The New York garage rock icon looks back on his career with autobiography and new archival release
Greg ‘Stackhouse’ Prevost is best-known as the frontman of garage-rockin’ madmen the Chesterfield Kings.
Lasting roughly 30 years, and with a dozen albums to their name, Prevost and his cohorts earned a worldwide audience that continues to grow to this day, some 13 years after the band’s break-up. Prevost is a well-known record collector and music historian; as an author, he co-wrote the 2014 book Rolling Stones Gear, and his writings about blues and rock ‘n’ roll can be found in music zines like Ugly Things and Shindig!
Since his band’s break-up, Prevost has released three solo blues albums under his ‘Stackhouse’ persona for Spain’s Mean Disposition Records, beginning with 2012’s Mississippi Murderer. To celebrate a career that has now spanned six decades, Prevost recently released both an early-career compilation album titled Vintage Violence as well as his long-anticipated autobiography On The Street I Met A Dog, documenting his earliest band years up through the present day. Both media projects offer varied insight into Prevost’s artistic vision as well as his pop culture and rock ‘n’ roll obsessions.
Under its full name, Vintage Violence: Barbaric, Crude & Primitive 1975-1979 is the perfect summation of the lo-fi but rockin’ gems you’ll discover on the CD. Comprised of early demos, live recordings and low-rent studio tracks, the compilation charts the evolution of Prevost’s reinvention of ‘60s rock, beginning with several songs by his ‘Mr. Electro’ alter-ego, i.e. the guitarist and whatever friends were hanging around the studio at the time. The nearly three-minute ‘excerpt’ from “Just Like John Cage Blues” begs the question of just how long the performance actually was (“around 20 minutes” writes Prevost in the CD’s liner notes, adding that “no one reading this could take listening to the whole thing.”) Based on the evidence at hand, I’d have to agree – the raging, rag-tag psychedelic performance sounds like Blue Cheer on LSD and Benzedrine, with squalls of feedback-drenched freak-out guitar, out-of-control chainsaws, and buzzing, infernal engine-powered machinery set against a wall of pure white noise.
Credited to ‘Mr. Electro & the Void’ and recording with members of the local Rochester, New York prog-rock group Zenith Effluveum*, with “Just Like John Cage Blues” Prevost invented “industrial rock” in 1975, better than a half-decade before Euro-trash electro-clash outfits like KMFDM, Coil, and Einstürzende Neubauten. By contrast, the two 1976 songs credited to ‘Mr. Electro & the Psychedelic Lampshades’ – “Rejects of Society” and “Put Me To Death” – are closer to “traditional” rock songs in that they both feature discernable guitar squonk, locomotive drumbeats and crashing cymbals, and a bedrock bass line. The former song was a sort of New York Dolls-styled rave-up while the latter is an Iggy & the Stooges-inspired anti-war song written by Prevost once he got his draft card and 1-A classification (a one-way ticket to ‘The Nam’). The instrumental “Rejected At the High School Dance” was built on the earlier song “Rejects” and is a rude, crude, albeit entertaining six-string workout.
By 1977, and with the ‘Mr. Electro & the Psychedelic Burnouts’ power-trio, Prevost (as he writes) was “getting away from the long freak-out guitar riffing and doing songs closer to three minutes in length.” Covers of the Pretty Things’ “LSD”, blues legend Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, and the Troggs/MC5 obscurity “I Want You” display a leaner, but no less mean sound with the addition of Prevost’s Farfisa organ and longtime friend (and Zenith member) Mike Ferrera’s razor-sharp fretwork. Similar to a thousand-and-one 1960s-era garage-rockers, the songs display Prevost’s first step towards what would become the Chesterfield Kings. Under the ‘Distorted Levels’ band name, Prevost recorded two originals – “Hey Mister” and “Red Swirls” – with Ferrera and Zenith drummer Carl Mack, the two songs independently-released on 45rpm vinyl by Prevost’s Nowhere Records label with liner notes by the late Greg Shaw (Bomp! Magazine and record label). Both tunes are high-energy, guitar-driven screamers with shards of harmonica and Prevost’s muddy vox overshadowed by livewire guitar and explosive percussion.
