Monday, November 09, 2009

The Knots: Joey Pinter and the 11k "Heartbreaker"



If you're thinking of contacting Joey Pinter to score an original copy of the Knots' elusive "Heartbreaker"/"Action" 45, don't bother. There's nary a single in his apartment -- not even a sleeveless banged-up keepsake in the ol' pantry. In fact, until a year or two ago, when Japan's 1977 Records negotiated the reissue of the single, he'd nearly forgotten it existed. And as the guy who penned and played on both tunes, he's surprised that it recently fetched as much as $700 on eBay.

"Seven hundred? You sure?"

Sure I'm sure.

"Well, who do I send the bill to?" he jokes.

Oh, that: I'm unsure. I'm also unsure why such a whip/snap of a punk single with assumed major label ties has so few surviving copies circulating today. And that's why I rang him. How many of those were pressed, anyway?

"That's a funny story." As he relates the funny story, the smirk's crawling through the line and kicking its feet up in my living room.

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His funny story is presaged by many others. Pinter's a great yarnspinner, really; Brooklyn-born and Queens-raised, he's amiable, friendly and comically brusque. And, yes, he's been around: Weaned on the usual suspects (Bowie, Bolan, Stones) as a kid, his teen r'n'r years were tempered by home-turf heroes like the Dolls, who, due to age and timing, he never saw.

But as a teen, he did patronize Max's Kansas City with his first band, Brooklyn Trash. He'd joined them around '73 or '74, aged 18 or 19. They accepted him unceremoniously after he answered an open ad for a guitarist in the Village Voice.

“They said, ‘What comes first -- your girlfriend or the band?’” Pinter recalls. “I said, ‘The band, of course.’ And they said, ‘OK, you can sleep over there.’ And they threw a mattress down in a corner.”

He slept over there on the mattress in the corner for as long as it took them to work up a set consisting largely of Dolls and Stones covers. The Stones were a given. But the Dolls were more of a fixture than anything else. Home is home, after all.

Sometimes you have to leave home. For reasons unexplained, Brooklyn Trash high-tailed it to Ft. Meyers, FL, where they rechristened themselves the Dogs, harangued locals and started (and sometimes finished) bar fights with the local rednecks who were none too pleased to find their girlfriends cavorting with these flamboyant, tough-talking city boys.

So there were myriad uphill battles. Florida wasn't ready for post-glam start-ups in eyeliner and blue hair, ne'er-do-wells intent on pursuing whatever passed for the r'n'r trajectory at the time. And the violence of the bar fight soon overshadowed the feel of the band. It got tense. From the outset, the Dogs were slightly tyrannical over Pinter. They had restricted his listening diet to Stones/Kinks/Dolls ONLY as soon as they arrived in Florida. They allowed Bowie, too. "Ronson was a big influence, but they kind of beat it into me," Pinter laughs.

"Well, they were smart," he continues. "They were trying to get me to play within my abilities." Which he did -- on the Les Paul, Jr., he'd purchased just before leaving Brooklyn, directly after seeing Mott the Hoople's Ariel Bender slinging one in Radio City.

But Florida -- there was no Radio City in Florida. The weather sucked. The locals didn't get it. The Dogs were controlling. As time wore on, they continued to loom over the younger Pinter. At one point, they assigned him the task of reading J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings triology and regularly quizzed his knowledge on the subject at hand.

"They would ask me questions… 'So when Frodo went to Mount Doom…?' They were completely nuts."

Tensions ran tenser. Enough was enough. The Dogs went tits-up. And Pinter went up the map -- back to NYC, back home.

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"He was the loudest drummer I've ever heard in my life. I thought, 'Wow, this guy's an animal!'" So says Pinter about Niki Fuse.

The two met through another Voice ad almost directly upon Pinter's return to NYC. Their immediate chemistry incontestable, they decided to form a new unit. They comprised one half of the aptly-named Fuse.

