The Misfits- a career overview of the classic punk cult band

The Misfits have become one of the punk classics.With their influential horror punk ever growing in importance and their artwork which is everywhere becoming iconic. Little known in the punk era itself they have become highly influential. Their career is difficult to follow with multiple line up changes and a haphazard discography, Simon Collier attempts to make sense of their beautiful madness…

With thrashy Ramones block-style guitar overlaid by founding member Glenn Danzig’s “Evil Elvis meets Jim Morrison” vocals- a close cousin to the Damned’s Dave Vanian The Misfits have become the ultimate cult band of punk. They took their name from the Marilyn Monroe film of the same name. This band was initially much over-looked, especially here in the UK. Despite discussing coming to support the Damned in the UK after opening for them in New York, the agreement itself was a misunderstanding between Dave Vanian and the band so they only stayed for two shows before leaving the tour. During their fleeting visit vocalist Danzig got himself arrested for fighting with skinheads and was briefly jailed, an experience which was to inspire one of their finest tunes ”˜London Dungeon’.

”˜London Dungeon’

The original incarnation of the band formed in Lodi, New Jersey when vocalist Glenn Danzig teamed up with Manny Martinez – Drummer, Jimmy Battle ”“Guitar and Dianne DiPiazza ”“ bass. At this point Danzig was hitting the keys on electric piano as well as vocal duties, but this was the first of many unstable line-ups and lasted less than a couple of months with the bassist and guitarist leaving before they even got out of the rehearsal room.

Next up was Jerry Caiafa, a friend of the drummer , soon to be renamed Jerry Only who, as punk legend would have it, had recently received a bass guitar for Christmas so he duly qualified. With this 3 piece line-up the band recorded their first single, the lo-fi Doors-esque ”˜Cough/Cool’ which was recorded without a guitarist. They put the single out on their own Blank Records label and debuted live at the legendary early home of US punk, CBGB’s.

Following the release of the single the band then recruited Franché Coma on guitar, real name Frank Licata. The inclusion of a guitarist allowed Danzig to discard the piano and concentrate solely on vocals, further developing the classic Misfits punk sound. Continuing the conveyor belt of band member changes, Franché was sacked and replaced by ”˜Mr Jim’ Catania at the end of ”˜77.

In early ”˜78 the band hit the studio following a barter deal with Mercury Records that saw Danzig trade the Blank Records name for some studio time. This resulted in the songs for their intended debut full length album ”˜Static Age’ but the band couldn’t find any label prepared to release it so they set up another independent label ”“ Plan 9 – on which they released four of the songs as the ”˜Bullet’ single/ep.

The label name was inspired by the ”˜50’s Sci-Fi film ”˜Plan 9 from Out of Space’ giving a nod to their Sci-Fi & horror influences. The ‘Bullet’ single had a further three flagship songs on it including ”˜Hollywood Babylon’, ”˜We are 138′ and the very aptly name ”˜Attitude’. The actual ”˜Static Age’ album eventually saw a release in its original intended form in the ”˜90’s.

”˜We Bite’

During late ”˜78/’79 the Misfits fan base was growing. Their fans became known as ”˜Fiends’ and their fan club was aptly titled the ”˜Fiend Club’. The Goth horror / Sci-Fi influences in Danzig’s lyrics and image developed into being the trademark of the band that survives until today. The dark eye make-up and devil lock hair was becoming ever more apparent- a look that inspired and continues to inspire.

above:fine example of the devillock

The line-up changed again with the introduction of Bobby Steel on guitar and Joey Poole aka Joey Image on the drums. This line-up was responsible for the ”˜Horror Business’ ep which had the now famous and iconic Skull / Fiend logo, inspired by the 1940’s film ”˜Crimson Ghost’, that adorns millions of T-shirts worldwide. The band maintained their DIY independent stance, printing their own shirts, making their own record sleeves, running their own fan club, which entitled members to free goodies, all of which are now highly collectable amongst the legions of Misfits fans.