The Chesterfield Kings – or early versions of the band, really – make their appearance on Vintage Violence with several songs recorded circa 1978-79 that feature various guitarists (Bob Ames, Gary Trainer, Frank Moll) with Prevost on vocals, and the rock-steady rhythm section of bassist Rick Cona and drummer Doug Meech. While unbridled rockers like “Psycho ‘78” (and its equal in music-mania, “Psycho ’79”), “Fortune Teller”, and “Route 66” showcase the further evolution of Prevost’s vision and a proto-Kings vibe, they also represent the creation of a new garage-rock revival sound that built upon – and reinvented – 1960s rock for the ‘80s blank generation, paving the way for bands like the Fuzztones, the Miracle Workers, the Cynics and Marshmallow Overcoat.
Prevost does a credible job mimicking Mick on the Stones-inspired “Fortune Teller” while also displaying a deft R&B mojo on “Route 66.” A cover of the Chocolate Watchband’s “Don’t Need Your Lovin’” is even more shambolic than the original, if possible. Adding a permanent member to the line-up in the form of sixteen-year-old bassist Andy Bubiuk, Prevost, Cona (switching to guitar), and Meech recorded the band’s critically-acclaimed 1982 debut Here Are the Chesterfield Kings as well as follow-up albums Stop! (1985) and Don’t Open Til Doomsday (1987) before the revolving door of members opened…but that’s a story for Prevost’s book. In an exclusive email interview with Rock and Roll Globe, Prevost says of the album compilation process, “I have literally boxes of tapes – at least close to 100 cassettes, 3-inch reels, 8-tracks. I had a lot to choose from. Maybe too much!”
Continuing, Prevost says “it was a lengthy process, tedious, and not easy sifting through hours and hours of tapes, many not labeled other than a ‘band’ name and a date when recorded. Some tapes were on reel-to-reels and literally disintegrating from being on a basement floor for decades. Cassette sources were less unstable but still some ‘snapped’ when rewinding. After sorting and deciding what still sounded ‘good’ or decent, I took the originals to Dave Anderson’s studio, Saxon Recording, in Rochester, where Dave transferred and edited everything, then EQ’d, leveled and mastered them all to be cohesive and listenable. Dave is a brilliant engineer and really pulled the collection together, saving some numbers in the process.”
Did Prevost consider including more Chesterfield Kings material on Vintage Violence?
“Not really,” he says. “I think what I put on here was about all I planned on using and it included all the original lineups, including a session where New Math’s Gary Trainer filled in on guitar (1979). There are other more professional recordings of these versions of the [early] band, but the tapes are lost. I hope to locate them someday, but I also don’t count on it.” Will fans ever see a career-spanning Chesterfield Kings compilation album? “No, nothing like that will ever come out,” says Prevost. “The only Chesterfield Kings material that may turn up will be if I ever find the lost 1979 recordings we did with John Fritsch in December 1979, which was slated to be a 5-song EP. The line-up was myself, Rick Cona, Doug Meech and Frank Moll. Other than this material, no, never a Chesterfield Kings compilation. Bootlegs keep surfacing out of Europe, that will probably be the extent of it.”
Published by Italy’s Misty Lane Books, On The Street I Met A Dog is profusely illustrated with vintage color and B&W photos, the thick 420pp trade paperback a swanky tome with brilliant glossy photo reproduction, heavy paper, and quality heavyweight covers worthy of an archival printing. What prompted Prevost to put his story in print? “There were many factors that led up to that, but first and foremost it was the persistence of Massimo del Pozzo of Misty Lane in Italy. It goes back to around 2017 or so, when I borrowed several photo books from my friend Mary Ellen Gardiner. She was present at every show in the Upstate NY area and Canada, and took literally 100s of photos over the years starting in 1980 through the ‘90s. I scanned all these and started posting them on my Facebook page.”
Continuing, Prevost says “Massimo saw them and that was the spark that started things up. He asked me to do an autobiography, which encompassed the former band’s existence. I declined at first, but as I said, Massimo was persistent and asked a few times. When I dismantled my web page (due to server Go Daddy turning corporate), I decided to take this on. I used the historical outline that was on my web page, then filled in the spaces using 1,000s of photos, flyers, news articles, videos, etc. I also scanned in 1,400 images and sorted by year, then over nearly 5 years it came together as you see it.” How did he get hooked up with Massimo? “I have been friends with Misty Lane main man Massimo del Pozzo since the ‘80s when we started corresponding. We officially met in the mid-‘90s when the band toured Italy and he took us all over Rome in the group’s van. He is a close and trusted friend. Me writing the book was really his idea.”
