|Interview with Stefen Shady of Shady
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Slam Rocks: Shady Lady: Just a “legend” only still a few months ago, probably the first American Glam rock band. Why did you decided to put the band together as far back as in 1968?
Stefen: I had been in and out of a few bands since high school and was looking to put together a band with a different look, sound style and attitude from anything I had ever been involved with. I pretty much knew exactly what I wanted. I met Gerhard one day in Greenwich Village and we got together for a jam. We hit it off as we shared similar musical ideas, tastes and style. It was rock ‘n roll, baby…loud and fast rock ‘n roll. It went so well that we decided to go forward and build this band. Gerhard had this huge loft back then in the area that would later become known as SOHO. It was great for rehearsing and had plenty of living space. I moved in and we soon decided that we needed a guitarist but not just any guitar player but a really hot guitarist. I told Gerhard I knew someone who I thought might fit but didn’t know if he was already playing in a band. So shortly after, I went looking for John Christian. John had been known to have jammed a few times with Clapton, Alvin Lee and some other noted musicians at this club called The Scene. It was a place where I often hung out. He had really held his own with these other fucking great guitar players, too. I asked around the village and eventually found him at one of the bars I had been told he frequented. We had a few drinks and I told him what Gerhard and I were doing. So he came over the next evening and the three of us jammed. We jammed for hours and we all knew that we were on to something. We were wearing big smiles after that jam session. John moved in with us and that’s when we really started playing and writing songs.
Slam Rocks: In my opinion your sound was clearly inspired by the Rolling Stones but also ass kickin’ and “proto-punk”, what other musical influences did Shady Lady have?
Stefen: (laughing) Well, yes I’d have to say that The Stones were an influence but you have to understand that we were also influenced by many of the same musicians who had influenced the Stones as well. Truthfully, Shady Lady had so many musical influences that it is hard to put a finger on and say, “Oh, that is where they got their sound from.” I think it is so funny when somebody says that we sound like someone and the band or musician they are referring to came along after Shady Lady. Wouldn’t it make more sense saying they sounded like us?
Slam Rocks: Early 70’s New York’s scene drove to the top of the music history big bands such as New York Dolls, Ramones and Kiss and minor bands like Magic Tramps, Rags, Harlots of the 42nd Street that seemed to disappear without leaving tracks, tell us about those years and your relationships with those bands (if you had some...)
Stefen: We had already moved to Los Angeles before those bands came to be. So, we didn’t really have any relationship with any of those bands mentioned. I mean yeah The Dolls were aware of us as well as Kiss who came on the scene later on. I think Shady Lady was to the West Coast what The Dolls became to be to the East Coast. There were some local L.A. bands whom we were friends with though. Iggy Pop was around and we used to hangout some as well as some other L.A. based musicians. Back in New York I had hung around some with Jimi Hendrix but that was before Shady Lady was a band. You know, it wasn’t long after John, Gerhard and I had just moved to Los Angeles when one evening Jimi showed up at this house in Laurel Canyon. We had just moved in with a bunch of chicks we had met at The Whiskey. They said we could rehearse there so we moved right in. This was just a couple of weeks before he died. Jimi and I hadn’t seen each other in quite awhile and he didn’t even know I was even in L.A. or that I was putting this band together. He totally tripped out when he walked in and saw me. I have to say I was really bummed for quite a long while after he died too. Jimi was one of the good guys and as everyone knows, he was only the greatest guitarist in the world, ever! I am sure many, many people miss him still to this day besides myself. Oh yeah by the way, Bones still has this Martin acoustic guitar that Hendrix played that night at the house. Now how cool is that?
Slam Rocks: I read that you were one of Johnny Thunders’ good friends, is it true or was just an “urban legend” you asked him to join your band? If so, how did it go?
