“Rock’n’roll’s not about perfection, man. Rock’n’roll is about flaws.” - Kevin Steele
First of all, the thing to remember here is that nostalgia is fucking you all up. Your warm and fuzzy memories about being young and good-looking are mixed-up with whatever awful bullshit you were listening to on the cassette deck in your car at the time. It’s true, man. If you didn’t make out with your high school girl/boyfriend for the first time while that Firehouse record was playing, YOU WOULD NEVER LISTEN TO THEM AGAIN. Because they were terrible. Even Autograph was better than Firehouse. This isn’t even about Firehouse, but you get my drift. I’m trying to be realistic about all this.
So here’s the thing. Some bands were objectively cooler than other bands. I mean, no contest. Dogs D’Amour were fucking cool, man. All those raggedy scarves, Lesley-Anne Downe references, rampant alcoholism and Stones riffs, just untouchably hip dudes. Clearly, they were cooler than Mr. Big, even if they were both aiming for the cover of the same glossy magazines.
And now, decades after the dust has settled, the Dogs records still sound great. I’m not vouching for Tyla’s stuff after he got sober, but the liver-damage days still sound incredible. And Mr Big sounds like that night in 1989 when you puked on Mary Lineberry’s shoes at the prom. Cool prevails through the years. The Sonics have been cool since 1964, for Chrissakes. Nobody listens to Dirty Robber for the first time in twenty years (or thirty, or fifty) and goes “Jesus, what was I thinking?”
And so it is with flash metal. The bands that escaped the backlash are the ones that would’ve been cool and vital no matter when they emerged. Generally speaking, these bands were either in the biker-sleaze camp or the sleaze-glam camp. Hanoi Rocks, Smack, GN’R (who were essentially invented by Smack and Hanoi), Zodiac Mindwarp, The Cult, Circus of Power, Dogs D’Amour, Sea Hags, Warrior Soul, Gunfire Dance, Rogue Male, The Hangmen, Four Horsemen, Throbs, Babysitters, Crybabys, Joneses, Glorious Bankrobbers, pre-vampire 69 Eyes, Blackboard Jungle, Rock City Angels, Sweet Pain, Motorcycle Boy, Quireboys, Soho Roses, a few others.
And then there were a few bands right on the cusp. Bands that were almost cool. Little Caesar, for example. Junkyard. Kill for Thrills. And today’s subject. No one wanted to be in with the cool kids more than Roxx Gang. They are still trying to convince us of how hip they were, even now. So that’s what were going to decide this week. Whether Roxx Gang deserve to crawl on bloody knees out of the flash metal gutter and join their leather-bound brethren in the pantheon of cool. I’m pulling for them, quite frankly.
Singer Kevin Steele and guitarist Eric Carrell formed Roxx Gang in St Petersburg, Florida, in 1982. Those were still the pre-metal days in the US, and Florida was basically a foreign country when it came to rock’n’roll. At that point, the only people willing to admit they were from Florida were Tom Petty and southern rock bands like Skynyrd, Blackfoot, and 38 Special. Otherwise, Rock City Angels did their time there before limping off to LA and pretending it never happened, and later on, Florida became ground zero for the early American death metal movement.
But that sure the fuck wasn’t helping Roxx Gang any. Cultural pariahs living in a vacuum, Roxx Gang had to be the only band in the state in 1983 with a serious New York Dolls fixation. That’s an important point about this band/gang: Kevin Steele always said they were glam before the rest of the dummies were glam, and that their glam was 70’s glam, even if nobody ever heard of them until the tail-end of 80’s glam. In fact, Kevin Steele and Nikki Sixx were the only dudes from that entire era who would routinely name-check Mott the Hoople as core influences. I personally can’t sit through a whole Mott record, but I mean, that’s still pretty hep.
In 1987, Carrell split, leaving Steele to forge ahead with a new line-up. If Roxx Gang has any legacy, it’s Steele’s inability to keep anyone in the band for more than five minutes. Their former member roster is a mile long. But anyway, the dude left right when things were getting interesting. Roxx Gang got signed to Virgin and released their first album, Things You’ve Never Done Before, in the fine year of 1988.
So, yeah. The record. I believe Kevin when he says they were really into punk rock and the Dolls and the blues and had a real sense of history about them, but you can’t really tell any of that on the album. It just sounds like any other ‘88 flash metal record. Mostly like Kiss with a little Cinderella and Whitesnake thrown in. Which mighta been great that year, if we didn’t already have Kiss, Cinderella, and Whitesnake. But here’s the thing about this album. Most of it was on their ‘87 demo Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em. And they were pretty great at that point. Raw, punky, glammy, and really their own thing. The major label studio process shaved off all of Roxx Gang’s edges and spat out a slick, professional product, which is exactly what Steele always said the band was against. But what am I gonna do next, tell you Metallica blew it after No Life Til Leather? The Roxx Gang the world heard was the 1988 version, and that version was… not that cool.
Sorry dudes. Great demo, though.
PS: they’re still together and basically sound more like Cinderella than ever. Which would be fine if Cinderella weren’t still together sounding basically like Cinderella.
Next week: Which Witch is Which?