Tommy Frenzy: From Ground-Level Punk To Undignified Retirement [part 1]

Tommy Frenzy
Tommy Frenzy: have Gibson, will travel

When Tommy Frenzy suddenly became a touchstone for a few weeks in late 2022, it soon became obvious that’s I needed to interview this guy. Having old friend and his drummer Suzy Lamoureux tell me that I should interview him because “did he have the stories,” didn’t begin to account for the amazement that the tale of his entry into the world of big-time Rock engendered. So I pencilled in another marathon PPM interview to transcribe and edit. The thought was to do this in early January, yet here we are and it’s now March. So, better late than never. Ladies and gentlemen, The Tommy Frenzy Story… sure to be a major motion picture!


PPM: So I was amazed that all of a sudden my universe was orbiting Planet Tommy Frenzy so when we’re just being beaten over the head you just try to find out why. So anyway…

TF: Sooner or later you wake up and you say “why am I being beaten over the head?”

P:  Just like with the Al Franken Decade, this is the Tommy Frenzy Decade.

T: So let me ask you this. Was the first time you’ve heard my name with Steve Peer?

P: It was. I mean, I knew the name Tuff Darts.  I saw the record in the bins back in the late 70s, but I never heard it, you know? I lived in Orlando, Florida. No one was playing Tuff Darts.

T: Right.

P: On the other hand I had my friend Echorich, who grew up in New York City, Tuff Darts was one of his bands. So he grew up and he went to CBGB because he always saw Tuff Darts, so he’s a Tuff Darts guy. He grew up in the city and he saw everything and I grew up in Orlando, Florida so I wasn’t seeing nuthin! Back in ’72 we moved to Florida and you know, Disney had just opened nine months before, so I grew up waiting for things to happen, basically. It wasn’t until the 90s that Orlando had a really vibrant club scene. Of course that’s where I met Suzy when she was playing with Psycho From Texas. I followed her through each of her bands.

First it was Psycho From Texas. Then it was the Vodkats. It’s the Vodkats we actually hired to play at our wedding party we had at Johnny’s Rocking Bistro, which was the club back in the ‘90s. I mean Johnny had all these great bands coming in there. He had all the garage rock bands. He had touring bands from the East Coast. They’d all come down there, so Johnny’s is where we had our party and she played at the event. And after that she joined Nutrajet and then she started having RSI problems with drumming, so when we left Orlando in 2001, she had tailed off on her drumming and wasn’t doing that anymore.

T: When I first got down here, Roger approached me, and I had come down here kind of to get away from playing with musicians, because I was living just outside of New York City up in Westchester County and I’d have to pay to get into the city. I’d have to bring my own equipment. I’d have to sit around for four or five hours and then drive home. And it was just, you know, people were late and people didn’t want to do this song and they didn’t like this, and they didn’t like that. And then I was just fed up with music, so my wife and I moved down here and I was like, “good, I can I can get on the with the rest of my life now and put music off to the side.” And Roger approached me right off the bat and said, “I have a great drummer and we’re huge Tuff Darts fans… if you want to get together and jam?”

And I said, “all right.” I don’t know if it was my ego and somebody recognized me or the fact that they wanted to play with me. But… long story short, I went with Tony Marks who’s in Roger’s band Swift Knuckle Solution and Tony, Roger and I played. And the first time we got together in the studio I said, “you know, when somebody says you want to jam… I’m old school.” That means you just want to kick around music for a while and see what gels. I said, “what’d you want to play?” and he goes, “let’s just do the Tuff Darts record.” I’m like, “all right which song?” “We know all the songs.” So I started on side one… “Here Comes Trouble,” and after two songs I realized these guys play Tuff Darts better than Tuff Darts did! I think I got something here. And Roger maybe blew a little smoke up my ass by saying, “there are a lot of people down here that never got a chance to see Tuff Darts and you had a huge following and blah blah blah.” And so the first time we played I think eighteen people showed up [laughs] and that that kind of blew that out of the water!

