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By: Sarah L. Myers

Peter Blast, to the punk rock historian, is one of those great artists that tends to get lost in the shuffle of the New York City punk and rock n’ roll scene. Blast came from Chicago, combining his Maxwell Street blues guitar with classic Keith Richards riffs and a gypsy soul. He is often described as a true rock n’ roll survivor. His band, Degeneration, was the first punk band to play the Vegas strip, and he’s managed to keep himself alive after more than 30 years of partying with everyone from friend Johnny Thunders to Steven Adler.

Style and longevity are just bonuses when it comes to Peter Blast, though they are great ones. His fashion sense is pure rock - leather pants, ratted hair, bandannas, and necklaces. He’s elegant in a way similar to Keith Richards and David Johansen. But he is a songwriter first, and songs such as “The Crossroads Hotel” are heartbreaking, realistic glimpses into the “live fast, die young” lifestyle that is so glamorized. He prides himself on making it through those times, coming out a changed man. To borrow the title of one of his most famous songs, Blast is still sharp as a knife.

We met up in Chicago at a small café to discuss his career and share stories from his years on the road. Blast’s new record, A Plush Horse … With a Monkey on a String, is out on Poptown Records in May. His famous “Live Dive Bar Tour” begins in June.


Thirsty: Who do you think invented punk?

Peter Blast: It’s written everywhere in history proto type punk band was Johnny Thunders after he left the Dolls, with the drummer (Jerry Nolan) but that was still when they were playing with Richard Hell. Before Walter Lure came in the picture. I don’t know, the Sex Pistols were known to be punk and isn’t it weird that Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers are the ones who went out on tour in Europe with them? As far as glam goes, you’ve got cats like Rod Stewart and the Faces are glam. And if you want to take the first glam punk, that’s fucking Keith Richards. If you really want to talk about punk, it’s about attitude and breaking rules, well then you could go all the way to Elvis Presley. And Johnny Thunders, who the fuck played a guitar with a fucking doll? I’d say that’s pretty punky.

So do you think it’s more about attitude and performance than a specific sound?

I think it’s totally about attitude, you know what I mean? You can go all the way back to The Who, “My Generation”, it’s kids that are pissed off. What’s changed? You know, that’s punk in itself, you know what I mean? Hope I die before I get old! That’s pretty fucking punky, it’s a bold statement.

I met you the night of the New York Dolls show at the Double Door in Chicago. You have a long history with them, right? You’ve been friends for a long time.

I was on the stage, I as sitting on the stage next to Steve Conte. Steve’s kind of a new friend of mine. I met him a few years ago, and I took him to Rosangela’s Pizza on the south side of Chicago and we talked about recording together and stuff like that and one thing led to another and he actually performed on three songs that are coming out on the new CD. So, yeah, I was sitting up on the stage.

He plays guitar on your cover of “Dead or Alive”, the classic Johnny Thunders song?

Yeah, we did a remake of Johnny Thunders “Dead or Alive”, and Steve plays on it. It was cool. Because it’s in total homage to an old friend, recorded with a new friend. And I think people are really going to like it. From what I hear, they tend to.

Is that track the most special to you on this new album?

Well, it’s a tribute to a friend, it’s a tribute to Johnny Thunders, but it’s just another song on the record, really. You know. Everything else is written by myself and I can say I produced the CD, as well. So it’s professionally under produced by moi, because I’m tired of big productions, you know. You’re not gonna hear string sections and horns and a bunch of chick backup singers. I really, really tried to stay away from that and keep it rootsy as possible. Yeah, it’s punk, but it’s blues-based rock and I think I’ve even touched a little bit of the late 1960s and super early 1970s with some other types of vibes of music, you know. I’ve got Steve Conte of the Dolls doing a few tracks, but I’ve also got Bob Lizik from the Brian Wilson group, which I think right there in itself means there’s some psychedelica in there, and there is. So I like to mix up all of my CDs, you know, with a little bit of everything, but sometimes straying off in some other directions, as well.

So it’s not going to be as dense as some of the other records, in terms of the ballads and orchestration?

Sure it is. But it’s not over produced. It’s more front porch, if that’s what you like to call it. And it does not lean towards punk, it would lean more toward the late 1960s of psychedelica. But there is definitely a lot of punk and traditional rock n’ roll.

I read that when you first started writing the songs you were using a lot of slide guitars and some lap steel.

I still do. There’s still slide and lap steel in my songs but just because they were originated and associated with country and western, it doesn’t mean they have to be used that way. You can break that mold and use it in a rock form, which many have. It’s not something new.

But people had a hard time accepting that when you first started combining those sounds?

