Happy Fourth of July, everyone! I’m observing the holiday with a tribute to one of the great unsung American bands. The Fleshtones were formed in 1976 in Whitestone, New York. In spite of various record company collapses, lineup changes, and a record-buying public generally ignorant of their rock prowess, the band soldiers on to this day. While not all of their impressive oeuvre is in print, it’s always worth tracking down. (1983’s Hexbreaker! is a must, and the Speed Connection II live album is necessary for “Kingsmen-Like Medley” alone. Some feel that 1991’s brilliant Powerstance!, produced by Dave Faulkner, sounds too much like a Hoodoo Gurus record. I say, what’s wrong with that?) I’m looking forward to their “I Surrender” single, set for a Yep Roc release later this month.
The Fleshtones have been linchpins of my musical life for many years. When I was an eight-year-old MTV viewer, I loved watching I.R.S.’s The Cutting Edge, a magazine-style show hosted by Fleshtones lead singer Peter Zaremba. I discovered most of the band’s vinyl releases at used record stores when I was in high school, and blasted garage classics like 1982’s Roman Gods whenever I needed a break from studying. I tracked down the Blast Off! cassette right before I started college, and played it constantly. (Unfortunately for my dormmate and friend Judy, that album had a harmonica-driven raveup called “Judy.” She was surprisingly tolerant when I used to greet her by singing “Ju-DAYYYY, that’s her name!” in my best Peter Zaremba voice. I think she’s forgiven me by now. Maybe.)
I feared that I would never get to see the Fleshtones play live. My fortunes changed for the better in November 2013, when the band performed at the now-shuttered Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco. Though I had never met Peter Zaremba, he started chatting with me before the show like we were old buddies. (I was touched by his kindness, as I was a little star-struck and nervous.) Keith Streng (responsible for many of the band’s song arrangements) wielded a silver guitar and wore incredibly cool-looking silver Beatle boots to match. The Fleshtones blazed through an incendiary set that would tax the stamina of most guys half their age. Definitely see them if you have the chance!
Ah, but you want a song first, right? For Independence Day, I had to go with “American Beat,” an early Fleshtones classic. There are actually two versions of “American Beat.” The more famous one is a re-recording from 1984, used in the dreadful Tom Hanks/Adrian Zmed vehicle Bachelor Party. (I’ve tried to watch the movie long enough to hear the song, but I have to change the channel after five minutes.) I prefer the 1978 version from the Red Star Records vaults, which appears on Blast Off! and several other later re-releases. (Fun fact: drummer Lenny Calderone Jr. is the son of the guy who drummed on Napoleon XIV’s “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” Somehow, it makes sense.)
Never lose that, lose that beat, America: