BBQ Nation - Metro Detroit, Michigan



DETROIT - Holy Super Rock Manna from Heaven it's the glorious Fleshtones on the big screen. There is a great chance you never heard of them but they are one of the great sounds to come out of New York in 1976. The Fleshtones first blasted on the CBGB's stage at a time when Punk Rock was the preferred sound. These guys had a handle on garage rock and blending in the sounds of R&B, '60s dance-rock, and good ol rock and roll. This is the definitive story about this legendary band from all the original members. It is a treasure I assure you.

Lead singer Peter Zaremba has always been an electrical power battery and delivers sonic soul shocking performance. The Fleshtones have always had an uncompromising sound and have stuck to their rock-solid principles of showmanship. The film clocks in a little over an hour but there isn't a second wasted on fluff. This film is directed by Geoffray Barbier, ( Smoking Non Smoking, Early Light). It is full of intensity and filled with plenty of black and white archival footage. This movie is a long time coming and it follows the history of the band from its early days in Queens, New York to present-day status. The Fleshtones never gave us a carbon copy of the '60s but has instead incorporated all of its best elements into a new super-charged version for the masses. They have stuck to this winning formula since the beginning and have never let up. They never had a single inactive year, they never broke up, and have not got the recognition they deserved. But they have gotten what they wanted out of life and truly enjoy the thing that they do. The Fleshtones audience can sense that and they have been very loyal.

Dick Manitoba from the Dictators introduces the Fleshtones to a rock hungry audience. This is his tiny bar and it is crammed elbow to elbow with dedicated fans who truly love the band. You can feel that electricity in the air and this is authentic and not faked. Even though the band has gotten much love from their audience fame has eluded them. Right from the beginning, there was a division between the New York CBGB's scene and this retro-styled rock. Bands like Television, Talking Heads, Ramones, and Blondie had already drawn a line in the sand and their audience moved with them. The Fleshtones never did capture that part of the audience and was even left out of some historical rock books like, "Please Kill Me". Singer Peter Zaremba points this out when he shows us a shower curtain made up of prints CBGB's newspaper advertisements. You can see that Fleshtones were on the same bill as the Ramones. Yet, the rocking band from Queens was never given the attention or praise that they deserved.

The best thing about the band is that they always came off real and there are very sincere. They breakdown the wall between the band and the audience. There are no breaks, there are no long-winded drum solos, they are full-on intensity. Bassist Marek Pakulski talks about finding the old Japanese guitars in the basement of a rented house. The band was forming and making a tremendous amount of noise in 1975 as bands like the Ramones who were already making quite a stir. The band started not in a garage but ina basement. Guitarist Keith Streng explains this party scene that erupted out of the cellar and it attracted a lot of people. This crowd was gathering daily.

Taking the band to the club was the next move. They did not do well with the Bowery CBGB crowd and were pretty much snubbed. This led them to play at Max's Kansas City where they played alongside The Mumps and there was more of an open mindset there. The band noticed that the rock and roll audience didn't dance so this became somewhat of an obsession to find a joint that allows movement. This leads the Fleshtones to land gigs at Hurrahs and the audience participation made this more of a party scene and that image stayed. They were looking to blend the street rock in with the energy that was happening in the New York dance scene. Lead singer Zaremba had great control over the audience and was excellent as a frontman. He was hypnotic and demanded participation from the crowd. He could control the crowd and had flamboyant attire and bashed a tambourine. He had wild swoop of hair combed over on one side of his head that hung low and he would whip it around like a frenzied animal. That look stayed throughout the band's history.

The Fleshtones were on IRS Records form 1980 to 1985 and had become a presence on MTV. Peter Zaremba hosted a show called, "IRS Cutting Edge" which featured an insightful look at pop culture and movers and shakers in the music scene. That show was delivered in magazine format and would pick a town and showcase what was cool and happening in that town. It was very inspiring and artistically sound. The Fleshtones seemed to be on top of the world now with real management and lawyers. They toured to England but bombed-out with that crowd. The did have a better run of things in Paris where they were considered to be real rock stars and they were treated very well. The Fleshtones were included in Tom Hanks's first movie, "Bachelor Party" with the song, "American Beat 84" and it kicks off the film. In 1987 Zaremba even did a side project called, "The Love Delegation" with a kicked up horn section and more flashy super rock style tunes. The most notable song on that release was, "I'm Gonna Knock You Out".

Where Are The Fleshtones Today?
The Cutting Edge program went off the air in September 1987 and on that last show Peter Zaremba asks very honestly, "What are you going to watch now?". It turned out to be a very good question and the show should have lasted and gone on because of its original format. It was so uplifting and enthusiastic. The band was between labels and started to do everything on their own from touring to selling their merchandise out of the trunk of a car. There is no manager just booking agents and venues so the band calls all of their shots. The band goes on tour but they might play three shows in a town and then go back home. They do not stay on the road and play multiple cities. They are not always a hit with the crowd and that is the price you have to pay for being real and uncompromising. Once they played Detroit where all of this great garage sound came from and the response from the crowd was dismal. They had been booked at Harpos and that is Heavy Metal venue and no people showed up. They carried on in front of the staff and one patron who later walked up to the stage and flicked off the band. The band didn't let it bother them because they have a real zeal for the life they live. They moved on.

These are not your typical rock stars. They live day by day and on a serious budget which they are always cutting to keep the band alive. This means living on thin means and taking joy in the simpler things in life like finding cheap Polish jelly donuts and coffee for under a buck. They took their buyout money and blew it on a rib joint. They stayed at friends' houses while on the road and have found the occasional odd housemate or two with a barnyard pig. There is no happy filter over this documentary to build-up anyone's expectations. This is real unfiltered truth and shows you the ups and the downs of success in an artist's life. That is what makes this film such a gem. When the band finds its element and the right audience there is no stopping them. Their audience does love them and the struggle might be with cutting through all of the audio noise and styles that we have been subjected to over the last two decades. Keeping the feel-good retro sound alive has been the result of hard work and serious dedication.

Eventually, the Fleshtones did get signed to a label with Yep Roc Records. This record company is owned by a dedicated fan who saw their talent and made a promise to them. That promise was if he ever started a record label he would sign them. This is one insightful hour of a documentary and maybe if it was longer it would take away something from the legend and story. This thing is that this garage band has the tenacity to stick it out and loves to play rock and roll their way. The band admits there is no reason to quit playing because they love what they do and they have a strong European fan base. The story is just getting better and better and has no end in sight. They are very true to themselves and that is what they are committed to. And that is something that you cannot manufacture or fake.






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