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Neon Leon

NEON LEON
ALIVE AND WELL!

By James Porter

(From Roctober #40, 2005)

Some years back, in Roctober's exhaustive rundown of Black punk rockers from the 1976-1983 era, we wrote about Neon Leon. Up to then, Leon had been a mystery figure to us. You'd see old ads in New York Rocker magazine for shows at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City and invariably Neon Leon would be listed, supporting bigger, more widely-known acts on the same bill, You'd pick up an issue of Rock Scene, and there he was hanging out. When the romance between Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious came to its tragic, ultimate conclusion (see sidebar), Leon was interviewed at length about his Chelsea Hotel neighbors. Yet, actual factoids on the man and his career were insanely hard to come by. But, the power of the Internet can't be denied - after our article ran online (where it still resides and is occasionally updated at http://www.roctober.com/roctober/blackpunk1.html), Leon himself replied, motivated to right the wrongs he felt the article contained (specifically to defend himself against this quote from The Fast's vocalist Paul Zone: "His act sucked, you can ask anyone. But he was a great guy. We really liked him. He was a coke dealer with a blonde white stripper girlfriend. He goes way back on the scene, before punk, like 1974."). Unlike many of the more prominent members of the legendary original punk scene, Leon is a survivor who (thanks to a Josephine Baker-like European expatriate career) has kept working and led a successful, interesting life since those good ol' days at Max's slowed to a crawl and died. Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain really should have tried to track him down for their punk oral history Please Kill Me, as his memories of those days are vivid, as if he'd just lived it a couple of days ago. And it went a little something like this...

ROCTOBER: The first thing I want to say is how'd it start, how'd you get into music, period?

NEON LEON: Starting, I was hanging out in South Jersey and I'd see all these TV programs. But I was always interested in music and a lot of people, like my family, were musicians and blues guys and things like this...it was a very interracial, mixed family. The family reunion would be like, the country dudes would come from the South, (listening to) Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and things like this and Little Richard, then you have, like the other family that was from North Jersey and stuff and they were like into be-bop jazz. I heard all this music all the time so, secretly, I wanted to be a musician. I was so overpowered by my relatives, I thought 'wow, I never could be this good.' It was like a fantasy. Then all this stuff happened, you know, with Zeppelin and the Stones and all this stuff and its kinda like bluesy. And I was like 'whoa, man' and my sister had all these records, you know. And I said, 'yeah, this is like really it.' So I was hanging out in Philadelphia and we decided, 'okay, let's make a band.' I could play a little bit...but uh, nothing to write home about. So we decided to start a band. And the next thing, we got a gig opening for the New York Dolls.

Oh, what band was this?

It was called Neon Leon and the Rainbow Express.

Okay, and what instrument did you play?

I played guitar and I was the front man. Honi O'Rourke was the bass player. she became the bass player because all the other bass players were trying to tell me how to play my music.

Would this have been like 1973 when you opened up for the Dolls?

That was like '73. '73,'74 period.

And how did this go?

It went really good, it was like a gig with the New York Dolls. And we did that, and you know, backstage, I was like, you know, 'I wanna make it, blah, blah blah, what should I do?' And they said, 'Well, you gotta get outta here.' I said, 'yeah, but where should I go?' And they said 'you should come to New York.' And I said, 'But I don't know anybody in New York.' And they said, 'Well, you know us.' And I said, 'Yeah, can I have a number or something?' They said, 'Yeah, of course, of course, no problem. Take this number, come in to New York and call me.' Me and Johnny (Thunders), we got along, so, I could believe it, you know, I thought they were just being nice. But then we played around for another year and we got a lot better doing South Philly and things like that, so finally, I said 'Wow, its time. Lets go.' We went up there, Honi O'Rourke and I went first and we hung out first cuz the Holiday Inn wouldn't take us; we looked weird. So I said 'the Chelsea Hotel, they had Jimi Hendrix and all these people.' So we parked our car in front of the hotel and there was a sign saying 'No Standing.' But being from South Jersey, we didn't know that meant 'No Parking.' 'No Parking' means 'No Parking,' and we thought 'Oh, you can't stand there.' So we parked the car there, of course the next day we thought it was stolen. The police stole it. So then we were kinda like homeless, you know, because we didn't pay our rent, and the money was the car and the car was towed. But actually, it was a blessing in disguise, so I called this number (of Johnny Thunders) what the hell, right? I called, and he says 'hey, come on, over,' and he remembered who I was. They had a loft right next to the Chelsea Hotel, and in that loft also was this new group called Kiss rehearsing, who were like the rejects...