But I’ve been playing with Roger for, like…10 years now and I think Suzy’s been with us three or four, maybe longer. Roger said, “you know my wife plays but I can’t ask her,” so I approached her at the next gig and she said, “I haven’t played in 17 years, but it’s worth taking a shot.” And she just fit in like a glove.

P: Suzy is a rocker.

T: Yes!

P: I mean, all of her bands were tough bands… she didn’t have any time for cream puff music.

T: Yeah.


P: So I gotta ask you, you look really young on that cover of the Tuff Darts record. You look like you’re like about 18 years old when you made that record. I’ll ask what got you started at an early age to think “I gotta move in this rock direction?”

Utopia ca. 1974 with banks of synths and 4 keyboardists
Utopia ca. 1974 with banks of synths and 4 keyboardists

T: All right so when I turned 21 I was playing in like a Deep Purple cover band; not just Deep Purple, but that kind of music a little Jeff Back, a little Deep Purple, a little Cream. And on my 21st birthday I rented a limo. I lived up in Westchester County about 35-40 minutes out of New York City and I had gone down a couple times at that point just to see the New York Dolls play at Max’s Kansas City. I had a couple of girls that went to a high school near me and said “if you can get your dad’s car we’re going to take you to show you some cool stuff,” and on a Saturday afternoon they took me to a free concert in Central Park and I had never heard of Todd Rundgren before and that was the first incarnation of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and when he had M. Frog and there were like 12 people on stage, and everybody had different colored hair and and I remember thinking …all right… this is what I want to do when I when I grow up.

And then they said, “can you keep your dad’s car because we just looked it up and found out that the New York Dolls are playing at Max’s tonight?” And I said, “New York Dolls… Max’s… that doesn’t mean anything to me.”  And those two girls took me down planted me right in front of the stage for the New York Dolls, and …if you didn’t see this coming, the warm-up band was Tuff Darts with Robert Gordon singing! And I knew exactly then and there that I had to get a band together that played original material.

Tuff darts flyer

One of the biggest things there was I ran into Michael Sticka, who was a new friend back then while we were at Max’s that night. Michael Sticka turned out to be the roadie for Blondie, for The Dead Boys, for the Ramones. He was, you know, the punk roadie down there. He had all the connections and he came over and said , “hey what are you guys doing?” And I introduced him [to the girls] and said, “we’ve got a limo and we’re just cruising around.”

Michael said, “just come with me for a minute.” And he took me upstairs and introduced me to Peter Crowley and said, “this is my friend Tommy you should let his band play here.” And Peter said, “all right, how about two weeks from tonight?” On a Friday or Saturday night, I forget what it was. I’m like, “sure I’ll take it!” And he said, “okay you’ll go on anywhere between nine o’clock and three o’clock in the morning… be here at six o’clock to load in.” So I said, “great!”  I bought Michael’s some cocktails and he says, “let’s go down to CBGBs .”

We did the same thing down there.  Took the limo down. He walked in and he goes, “is Hilly here?” “Hilly, this is my friend Tommy…you should let his band play here.” And he goes, “I can let him in on one of the Monday audition nights.” And long story short, I’ve now seen two of the coolest clubs that I’ve still ever been to and I have a gig there in two weeks.

And I knew exactly then and there that I had to get a band together that played original material and the band I played with had no idea what we were getting into. I had an inkling and the lead singer and I started writing 10 songs for the set and we wrote them all in a one night of mad debauchery and partying. Just the two of us with an acoustic guitar and then the next day we started rehearsing and two weeks later we played in New York.


It was about a year and a half after that then my friend John Morelli up in Westchester County once again, ended up replacing Jim Morrison in Tuff Darts at the request of Ian Hunter. Ian Hunter was working with the band at that time and it had something to do with him and with Richard Gottherer as far as why Robert Gordon left the band. But John Morelli approached me and said, “hey…you want to be in Tuff Darts?” I’d just started playing New York a year ago, so I go, “yeah sure.” And I went and had an audition for Tuff Darts.