The ep itslef, besides the title track, contained another enduring Misfits classic , ”˜Teenagers From Mars’ alongside ”˜Children in Heat’. To follow was the ”˜Night of The Living Dead’ which also had more unforgettable songs – ”˜Where Eagles Dare’ & ”˜Ratfink’. This was the period of the ill-fated UK trip to support the Damned. Ill-fated for both them and the UK punk rock public who missed out on one of the all time classic punk band’s live performances.

”˜Skulls’

1980 saw the release of the ”˜Beware’ ep and the introduction of another new drummer, Joseph McGuckin, aka Arthur Googey / Goog and, in a classic case of nepotism, Jerry Only brought in his young brother, Paul Caiaf, aka Doyle, later known as Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein. Steele was ejected but went on to form The Undead, producing some excellent punk records and, alongside the Misfits, proving highly influential on the embryonic NYC hardcore scene.

The band recorded more songs for an intended album, releasing another three track ep ”˜3 Hits From Hell’ which was released in the spring of ’81 with a subsequent two track single ”˜Halloween’ in the autumn ahead of the album ”˜Walk Amongst Us.’ Despite their initial intentions to self release on their own Plan 9 label the album was released through Ruby/Slash records in ”˜82 making it their first and only full length album released whilst the band were still active during the first span of their incarnation prior to the initial split in ”˜83.

A much more recent version of these sessions exist,s named ’12 Hits From Hell’, which was intended to be released by Caroline Records but was stopped by Danzig and Only. I am fortunate to own a copy which I assume is a bootleg and for me is one of the best sonic sounding recordings from this period, having been mixed at a much later date.

”˜Halloween / Bullets’

As volatile as ever Danzig kicked Arthur Googy ”˜Goog’ out of the band replaced him with Black Flag‘s former drummer Robo on the suggestion of friend Henry Rollins. With this line up of Danzig, Jerry Only, Doyle & Robo the band recorded the very punk / speed metal sounding ‘Earth AD/Wolf’s Blood’ which was released shortly after the band split on their Halloween show in October ”˜83 but not before Robo left to be replaced by Brian Damage of hardcore punk bands Verbal Abuse & Genocide .

The final single from the period was the excellent ”˜Die Die My Darling’ which initially came out on the bands Plan 9 label but was then later released through Caroline Records.

What was to follow was Danzig’s new metal punk band Samhain, followed by his very successful solo hard rock career on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label which served to fuel further interest in the Misfits’ legacy. This has undoubtedly been helped along by the likes of Metallica and Gun’s & Roses covering some classic Misfits songs. Several releases hit the market, including ”˜Legacy Of Brutality’ and ”˜Evillive’ which had been a Fiend Club only release back in ”˜82, alongside various other compilations of the bands recordings. It’s worth checking the track listings on these releases as they do duplicate. After a protracted battle over copyright, all songs from the period were credited to Danzig, but this was contested by Only and an eventual out of court settlement saw Only relinquishing the rights to songs but securing the rights to use the Misfits name & imagery, paving the way for chapter 2 of the Misfits story.

Danzig ”“ ”˜Mother’

In ”˜96 Jerry Only and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein resurrected the Misfits name- though some purist Misfit fans weren’t happy to acknowledge a new line up with vocalist Michael Emanuel, aka Michael Graves, who, in my opinion, not only did complete justice to their original tunes, but then went on to deliver some of their modern classics on the ”˜American Psycho’ album. This album, produced by Daniel Rey was a crossover of punk with a very full on metal assault and is, for me, one of the best sonically produced punk albums ever made.

In ’96, ahead of the release of the ”˜American Psycho album, the Misfits box set, containing most of the original Misfits back catalogue (with the exception of ”˜Walk Amongst Us’ which was released later) hit the stores. The band maintained their obsession with all things horror & Sci- Fi- with their trademark and very identifiable iconic devil lock hair and dark made up eyes that they developed in their earlier incarnation very much in evidence and setting them apart from their contemporaries.

The line up now also included drummer David Calabrese aka Dr. Chud. The band toured North America Europe and UK giving these shores a taste of their full-on assault punk rock horror show before Graves took time out and vocal duties were covered by Myke Hideous for the live work. The line up, including Graves, released just one more album ”˜Famous Monsters’ which came out on Roadrunner Records, much improving the spread and accessibility of their music in stores worldwide before Michael Graves left to pursue solo projects.

