Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Punky Meadows


Interview by Phil Ashcroft

There are few moderately successful bands who can claim to still inspire devotion in their followers over thirty-five years after their career effectively came to an end. One such band is Angel, who with a legacy of six great albums, larger than life personalities and legendary, special effects-laden shows, still nestle in the hearts of fans and top many a discerning listener's reformation wish list. Sadly, only keyboard player Gregg Giuffria went on to have any success with his bands Giuffria and House Of Lords before retiring from the music business. Guitarist Punky Meadows and bassist Felix Robinson were unheard of for many years, whilst singer Frank Dimino and drummer Barry Brandt put together an Angel line-up (including Lillian Axe mastermind Stevie Blaze!) to play sporadic shows and release a largely un-Angel like album in 1999. However, following on from Frank Dimino's recent solo album, Punky Meadows – the subject of the Frank Zappa song 'Punky's Whips' – has also returned with a great new album out called 'Fallen Angel'. During a long phonecall to his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, the positively buoyant guitarist had a lot to say...

"I left L.A. in 1988 because I hated the music business," states Punky in his inimitable quickfire delivery. "I love playing music but I never liked the business side, it's cutthroat and musicians get taken advantage of with publishing and everything, you know how that story goes? I got tired of it, and also the music scene had changed a lot, so I came back to the East coast and started my own business, and I was successful with that and just washed my hands of the whole music thing. I never stopped playing, I'm a guitar player and music's in my blood, I play the guitar every single night and I love doing it, even when I wasn't recording or playing professionally I would sit on the couch every night with my guitar and write songs. I got into Country music for a while and I've always been a blues player, I grew up on the English blues guys and that was my schooling; Jeff Beck, Page, Clapton and Gary Moore, those were my heroes. I just had a great time playing and my business was successful too, so I wasn't stressed out with any kind of financial problems, it was a good change for me."

Like a lot of old-school musicians, the internet has played a large part in Punky's acceptance of his past. "About eight years ago I got on Facebook and started seeing how much all these fans loved Angel and one guy started an Angel fans group page, so it was really cool to see that and to see how many people we inspired. People would say it was because of me that they started playing guitar, and before social media you didn't know about things like that. Back when we were on the road I'd play a gig and then afterwards you'd meet the fans, they'd say we were great and shake our hands and then we'd move on to the next town, After that was over I didn't really speak to anyone about the band or my playing for many years, you just think you were one of a million bands that those fans met and said nice things to. Then coming on Facebook they were all coming forward saying how much they loved the band and our playing, and seeing all the pictures and seeing their comments made me realise that maybe we were a pretty cool band. I'd washed my hands of Angel and the whole music scene, but seeing all that kinda opened my eyes and inspired me and made me realise just how much we affected a lot of people. I didn't have any pipe dreams about making music, it's hard to get back into the business when you've been away for so long. I didn't want to put together a cover band and go out and play other people's music in clubs, I wanted to play my own songs. So, two DJ's, Keith Roth and Danny Farrow Anniello asked me to do an interview on their radio show in New York City called The Electric Ballroom, they advertised it on Facebook and when I went to do the interview there were so many people tuning in from all over the world that the website crashed, but after they got it back up again all these people started posting that it was great to hear me, and Keith Roth said that in seventeen years of interviewing every rock star imaginable he had never seen that happen before. I was dumbfounded myself, I guess it was just because nobody had heard from me in years so it was a mystery and everybody wanted to find out what I was all about. Because of that I started getting offered record deals and people asking me if I would like to do a record."

