Rocket From The Tombs are going strong… and they would like to emphasize – they are not, I repeat, NOT a punk band. They were before all that. A precursor to the punk movement, simply assembling to make rock better than their Cleveland counterparts of the mid-70’s.
RFTT is a road paved with “what if”s. Many feel if the band had continued and their then unreleased “The Day The Earth Met Rocket From the Tombs” album had been more than a series of bootlegs, it would have catapulted next to the likes of Patti Smith, MC5, The Stooges, and Velvet Underground in terms of influence and resonance.
Flash back to the 70’s. RFTT vocalist David Thomas had become a bit of a local celebrity, writing for Cleveland’s Scene Magazine. He performed and wrote under the alter ego, Crocus Behemoth. The band began mostly as a cover band, with their first show in June of 1974 playing most of MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” album.
Their true genesis started when David Thomas met guitarist Peter Laughner at a folk club. With the addition of Laughner, the band’s focus was intensified, and doubts about direction began to be quelled for the time being.
In the early days, members came and went in revolving door fashion. The “classic” lineup that eventually stuck and led the band in a more forward direction consisted of Thomas, Laughner, Craig Bell, Gene O’Connor, and Johnny Madansky. This lineup only stuck together for 8 months, played less than a dozen shows, and tried for one last coagulation to mend their incompatibility in the summer of 1975 on a retreat to the Thomas family farm in Pennsylvania. Plagued with creative differences and an incompatible dynamic, the inevitable could not be undone, and the band broke apart in August of 1975.
The ripples of their impact on music didn’t stop there though. Members carried on their jams, and broke off in different directions.
David Thomas and Peter Laughner went on to form Pere Ubu (Laughner tragically passed away in 1977 due to complications with substance abuse). Pere Ubu released their own versions of “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”, “Final Solution”, and “Life Stinks”. Gene O’Connor (aka Cheetah Chrome) and Johnny Madansky (aka Johnny Blitz) formed the Dead Boys, and Craig Bell moved to Connecticut and started Saucers. The Dead Boys released “Sonic Reducer”, “Ain’t It Fun”, “What Love Is”, “Down In Flames”, and “I’m Never Gonna Kill Myself Again” (re-titled with that added lyric, “Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth”) in the late 70’s.聽
David Thomas also has amassed a large collection of solo work.
“Ain’t It Fun” has been covered by Guns N’ Roses, while “Sonic Reducer” is widely revered as a punk classic – having been covered by Pearl Jam, Guns N’ Roses, and Overkill.
In 2002, the gritty-sounding demos and live versions of RFTT songs were assembled and finally released on “The Day The Earth Met Rocket From The Tombs” through Smog Veil Records. The album was highly anticipated and well-received, which prompted a Rocket From The Tombs reunion.
The band played their first ever tour spanning the US and parts of Canada in the summer and winter of 2003.
RFTT properly recorded and released the renowned original material on 2003’s album, “Rocket Redux”, which was originally intended to just be concert merchandise.
Television’s Richard Lloyd occupied Peter Laughner’s vacancy, while Pere Uru drummer Steve Mehlman filled in for Johnny Madansky.
Aiming to write new material, and not be a tribute band, Rocket released a record of new songs on “Barfly” in 2011.
Most recently, RFTT released “Black Record” on November 13th of this year. The record features vocal, tambourine, and other contributions from fellow Cleveland band This Moment In Black History. “I wanted to feel a rival group’s eyes on us as we worked,” Thomas has said.
In addition to the new music, RFTT added some popular new items to their merch table, including a black on black t-shirt, and a silver vinyl of their latest LP release.
Despite a cold and snowy Wednesday night, a good-sized crowd turned up to support the 9 PM start.
First to the stage were fellow Clevelanders, Obnox. Consisting of Roseanna Safos on drums and Lamont “Bim” Thomas on guitar and vocals, Obnox brought solid punk rock, with a bit of a Saul Williams feel. Bim is also a member of This Moment In Black History.
Drummer Rosie brought the power, undoubtedly being one of the most hard-hitting drummers I’ve ever seen, with high-octane decibels emitting from her drum kit in seemingly effortless fashion. Bim Thomas has been releasing solo material under the Obnox name since 2011. Most recently, Obnox released the acclaimed “Boogalou Reed”, as well as “Wiglet”. Even while churning out 3 LPs in 2015, the quantity of songs is certainly not a diminishment to quality by any means. With cleverly bold titled jams in his arsenal such as “Too Punk Shakur” and “Bitch! Get Money!”, Obnox filled the room with garage punk sound and attitude to boot. Obnox ended out the night with a spirited cover of Andre Williams’ “The Only Black Man In South Dakota”.
After a quick set up, Rocket From The Tombs took to the stage at around 10 PM. Frontman David Thomas was accompanied by original member Craig Bell on bass, Steve Mehlman on drums, Buddy Akita and Gary Siperko on guitars.
David Thomas looked every bit rockstar class, dressed in black with red suspenders, sipping red wine throughout. Now 62, Thomas would occasionally sit and jam out in a black chair -moving and swaying, feeling every note of music. He even donned a pair of sharp black Ray Bans during a vocal led by Craig Bell. Rocket laid down a set packed with clever narrative delivered through no nonsense rock. The expansive setlist included classic songs dating from their 1970’s days like “Amphetamine” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”, to several tracks from their newest “Black Record” release. Thomas prefaced “Nugefinger” as it being a nod to his hero, Ted Nugent, “back when he was cool and riding a wave in the 70’s”.
Knowledgeable fans were singing along, and nodding their heads to the beat all the while.
Rocket From The Tombs left no doubt that they are still at the top of their game when it comes to what they do best – rock. And rock hard.
With an ever-upward trajectory, and a more extensive tour on the horizon for 2016, it appears this classic band will be rocking for a long time to come!
Words and photos by: Tiffany Cuthrell