An interview with Simon Ritt, Part II
by Scott Bass
PSF: When I hear The Daughters EP, I don't think 'these guys are ripping off Johnny Thunders.'
SR: No, but what I mean is like we had more attitude than we did ability and really good songs. Both myself and Joe Mazzari would have certainly become better songwriters as we have gotten older, Joe still leans towards heavy rock-influenced blues and I lean towards more country rock and we have both kind of found our own voices.
We did some recordings with Jimmy Miller the legendary producer who worked with the Rolling Stones and Traffic, and all those great bands, and we brought him and Johnny to Boston for Johnny to record what would become parts of different albums, In Cold Blood for New Rose in France, and Diary of a Lover for the GEM label here in the United States, PVC/Gem I think it was. They wanted to get out of New York and they were looking for a decent place to record. So we brought them to Euphoria Sound Studios in Revere, Mass which is a little to the North of the city and after that our manager arranged for Jimmy Miller to come and produce a few songs for The Daughters. Working with Jimmy was a great experience and getting to know him, was just... We had never thought we would we meet the guy who produced our favorite Rolling Stones, records, like Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers. Listening all these years later, I wish I could say we have all these great unreleased Jimmy Miller recordings, and it is just, like I said, we were probably more fun live.
I am glad you liked the single, and the single was done when I was still playing drums and a real bass player still playing bass. But I don't lose faith about it. Both Joe and I eventually progressed and found our own voices but I don't know. When you are young, I guess, just like what they say, you just throw the paint on the wall and you see what sticks. We wrote a lot of songs, and when listening to them again after all of these years... We were giggling, we were like, on the verge of peeing our pants laughing at these songs, just how naive and over-ambitious we were.
PSF: That sounds like classic punk attitude. Those are all positive qualities.
SR: [Laughs] That is good to hear. Well, hopefully someday, hopefully the least offensive of the tracks will make it to a compilation or some kind of release.
PSF: Okay, so how does the whole opening for Johnny thing inevitably blow up?
SR: Oh, well it didn't really blow up. After those first several gigs, I'd have to think about, once or twice maybe two or three times, Johnny got on, would get on stage with The Daughters, at some of these shows, and he would sing "Louie Louie" or "Gloria," there was one time he did "Chatterbox." The only time I ever saw him or heard him do "Chatterbox" live- he never did it as part of his set. At that point, I was a drummer playing bass with The Daughters, and I got a call to play drums with Johnny for a couple of gigs in New York, so that was great. I did a Valentine's Day gig, I guess it would be Valentine's Day 1982. That was at the world famous Peppermint Lounge on Valentine's Sunday and Walter (Lure, guitarist) was in the band, and a guy called Danny Hirsch was playing bass guitar. We did a few shows and I remember feeling that I played well. So then for the next about year or so we started to do gigs where sometimes I would play bass with The Daughters and we opened for Johnny but then I would go change T-shirts and come out and play drums with Johnny.
PSF: Were you getting paid twice as much?
SR: Nah, no.
PSF: Did you get at least twice as many drink tickets? What the hell, man?
SR: I got to hang out with Johnny twice as much. I got to spend twice as much time with him, I got to play drums with him and uh, and to have the fact of carte blanche access, be part of the entourage, part of the scene. At times, you never knew if Johnny was going to show up with a drummer or a bass player or what, so there were few times when Joe Mazzari would play bass for Johnny and sometimes it would be me and Joe with me on drums and Joe on bass, sometimes it would be me and a different bass player, and sometimes Joe would play bass and Johnny would show up with another drummer. He was playing a lot with a guy named Billy Rogers from New York back then; he was very flexible. It probably had a lot to do with how much Johnny was getting paid if he could afford to bring guys from New York or he felt like paying guys from New York, and it probably depended on how apathetic he was about the show and it probably depended on like if he had just had a fight or had been prissy or had a falling out with someone. That's how I got the gig to play drums for him those first two shows in New York at the Peppermint Lounge. He had got a fight with Billy Rogers about money, and I think Billy slugged him and so I just got this call, "hey can you play drums for me?" and I was like "I'm there."
So this continued until about early 1983. I think it was in the Spring when he did a big show at Irving Plaza. That was the last time I played with him, it was almost like a big climax. You ask if it imploded- it didn't really implode but it did have a cinematic climax for us because our last show with Johnny was also probably our biggest show as The Daughters. We opened for him at Irving Plaza in New York which was a real scene, a big club, I'm sure well over 1000 people. The place was packed. It was called "The Bye-Bye Johnny Thunders Show"- he was off the very next day for a European tour. We were just the opening band that night and uh, it's a big and... it's pretty unsympathetic, kinda unflattering... He's pretty well, really fucked up. He is just way fucked up. It's not, that kind of classic Johnny Thunders performance but... It's definitely entertaining, it had its moments. So that was our last show with him, I want to say it was March probably, 1983.