Well, my first solo CD after I left the band Junebug went towards older country and western, Johnny Cash with k.d. lang instrumentation, but at the same time had flavors of Rod Stewart’s “Gasoline Alley”. I would take it down South to these guys and they loved it, but if you take it to a critic down South, they’re gonna say, “that ain’t country.” And then you take it to a label and they say, “that ain’t rock.” Well, then, that’s crossover. The term didn’t exist yet, and I was told to find a sense of direction. So who’s breaking ground? And who’s taking credit for it? I’m still crossing over in many different areas. I’m a writer and I’m not much of an artist if every song sounds the same.

You’re heading out to do another leg of the “Dive Bar Tour” after this record comes out, right?

The “Dive Bar Tour” never ends, you know. There’s always a dive bar. I’d like to think I’ve played some pretty nice places, too. It’s just a joke that we came up with.

The “Live Dive Bar Tour” name was kind of a joke in the sense like, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin was like, “yeah, it’s gonna fall like a lead zeppelin.” Well, we’re only going to play dive bars so it was just a joke. But, yeah, I continue on. We start again in June actually. I start in Philadelphia, then on to New York City, then I’m doing a festival in Spain. Then I come back in August, the end of August we’re going to do some shows in Michigan, then we’re going to come back to lovely Illinois.

What influence does being from Chicago have on your music and writing?

Chicago has taught me a lot of what to do and what not to do. I am not into corporate rock. Chicago is pretty well known for it. Don’t dig it. I dig a lot of the guys that play it! And they do it great, flawlessly. But it’s just not really my trip, you know. Blues. I mean, when I was a little kid my dad took me to Maxwell Street every other weekend. You could see Willie Dixon or Muddy Waters or fucking anybody man, standing and playing right where they knocked the building down last week. And that moved me! An then you got a little older and into FM Pirate radio and you’re hearing Led Zeppelin that’s basically stealing everything from Willie Dixon. Oh, that’s right. They paid him out of court! But there you are. So that’s what I take from Chicago is the blues. And then other things go along with it, you know. Lifestyle. You can’t go the wrong way in Chicago when you’re blues based. But I had the first punk band, Degeneration, documented as being the first punk band that performed on the Las Vegas strip, you know. I think we were still blues based, even though we were like the American answer to the Sex Pistols. They ain’t playing rock n’ roll! They were doing covers of the Monkees. I’ve never done that! You know what I mean? I wrote songs called “Stab Me Gently”. That’s not really commercial. But it definitely gets the point across. I still think it was part Rolling Stones, part blues, part this, part that, they’re all stemming from those roots.

You’re originally from Chicago but you moved out to Los Angeles pretty early on, right?

No, I ran away from home. Well, I never really ran away, I just left. I called my mom from Los Angeles, downtown somewhere, said ‘yeah, here I am.’ I called from Santa Monica, ‘now I’m over here.’ I mean, if you’re calling home, you can’t call yourself a runaway. But I hooked up with a bunch of guys who were basically traveling from rock festival to rock festival selling pot. So I hung out with those guys. I felt very safe!

What was the music scene like in Chicago when you first started?

I’ve been playing south side Chicago taverns since I was fourteen, you know. There was a lot of cool stuff going on in Chicago, but it’s pop rock Chicago. I mean, you got some great bands, Pez Band, Cheap Trick, but it really wasn’t where I was at mentally. I’d never say I was a pop writer. What I was doing wasn’t even accepted or heard of. There was no where to play. There were many places to fight just because of the way you look. But not to perform. I think that’s why when the offer came to go to Las Vegas, we went! We had no idea that we were actually going to end up being documented as the first punk band.

Is it true that was arranged by a producer for “Laugh In”?

We hooked up with a backer and he hired a guy in Vegas, Bill Norvis, and he was actually a writer for the show “Laugh In”. He came to me through our so-called manager and got us most of our stuff in Vegas. It was funny because we performed once and they kept asking us back! I guess it was just really different for them. And I met a woman out there and I moved in! So I’d basically go back from Vegas to California. I had a suite at the Golden Nugget in Vegas for a year and a half, even though I was living in this other chick’s family’s house. I kept the suite because you’d gotta be able to leave when you want to.

You formed the Blast Factory shortly after Degeneration broke up in the 1980s. Did Chip Z’Nuff follow you into the Blast Factory?

No, Chip was in Degeneration. He was 17, just got out of high school. People were big on changing their names back then and all that. So I gave him the name Chick Scorpion and later to be Chip Z’Nuff. He had nothing to do with the Blast Factory. The Blast Factory was a bunch of really great guys who were all childhood friends and it was like playing in our basement. I talked them into getting rid of one guitar player and the singer, and I moved in! They picked the name. I didn’t even want my name associated because it’s a band name. But they did, so there you go. They were a great bunch of guys. The material was never really shopped to a label, even though we did recordings and did a lot of shows. In the end, if I recall correctly, I think we all just had a big argument and we left. We got in a fight. Just like so many other bands do. Then what I did was, I kicked back for a little bit and basically got a deal before I had a band. So we basically recorded a lot of my stuff that I had already been doing with the Blast Factory, re-recorded it, and released it. We picked a name out of a hat. We actually put ten names in a hat and passed it around the room and the one that came up Junebug. And that’s how the name came to be.