Ha, little did we know...

...you know, there was like a fascist element in the scene. It wasn't called 'punk,' but some people wanted to dictate how you should be, and what was 'hip,' other musicians. So, in a way, they didn't want any other opinions, it was like 'this is what we wear.' And I was kinda like, 'nah, I'm wearing this,' you know? I didn't start playing rock music to have some other people tell me what to do...even if they were musicians. I've got my own vision. So, I had like a mixed attitude from some of the people, from some of the other artists, you know what I mean? They were like 'Ohh, he sucks.' 'Yeah, but I draw more people than you.' We had quite a bit of underground success, people didn't really know what to do with us at the time because Honi was really the first female bass player on the scene. It wasn't Tina (Weymouth) from Talking Heads, they hadn't even gotten to New York yet. You know what I mean? People came up to me like Paul Zone, Miki Zone (of The Fast), he was cool. Paul got a little strange sometimes, and of course they were very competitive but we looked at it as not a competition, we figured all we had to do was be the best us and there were wouldn't be anybody better at being us than us. So therefore, there's no race to win, you're just busy being yourself. We didn't get a major record deal, but I mean, the Rolling Stones picked us up, out of all the groups playing on the scene and took us to London where we lived for almost two years.

Now what year was this?

This is '76.

Since the Stones took you in, how come you didn't record for their label?

Well, we had two ways to go. Mick had said 'we can do it this way (record you for Rolling Stones Records), or a lot of groups in London now are making their own labels. And then you can really learn about the music business and actually, there'll be more money in it for you." Just because you signed to a major doesn't mean you're gonna make any money. You know, say a CD's 15 bucks, maybe you'll get a dollar, and out of that dollar, okay, there's, part of that goes to management, right? Then its split between the group and then there's taxes on it. The record company makes $14. So Mick and them, they gave me money to start my own label, so I made this label, right? And I wrote this song, "Rock and Roll's Alive in New York City," which became kinda like an underground anthem. It was on our label, and people kinda laughed, but we had been to London now.

Now what was the name of this label?

It was called Big Deal Records. And a guy named James Karnback who worked with David Maysles, the Maysles Brothers on the film, Gimme Shelter, with David Dalton on the Stones books, and he also worked for Dick Clark Productions with all these, like videos you see from the old days of black and white, of all the Beatles and this stuff?

Yeah.

He used to dig those tapes out of the trash in back of the Ed Sullivan Theater. He collected all of it and copyrighted all of it, and owns all of it. Whenever you see this old footage of The Stones, or any of these groups like that, he owns it and you have to rent it from him. So he knew a lot of people. I said 'okay, you can manage our label and the group.' So we joined forces and we sent the thing around to try to get distribution and we were rejected, I'd say, by every label in New York. Jeff Stein came over, his biggest film was for The Who, The Kids Are Alright. I met him just when he flew back from (Keith) Moon's place. He was a friend of Karnback. And his brothers Leyland Stein and Kevin Stein, they wrote books for the Rolling Stones and stuff like this, so it was a really interesting group of people I was around...who didn't think I sucked. You follow?

Yeah.

So, my so-called 'punk' music was more blues based. I would do things like play Reggae songs and we were supposed to be loud, hard, faster and faster.

Now a lot of punk bands started dipping in to Reggae, were you the first, or one of the first?

