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Up Close With Rudi Protrudi
Leader Of New York’s The Fuzztones
By Beverly Paterson, The Lance Monthly
(more articles from this author)
2006-11-04
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Coming together in the summer of 1980, the Fuzztones, who were then based in New York, spearheaded the exciting sixties garage rock revival of that decade. Led by Rudi Protrudi, the band rose above the level of imitation of the artists they admired, and along the way gave birth to a style and identity all their own. By no means a nostalgia act, these folks have always possessed a keen and genuine love for the music they play and such devotion burns brightly in their live performances and on record.

Still going strong today, the Fuzztones remain a driving force in the garage rock movement. The band's latest album, Salt for Zombies, proves they're just as vital as ever and ranks among one of their greatest works to date. Hanging tight to the sound and vision that initially propelled them into the limelight, the Fuzztones are indeed a reliable lot. They could care less about trends and have consistently churned out nothing but righteously raw-boned, psychedelic punk sides. Discs like "Lysergic Emanations," "Braindrops," "In Heat" and "Monster A Go Go" are classics of the genre. Snarling vocals, compounded by moody organ fills and rows of seething fuzztone guitars supply the band's songs with a dark and dangerous edge.

Comparisons to the Doors, the Music Machine, the Electric Prunes and Steppenwolf are evident, but as stated, the Fuzztones are unique and have the talent and imagination to make their material fresh and original.

[Beverly Paterson] Looking into your crystal ball, can you see another Fuzztones album coming out in the near future? If so, tell us all about it. Where are you recording the album and does it have a title? How about the songs?

Rudi Protrudi Yeah, there will definitely be another album. We'll record in Germany, probably in Dortmund, where we have access to a studio with a lot of vintage equipment and a live room sound. We'll have some special guests too, like we did on "Braindrops" and "Salt For Zombies," but I can't reveal who they will be just yet. Lana and I are already writing some new songs, and I may also collaborate with some old writing buddies as well as with members of some other bands I dig. We do have a title for the album, but I can't divulge what it is. Every time I even think of a title, someone else ends up using it before we get to! Anyway, we should probably have the album out sometime next year.

[Beverly Paterson] Speaking of new albums, Illegitimate Spawn is a real winner! That's great the Fuzzotnes have been honored with a tribute album. How did this album come about? Do you have any personal favorite songs on it?

Rudi Protrudi I'm glad you like the record. I'm really proud of it! The band that inspired me to do the album in the first place is an Italian band called Lysergic Love, who named themselves after a Fuzztones bootleg album. They came up to me while we were on tour and gave me a CD of them playing a bunch of our songs. A little later on in the tour, another Italian band, Sextress, gave me a CD of them playing some of our songs. I began wondering just how many bands there might be covering Fuzztones songs, so we posted a request on our website, asking bands to send us tapes of them doing Fuzztones songs. The response was amazing! We got so many submissions that we have enough material for two more double albums.

We've got forty-two bands from all over the world on Illegitimate Spawn. And all the tracks are really good! Most of the bands took it seriously, and rearranged the songs in their style and recorded really high quality versions. It would be impossible to pick my favorite tracks, but a few that stand out are "Just Once" by the late Nikki Sudden, "You Tarzan, Me Jane," a really sassy rebuke to "Me Tarzan, You Jane" by the legendary Jayne County, "Look for the Question Mark" by one of my favorite psych bands, Strange Flowers, and "Ward 81" by Plasticland. Sammi Yaffe, the bassist for the New York Dolls, has a really great side band called Mad Juana, who do a phenomenal version of "Idol Chatter." There's also a kick-ass heavy blues-rock version of "Cheyenne Rider" by the Paranoiacs, who are a really big band in France.

[Beverly Paterson] Some years ago, Way Back Records released Songs We Taught the Fuzztones, which features original versions of tunes the Fuzztones recorded and made popular once again. What are some of the comments you received from the bands on your covers of their songs?

Rudi Protrudi The singer for the Bold, Steve Walker, really loved our version of "Gotta Get Some." Craig Moore of Gonn got on my case about the lyrics of "Blackout of Gretely" being wrong. Question Mark was really complimentary. In fact, for nine years now he's been telling me he plans to record "Action Speaks Louder Than Words." The only other guys I know are Davie Allan, Jim Sohns from the Shadows of Knight and some of the guys from the Litter. I actually don't remember what their reactions were.

[Beverly Paterson] Over the years, you've dug deep in the vaults and pulled out some killer tracks. Very obscure songs from the sixties that would otherwise be forgotten. And your versions of these tunes are just as good, if not better, than the originals!