Prevost opens Dog with the obligatory childhood memories and teenage hijinks, which are important in that they frame the pop culture influences and family dynamic that shaped his unique creative vision. Prevost’s immersion into rock ‘n’ roll began at an early age, so that by the time that he was writing songs and playing music in his late teens, his musical touchstones were firmly incorporated into his restless (and often reckless) muse. As the story moves into the Mr. Electro and, later, Chesterfield Kings years, it becomes a fascinating sojourn through 30+ years of Prevost’s professional and closely-intertwined personal lives. Each CKs album is extensively documents with prurient detail (usually taken from the journals that he’s kept through the years) including the recording sessions, info on band members, and song-by-song commentary.
Hailing from Rochester, New York, the Chesterfield Kings were isolated from the rock ‘n’ roll industry as it existed in the 1980s and ‘90s, and while they performed frequently enough in New York City to build a fan base, they weren’t part of the ‘Big Apple’ scene. Although the band evolved from its early garage-rock revivalist stance towards more of a Rolling Stones/New York Dolls/Heartbreakers hard rock sound, their ‘Rust Belt’ origins were hard to break free from and, as Prevost outlines in the book, as he and the band got rowdier and more destructive onstage (Prevost adopting a sort of Iggy Stooge/Stiv Bators/G.G. Allin live persona), it became harder for them to find gigs even in their hometown, although a few favorable locations (Toronto, Cleveland, etc.) welcomed the Kings tsunami into town.
The Chesterfield Kings never achieved mainstream success, although not for lack of trying. Prevost networks with people like a glad-handing politician courting votes, and his list of like-minded friends, collaborators, and acquaintances (including this writer) is impressive and seemingly endless. While the band could be its own worst enemy in sabotaging any future success, On The Street I Met A Dog accurately describes the life of the hard-working touring band. Prevost tells of seedy clubs and dodgy promoters, bad shows and recording experiences, friends the band made along the way, and the usual broken-down vans and fleabag hotel rooms that are a large part of the rock ‘n’ roll “experience.”
The CKs were fortunate to work with Little Steven Van Zandt and his Wicked Cool Records label during their last few years, which helped raise the band’s profile with garage-rock fans, but it’s his collaborations with musical idols like Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere & the Raiders), Sky Saxon (The Seeds), Kim Fowley, and Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls), among others that Prevost writes of reverently. As mentioned above, On The Street I Met A Dog is profusely-illustrated; Prevost is a pop culture packrat and the book benefits from dozens of photos from across Prevost’s career. After discussing his three (so far) solo albums, Prevost includes a 48-page photo gallery that offers a wealth of color and B&W band photos, show posters, album and 45 cover artwork, and other memorabilia that provides even further context to Prevost’s story.
Prevost often denigrates his band’s music (but seldom his bandmates) throughout On The Street I Met A Dog but, in retrospect, there’s a lot for him and his fellow Kings to be proud of – the band released eleven studio and a live album, all of them on independent labels (most of them on Armand Schaubroeck’s Mirror Records). Such were the band’s talents (and Prevost’s songwriting chops) that they were able to record albums of garage-rock (Here Are The Chesterfield Kings), hard rock (The Berlin Wall of Sound), surf-rock (Surfin’ Rampage), and blues (Drunk On Muddy Water), and shades of all of these on other LPs. They managed to tour the world, leave an indelible mark on the annals of rock ‘n’ roll, and their fluid sound and styles, while anathema to the major label game, has continued to find fans who appreciate the band’s uncompromising sound and fury.
What’s next for Greg “Stackhouse” Prevost?
“As soon as I get the past behind me – the book and Vintage Violence compilation – I will start recording my next ‘Stackhouse’ album which will be synonymous to the last one,” he explains. “I have a few other things in mind but not solid enough to mention here!”
No matter what Prevost comes up with next, you can bet that it’s gonna be good. While Vintage Violence may only appeal to the longtime CKs faithful, Prevost’s autobiography, in describing the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle warts and all, will entertain and inform any reader with even a modicum of interest in the genre. It’s the best account of a working rock band since Tommy Womack’s The Cheese Chronicles, and that’s no faint praise…
* Zenith Effluveum recorded a lone, lo-fi, four-track prog-rock opus Almost Made It In The USA in 1978; the obscure, independently-released album is a $100 collectible today…
For more information, check out the Misty Lane webstore at www.mistylaneshop.com
AUDIO: The Chesterfield Kings feat. Gary Trainer “Fortune Teller”