Published on October 16th, 2014 | by Robert Barry Francos0
Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones
Both a good music recommendation and a book review, Robert Barry Francos looks at Joe Bonomo’s book about The Fleshtones, the classic American garage band.
During a visit to Upstate New York, Buffalo Musician Hall of Fame inductee Bernie Kugel brought me to the local big box bock store, and pointed out SWEAT: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band by Joe Bonomo. The main reason he did this is because I am listed in the bibliography due to an interview I did with the band in 1977 (one of their first), and published in my fanzine, FFanzeen), in 1978. A couple of months later, I bought a copy of the book.
The Fleshtones certainly do deserve a tome dedicated to them, and Joe gives detail after detail about their background, lifestyle, formation, recording, and friends (including a rightful heavy nod to Norton Records co-founder Miriam Linna, who was more involved with the New York scene than she is given credit for). Interviews with everyone involved, including record producers and label executives, are extensive and pretty thorough, and also often pretty amusing in hindsight, such as Paul Wexler’s vexation with the Up-Front sessions (perhaps they should be referred to in the future as the Up-Tight sessions?).
But it’s The Fleshtones contribution to blue-eyed R&B that is the main focus of SWEAT, and as well it should be. The true sweat is the audience as they jump around to some of the liveliest music that came out of the 70s New York scene. The fact that the band is still around today shows that they are a well-honed music machine.
One of the central characters in the first half of the book is their house in Whitestone, Queens. I remember being at one of their infamous parties, held Halloween 1977. The first performance of The Zantees (who would eventually transform into The A-Bones) was held in their basement. It was a wild scene — though not as scary as a late-night forage to a local White Castle that same eve — with enjoyment watching the imbibing aplenty; I was pretty straight-edge already, though. The reason I bring this up is because as I’d met The Fleshtones in the, er, flesh, so I can attest to how lively a crew they were. They also attracted a large number of interesting people into their circle, many whom I have associated with, such as filmmaker M. Henry Jones and out-there fanzine editor Lisa Baumgartener (who, like Andy Warhol, was known to record every conversation she had, whether on the phone or in person).
There are some typos that run throughout the book, and some clear omissions, such as relating how the band shared a bill with Nervus Rex (erroneously spelled Nervous Rex in SWEAT) without mentioning that their drummer was Miriam, although Joe does mention her drumming affiliation with The Cramps and Zantees. Despite this, the detail of the book is definitely a labour of love and it clearly shows.
As the book often points out, The Fleshtones were on the forefront of the New York garage scene that would take off just a few short years after their formation, showing them to be ahead of their time. The Fleshtones contributed much, and so does Bonomo with this book.
Photo credits (below): Robert Barry Francos