It’s great to know that Lee Ving is still out there, fighting the good fight with the umpteenth version of Fear, which did not achieve the recognition and success it should have like … come to think of it … so many other original punk bands.
But as this year’s Fear heads to Garden Grove for a Saturday night headlining gig, I can’t help but think of how unusually quiet Ving got during a phone interview with me years ago.
Fear’s resume includes a prominent spot in Penelope Spheeris’ seminal 1981 punkumentary on the original LA scene, The Decline of Western Civilization (as well as Dave Grohl’s more recent 2013 doc Sound City), and an infamous Halloween 1981 performance on Saturday Night Live that included mega-fan John Belushi and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat (and later Fugazi) among the slamdancers, tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the NBC set and the band’s removal from the video version and televised repeats of that particular episode.
Now that’s punk rock, kiddies.
The ringleader of the destructive, sonic circus was, is and always will be Ving (born Lee James Capallero). He rose through Philadelphia blues and jazz scenes before moving to New York and then, in 1977, to LA, where he formed Fear. One of the band’s best known songs, “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones,” off their debut album from 1982 The Record, was birthed at Sound City in Van Nuys with bassist Derf Scratch playing the sax like he was molesting it.
I always felt the natural bookend to “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones” was “Got to Get Out of New York” from master jazz sax man Tom Scott’s 1983 album Target, which featured Ving’s vocals and harmonica playing. He also went on to sing country, and he had something of a side career as an actor, which gets us closer to that memorable phone call in 1999 that was parlayed into “The Punkiest Man in Punk.”
I called the promoter of a looming local Fear show to set up an interview with the frontman. Instead, the promoter said “Hang on” and then handed the phone over to Ving. What resulted was the most impromptu of interviews. We somehow managed to have a very nice back and forth going–he’s a real chatterbox, which is great–when I started running out of things to ask. As he was talking and talking, I came up with the idea of a lightning round where I’d toss out verbal spaghetti to see what stuck to the wall.
Now, like the name of the aforementioned promoter, I don’t recall how I came across this particular tidbit, but it stayed with me because, as a loyal child viewer of old movies KTLA/Channel 5 would roll on weekends, I saw many from the 1930s and ’40s starring the Dead End Kids. The really O.G. punks, whose leader was played by Leo Gorcey, went on to be known in later film series as the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys.
Anyway, somewhere I got it in my head that Ving was the out-of-wedlock child of a Dead End Kid, which led to …
ME: Are you related to Dead End Kid . . .
VING: [Meekly] … Leo Gorcey.
Yeah, that’s it.
[Long pause. Deafening silence. It was very unusual given how much Ving had rapid-fired back at me to that point. But I soldiered on.]
Oh, so that’s the one you’re related to?
He’s the one.
How are you related?
[Another pause, which gives way to an uncharacteristically soft voice.]
It’s a long story. Let’s just say we were kin, and he’s my main musical influence.
He was a musician?
It’s a little-known fact.
I loved those movies as a kid.
So did I.
* * *
In the wide-ranging interview, Ving denied being a Nazi, professed his love for Shiner Bock beer and expressed his hate for Nicole Brown Simpson’s murderer. But all I could think of afterward was … I had to look up Gorcey photos to compare.
Looking at these, I don’t think anyone would doubt Ving about this.
Fear with special guests Shattered Faith and Twisted Creeps at Garden Amp, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove; gardenamp.com. Sat., 6 p.m. (doors open). $25-$30. Full bar, all ages.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.