I think so. We were in London, '76 to '77, right? And the only thing that was coming close to kinda like where we were at was The Clash and none of it was called 'punk.' Don Letts worked down the street from the apartment that I had on King's Road. By this time, we were an unsigned band and we had loads of money because the Stones were supporting us...which was better than the label supporting us because the label we had to pay back, follow? Jeff Stein came over and heard us at the Diplomat Hotel and freaked out. He says 'I wanna co-manage.' We said 'okay.' So he says 'Okay, I'll put some money into your label.' 'Alright.' 'And you can sell them at Bleecker Bob's, you can sell them at the gigs, it'd be better because then you don't have to pay anyone any money or anything.' And we weren't really interested in being the world's most famous group, we were kinda like, wanted to keep our vision. It's kinda idealistic, so we did that. The next thing we know, Jeff calls up and says 'I've got great news, Dr. Pepper Concerts in the Park wants to use the music for the TV spot, advertising the concerts in the park, you'll get like a fee for this, you'll get a percentage.' 'Yeah, okay, great.' So I was like 'wow, I'm glad that me and Honi O'Rourke own the label.' So we did that deal. The next thing that happened was, this won the Millimeter Magazine Award for commercial spots, the song that was rejected by every label for not being commercial winds up being the commercial thing for the all the KROQ stations. We did a deal with all the KROQ stations - for every KROQ station throughout the United States...with this spot made by Jeff Stein. So, then it became a case of too much, too soon, you know? So then we had loads of dough, that's when the rot sets in because then people are feeling they're rock stars. So here comes the excessive drug use and Playboy bunnies who wanna fuck you, not because of who you are, but because they saw you on the TV or on the magazine or standing next to Mick Jagger and they figure 'okay, well, if I give him a blow job, you know, I can go to the party with him, then I can give Mick one' or whatever. But then I did lots of celebrity parties, the group, we went to this other level, where we would play like JP's and Trax on the Upper West Side for music interested parties, like if The Who had a party, we'd be hired to play at their release party. The Stones "Some Girls" party we did...so then we started showcasing for people like Ahmet Ertegun. And meanwhile, half the band is getting more and more high, you know? So then, with the excessive drug use, the backstabbing thing starts, this, that and so forth. Finally, I'd met this Swedish model, I was really in love with her and we were hanging a lot, and she was always talking about 'Oh, you should go to Europe again.' So I wanted the band to go to Europe, but some of them were too stoned and forgot what I was talking about. Finally we decided to have a concert in Central Park. So the management figures out how we could throw a thing in Central Park, with ten other bands with us headlining. And I'll never forget the posting, 'Neon Leon and his group are having a free concert with ten bands in Central Park,' which we paid for. What happened was the two guitar players were best friends, and their girlfriends were best friends who were porn stars, two girls: Sharon Mitchell and Ming Toy, all out in San Francisco. And we were surrounded by all these really hot porn girls, you know? Suzie London and Vanessa Del Rio and all this stuff, before the whole scene of that moved to California. I mean, I wasn't a porn star (as Syl Sylvain implied in a previous issue of Roctober), I did music for porn films...these chicks were like our girlfriends. That was kind of funny, but then the one girl, Sharon Mitchell's best friend, went and married Sharon's boyfriend at the time who was in the band, and vice versa. These two friends became enemies for awhile. So they didn't want to play with each other, naturally, but we had a show to put on. So our tour manager, Big Steve, who was also a biker, had to threaten them with their lives that this show would go on. And I realized the dream is over. So I said 'Now what?' and my girlfriend said 'Well, you've never been to Stockholm, I'd love for you to come to Stockholm.' So I said, 'Why not?'

What year is this now?