Stefen: Actually, I knew Johnny from the street scene in N.Y. pre Shady Lady and Dolls. We weren’t actually friends at that time. We just used to say hello to each other in passing. It was mostly this mutual respect thing because of our look and attire back then. We had a similar style and a look going on. Later on I ran into him one night at a Doors concert in the East Village. Gerhard and John were with me and we had been auditioning musicians for what would later be known as Shady Lady. I asked Johnny if he was interested in auditioning but it turned out he was playing bass then and we already had a bass player in Gerhard. Of course Johnny later switched from bass to guitar in The Dolls. (laughing again) It was a few years later when I was back in N.Y. and walked into Max’s Kansas City one evening. Sable Starr was there with Johnny and the other members of The Dolls. Sable and I were good friends as she had been John Christian’s girlfriend for a while before Thunders’. Sable and her sister Coral were always hanging out at our house. The Doll’s manager was there and asked me if SL would go on tour together with The Dolls? I told him that was a fantastic idea but we had just split up. I hung around with The Dolls a lot there for a few weeks. Johnny and I had quickly become friends and at one point we were getting a crib together. I bailed out at the last moment though. It was on the day Sable and myself along with Roger, who was a long time mutual friend of Johnny’s and myself, were to put down a deposit on this apartment we had found there in Manhattan. Johnny was away on tour at the time, so I called Sable and told her to call Johnny and tell him that I was sorry but I had decided to go back to L.A. I then left for the airport and flew back to Los Angeles that same afternoon. I never saw any of them again which is strange but true. Iggy had been in N.Y. during that time for a bit too but he had also come back to L.A. around the same time as myself. Eventually, I even lost contact with him, as well. People move on in different directions, sometimes they meet up again and sometimes they don’t. It’s like circles and sometimes those circles roll back around and you connect up with the same people again and sometimes you break off into other circles and connect with other people’s lives.
Slam Rocks: Why did you decide to move from N.Y. to L.A. and which were the most evident differences between the two scenes?
Stefen: First of all, we just weren’t finding the other two members to complete the band in New York. The three of us were planning to go to London and had begun saving money for the move. But then John was starting to have some problems with these Mafia thugs. Then I got involved and things really started getting “hairy” in a hurry. So, before bodies started piling up we decided to leave rather quickly. We split to L.A. because we didn’t have enough funds saved to go on to England. Actually, John and myself hid out from these gangsters for a couple of weeks in upstate N.Y. We took a couple of chicks with us to keep us company though. (laughing) In the meantime, Gerhard, who these thugs weren’t aware of, organized things for us and got everything together for the trip. He picked us up in this old van he had bought and we headed West.
The biggest differences between N.Y. and L.A. were…oh, hell there were so many. Both places are cool but really very different. Things are more laid back and move slower in Los Angeles but the climate was way better and the women were awesome. Don’t get me wrong New York has some really awesome ladies, too….but L.A. was full of these tanned blondes…movie starlet types. (laughing) We stood out in Los Angeles even more so than we had in N.Y. and the women found us easily. Anyway, more importantly we found the other two members of the band out here. We had auditioned a lot of musicians in N.Y. and L.A. before we found and settled on the right guys to complete the band though.
Slam Rocks: L.A. was the operation base of Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer. Rodney’s English Disco were the right place to be in those Glitter years, I think you were “at home” in the club, have you got some memories you’d share with us?
Stefen: We didn’t spend a whole lot of time there believe me. There were so many parties and we had so many people following us around. We hung out and held court at The Rainbow on the strip mostly and sometimes the Whiskey when we weren’t playing gigs.
Our house was where the real parties were happening though. I used to have to go around every morning waking-up and kicking people out. They would be crashed in every corner of our house and even outside on the deck or in the pool house. They were crashed out everywhere. Rodney’s was okay but it was a little too low key for me at times. Now, before Rodney’s there was OOH POO PAH DOO and that was a happening place. We played there quite a bit and when we did, the place would always be jam packed. It was a total scene. Compared to that Rodney’s was really more like the leftovers from last night’s dinner.
Slam Rocks: There’s a rumor ‘bout David Bowie’s song “Lady Stardust”: was it really inspired by Shady Lady? In my opinion you really did influence a lot of 70’s Glam bands in the States, you were the true prime movers, isn’t it?
Stefen: Yeah, there is no doubt we probably influenced a lot of bands and a lot of the music that came after us. As far as the ‘Lady Stardust’ song thing, I don’t know for certain. I have never met him but can tell you that Bowie came to see us at the Whiskey and was writing his legendary Ziggy Stardust album during that time. His song does describe the scene that was going on there and I did sing “All Night Long” on that particular night which he describes in his song. I would have to say that it is probably more than a rumor that the song was written about Shady Lady but one would have to ask him to know for sure.
Slam Rocks: First time I listened your 5 songs promo I was totally blown away, great songs wrote before every other similar bands in the States .....Your management was the same of Cream, Bee Gees and Buddy Miles, you had the right numbers to became superstars, what happened and why didn’t you ever release your album?