I was 23 in that album cover picture by the way, and when I got the audition with Tuff Darts we we broke all land speed records. So I got in…we hadn’t even had a rehearsal yet, other than a couple rehearsals just so they could see if they wanted me in the band. So a week after I got in the band, behind my back, they reached out to Sire Records and said, “is there still a deal on the table… we got the right singer now.” So I ended up, a week after I played in a band with no rehearsals, went right down and in a rehearsal studio and three guys Ken Kushnick, Seymour Stein and my friend Mike Rosenblatt all sat down and we had to play five songs.

And they came up to me earlier and said, “we don’t mind if you want to write the lyrics down, we just want to hear and see what you look like in the context of the band,” so I had memorized the songs. We opened up with their favorite “All For The Love Of Rock And Roll” and after five songs they said, “you guys got a deal… come by tomorrow morning and we’ll hash everything out.” So… a week after joining the band I got a record deal, and I’m just happier than a pig in shit and two weeks after that we went into Power Station as the first band to ever do basic tracks in there other than Ramones. They had just opened the studio it was owned by a couple of guys, one of them was Jon Bon Jovi’s uncle…

P: Tony Bongiovi.

T: And we were in Power Station with guys like Ian Hunter playing piano for us and Eric Weissberg, the guy that did the banjo for [the film] “Deliverance.” and Ralph Schuckett from Todd Rundgren’s band. Lou Delgado who’s a sax player from Saturday Night Live – the conductor of the band nowadays. And I was up and running! The album came out about six weeks later. I got signed in ’77. in March of ’78 did a six-week tour of the United States and came back, and of the other four guys, I absolutely hated three of them more than I’ve ever hated human beings in my life, and I quit the band and started from scratch all over again.

P: It’s sort of like you had the whole 10-year career arc in one! It’s amazing when you think about it.

T: It was so overwhelming! You know, I’m 23. I’m Irish. I like to drink, and everywhere we went there’s people from Warner Brothers who distributed everything for Sire Records offering me anything that I wanted, anytime I wanted it, and I think that was a little bit of the downfall and another reason I didn’t get along with other guys in the van. I like to say I’ve always partied professionally and those guys were not good partiers. You know, there are a couple of guys that are still really good friends of mine there and a couple of guys that aren’t.

Tuff darts album 1978
delightfully unpleasant with a foxy adolescent sneer…click for zoom

I will tell you this though, if you look closely at that Tuff Darts album if you don’t have a copy look it up online and zoom in. The photo of the cover and all the photos on the album for that matter, were done by Mick Rock, who’s famous for so many things but for the David Bowie “Aladdin Sane” lightning bolt photo and he photographed some of the most famous people in history. He just died a couple years ago. He decided [for “Tuff Darts”] that the cover should look like a French Mafioso from a movie called “La Belle De Jour.” The Godfather of this French Mafia actually had all his teeth pulled out and replaced with gold teeth, so you’ll notice that I have gold teeth there. Which proves without a doubt that I was the first musician before any rapper ever to have a gold grill!

Pierre André Clémenti In “Belle du Jour”
Pierre André Clémenti in “Belle Du Jour,” ca. 1967 dir. Luís Buñel

P: Exactly. You had the first gold dental appliance.

T: Exactly.

P: Wow, so it was actually was Ian Hunter playing piano on your record?

T: He plays electric piano… [Fender] Rhodes piano on three different cuts, yeah.

P: Because I’m thinking this was in 1978? In 1980 he was working at the Power Station with a guy named David Werner and he was producing him, so I guess he was still hanging around the [NYC] scene. He lived in Upstate New York didn’t he?

T: Yeah, he actually lived in Chappaqua. I grew up in Pleasantville he was in the next town over. As a matter of fact, the reason John Morelli got in band was he was up in Mount Kisco, which is right next to those places. And he was going into his gym to work out and he saw Ian Hunter walk through the door in front of him and he stopped and watched him and when he went to sign in he asked “is that Ian Hunter?” And they went, “no that’s a guy named Ian Patterson,”…which is Ian Hunter’s real name, and so he went in kind of mirrored him a little bit …shadowed him and John was on one of the treadmills and Ian was next to him and they started talking. Ian said, “what are you doing?” He goes, “oh I’m a drummer.” And he said, “maybe you should come down and you have the look… maybe you should come down and audition.”