Was that a difficult period for you, when you released the “Ticket to Hell” album?

It was hard. I wasn’t living that great then. I was moving around a lot just focusing on the music, trying to stay away from distractions. Having an addictive personality that can be difficult. So between that and just not having a lot of money to go around, yeah, it was a difficult period.

Did your songwriting reflect that?

Yeah, I was one angry guy. I was going through a divorce at the same time. I’m glad to say I’m not the guy I was then. You know, it’s a whole different train of thought. In some ways I wish that record could disappear. But it is a part of my life, so it should be there. They wanted me to do a second Junebug record and I wasn’t even interested because I was already changing. I had already been into rehabs and all that and I wasn’t the same guy. That’s why I decided to do the first solo record, This Side of Shang-hi. I figured it was a good time to do that because I could live off of some of the press I got from Junebug. So Junebug was my marketing tool to sell the new record.

Tell me about the song “Crossroads Hotel” from the This Side of Shang-hi. album.

Well, “Crossroads Hotel” is the story of obviously not living high on the hog. You know, one room cheap hotel with the light flickering through your window. Those are realities. You see it in the movies all the time. The only difference is in the movies the guy’s got a cigarette butt and a gun. I’d sit and look out the window and watch the hookers on the corner across the street. It was difficult.

You weren’t being accepted into this world or that world. You stood alone in a crowd. You tried your best to carry your ideas over to others and I’m just lucky enough that they got it. They got it when I needed them to get it, you know. And life changed a little bit after that. I’m a true believer that God holds my hand. I may have let go a few times but he never did. And I’m not at the Crossroads Hotel anymore.

Are you bitter that other bands from the 1980s and 1990s got credit for the genre so many other bands helped create?

Well, kids are very egotistical. What I find about kid musicians today is that they don’t really know that much about roots, so they think they thought of it. They insult the entire musical community with their ignorance. Who borrows, who steals from others? Who hasn’t? So who claims what? I don’t know. I mean, in the end doesn’t it all go back to three chords down in Mississippi somewhere that somebody brought to Chicago to record? The home of the blues? How do you think all of those cats got here? I don’t hear a lot of new stuff today that I would consider groundbreaking. Borrowing maybe. But groundbreaking not. What’s new is old. So I listen to a lot of that. The original stuff with roots.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

Just really getting to travel. My dad told me, ‘join the Army! You’ll get to see the world!’ I said, what? On fire? I think a high point is just to be able to travel like that wearing your own uniform, being your own Army. The people that I’ve met and been able to perform with or record with, or just smoke a joint with and have a drink, those are your high points. And that’s that.

You were friends with Johnny Thunders. You never got around to recording together but you had jammed together and stayed friends over the years?

Yeah, I met the Dolls way in the early 1970s. They were playing somewhere in the Midwest. I think it was Indiana and I was laughing because all the local people were actually helping them unload their gear and stuff. It was like, ok. Anyway, that’s when I met Johnny. I didn’t really meet the other cats. But I met Johnny and it was cool. Later on, time goes by, Johnny’s now with the Heartbreakers. We’re running into each other left and right. And just really hitting it off. We just clicked. He was a great guy. Sometimes he was boisterous. Sometimes he was really shy, almost to a point of paranoid. We got on really well. That’s why it was really cool to do “Dead or Alive” and to do it with Steve Conte of the Dolls today. There’s a lot of stories about Johnny Thunders but you don’t tell them. They’re private world. He was just a wonderful human being. But his style, I mean, originates from MC5 and the Stones. So I’d say there are a lot of beginnings there.

What was the last communication you had with Johnny?

I saw him for a little while in 1990, and he passed away in 1991. The weird thing is that he passed away in New Orleans and I almost went to New Orleans that same time, not even knowing he was there. But I don’t remember what stopped me from going. I’m glad I didn’t go. Johnny, I mean, he showed up when he played with Wayne Kramer with Gang War (and the MC5), he didn’t even have a guitar. We were big on using Dan Armstrongs then because Keith Richards did. And my buddy lived closer than I to the club so he went and got a Dan Armstrong to play. It was cool because I have some photographs of Johnny with the Dan Armstrong and the fucking pickups are just screaming like a motherfucker, he’s totally not in control of the instrument, and Wayne Kramer is holding his ears! Now for Wayne Kramer of the MC5 to be holding his ears, I find humorous!




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