Fuse rounded out its line-up with vocalist Tommy Bell -- "the first real straight-up dope addict I ever knew," Pinter says -- and a carousel of forgotten bassists. They practiced in what is now known as the Flatiron District of Manhattan, near Broadway and 20th, when the sweatshops below their loft had vacated for the evening. Their sound, according to Pinter, wasn't necessarily punk, but "high energy rock 'n' roll."

"I wanted to be the band that played on stage, that when you were in the club, you had no choice but to watch," he commented. "There was no talking to your girlfriend, there was no playing Pac-Man, there was no hanging out with your buddies. You could do that outside. If you were in the room with us, you got us."

After gigging around for a bit and gathering a stitch of momentum -- now as the mid-'70s gave way to audiences ready for newer noise -- Fuse changed its name to the Knots.

The Knots made an earnest go of it. This wasn't Brooklyn Trash or the Dogs. There were covers, sure, but the originals outweighed the tributes early on. They wasted little time making way to the stage at Max's. And CBGB's, "before Hilly had a P.A. We would get the middle-of-the-week gig all the time because we had a PA." It was in these clubs that the band began to attract the attention of local scene fixtures, like Peter Crowley, the influential tastemaker who booked the entertainment at Max's, and Eric Dufaure, an employee of Island Records who had just incorporated his own Whale Productions.

Dufaure made no bones that he liked the band. He liked them so much that he offered to record and release a Knots single on his own dime. They agreed.

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If you've heard the "Heartbreaker"/"Action" single, you'll know that it's equal parts U.S. brawn (Dolls, Heartbreakers) and U.K. sneer (early Boomtown Rats), one of the sturdiest obscurant punk rock EPs loitering in the late-'70s/early-'80s bin. More than one garage-punk outfit paid tribute to "Action" in the '90s. And "Heartbreaker," the standout side, is probably as hooky as punk gets before it goes pop. It's a perfect 45.

The single sessions were less than perfect. Despite complications, they nearly went off without a hitch. Pinter had excused Niki Fuse due to in-fighting just before recording, replacing him with a temporary fill-in -- who could've possibly been Jerry Ryan, also a drum fixture with the Fuse and Knots -- a decision he still regrets. As for bass duties, Joey and Tommy had similarly excused a bassist simply identified as Tony, who had previously played with Wayne County. According to Pinter, he himself filled in the missing bass: "The bass player at the time was just so obnoxious, we didn’t even let him record. We just said, 'You’re not gonna do this,' because he was just so annoying. So I did it."

The Knots were ostensibly comprised of two original members and two scabs. The cover, much like the bubblegum hoodwink of multiple '60s pop albums, was somewhat deceptive. "Of the four guys on the cover... Let's just say Tommy and I were the only ones who actually played on the record," explained Pinter.

Nonetheless, they made it work. Pinter, Bell and two replacements convened at Neal Steingart's Fly Studios in Brooklyn. They recorded, by Pinter's estimation, a total of five or six songs: the two that made it to the single, and others plainly titled "Rock 'n' Roll," "New York" and "Blinded by the Darkness." They also covered the Stones' "Live With Me."

Once they wrapped, the band, beers in hand, met with Dufaure at Fly to survey their handiwork. It was then that they heard the synthesizer opening "Heartbreaker." They also heard the "street crime" sound effects dubbed over the ending of "Action." Dufaure had added these in post-production.

"We’re in there and this synthesizer comes on," laughs Pinter. "I said, 'What is that?' [Dufaure] goes, 'Ain’t it great? Ain’t it great?' I said, 'Well, I don’t know. It’s kinda weird…' And the other guys were mad. They didn’t want it at all. They were flipping out. They thought it was bullshit."

But on Dufaure's dime, the band had no choice. They relented; the synth and sound effects remained. It adds a decidedly new wave sound to an otherwise street-level record. And still bugs Pinter to this day.

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After Dufaure decided the record was ready for press, he brought a name to Whale Productions' new label, Ideal Records, and rang the pressing plant to begin production on the vinyl. And herein lies Pinters funny story.

Dufaure accidentally pressed 11,000 copies of the 45. He'd intended to press 1,000, but through an unfortunate clerical error on part of the pressing plant... 11,000. A 10k overage.