And that’s how he got in the band. I mean everything about the situation I ended up in was such coincidence and it’s just it all just sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time. John was in the right place at the right time he passed the luck on to me. You know it’s what? Forty seven, forty eight years later and it still blows me away to talk about it it! It was, you know, really good times and all the luck of the Irish as you can imagine.

P: What was it like for you to be a young kid in a brand new band you’re you’ve just been signed to Sire Records and then they throw you into the Power Station you’re working with these guys at the very beginning of their career. What was that experience like working with Tony Bongiovi, Lance Quinn and Bob Clearmountain? To this day it’s like, if you want to have a guy mix your record good, you get Bob Clearmountain, it’s that simple.

T: Yep, yep. It was overwhelming and I had nothing else to compare it to, so it was it was just “I’m on the wave now and I gotta ride this wave as far as I can.” The one good thing about Tuff Darts when we first got in there before we took pictures before we played live, before we did anything, is these guys looked at me and I had hair you know down around my tits and parted in the middle and you know, just had no sense of style… except for the fact that I was wearing skinny black jeans with a white button-down shirt with a black tie and a black vest and I was doing that because I love Jeff Salen’s look he was the guitar player… main guitar player, and when John Morelli introduced me to the band I was looking like that and Jeff Salen said, “you look just like me!” And I said,  “boy, I’ll tell you that was not a coincidence.” You know I wanted to fit in with everybody down in New York and Tuff Darts I thought they had a really good sense of style and they were doing their own thing. I think Tuff Darts is one of the first bands that had the white collar down shirt with a skinny black ties and I think a lot of people followed that after the fact.

Tuff Darts press photo
Tuff Darts promo photo ca. 1978

But they took me over an apartment in Brooklyn Heights and Bobby, the other guitar player… his girlfriend was there and she was going to beauty school and they hacked off all my hair and spiked it up on top a little bit. Jeff opened up a box and pulled out all these sunglasses. Pulled out these Wayfarers and I’ve been wearing them ever since. I got on stage one time without them and Ken Kushnick from the record label …  from Sire Records said, “what are you doing without sunglasses?!” And I said, “I thought I’d try it without.” And he goes “no.” And I said, “why not?” And he said, “because you have the eyes of a choir boy, and you don’t know this, but when you fuck up, your eyes go like this… [Tommy removes his shades as his eyes bug out]”

P: [Laughter]

T: “…because don’t ever let them see what you’re thinking… don’t ever take the sunglasses off again.” So back to your question, I had the support of the the band because we were all new friends at that point and they really pushed me to be better like one thing I never would have thought of, and you see this all the time, when I was a guitar player predominantly and a background singer before I got into Tuff Darts, and now I’m putting the guitar away and I’m just a front man. I did play guitar on two songs on the record but I never got credit for that and that’s another whole story.


T: Okay, so you can always tell a guitar player on the stage if he’s just put his guitar away because he does stupid things like getting next to the other guitar player and going air guitaring on stage, and record people said, “why are you doing that… you’re not a guitar player… maybe later you’ll play a guitar, but right now you just need to sing.” And I started a lot of posing, like Stiv Bators from The Dead Boys. A lot of grabbing that mic stand and being able to hold it and ride it all the way down without falling over. Using it as a crutch. I used to love hanging out with The Dead Boys. We were on the same record label and they were my heroes. Of course I had balls, but I didn’t have the balls that Stiv Bators did!

The first time I saw them at Max’s Stiv Bators jumped up in the air grabbed his legs behind his arm and did what’s called a black crow or something, he just landed right on his stomach while he was holding his legs! And I said, “okay there’s certain things I’m not going to attempt to do!” But yeah, I pulled up some good stuff especially on tour. We were out in Ann Arbor Michigan on a seven foot stage and at the beginning of the show back then, we’d start “Here Comes Trouble” and the band would start and I would be off the side of the stage and the roadies would carry me out. I was dressed as “Father Frenzy.” We had gone to an ecumenical Church Catholic store, and they got me the whole white collar rig and the little cross to go with it. And we matched those up with the Ray-Bans and handcuffs, and I had a key for the handcuffs, so that after the first song I’m gonna unlock them. And then they rubber banded another key in case I lost the first one, to my belt.

