Ask any punk about his influences and it's a safe bet that Jay and The Americans and Paul Anka won't be on the short list. But The Misfits are not your average punks. "The first album my Dad had that I listened to was by Jay and The Americans," Misfits front man/resurrecter Jerry Only said in an e-mail interview last week from a tour stop in England. "'This Magic Moment' was my favorite song by that artist and I've always wanted to cover it."
It took a while for Only to get around to it. Jay and Anka didn't surface until '03s Project 1950, a homage to the sounds Only said influenced him. The original recipe for The Misfits was a dollop of gore, a fistful of ghoulish B-movie lyrics, some horror show/glam makeup, a lot of attitude (supplied by original front man Glen Danzig, on and off stage) and three chords played as loud and as fast as humanly possible.
It worked so well that others copped their songs, if not their style. Metallica's James Hetfield was seen sporting a Misfits tee while his band covered "Green Hell" and "Last Caress" from '96's Earth A.D. Guns N' Roses adapted the Misfits tune "Attitude" from 1980's Beware for their own use as well as on the album The Spaghetti Incident?. "Attitude, you got some fucking attitude/Inside your feeble brain there's probably a whore/If you don't shut your mouth you're gonna feel the floor," Danzig bellowed. Not exactly Jay and The Americans material.
When Danzig left in '83, the band seemed to be over. Danzig kept the rights to the Misfits name while starting his own group Samhain, which evolved into Danzig.
The legal wrangling lasted until 1995, and the band was unable to perform until bassist Jerry Only obtained the rights to the Misfits name and began performing as the front man. Up until '03, Only and The Misfits continued to spew out the same type of stuff they'd done with Danzig.
But the release of Project 1950 made some fans wonder if they had the right band in their ear canals. Bobby Darrin, Richie Valens, Conway Twitty, Elvis Jerry Lee, Jay and The Americans and Anka classics were set to a blistering Ramones-like tempo.
It's interesting stuff. Only warbled crooner-style pretty well and the speeded-up versions of Elvis, Jerry Lee and Conway work well as punkabilly. But Anka? Seems like you'd be hard-pressed to find any punk/rock fan of any age who would give the schmaltzy former teen idol the time of day. "He also wrote 'My Way,' which was recorded by Elvis, Frank Sinatra and later covered by Sid Vicious," Only says in defense of his choice. "Sid Vicious' cover of 'My Way' is possibly the greatest punk song of the early era. Obviously a Paul Anka cover put The Misfits in great company."
The band's recording output took another strange twist with '05's Fiend Club Lounge: The Misfits meet the Nutley Brass. Produced by Only and released on The Misfits' label, the record is all instrumental version of Misfits songs done easy listening/cocktail lounge style by one man band Sam Elwitt. Punk elevator music anyone?
So these days, if you want the real deal, you have to go see the band live. You can get up close and personal. Only never goes backstage after a show, preferring instead to hang out in front of the stage and talk to fans. "Our fans inspire me to do that," Only says. "They're the best fans in the world. It's nice to touch the people who hold you up all the time. I do what I do because of them."
Steve Wensil, who performs as Stabb Frehley in Charlotte's punk outfit The Dead Kings and lists the band as a major influence says he admires Only's honesty with fans. "I've talked to Jerry a few times. I gave him our first CD and asked him if he'd listen to it and he said, 'Well, I doubt I'll listen to it, but I'll give it to my kids. When I get home I got to go back to work.'"
And as long as he's on the subject of honesty, Wensil gives Only a musical tribute, sort of. "It's kind of like my band, The Dead Kings. The lyrics and the songwriting tend to be amateurish, but it's like listening to 'We're Not Gonna Take It' by Twisted Sister," Wensil says. "It's about the simplest song in the world, but there are millions of people who would kill to have wrote that. I understand how people could say that about The Misfits -- it is amateurish and it is easy to play, but that's what makes it great."
The band rolls on, with Only proclaiming that after 30 years, the band is better and faster than ever. Despite their hardcore image, nobody in the outfit -- which now consists of Only on bass and vocals, original drummer Robo and former Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadena -- smokes or drinks and they hit the gym every day.
Doesn't that violate the punk credo somehow? "Most of the people who wrote the punk credo are dead," Only replies, "and after all, we are the Misfits."
Only believes their continued success is based on the fact they always try to out-do themselves. "Our competition is not others, it's ourselves," Only says. "Paul Anka always said the best song is the one I haven't written yet."
The Misfits play Amos' Southend on Oct. 14. Tickets are $17.50 in advance and $20 the day of the all-ages show. There is a $2 surcharge for under 21 and under 16 must be accompanied by parent. Doors open at 7 p.m.