He continues, "I've been friends with Danny for a long time, he was a big fan of mine, we used to correspond through letters before Facebook, and he said "Do you wanna do a solo album?" and I said "Yeah, I would love to!" I'd been writing a lot of songs and I got real excited about it, Danny flew down from New York to my home in Charlotte, we got together in my music room and we started putting the songs together. We both loved the same kind of stuff, so I said if we were going to make an album I'd like to incorporate a lot of different styles, I wanted it to be an album of songs, I didn't want it to be a heavy metal album with the guitarist widdling all over the neck at ten thousand miles an hour and the singer up in the stratosphere, I wanted to have songs with melodies that people could sing along to but they would still kick-ass. If you listen to the songs they're very melodic and commercially oriented, like the songs from the sixties and the seventies, whereas heavy metal music today is all about trying to impress people with your manual dexterity and not about the feeling of the song. I would say "Don't impress me, inspire me!" When I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan or Gary Moore play, I'm inspired and it makes me want to play. That's what I wanted to do with this album, and sure the guys are kicking ass, but Chandler's a great singer and there are big harmony vocals, and that's what's coming across in the reviews, everyone that's heard it is really getting what we were trying to do. I'm really excited about that, we knew we had a good record and the reviews are confirming that. I actually like listening to the record, I'm very proud of it and I'm also very glad I got to do this now, people only heard me thirty years ago but I want to show what I can do now because I think I'm a better guitar player and songwriter now than I was then. Even Eddie Trunk said he was worried if I could still play because a lot of guys are coming back years later and they don't play as well or they try to make a record that's too modern and doesn't appeal to their fan base, but after he heard the first track he sat back and smiled and said I nailed it. I'm excited about it and it's selling pretty well on pre-sales, it went on pre-sale two months ago and I paid the record label back in the first week, and it's still selling well so I hope it'll chart and be the record that will bring rock back!" laughs Meadows with his tongue firmly in his cheek. "It was the first time I'd produced an album too and I'm pretty proud of that, so after years of sitting around playing my songs in my music room and fantasizing about making an album again, it all ended up coming together so naturally. Danny and I put these songs together really easily and it flowed so well, it was such great fun to do."

"Before I started recording the album I didn't even have a band," says the guitarist. "So I started auditioning people, I knew I was going to have Felix (Robinson) from Angel play bass because he would always be my first choice, he's a killer bass player and he can play anything – rock, pop, heavy metal, soul, country, just about any form of music imaginable. I'd known Danny Farrow since about 1998, he came down from New York to see me, he was a big Angel fan and he brought me photos and memorabilia that he had, and he's also a really good sculptor and he brought a figure of me that he'd made. So we got in touch again through Facebook a few years ago, by which time I'd sold my Tanning Salon chain and retired to North Carolina and I'd invested the money I'd made in property. He came down to North Carolina and we played guitar and wrote songs. It soon became obvious that we made a good songwriting team, he's a good guitar player and a great singer too, so we got Felix and drummer Bobby Pantella, who plays with Monster Magnet, and Bobby also had a recording studio. Danny and Bobby knew each other because they both live in New Jersey, so we all had a conference call together and talked about how we were going to do things. It was funny for me because I was so out of the loop with how things are recorded, back in the old days we would play together in the studio and work towards the best take of the basic track, but nowadays you record on your own and play to a click track and you build in the drums and bass and rhythm guitars. I said "What? There's no way that would work. It would be terrible, how would you get a groove going?", and they said "I promise you, this is how we do it, it's going to be OK!" So I said I'd try it and I flew up to New Jersey and Danny, Bobby, Felix and myself rehearsed for three days, I showed them the tunes and then we went into Bobby's studio with the click track and put down my guitars for seventeen songs in two days, and then Bobby put all the drums down in the next two days. He came in and he kicked ass, I knew he was a hell of a drummer but to remember all those songs after a couple of rehearsals, I was so impressed! Felix came in the day after and got all his bass tracks down and it sounded fantastic. I came back home and put all the solos and acoustic guitars down at a studio here, so then we had to start auditioning singers so we put a call out and got loads of audition tapes and photos. Danny had this guy he knew called Chandler Mogel who sang with a group called Outloud from Greece. So we had Chandler sing on 'Straight Shooter' as an audition, I wasn't sure when I first heard him, he sounded a bit too eighties for me and in the band he was in he was singing real high all the time, which is cool but I wasn't sure that was where we wanted to go with the record, but he sang 'Straight Shooter' the way it should be sung and I knew he was our guy. So I said "Dude, you're in!" and he was thrilled, some of his idols had auditioned for the gig and he got it. I went up to Jersey to meet him and he had a friend called Charlie Calv, and Charlie had said to him, "You're going to play with Punky? I love Angel, I know every keyboard part Gregg Giuffria ever did, he's one of my biggest influences, I would really like to get this gig!" So I said, "Bring him in, let's try it!" and he put down all the keyboard parts in two days and created a lot of great stuff, he was a super nice guy too and had all kinds of tricks, then the next time I was up we recorded all the vocals and harmonies in about four or five days. I wanted a lot of back-up vocals on this record, I didn't want it to be just one singer, I wanted harmonies like The Eagles. This album is very diversified, all the songs are different so every time you turn a corner you're going to get a different kind of song. I loved bands like The Beatles and Queen, where you put the album on and go "I wonder what kind of song we're going to get next?". A lot of the heavy metal bands now, you hear the first song, you've pretty much heard the whole album, All the guys in the band were great and adapted to whatever style I wanted to do, they really put their heart and souls into everything."