So the first thing I did was go to take these handcuffs off and that went “bing!” [gestures an arc with finger] right into the middle of the crowd and I’m like okay… that sucks, and I reached down here and the rubber band broke and I saw that go “bing!” and I said, “man I have no choice, I cannot do this, I’m going down.” And I grabbed that mic stand, flew off the front of the stage, people got out of my way back then there was no nobody who was going to catch you… you’re on your own. And the crowd thinned out and I went down got the key and opened it up, and went about my business off the stage. The rest of the set I was down there, so you know, I’ve taken some jumps. I’ve climbed some things, but like I said, there’ll never be another Stiv Bators.

Tommy Frenzy live with Tuff Darts
Tommy Frenzy live with Tuff Darts

P: Right. And you know Iggy Pop is still alive… still walking this earth. I mean, it’s unbelievable.

T: I don’t know how that works [laughs].

P: It’s the last thing anyone expected.

T: Yep!


P: So it was basically this was a situation where you got personality conflicts with the band members which led you to say, “that’s it, I’m done… I’m out of here?”

T: Well, I’ll tell you the the first thing that set everything off, and it got it got worse when we were on tour. Without mentioning names but you’re going to know who they are now. When we filled out all the information that was supposed to be on the album and it was supposed to be Tommy Frenzy: the voice… the guitar. Jeff Salen: the lead guitar, etc. and we sent everything off and we waited for the the record to come back. And Jeff and Bobby got the first copies of the record and without showing anybody else, they went back to the record label and said, “everything looks perfect,” and they said, “okay sign off on it,” and they signed off on it. And then they brought it to rehearsal a couple days later and we all looked at it and said, “oh man this is amazing… the pictures came out great!” And I looked at my credit and it just said Tommy Frenzy: the voice, and I said, “they screwed this up, we have to stop it before they print it. It’s supposed to say “the guitar” as well. And Bobby and Jeff said, “oh no, we we already signed off… we didn’t even see that was missing.”

So I went into the record label the next day, talked to a couple people and they said, “Bobby and Jeff got the advanced copy last week to sign off on it and they said, “Tommy doesn’t want to be known as a guitar player,” even though I’ve been playing guitar since I was nine years old and it was my primary  instrument. So basically they took that away from me and then they lied to me and said, “we don’t know what happened.” The record label said, “Bobby and Jeff signed off on it and had us remove it.” So that that just started everything that went way downhill after that. A lot of things happened on tour… you know they’re just personalities that just don’t blend sometimes,

P: I think touring is the fire that’ll either refine the band into a working unit or it’ll break the band apart. In which a case it’s “see you later,” I guess.

T: Well, there’s part of me that says at my age, I’ve had a lot of careers in my life as as well as musician and I’ve learned in all of them that you’re going to run into people you don’t like. You’re going to run into people that don’t like you, but you can have a working relationship. But at 23 I didn’t know that. I hadn’t learned those those skills yet and all I thought was “you know I already have a record deal… I don’t need these guys… I will move on without them.” And I found out very quickly that the contract that I never really read, because I was too busy partying, said that I was signed individually as well as collectively. So if I left the band, I still had a record deal and I put a band together and they said, “no… we’re not interested.” And I said, “why not, it’s a great band?” They said, “to be honest with you, we probably won’t be interested in for a while, because we had just booked you six weeks all over Europe and we lost a lot of money money when you broke up the band, so we’re not in a real giving mood right now to help you out in your career.”

