, because he felt that making a band movie about Testors wasn’t enough. He feels that the whole story has more drama and soul in it. But I said, ‘Dude, make it a band movie. It’s so much easier. You got a beginning. You got an end.’ I wanted to capture the grit of the street in New York City and show Testors going through its evolution and show how we broke up. The ending was perfect: We had just played The Ritz and it was sold out. We headlined and It was one of our great gigs. But the drummer, the second drummer, had decided that if Testors didn’t have a major record contract within this allotted time, I forget if it was a year or two, that he was going to move on to do something else. At the time, I thought that was really backstabbing. But I’m a songwriter. I write the songs, I’m living in the songs. If someone’s a drummer maybe they want more success. So I can’t say that’s the wrong path for them. But he quit the band. So Gene, the guitar player, we went through a lot of stuff together. Crazy, hard stuff. Just like brothers. And I’m in New York and I was over near St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I was on one of those telephone booths that’s just like this kind of clamshell you lean into that’s not a whole booth. I called Gene and I went, ‘Gene, we gotta find a drummer.’ And he’s going, ‘Yeah we should change the name of the group too.’ I go, ‘Why?’ He’s going, ‘Well Sonny, we burned a lot of bridges.’ I say, ‘Well, that’s our job, dude!’ He goes, ‘Yeah. But if we change the name of the group and make the songs a little bit more accessible maybe we start fresh and get new life into the group.’ I said, ‘No. Sometimes people have to work on something and it doesn’t manifest for a long time.’ Jimi Hendrix was a fucking master at 27, but there’s French artists that didn’t get known for a long time. I said, ‘I think we should stick to our guns. I don’t want to change the name of the group and start playing New Wave music or whatever.’ And while I’m trying to hype Gene up, the operator comes on and goes, ‘Please deposit 25 cents for the next three minutes.’ So I go in my pocket, put another quarter in and go, ‘Gene. No, man. We got to stick to our guns.’ And he’s goin’, ‘Yeah, but I have aspirations. And someday I want to have a house and a family.’ I said, ‘I can understand that, but sometimes an artist has to deal with what they’re doing at the time that they’re doing it.’ And then the lady: ‘Please deposit 25 cents for the next three minutes…’ And I’m like, ‘But Gene, but Gene…’ And it went like that until suddenly I had no more quarters and I was reaching into my pocket and, ‘CLICK,’ the call was disconnected.
Links for more on Sonny Vincent:
Amazon UK and surrounding areas!
The ‘Bandcamp Site’