Pinter recalls: "[Dufaure] was originally going to press 2,000. Then he changed his mind in mid-conversation [with the pressing plant] and said, 'Nah, give me 1,000.' So what happened was the person writing up the invoice put a slash through the two and put a one down. Now, by the time it got to the printing person -- maybe three carbons later -- it looked like an 11. So when the UPS guy or whoever the hell it was showed up -- Eric was living on Mercer Street -- and the guy shows up and says, 'Hey, I’m gonna need ya to help me with this stuff.' And Eric says, 'What are you talking about? It should be one or two boxes.' And the guy says, 'I’ve got about half a truck here.'”

Beyond that, Pinter remembers Dufaure arguing with the plant, but ultimately keeping the entire press, and the plant "charg[ed] him for the original 2,000. And I guess they ate the rest of it. I mean, they didn’t want it back. What were they going to do with it?" The overage, says Pinter, remained in Dufaure's possession. And that's as much as he knows about it.

As most folks familiar with artists who've recorded short-run bygone punk singles will tell you, there's a tendency for some of these musicians to exaggerate popularity and demand, to confuse near-misses with scoffed-at successes, to trade never-weres or coulda-beens for most-likelies or definitelies. And while Pinter did not grandstand throughout my many conversations with him, and all of his stories checked out, this one was too bizzarre. So I contacted Eric Dufaure.

Dufaure doesn't remember the exact chain of events that yielded the Knots 45. After all, he's busied himself with releasing several records over the span of several years. In addition to the Knots single, he worked alongside Chris Blackwell as the MD of Island Artists, and he also manned other labels, like Cachalot Records, whose roster included Ian North (ex-Milk 'n' Cookies), Thomas Leer, Malaria and Medium Medium, to name but a few. He also produced sessions for Brooklyn's Just Water and an unreleased session for Boston's Neighborhoods. So just as time may blur the realities with the desires intrinsic to scarce 30-year-old punk records, so too has it blurred the recording and pressing details of those records.

However, Eric Dufaure concedes that Pinter's story is possible, if not probable.

"I don't have direct recollection of the overpressing story," he commented by e-mail, "But these things do happen."

Assuming Pinter's story checks out, what happened to the remainder of the singles?

"We probably asked for 1,000 to be pressed, and if we received 11,000, I would think we would have returned them to the pressing plant, claiming an administrative error, rather than taking delivery of the lot, paying for them (unless the plant said 'don't pay, but take them anyway'!) and storing them in the loft on Mercer Street, where my offices were at the time. But the loft was huge, so there was space."

"But I think I would remember if we had ditched them in the Hudson river!" he added.

So, there you have it: uncertaintity. Ten thousand unaccounted-for Knots 45s.

Imagine the implications of the $700 tag now.

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After the single's release in 1980, the Knots' forward momentum increased exponentially. Peter Crowley stuck the single in a coveted slot on Max's jukebox. Local stores like Bleeker Bob's sold out multiple copies. In Lower Manhattan's club circuit, they shared bills with now-legendary outfits like the Tuff Darts, the Planets, the Fast, Von LMO and many more. The band also arranged a few out-of-town gigs as far west as Detroit with Johnny Thunders, where they were received, despite complications stemming from Johnny's obvious addictions, fairly well.

Joey himself had also achieved local popularity. Manhattan-based avant violinist weirdo Walter Steding pulled Pinter in as guitarist on his hysteric LP sessions, produced by Blondie's Chris Stein and released on Marty Thau's Red Star Records. As Pinter entered the studio to lay down his tracks for the Steding sessions, "Chris hands me a bottle of gin and a Telecaster. He says, 'This is a blues drink.' I took it and said, “What do you want me to play?” He says, “Whatever you want.”

An avant record on a larger independent label. He loathed artistically-minded bands like the Talking Heads, but he'd come a long way since his no-frills, Dolls-obsessed days. So far, in fact, that Pinter had the privilege of later being booted from the stage at CBGB's during a show with Steding -- "Because we sucked," he says gravely.