And from that moment, I got a manager who got an attorney and got me out of the record label contrac. And then that manager screwed me over, and I got an attorney to get me out of that, and that left me with no cash left and back at my parent’s house! So basically it was way less than a year… I’d say about nine months! I joined the band, I got a record deal. I put out a record. I did a six-week tour of the United States. I hated everybody and I was done and back to Ground Zero! We talked about the fact that… wow, it came on so fast and so hot and heavy, but the fact was that it was over just as fast as it started! So it’s sad, but I never would have met my wife. I wouldn’t be doing any of the things I’m doing nowadays if I hadn’t taken that path, so you can’t dwell on things like that, because I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing, and life is good.


P: Yeah you just go down a bitter highway that way, and yet you still linked back up with the Tuff Darts in 2002, when they put out the CD reissue on Wounded Bird?

The Sic F*cks with Tish + Snooky © 1977 Robert Barry Francos of ffanzeen

T: No, we got back together right after 2000, after 9 11.  Because Tish and Snooky, who are from The Sic F*cks

P: The Bellomo Sisters.

T: And they came out and put together a CBGBs night with a bunch of bands that night, so it was their 25th Manic Panic anniversary and they had an art show first and we were all invited at the basement of the Chelsea Hotel. The Tuff Darts were there without John Morelli. He wasn’t interested in it at that point. We had Jimmy back in the band and by that time, we were all adults and very happy to see each other. We did a couple rehearsals, played at CBGBs.

When I took my wife down, she didn’t know me in the Tuff Darts days. Only in some of my local bands after that, and we got out of the cab and walked into the Chelsea Hotel and they had reporters there because all these punk bands. I think The Dictators might have gotten back together for this, and a whole bunch of bands. And they had all this press there taking pictures of people coming in on a red carpet, and my wife was just like… “you really were somebody.” I said, “for a split second, I really was, yes.” And we went back to CBGBs that night and we did a 10 song set.

Robert Gordon was supposed to show up and when it was time to go on, he never showed up, so they said, “all right, well you’ll sing.” I said, “I’m already singing five of the songs anyway.” He was gonna do the other five, and it turned out Robert Gordon was drinking upstairs. We were playing downstairs at CBGB’s in the basement. Robert Gordon was sitting upstairs drinking and he thought the thing was canceled. He didn’t know where anybody was. Somebody saw him and sent him downstairs and he got up and did five songs with us and and that was pretty cool.

I had a couple of run-ins with Robert Gordon. For starters, when I when I went on tour with the band, anybody that interviewed me, anybody that I signed autographs for. Anybody I ran into… always said the same thing: what’s Robert Gordon really like and I’m like, “fuck you man, I’m really tired of hearing about Robert Gordon!” When I got out of Tuff Darts, I found out through a friend of a friend that Robert Gordon was putting together one of his rockabilly bands to go on tour and I called and used my real name instead of Tommy Frenzy, then showed up and did five songs with him and he said, “very nice, very nice… what’s your name?” And I reached out and I shook his hand and I said, “I’m Tommy Frenzy,” and he goes in that baritone voice, “holy shit Tommy, nice to meet you.” And I didn’t get the gig, but who knows why at that point. But Robert just passed away and you know, the world’s a worse place without him.

P: Yeah, I like Robert Gordon. I have a few of his solo records because I’m a big Link Wray fan, so naturally they’re in my house. I can’t live without Link Wray. Going back to the Steve Peer album, I saw that Harley Fine played on the disc.

T: They did something in his studio.

P: You were in Harley Fine’s band 10 Ton Truckers, but I can’t find out when this was happening, because in my research about your your background, I saw references to the 10 Ton Truckers with you in it, but I don’t know what time that was in the timeline.

T: I actually only did one gig with 10 Ton Truckers and I’m gonna say it was at my 50th birthday. Jeff Salen had had hooked me up with Harley Fine and we were swapping things off and he helped me record a couple of my songs. In return, I played some guitar and did some background vocals on one of his albums too.

NEXT: …Back To The Future With Tommy Frenzy

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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1 Response to Tommy Frenzy: From Ground-Level Punk To Undignified Retirement [part 1]

  1. Pingback: Record Shopping Road Trip: Akron Ohio – 2023 – The Bomb Shelter | Post-Punk Monk

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