This is '81, August of '81. So I said 'well, lets go to Holland first, because I met a guy through Mick Jagger named Everett Wilbrink who was a head for A&R for Ariola out of Holland which became Ariola BMG. So I told him I was coming over and he says 'oh, you're welcome, we might have a project for you to take care of.' So I flew to Holland with my girlfriend and we checked into this great hotel and there was a guy named Herman Broad who was datin Nina Hagen. I guess Herman was Holland's biggest rock star, along with Golden Earring. A notorious junkie, but a good artist and a great painter also. They felt that he needed fresh energy and they figured since I've been around Keith Richards a lot and Johnny Thunders and stuff, I could handle it. But outta six rehearsals, he showed up for two, nodded out at both ones before the third song, and we said 'well, I guess Herman's not ready,' which was fine, and they paid our expenses. My girlfriend said "maybe we go to Sweden.' And I said 'Lets go to Germany first.' But I didn't like the German police at the time, I was paranoid, so then we went to Sweden. We were a little spaced out as far as her parents were concerned. They were like, very wealthy, so they put us out in this part of Sweden called Lake Vaaren where people have summer houses and gave us a boat and some fishing poles and said 'get normal.' So that was like going to rehab. So we were there for like a month and boy did we feel a lot better. We had New York out of our systems so to speak. Then we went into Stockholm and people told us to go in to this club called Bad News. So we went to this place, Bad News and there was Hanoi Rocks and Pierre Gestler...and all these people were like the meat of the Scandinavian rock scene. I walked in, and some people knew me from the Sid Vicious scandal and some of the press from that and from Max's Kansas City. There was a guy there named Sanyi Tandan who worked for a label in Scandinavia, and was promoting all these things. He had just signed Hanoi Rocks. He actually was the person responsible for starting the glam rock movement with the Dolls and Hanoi Rocks and I think California copied it because there was no Motley Cre or any of that stuff. Sanyi said to me 'oh, and another guy, oh, you're Neon Leon?' And I said, 'yeah.' And they said 'what are you doing here?' I said, 'I dunno, I'm hanging out, writing songs, you know, traveling around.' And he says 'oh, you have any new songs?' I said, 'yeah, I just wrote this new one.' He says 'are you on a label?' I say, 'no.' He says, 'well, would you like to make a single?' I say, 'could be.' He says 'well, come by the office tomorrow.' Four days later, I was signed. Then that song was made, that was called 'Movin in the Right Direction,' it went to like number four on the Swedish New Wave charts.

They had a separate chart for New Wave?

Yeah. It was very progressive. Now, Europe freaked me out, especially Scandinavia. I mean, because the government would sponsor your rehearsal room. You'd write to them and say, 'okay, we're a reggae band.' And once a month the people come by and listen to you, and they'd give you another month so that then you could do music, because the country realized the music business was good, it was good, it gave them something to do, whatever. And that kinda started my Scandinavian thing. So I come back to New York, I didn't have my band anymore, so I'd would jam with people, then I would fly back to Scandinavia and I'd have a band and we'd play and the gigs kept getting bigger and bigger. I kept doing that, doing London, doing tours with Johnny Thunders and Hanoi Rocks and Lords Of The New Church and all this stuff, I was Mr. Support. Whenever people from New York would come over, they would look me and my guitars up because we have rock and roll central, one block from the biggest rock club that anybody would play from Winter to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Everybody would come over to our house to meet girls or get smashed or whatever. So I stayed there because I felt like a king, you know? The rest of it really didn't matter, you know, my life changed to the point where I had my fantastic girlfriend, had bands, we played festivals, we'd played things called Folk Park Tours which are like for five thousand up in the summer time in Scandinavia...and then the rot set in.

Pardon me for asking, but what year was this?

The festivals? This is like '82, '83, '84, '85, I came back to the states to do the Ritz in New York on the Lower East Side.

When you came back to New York to do the Ritz, were there any people left over from the 70s that still remembered it?