Stefen: Yes, we had good management in Robert Fitzpatrick and Max Byfuglin who believed in us. We were their favorite children so to speak. They had huge plans for Shady Lady. They protected and nurtured us. It was weird because most of the music industry were afraid of us. We scared the crap out of them for some unknown reason. There were a few writers and music entrepreneurs that thought we were going to be bigger than The Rolling Stones though. After several offers from various recording labels we signed with Scepter records out of New York. Scepter Records sort of went belly up underneath us though due to financial difficulties that we were unaware of. The album was ready to be released with just a couple of minor touch-ups and the final mix to be done. They never even heard it…if the record company had held on..they would probably have come out their financial woes. We would have been their saviors. I don’t know what actually led to their problems but I know it wasn’t us because they had yet to sink any monies into the band. They didn’t have to pay us anything up front as our deal was all in promotion and distribution of the album. That money was never spent on that. It was rumored that Scepter had made some bad investments in some ‘50s style band and they lost their ass and closed their doors.
Slam Rocks: When and in particular why did you exactly split up the band?
Stefen: Well, I didn’t want the band to split up. John wasn’t always showing up for rehearsals, photo shoots, business meetings, etc. near the end. He was too busy getting loaded on heroin from what I understood. And Billy was secretly daydreaming half the time about being a space man and fronting his own band. The other two…I’m not sure but I think Gerhard and Bones would have continued on in Shady Lady had we just decided to replace John and Billy. This was difficult thing to do though as John and I wrote most all the songs together. Billy was a great drummer but we could have replaced him but John…well now, that was a problem. He and I were the dynamic songwriting duo. Hell, we were even being compared to Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards by some of the music media back then. Not that you should believe everything you read though because there is always a lot of bullshit and hype being done. However, we were very much in tune with each other when it came to writing songs, extremely so. It was almost like magic in a way. I guess the final straw that broke the camel’s back though was when we went over to Dress Revue, the music studios where we rehearsed. We went there to get out some of band equipment and found it was all gone. It turned out John had taken it and either sold or pawned it all to pay for drugs and plane fare to London. He had robbed us and then bailed. I should have tried to hold the rest of the band together but we were so burnt out and depressed at the time that it seemed almost fruitless. The management wanted me to go solo at that point. I said, no. I walked away and that was that.
Slam Rocks: In the last years there’s a renewed interest for the 70’s music and in particular for the original Glam Rock, there are a lot of cool internet sites about it like 70’s Invasion and Glam Rock Bear. Mighty lost albums such the one of Brett Smiley, Zolar X’s “Timeless” and now your own “Raving Mad” finally came to light, I really think it’s time for you to catch all the satisfactions and fame you deserve, don’t you?
Stefen: Aww, well, I don’t know what we deserve really but I think it’s time to let people out there become familiar with our music. At least the ones who might dig our brand of rock ‘n roll.
Slam Rocks: I heard the Italian label Rave Up Records showed interest to print a vinyl ltd. edition of your album. Did you agree with it and eventually when will we able to have the work done?
Stefen: Yes we are doing a vinyl album release with them and Rave Up has been great to work with and the LP is to be released in February I believe. It is being released in an extremely limited quantity though, so if anyone reading this wants one then I would suggest sending an email off to Rave Up quickly. By the way, it is being pressed in a “hot see-thru red” vinyl! See, that’s hype! (laughing) We will be looking to follow up with a CD on a much larger distribution scale. I haven’t decided with whom yet but Gerhard, Bones and myself are talking and I am looking at some tentative offers.
Slam Rocks: Well, now tell us something you’ve always dreamt to say and nobody asked to you (whatever you want, in other words…)
Stefen: Oh, I guess that I would want to say that I wish all the younger generations of today could have experienced the late ‘60s and early ‘70s thing. I don’t know if something like or even similar to that era will ever happen again but I certainly hope it does. Sadly the truth is that the music scene today really, really sucks by comparison. It would be great if some unique and talented bands would emerge and whip us all into a total frenzy. It’s been too long since anything really exciting and energetic has come along in the way of a “real” music scene. What the fuck is wrong with everybody? Wake the fuck up and let’s all go start another underground rock ‘n roll revolution again!
Since this interview the vinyl LP was released by Rave Up Records at the end of February 2005 and sold out completely in about two weeks of it’s release. It received quite a number of great reviews considering how small of a release it was. The New York Dolls’ camp contacted one of the former members thinking the band had reformed inquiring about Shady Lady opening for them in Seattle. Shady Lady had not reformed at that time but has since with Stefen Shady and Bones Denault from the original band. Stefen felt after a number of interviews, reviews and articles that there was just too much interest to ignore the requests and hopes that they perform once again. Shady Lady has not changed their style of music one bit and are continuing to write new songs as well as dusting off old material recorded and unrecorded from back in the day.