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Most of the songs are brand new but Punky has a wealth of material to choose from "There's nothing left over from Angel," he says, anticipating my question. "A couple of the riffs and ideas I'd recorded when I was playing in my music room over the last few years, I just see what comes out and if there's something I think is interesting I'll hum it or play it into a tape recorder. Sometimes you write a whole song because it just takes off on its own and pretty much writes itself, but once I knew I was going to do this album I sat down and started working on new songs. Parts of 'Shadow Man' I've had hanging around for years, I used to play that riff when I was in bar bands as a kid, it was a soul/R & B song back then, so I updated it and made it more of rock song, the verse, bridge and breakdown were all new. Stuff like 'I Wanna Be Your Drug' is almost a bubblegum song that I came up with in the studio, but I grew up on The Monkees so I have no shame. Other songs I put together pretty quickly, we ended up with seventeen songs on the special edition. Everyone was saying we had nearly enough songs to make up the next album but I'm pretty quick once I get down to work and I wanted to give fans their money's worth. I have songs already for the next album and Danny has some too. I just do what I love and hopefully others will love it too. The worst thing you can do is try to be something you're not and try to please everybody, if you do what you love and other people don't dig it, well, at least you pleased yourself," he laughs.

"If you listen to a song like 'Leavin' Tonight', my heart and soul is in that, the way I play guitar on that is like the way Gary Moore would have played it. It's me and it's my style, but it's the blues and there's a lot of soul and emotion in that song, in fact I didn't listen to it for a few days after I recorded it and when I played it back I got a tear in my eye, I said "Wow! Is that me playing that?" That's where I am as a guitar player, I'm more into heart and soul and feel than technique, I can shred and I occasionally do on the album on 'Shake Shake' and that kind of stuff, but I grew up on the famous blues players and that's where I'm at."

Punky's certainly very happy that the reviews have vindicated the leap back into the music world. "They've been great," he gushes, "in fact I haven't seen a bad review yet. Some people have said they don't like a certain song or something, but all in all most of the reviewers get it and understand what I'm doing. There were a lot of people who weren't expecting anything, like Eddie Trunk, and another guy from one of the New York magazines said the same thing, that he was worried about me until he put the first song on and then he relaxed because he knew I'd done a good job. Another thing in the reviews is everybody is picking a different favourite song, which I guess is a good thing and means there are a lot of good songs on the record, if everybody picked the same song then there's probably only one good song on there."