Yeah, it was packed. I remember Bruce Springsteen came, Miami Steve...they actually, really supported me. I didn't have to play. Just getting the residuals from this KROQ stuff and winning the commercial industry (equivalent of the) Oscar. Then I got married and after three years, my wife flipped out because I would tour and she'd be home with her girlfriends and they would do cocaine, and I found 'hey, you can't do cocaine and all this shit and tour,' so I became very straight and health-freak, and she became Courtney Love. So lost the house, lost the car, lost the kids, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, you know and so then I came back to the states and said 'okay,' with my tail between my legs kinda, but I still had money, I still had my guitar and by now I had a new girlfriend. And we said 'oh, lets come to New York,' and this is the 'Cat Club' period of time. And so I did the 'Cat Club,' used to run Nirvana down at Times Square which was the only rock club at the cross roads of the world, you know? Did a lot of jam bands, things for Tommy Gun. At that period of time, it was great because it was like a nice progression.

So this would be in the 90s, I take it?

No, no, this is the mid to late 80s, and I would fly back and forth... they had a TV show at the Limelight, this period called the Breakfast Club.

Okay, now was this like a weekly show, like a special, or what?

No, we'd come on every week. It was called Manhattan Cable. And this is like, yeah, I had a write-up in Details magazine, so probably this is in their archives. Andy Warhol (is on the cover) and its May, 1987, so we're at 1987 here.

Oh, okay, May...1987?

May, 1987. I did Limelight a lot with Debbie Harry. Then I did the United Nations Environment Program with Sting and that stuff for the Brazilian Rainforest project. Going to the 90s, I'm back in Europe again, and the Stones did their Urban Jungle Tour, and they had that thing called Steel Wheels Express, I was the opening act for that...which led to me having a TV show in Sweden which was their first version of MTV. This is like 1990, I did that. And lets see, what else? Then several rock hit things, had a number five in Finland, I don't know what year this is, I guess its about around the same period of time, called "Girls, Guns and Money." This is when I was working for Warner Brothers and had my first album out. The director of one of the labels, Private, distributed by Warner Bros.

Now in what country was this released?

It was actually released all over, you can buy it. Last time I remember, it was being sold for like fifty bucks as a collectors thing...and its distributed by Warners. And in some countries it was distributed by Music for Nations, and its called "Neon Leon - Artificial Stimulation."

But it did come out in America, right?

Yeah, and on this album, lets see, Clem Burke played drums, Johnny Vidal from The Saints plays guitar, some of the guys from our old band.

Let me back up, you said it was a custom label that was distributed by Warners, what was the name of it again?

Sanji. (About this time), I kinda got bored with the Neon Leon trip, you know? I was exploring other music and traveling a lot and going to Spain and doing things that I used to dream about, and of course this affects your music and your horizons kind of broaden a bit. My rock audience didn't want to accept this change, so I was like 'ahhh,' you know, bored. I went to Jamaica, and hung out there and said 'I think I'm going to do a lot of Reggae music and feel that,' and try to learn more about that because its part of my background. So I went there and changed my name to King Lion, cuz this is well, this stuff doesn't have much to do with the persona of Neon Leon, so I said 'I won't confuse the issue.' So I changed my name to King Lion, came back to Europe and got immediately signed to C&R Music from outta Holland, and put out some songs and had some hits in the clubs and stuff throughout Europe, to France, to Scandinavia. Then from C&R, when that deal ran off, Sony Denmark signed me. That was like '94. For two consecutive summers I had the number one hit in Denmark for one summer in Sweden. Some German groups covered it and I got bucks from that and we started our own label called Dance Team Denmark and I was out at Sony Music at the Danish office, then I had a number one with them by their Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan guy, he wrote it called "This is My Life."

Who was it who wrote "This is My Life?"