Rudi Protrudi Thanks! The reason we have recorded so many covers is because I think that really good forgotten songs need to be heard. Like in the sixties, when all the British bands were digging up obscure blues songs and reintroducing them to America. And we always try to add our own interpretation, as opposed to just copying the original note for note. For me, it's important that when people hear our stuff, they recognize immediately they're listening to the Fuzztones.

[Beverly Paterson] You sure have excellent taste in music! You've probably been asked this question a million times before, but what are your top ten favorite albums?

Rudi Protrudi 1. The first Doors album. It was truly groundbreaking when it first came out. Great album to have sex to while on ecstasy! 2. A tie between SF Sorrow and Parachute by the Pretty Things. Two of the best albums to trip to! 3. More Chuck Berry. That was the first Chuck Berry album I ever bought, back when I was twelve years old. It changed my life! 4. The first New York Dolls album. 5. Funhouse by the Stooges. The first example of punk/jazz fusion. 6. Live at the Star Club and Greatest Live Show on Earth by Jerry Lee Lewis. Forget Kick Out the Jams - these are the wildest live LPs ever recorded! Jerry Lee Lewis is the true king of rock and roll! 7. The Rocking Chair by Howlin' Wolf. May be the best blues record of all time, but then again I say that every time I hear certain John Lee and Lightnin' Hopkins records. 8. Almost anything by Julie London. 9. Forever Changes by Love. 10. Piper At The Gates Of Dawn by Pink Floyd. Another great record to trip to!

[Beverly Paterson] Aside from The Fuzztones, you have also fronted The Jaymen, an instrumental combo. Are there any plans to release a new Jaymen album soon?

Rudi Protrudi Yeah, there is! 2006 marks Link Protrudi and The Jaymen's twenty-year anniversary. Beyond Your Mind Records will be releasing a two track anthology of the best tracks from all of our albums—six albums in all—sometime before the new year. I'm working on the booklet right now, and it will probably be about fifteen pages or more. The album will include some tracks that were never released commercially, as well. Then I plan to put a new line up of The Jaymen together and do a European tour. There are talks of a package tour with The Electric Prunes and Question Mark and The Mysterians.

[Beverly Paterson] We all know you're a big supporter of Vox instruments. Vox rocks!

Rudi Protrudi Real men play Vox!

[Beverly Paterson] Was your first guitar a Vox?

Rudi Protrudi I wish! When I was twelve, I started playing guitar. I had a Silvertone acoustic. My folks let me take lessons at the music store, and the store specialized in Vox gear. They had a display of Vox Phantom guitars hanging on the wall—in all different colors! They looked so cool, shaped like coffins. I fell in love with them and bugged my parents to buy me one. They never did. Vox went out of style soon after that.

When I moved to New York City in 1977, I spotted a Phantom in a guitar shop, but couldn't afford it, even though it was only seventy-five dollars. I tried my hardest to talk the salesman down, but to no avail. I somehow got the bread together to buy it a few days later, and it was already sold. I was really heartbroken, as I hadn't seen one in years and figured I probably never would see one ever again.

At the time I had my band Tina Peel going, and the Phantom inspired me to draw a Rat Fink playing a Phantom, and I had made that into our tee shirt. I was wearing a shirt one day and ran into a fan, who was really gung ho over Tina Peel. He knew absolutely nothing about guitars, so I have no idea why I told him that if he ever sees a guitar like this (pointing to the drawing), to please buy it and I would pay him for it. Well, a week later we were playing The Ritz and it was my birthday. I walked backstage and there he is, waiting for me and he's got a teardrop shaped guitar case with him. He goes, "Happy Birthday!" I open the case and it's a Phantom, in mint condition. He just happened to have a friend who had one that he never played, collecting dust in the attic!

[Beverly Paterson] How did you go about learning how to play the guitar?

Rudi Protrudi Well, as I said, I took lessons for a few months. Just learning chords. I really started learning when I became obsessed with Chuck Berry. I still believe that Chuck was once the greatest guitarist of all time. But that was a long time ago. Ha! Somewhere along the way, he forgot how to play. I used to run home from school and lock myself in my room and just play to Chuck Berry albums that I bought with the money I earned from mowing lawns. Then when I got into bands in the sixties, I'd play with other guitarists and we'd show each other stuff.

[Beverly Paterson] What other instruments do you play?

Rudi Protrudi I play blues harp, keyboards and a little bit of drums. I played all the keyboards on "Braindrops" and on the Link Protrudi stuff, as well as on my own solo stuff.