There is also a compilation of demo’s from the Graves period ”˜Cut’s From the Crypt’ available on Roadrunner with some very worthy alternative versions.

”˜American Psycho’

”˜Scream’

”˜Shining’ / ”˜Don’t Open ”˜Till Domesday’

The ever tumultuous story of the Misfits thankfully doesn’t end there. Jerry Only took over vocal duties and has carried on the Misfits legacy of full on horror punk with various notable members such as Black Flag’s guitarist Dez Cadena and Ramones drummer Marky Ramone- a line-up that released an album of classic rock ”˜n’ roll covers entitled ”˜Project 1950′ featuring Blondie’s Jimmy Destri on the keys and Ronnie Spector, one time wife of producer Phil Spector and singer with the Ronnettes.

Also on the album from the Springsteen & Bob Seger bands, dropping sax into the proceedings was Ed Mannion. There was also a single release of ”˜Monster Mash’ on glowing vinyl for me was a step too far on the horror punk theme but that’s a personal opinion. It’s one of the few Misfits releases I don’t own.

”˜Project 1950′

The line up continues to fluctuate with Jerry Only being the sole consistent member and leader. Robo rejoined, releasing the single ”˜Land of The Dead’ in 2007 on their own Misfits label, before he was dismissed again. The drum stool is currently occupied by Eric ”˜Goat’ Arce. Word is that this line up are currently working on an album titled ”˜The Devil’s Rain’ with Ramones producer Ed Stasium for release in 2011.

The band’s music has been highly influential with many modern bands & the Misfit’s own contemporaries. Besides Metallica & Guns & Roses their songs have been covered by Therapy?, Ataris, , Alkaline Trio, Backyard Babies, Tiger Army, AFI (who also covered their image!), Pennywise, Lemonheads, NOFX, Hatebreed & My Morning Jacket to name a few.

All official releases are well worth owning but there are also literally dozens of bootlegs available, some great and some sonically terrible and best avoided. Proceed with caution and try to grab a listen if possible before purchase. If you haven’t heard anything yet from this iconic band I’d suggest you go find one of the songs from the list below, pin back your ears crank the volume and enjoy.

Simon Collier ”“ Misfits Fan
We Are 138
London Dungeon
Horror Business
Speak Of the Devil
Angelfuck
Die Die My Darling
Hollywood Babylon
Walk Amongst Us
Hell Night
Static Age.

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6 comments on “The Misfits- a career overview of the classic punk cult band”

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  1. First of all, thanks for the read!
    I’m one of the purists, but I did see Misfits (Jerry Only & Friends) way back in 2006 when I was Misfits mad, wearing my Captain Harlock space pirate t-shirt which Danzig famously wears on the Walk Among Us cover. Although the show wasn’t great (basically a mashup of musicians with vague punk credentials making a racket), I met Jerry Only afterwards and he seemed a really friendly guy, signing t-shirts, shoes, and whatever else was thrown at him, pausing to chat to each and every fan. So although I don’t like the post-Danzig tunes so much, I don’t really bear a grudge. And I m currently finding the ‘Henry & Glenn Forever’ comics pretty amusing, much to Danzig’s displeasure I’m sure!

    • We can dream of an ultimate re-union with Doyle & Danzig having dropped a few Misfits tunes live in recent history though Doyle is quoted as saying it won’t happen because Jerry stuck a spanner in the works. I only met Jerry one time when I was out with Dog Toffee & he was a really cool communicative bloke who seemed to still love what he was doing. Marky let on briefly & did a runner!!!

  2. *”Walk Among us” is an album.

  3. The new Devil’s Rain album is out now.I haven’t got it but it has a killer cover design worthy of the Misfits name.

  4. How about an appraisal of Samhain who were perhaps even more neglected than Danzig’s first band. Incidentally, Eerie Von (Samhain/Danzig) released a great book a couple of years ago that collects a lot of unseen Misfits/Samhain/Danzig photos and its excellent.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Misery-Obscura-Photography-Eerie-1981-2006/dp/1595822658/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332247762&sr=1-1

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