His name is Kim Larsen, and he had one of the first big Danish rock groups called Gasoline. So I did a reggae version of his song and it became number one in '95, March '95 in Denmark. Which, of course led to a lot of work, a lot of open air festivals, things like this. Sony, in typical company fashion, had made their money and we did lots of compilation CDs and a lot of dance music with rock overtones and Reggae overtones in it. So then I couldn't get out of my deal, so they said 'well, do you have some other offers?' And I said, 'yeah.' So they said, 'well, in your contract, you can't sign to another label as King Lion, but if you make up another name and people know its you, then it can be worthwhile.' So they said, 'look at Prince, a symbol.' They said, 'a lot of people think he's crazy, but Warners owns his name. So he's becoming symbol so he can still work and put out things.' So I says, 'okay, yeah, crazy like a fox.' So I became Supasoca. Then I had some hits with that. So then I did that and we did a different version of Sting's 'Bed's Too Big Without You,' but we changed it to 'I Need Love.' We put out a 'electronic neo-reggae' version of 'Could You Be Loved?' and some Marley stuff, which resulted in tours of Spain and Ibiza and this kind of stuff, and that group, I just folded that, lets see, two years ago. And that had a run at success then two of the girls fell in love with people. One fell in love with our bodyguard and they live in Spain, and the other one, in between, went to Namibia to work as a nurse and to help the people there, and she met a doctor from the World Health Organization, so now she's living in Brazil. So that folded that group, we're all still friends. Then I went solo again and went to Hawaii. I joined the group of Butch Halo Mano, who's like the king of Reggae of the Pacific Ocean. Did that, and still do that when I go to Hawaii, I go to Hawaii each year and work with him. Then, 2002, they have a thing called the Eurovision Song Festival and I was one of the finalists for the country of Lithuania because one of my backup singers is from Lithuania. So we were doing the finals for that with a song that I wrote and I co-wrote another song for Denmark. It was the first time in history of the Eurovision that one team from one country had two songs in two different finals in the same year, which helped me become a hotter song writer. I haven't had a day job in years, its just like music and painting. So that kinda leads up in to now, to what I do these days. I do Austria, like the exclusive ski resorts as a solo act. I do a thing with a keyboard player and its basically, I play anything I want.

Okay, no categories, just whatever comes to mind?

Whatever I feel like doing, I can do. So that's a tremendous amount of freedom. Now this winter, I started my own label called Paradise Records. I've got four projects, I've got the covers down, I've got most of the masters mixed and finalized. I got four different things that I'm doing. One is this: King Lion's Greatest Hits, it's like all the dance music and stuff, the fusion things that I did from '94 to 2004 in Scandinavia, I became King Lion, right? Then, I'm working on re-releasing the Neon Leon albums. Then I really like funk music a lot, so I have a song that I have the vocals to do for one track called "Bring Back the Funk." And a CD for the Pacific Ocean called "Aloha." It's the music of Hawaii, which is called 'Jawaiian,' which is kinda like 70s reggae, like that Bob Marley kind of thing.

Will a compilation of that older stuff be available in the States any time soon?

Oh yeah. I'm working with my lawyer to have it distributed everywhere. And it's really nice; in time I wind up owning myself and most artists don't live long enough to get to that point. So I've gotten most of my masters back, and then nobody thought that there'd be a market for this. Some of the labels said, 'oh yeah, just take it.' And I said, 'will you sign this paper, please?' They said, 'yeah, yeah.' I said about six months and they'll regret it.

Even though the New York punk scene did have some racist overtones, as Lester Bangs wrote, there were a lot of Black artists on the New York punk scene, on the fringe of the punk scene for years. I think its pretty interesting that you, Garland Jefferies, Ivan Julian, a whole bunch of people...

I love Garland, "Ghost Writer," oh yeah, great stuff...racism is a thing that all cultures encounter, you know? You can go to places where the black people are racist or the Chinese or whatever. So, its like, okay, I look at things this way: I have obstacles in New York, right? So I didn't see why I had to fight to prove something to New York. So I said, 'well, okay, they don't like it, somebody else does, I know I'm good.' So, I went to Sweden. They were white, right? Boy, they're whiter than white. And okay, I got a deal in four days and I wasn't even looking. The same material that everyone in New York said 'nah, nah, not you.' But everybody would show up at my gigs, you follow? And you know, it would be like, the club would hire me to play support for some new group so that there'd be an audience. And then, the new group, who wasn't maybe really good, they got signed. And after awhile I said, 'wait a minute, hey! No, no, no.' And that contributed to my leaving. But they did me a favor because I'm still alive, I'm healthy.