[Beverly Paterson] Do you enjoy listening to your own music for pleasure?

Rudi Protrudi Sometimes. With the Fuzztones, I like to listen to an album once on LSD just to see if it works. Then I usually put it away and don't listen to it for a long time. Then maybe a year later, I'll listen to it again and by then I seem to really get into it from a less biased listener perspective.

[Beverly Paterson] What are some of your favorite songs and albums?

Rudi Protrudi You mean of my own? Well, my favorite Fuzztones songs that I wrote are "Ward 81," which I wrote about a mental institution Deb and I used to play at in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I like different songs for different reasons. "Heathen Set," "9 Months Later" and "Bad News Travels Fast" feel like anthems to me. I have a soft spot for "Action Speaks Louder Than Words" and "In Heat," as they seemed to help me convey my need for female companionship better than say a tired pick up line.

I wrote some fairly clever lyrics on "Johnson in a Headlock" and "Blood From A Stone." Mad Mike, the drummer of the "In Heat" and "Braindrops" line ups, was a great songwriter. He wrote "Blackout" about our frightening cross-country trip from New York City to Los Angeles. We wrote "Third Times The Charm," "Romilar D" and "All the King's Horses" together.

[Beverly Paterson] Besides being a great singer, songwriter and musician, you're also a fantastic artist.

Rudi Protrudi Thanks again!

[Beverly Paterson] Your cartoons have graced many cool album covers. How did you get into drawing and what were your earliest influences?

Rudi Protrudi My parents were both artists. My mom gave me a pencil when I was two years old and I've been drawing ever since. I was wild about dinosaurs when I was a kid and drew them all over everything! When I took a test in school, if the answers were "yes" and "no" I would circle the answer with a dinosaur. By the time I was around ten, I became obsessed with monsters and then drew them all the time. By the age of twelve, Ed Roth hot rod monster models were the rage and I bought every single one. I started inventing my own monsters, which were inspired by Rat Fink and other assorted finks.

[Beverly Paterson] Do you spend as much time on your art as you do your music?

Rudi Protrudi Yeah, pretty much! I do a lot of my drawing subconsciously. I can't have a phone conversation without drawing on something. When I do that, I'm not even thinking about what I'm drawing, and those drawings can be pretty frightening. I don't know where they come from. They're in a totally different style than the stuff I've done for album covers. I used a lot of my subconscious drawings in "Tales of the Flypt," the book that Mad Mike [and] I put out. We used a few as backgrounds on our webpage too.

[Beverly Paterson] I recall you're also a big animal lover. In what capacity do you work with animals and do you have any pets of your own?

Rudi Protrudi I had four cats and a tortoise, which I left with my ex when I moved to Europe. I was really heavily into animal rights and rescue for several years while I was in California. I tried to work with some animal groups, but they thought I was a loose cannon. I tended to actually do things, like steal dogs from cruel owners.

I started my own one-man crusade against Korean dog meat restaurants in Los Angeles. After nine years of trying to expose them and meeting with a lot of politically correct resistance, I finally gave up. Now that I'm in Europe, I am trying to wait a while before I adopt any animals. I really need the time to be able to get up and go wherever I want to, and owning an animal is a huge responsibility that I take very seriously. At one point while I was living in California, I had nine indoor cats and twelve outdoor cats. I wasn't doing a lot of music at the time.

[Beverly Paterson] What do you like least about playing music and what do you find most rewarding about what you do?

Rudi Protrudi I really hate the attitude some fans have that they have to show you how cool they are by not acknowledging you. They have ten Fuzztones albums, and when they see me on the street they look away. I'm really approachable, you know? I'm a total groupie for the musicians I dig. I have no problem telling someone that I think they're great.

The other thing that really bugs me is just how corrupt the music industry is. It's almost impossible to find an honest record label, distributor or booking agent. On the other hand, it's still really rewarding for me to play to an audience that really digs us and shows it. I feed off the energy of the crowd, so I really need that input to be able to let loose and give it my all.

[Beverly Paterson] Have you ever thought about writing an autobiography?

Rudi Protrudi Actually, I have had so many people suggest that, and I started writing one a few years ago. I was really into it and wrote four chapters. I dug up loads up really obscure photos. Then the Fuzztones started playing a lot and I got side tracked. I still plan to finish the book but it may take a while. In the meantime, I will be posting my own webpage soon and a lot of stuff from the book will be on it.

For more information and to contact the author, click on the author’s name at the top of the page.


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