The Knots were enjoying local popularity by anyone's standards. But problems were evident. Baggage seemed to gather conspicuously at the feet of Bell, who bristled the likes of anyone attempting to do business with the band. The Knots' managers were reluctant to get involved with a provocative singer who lived his lyrics.

"[M]anagement really didn’t like the singer," Pinter said. "[Bell] was a criminal, quite frankly. He would break into places and steal stuff. He’d always show up with something -- a new guitar, a stereo, TV… He was a real felonious character. No one trusted him. And the people who managed us were in the beauty business -- hair people -- and there was a lot of money there, and they didn’t like this guy because they couldn’t trust him."

Likewise for labels courting the band. Seymour Stein of Sire Records eventually took an interest in the Knots, specifically focusing on Pinter and his approach to punk-qua-r'n'r. There again, he wasn't interested in dealing with Bell's shady ways.

"We almost got signed to Sire, back when Seymour Stein was signing everybody. We didn’t get signed because of a few reasons. Number one, he didn’t like the singer. Seymour was also telling me that I was drinking too much and was inconsistent."

Stein brought Pinter under his wing, recommending mind-expanding vinyl to his would-be pupil -- early Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green LPs were all but shoved his arms in Stein's brownstone one afternoon. He also tried to coach Pinter on his drinking. Even still, Joey refused to axe Tommy Bell.

"Seymour just didn’t like the singer. We did some tapes for him -- they had a little studio in the building -- and he said, 'We’ll sign you right now, but you gotta get rid of that singer.' I was confused and didn’t have the balls to do what I was supposed to do. So we lost it. He didn’t pick us up."

The Knots soldiered on a short while longer, plagued by increasingly dwindling momentum and lack of national success and radio play. These setbacks essentially spelled the end of the band.

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Post-Knots, Pinter continued to play music with original combos like the Lost Hats. He also later auditioned to play with Johnny Thunders's band, but regrettably allowed himself to imbibe in Johnny's favored vices. He tried to keep up -- "Johnny was like an athelete with that stuff," says Pinter -- but couldn't. The partnership didn't last.

Much later, in the '90s, he joined up with former Heartbreaker Walter Lure's band, the Waldos, whom he still occasionally plays with today.

He currently resides in the L.A. area and remains musically active.

Eric Dufaure continued to work with musicians after moving to Paris, where he ran the area's branch of EMI Music Publishing and worked with Sacem, the French authors' rights society. In 2001, he took up the Beluga Records label and is still releasing records to this day.

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A hearty thanks to Joey Pinter and Eric Dufaure for their patience and time. To hear the Knots' lone vinyl contribution, visit the Killed by Death blog and download the fantastic "Heartbreaker" b/w "Action" single. I also encourage anyone with the time or money to track down the recent reissue on Japan's 1977 Records. You can see what Dufaure's up to at www.belugaprod.com.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I greatly enjoyed reading this. It's a fantastic single... would love to hear the rest of the stuff they recorded at the same time. Thanks.

Marc (also in Brooklyn)

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can attest to the validity of the 1,000 order being pressed as 11,000. I remember at the time of the over pressing Tony.C. telling me all about this and saying that his closets and his grandma's closets were full of the singles! Really miss Tony "Hey Tony,we want the news not the weather report!!" Also I can confirm other parts of Joey's story...one day me and my band members of Testors went to see the film about the Who (The Kids Are Alright) and I guess the singer of the Knots knew we would be gone for at least a couple of hours. Well the film wasn't as long as he imagined and when we returned to the Testors practice room we caught him trying to bust open the lock on our door. He had a whole bag of tools and he was trying to break into our loft. I always admired his reaction when we walked up and caught him trying to jimmy the lock "Oh, hey guys, I noticed your lock was messed up and I am trying to fix it." Actually quite funny, well we chased him off and that was the last I saw of him.
But I just wanna add that this stuff from him is in no way connected to Joey the Guitarist. Joey always was a stand up guy, a sweet person,well liked, and admired by people on the scene. Still is.
Great band,
Hi to Joey from Sonny Vincent -'Testors'

8:27 AM  

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