Unlike most of the people in that Please Kill Me book, not only are you still alive, you're still in good shape it sounds like.

Yeah, I'm in really good shape. My grandmother used to say, 'did you do a deal with the devil or something? I don't understand it.' I have a great house on the west coast of Denmark, I've got one outside of Germany, I've got good friends, I've got a beautiful daughter, I got like four different bands that I play with, my own label, I go to Hawaii every year, I go to Rome...

And you've got like four different identities, too. You've got the Reggae guy, the funk guy and the punk guy. So you're covering all these markets at once.

Yes. Kinda like George Clinton, you know? Its all me.

Only, unlike Clinton, you own all your own masters.

I have to compartmentalize, you know what I mean? Because it's a marketing thing. If it were the 60s or early 70s, it would be more acceptable. Like, 'oh yeah, he's coming out and he's doing all this stuff.' So then they put everything in boxes so they can sell it better. But that doesn't mean I have to change. So, I'm still having fun with it. Also, in the past two years I was playing with one of the great musicians of Chicago, who recently died, Master Henry Gibson, from Curtis Mayfield's band. We played all over. We would do two man Gospel concerts in the middle of Germany and tear the place up! He was like my pop, you know? He was like my other father. He died just before we were going to do national TV in Sweden. Then his wife said, 'hey, you guys gotta go on and do the show anyway.' So we dedicated it to him. Actually, I have his congas.

Do you ever play them, or do you just let them rest?

I just have them sitting in my house, they have a place of honor along with some other things. I wear the ring he gave me all the time, and it's a gold skull ring, right? And he said, 'look at this every day because that's who's coming to meet ya, so don't waste your time. Live.' So I'm reminded of that everyday. Talk about Chicago and his wife making ribs, Chicago south side style, and things like this, you know, and soul spaghetti you know? And we'd be sitting sweet and have soul parties. And Henry did a couple of films in Sweden that the rest of the world doesn't know about. Played with some of the biggest groups in Scandinavia, made a lot of money, a wonderful, wonderful man. It was good that he went out in his prime because I hate to see so many musicians, particularly from Chicago going out when they're all drug addled and what not, sounds like he was on top of his game. He died gracefully. Always bowed gracefully. It was like a joke. He said, 'don't be the last one to leave, always bow out gracefully.' And he says, 'they're never stoned. Don't talk about people like that. Say they're 'medicated.'' His last night on Earth, we were going to have a party to celebrate that we're gonna do this TV show. And he says, 'no, I'm going to stay home because Annie's gonna make me my favorite meal. She's gonna make me some cornbread with ribs, Chicago south side style. You know, we're gonna watch a family video and we're gonna do the wild thing. And for me, that's a wonderful way to spend the night. I'll see you tomorrow at the TV studio.' They ate the food, they watched the video, they made love and that's how he died. Home, not on drugs, with the person that he loved that meant the most to him in his whole life.

That's the way to go out, too.

That's the way to go. Henry was a class act.

Are you still in touch at all with (Philadelphia black punk band) Pure Hell?

Spider's dead. Yeah, he's dead. I think Kenny Stinker's in a mental institution. And the guitar player, Chip, he's in west Philly someplace.

What was your take on when the New York Black Rock Coalition happened in the late 80s and they had Living Colour and all that?

Oh, I was thrilled. Because, Vernon (Reid), I remember, he used to be doing some writing for the Village Voice and came down and wrote about me a couple of times. In the New York scene, at that time, I was the first Black guy that showed up. That's what it looks like, and because of that, I feel like I opened doors, and that's worthy right there. You know, its not about money, its about freedom, that's what this country's about.

Yeah, thanks for phoning home.

I just want people to know that I'm alive and well...