Inevitably, I steer the conversation around to the five members of Angel all getting together to receive a Rock Legends award in Las Vegas last month, recently deceased original bass player Mickie Jones was also honoured. "It was really exciting!", says Meadows, "we got the biggest standing ovation of the night. That was neat and everything's falling into place right now. When I walk around town here everybody knows I was a rock star, I never cut my hair or changed the way that I dressed, my hair is still black and long and sticking out like a crow on top. I was never one of those guys who changed when they came offstage and took off their costume and cut their hair, I was never that kind of guy, so it's great to be hanging out again with other people from my tribe. When I was at the awards show everybody looked like me, all these eighties rockers were coming up to me and telling me how much I inspired them to learn the guitar and make music, and how much they love Angel and that they're glad I'm back. I'm so glad to be back too."

"We got to walk the red carpet, and people were screaming and taking pictures," he continues. "I hadn't done that since the seventies, it was like a dream. People were shouting our names, then we got to sit in the audience while there were bands playing and people got their awards, but before each one they had two huge TV screens where they would show a synopsis of the band. Eddie Trunk gave a speech, and he did a great job, and then introduced us, everybody gave us a standing ovation and just went wild, It was nice to be recognised because Angel never made it really big, for different reasons, I think if MTV had been around then we'd have had a better chance, we'd have been a perfect MTV type of band because we were very visual. Before MTV you had to go out and tour every little town in the States in order to build a following unless you had a hit record, in those days they weren't playing Kiss and Angel, although Kiss had 'Beth' eventually and became a national act, radio stations were playing Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton, a lot of soft-rock stuff, but Angel could never get any airplay. At first we were too heavy and progressive with our first two albums, so we were encouraged to get more commercial, but Angel broke up before that elusive hit because Casablanca Records fell apart, and before MTV you had to tour relentlessly to be seen, whereas when it came in MTV could break bands all across the country overnight, It was exciting to finally get some credit at the awards show because we were among the first hair metal bands, us, Aerosmith, Kiss and Cheap Trick were the first bands doing that kind of commercial hard rock stuff. We caught on in Japan alongside all those, when we went there it was like Beatlemania, it was crazy, so finally having someone in our own country telling us how much they appreciated us was a great thing. We didn't make any money but at least we made a lot of people happy, and that's important to all of us."

Unusually for a band who went through a stressful time, the members of Angel remained friends and there was no awkwardness when they met up. "No, that's never been a problem with us," explains Punky. "Angel fell apart because after Casablanca got into trouble, Neil Bogart, the president of Casablanca, he was fired and the label lost the support of Polydor, the mothership. Casablanca was run by a bunch of college kids and it was falling apart by the time we put out 'Live Without A Net', they couldn't promote it, so we wanted to get out of the contract and sign with someone else, but they wouldn't let us. They stopped it because we were still under contract, they didn't want to do anything with us but wouldn't let us leave, so Gregg and I started another band and Frank joined someone else, we splintered because we couldn't do anything else as Angel. Things didn't work out that well for any of us really, Gregg did OK for a while but I got sick of the scene and moved back East. Gregg got a tear in his eye when we did the Eddie Trunk thing, we all got really emotional about it. Everybody was saying "So are you going to put Angel back together, at least for a reunion tour?" As you know, Frank and Barry put together a version of Angel quite a while later and they asked me to do it, but I said I didn't want to unless it was all of us, it has to be Gregg, Felix, Frank, Barry and myself or it wouldn't be the same. Also I said someone would have to bankroll it, it wouldn't be enough to just put on the white costumes and play in clubs, it would have to be the whole show with the effects and props like Kiss. I wouldn't want to tarnish our past with a low-budget show, I'd rather leave it in the memories of people who saw it than do that, it would be really uncool to do something half-assed. Gregg was really successful in the gaming industry in Las Vegas and he said he would bankroll it, he said he'd love to do just two nights at the Hard Rock Café or House Of Blues in Las Vegas, put it out there and let fans from all over the world fly in, do a great show and make sure we're well-rehearsed and it looks and sounds great, and then just cap it, be done with it. That's an idea, I'd be up for that and it's probably the only way we'd do it. Gregg also said that now Frank and I have paved the way with new records, he'd really like to do something."