PSF: So he's off to Europe the next day. Were The Daughters continuing to play local shows?
SR: The Daughters were still going on and we would continue in a couple of different formats for the next couple of years and that was the end of our Johnny Thunders days. We didn't realize that at the time, but it was certainly the most exciting epic, but we did a couple of cool things. Later on, as you know with that Jerry Nolan CD. We did a couple of gigs with Jerry...
PSF: Yeah, that's kind of what I was implying, looking at the date, so he leaves March 14th and then by October the same year you're backing up Jerry?
SR: Yeah, yeah.
PSF: So you pretty much continued to be a utility guy for the ex-Dolls
SR: (Laughs) I guess so. Even though Johnny was gone we kept in touch with New York as much as we could. We loved going to New York. We continued to play our own gigs around town in Boston. Even early on, we would even take gigs at hotels and night clubs where they expected people who are a little bit more commercial and playing the top 40 and we would just play like classic rock and roll songs and stuff and usually not get asked back a second time but you know, it was a gig.
PSF: The Daughters could perform a classic rock cover set?
SR: Pretty much...
PSF: So sometimes you would be Daughters the original rock band and sometimes you'd be getting paid more and playing Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd and stuff?
SR: No, nothing like that. We were doing Rolling Stones and The Kinks and The Seeds and Paul Revere and the Raiders and of course The Dolls and The Heartbreakers. But yeah sometimes we'd do those kinds of shows and get paid a little more.
PSF: I find that interesting, I don't think that's typical for "punk bands." A lot of them probably wouldn't have the chops to pull it off.
SR: Yeah, well we did. We really tried to stay busy and we were musicians seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
PSF: So you supported yourselves fully as musicians during this period?
SR: Yeah, for the first few years anyway. We lived communally. For the most part we would share the shitiest Section 8 type housing you can imagine in Lynn Massachusetts which is still today like a really depressing kind of town. Our standard of living wasn't very high but we were still getting the rent paid somehow.
PSF: Got you. Well that's kind of cool. So I do want to make sure I get a plugin for the CD you sent me, the Jerry Nolan Band Great Gildersleeves, 7th of October 1983. Now is this for sale now on Retro records, can people buy this?
SR: Yeah, it's out there. Retro Records UK.
PSF: So recently after quite the hiatus, The Daughters have come back together again. Can you tell me about The Daughters' reunion that happened on May 11th?
SR: What prompted that... it was almost like serendipity, but I was very fortunate to meet Danny Garcia, a documentary filmmaker. He made a great movie on The Clash called The Rise and Fall of the Clash. It kind of dwells on their breakup, why a band that had everything going for them broke at the peak of their success. And I'm not even the world's biggest Clash fan, but I found it a very compelling film. A couple of years ago the film maker Danny Garcia was in town doing a Q&A afterwards and so the film played and it was the middle of the week and quiet here in Arlington Massachusetts, not far from where I live. And when he was wrapping up his little talk, he took his questions and then he thanked everybody for coming and as an aside he said 'please keep an eye out for my next project- I'm currently working on which is a documentary in Johnny Thunders' and I was like 'wow!' Like I was meant to be here tonight.
So I introduced myself to him and that was maybe not quite two years ago and since that time, I was involved in his second full length documentary film, a film on Johnny Thunders called Looking for Johnny. I appear briefly in the film, I appear for about as long as it takes to tell you I've appeared in the film, but I also help arrange some other interviews and was able to contribute some cool photos of things that really nobody else had seen and I'm just humbled to be a part of this documentary. It's the first really professional quality, movie theatre quality documentary to be made about Johnny Thunders to date. It talks about his early history, his time with The Dolls, you know all these different stages of his career are covered in the Heartbreakers, his solo years. They speak to as many people from those days who are still around as they can. So that film was just recently finally completed. But then, the film was scheduled to be shown on Mother's Day here as you mentioned, in Massachusetts, and of course I was looking forward to seeing the film after having been modestly involved in it is. A friend of ours named Rachel who knows us going back to the 1980's said, "you guys should play when the film premiers here in a few weeks," and I was like, 'yeah, maybe, maybe me and Joe could get a gig somewhere.' And she was like, "no, no, The Daughters, The Daughters should do a show," and I thought well that's not such a bad idea...
PSF: You've got to open for Johnny...