"After the awards show we had a VIP party in the lounge upstairs and everybody was running up to Angel, it was funny because the guy who was organising it kept insisting we were at the front in all the photos, in front of Twisted Sister and the Scorpions, he was ushering us around like we were royalty, it was hilarious! Like I said, it was fun but it was like a dream because it was so surreal, like it never happened, except I have an award sitting downstairs that says it did! My first and only award. We got one each and we also got one for our original bass player Mickie Jones, which I'll send to his sister. Like I said, we didn't make any money and we got a lot of hard knocks about our image and everything, people would categorize us because of that, but with all the positive feedback recently I can at least go to my grave saying "Well, some people dug us!" We were a rock band first and foremost, and in the early days we stood out a bit when bands would go on before us in jeans and t-shirts, and then we would come out like Bowie and Mott The Hoople. We were a glam rock band and thought we looked really cool, we put eye make-up on and we all became whores on stage. It was a fun time, it was like musicians had suddenly gone from black and white to colour, so we went out to California and signed to Casablanca because the Kiss guys loved Angel so much. Gene talked those guys into signing us unseen, we played in a club called Bogart's and Gene, Paul and Ace came down because they'd just played at the Capitol Centre in Washington D.C., they saw us and thought we were fantastic, I remember Gene saying "Wow! Glitter hits D.C." A few days later we got a call from Neil Bogart and he said Gene had told him to sign us, so Neil had the idea that he would fly us all to Anaheim so we could open up for Kiss and he could check us out. So he phoned Gene to make sure that they were OK with it and Gene said "You have to sign those guys, but under no circumstances will Angel ever, ever open for Kiss!" So he signed us and it was his idea that we be the opposite of Kiss, they dressed all in black and we would wear all white. It was a cool concept and fitted into the spectacular show we had in mind, it was a kind of androgynous look but it really made sense to fit in with the name. I designed all my costumes anyway so I had fun doing that, and then we got the whole magic thing going on with the illusionist Doug Henning, appearing onstage and disappearing again, all the flashpots, we loved doing all that stuff and the audiences all went crazy for it. We got a lot of flak in the media for the image and we tried to drop it for the 'Bad Publicity' album, we tried to get out of the costumes and just wanted to be a rock n' roll band like everybody else. So we did the 'Bad Publicity' cover of us in normal rock clothes, drinking and hanging out with groupies, and when Neil Bogart saw it he said "I didn't sign a punk band, get the costumes back on and do a different cover!" So we changed the cover and changed the title to 'Sinful', but the last tour we did with David Krebs - he managed Aerosmith, AC/DC and Ted Nugent, and once actually asked Mickie and I to join the New York Dolls – David put us on the Rock N' Roll Marathon tour and we did it without our costumes, we still looked cool in great jackets and jeans but a lot of people were disappointed, it was like when Kiss decided to take their make-up off. The funny thing is we were sick of the concept then, but when I joined Facebook and saw all these pictures of us I thought "That looks pretty fucking cool!" It really did look like we came from Heaven or somewhere and I could see now why people were disappointed when we stopped, the photos from that last tour just don't have the same effect, we could have been anybody. Kiss took the make-up off and immediately went to playing smaller venues, then when they got Ace and Peter back and put the make-up back on they were selling out arenas again. Artists have fragile egos sometimes and they don't think they're being taken seriously as musicians if they have a gimmick like that, but the reality is that it's part of why the fans love them, so it's better to stick to your guns and ignore those who don't get it."

Going back to Punky's solo band, exciting things are happening. He says, "As you know, we're doing B.B. Kings on July 4th in New York City, that's our release party and we're rehearsing for that right now, but soon after that we'll get a booking agent and hopefully go on tour. Escape Music was talking about us hopefully doing some festivals in Europe, That's the plan so far but I'm taking things one step at a time."

Punky-Meadows Interview

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