SR: Exactly, then it started this thing like, 'wow here is our chance, we get to open for Johnny one more time.' I kind of seemed like it was meant to be, and so I ran it by Danny, I ran it by Joe, who I still stay in touch with, our bass player from those times, Bill does not play music so much and we aren't really in touch him so much but he is a good guy and he was definitely into the idea of the reunion. I haven't played drums in so long that we got a fourth fellow, to play drums, Carl Howard- he is someone Joe had played with. I played some perfunctory guitar and we just played together for the first time in 30 years. There was a lot of laughs, we did a short opening set of just some of our favorite Johnny Thunders songs, just enough to whet the people's appetite and it was a blast doing it.
PSF: What songs did you play?
SR: We opened with "Pipeline" then we did "Let Go," then we did a song of Joe's called "Black and Blue," which is about Johnny, then we did "Chatterbox" and then I broke out the acoustic guitar, and we did a great version of "Ask Me No Questions" and then we closed with "Are You Living" which is an unreleased Johnny Thunders song that he gave to The Daughters to record. I mean, it was maybe the single greatest thing to ever happen in my life. A few nights later we did it again at a smaller but very nice theatre, the Cape Ann cinema in Gloucester Massachusetts and did roughly the same set. It was great to open for Johnny one more time.
PSF: I'll mention that both "Black and Blue" and "Are You Living" are on the Jerry Nolan Band Live at Great Gildersleeves 1983 CD that recently came out on Retro. Now that you've played rhythm guitar, you've now officially played all of the instruments for The Daughters?
SR: (Laughs) I haven't thought about that but yeah, I have to mention that to Jerry, I've played every position now.
PSF: I mean... really, you don't even need the other guys at this point.
SR: Well, not in the studio that's for sure. Dead weight, they are holding me back!
PSF: So what do you want to promote these days? What's going on musically with you?
SR: Well, hopefully we got some good film those nights, The Daughters set, we'll probably put some of the footage on YouTube or something. I will be nice just to document the evening. We don't have any real big ambitions as The Daughters per se. We'd love to hear from people overseas that are into Johnny... But I don't think we will go into the studio and do any Daughters recordings or anything.
PSF: So what else is going on these days? I mean for Simon, you mentioned that you've got a country rock vibe going these days. I've seen pictures of you online with the big old cowboy hat.
SR: You know, yeah. It's something I've been doing for a long time, I've got a great partner, Kelly Knapp, and her and I have been singing together acoustically. We started out just the two of us playing acoustic guitar and playing real informal.
PSF: As what, what did you call yourselves?
SR: Just Simon Ritt and Kelly Knapp at first and we did it for the first few years, I was still playing hard rock with Joe and this was then the early 90's, Joe and I went over, we weren't called the Powders anymore, but we went over to England a couple of times and I was bashing hard rock drums. But I've always, always loved acoustic guitar...
PSF: When you went to England and played hard rock, what group were you with?
SR: The Daughters sort of morphed into Two Saints at this point. It was Two Saints, which was me and Joe and by this time, a third drummer. As Two Saints, we recorded the single "Are you Living." There was one of Joe's songs called "King of New York City" which is, you might guess was also very Johnny-influenced. We did that for a while, and then Joe and I kind of drifted apart for a few years in the late '80's. I was playing in other hard rock bands here in Boston and he was still keeping the Two Saints going. In the early '90's, we hooked up again and I played with him on and off for a few years, just on drums and they recorded a couple of albums for Shakin' Street in the UK, not with me in the band. Around that time, they put out a single for Sympathy For the Record Industry, that great 45 company.
PSF: Yeah they put out all kinds of stuff.
SR: So, James always kind of kept busy musically and we went over a couple of times for these guys. It was really just a one or two man record company but the Shakin' Street people brought us over to tour a couple of times, very low budget, all of us in a van. So we went and did a couple of little two week tours in clubs, the kinds of places we would play here in the States.
PSF: Okay, as Two Saints?
SR: As Two Saints, yeah.
PSF: Okay, so you continued to play through the '90's and does that relationship continue to this day? Do you guys play together?
SR: No, we haven't really played together very much since then although we stay in touch. Our recent show as The Daughters was the first time Joe and I had played except for once or twice here at a party or at a barbeque or something. It's the first time we've done something on stage together for quite a while. It was the first time we had played with Bill Doherty, our original bass player since 1981.
PSF: Are there plans to play together in the future? Have you talked about it or are you just going to let it happen as it happens?
SR: I have to admit, there's nothing quite like playing a set of Johnny Thunders songs, I mean I love writing my own stuff, I love doing the country music thing... but I did not mind at all those two recent shows, playing nothing but Johnny songs and a couple of our own songs from that time. Did not mind. Not at all.
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