Bazooka Joe were the British Punk band before British Punk even existed. With The Sex Pistols as their support act, the Bazooka boys tore up the London Pub/club circuit in the 70s catalyzing a change within British music that eventually saw Punk take its place as Rock’s no.1 rival within mainstream music worldwide. I interviewed ex- Bazooka bassist Chris Duffy to find out what it was like to be a founding father of punk….
ME: Hi Chris. So tell me a bit about what it was that Bazooka Joe set out to do…
CHRIS: I wasn’t actually there when Bazooka Joe were formed. The band was the brainchild of John Ellis (later of The Vibrators,) Stuart Goddard, ( to become Adam Ant,) and Danny Kleinman. I was seventeen years old and had been playing in a shitty blues type band that I can’t even remember the name of, when I got a job photographing Kleinman’s girlfriend. It was around this time that Goddard quit and so I offered to step in as bassist.
ME: They say you boys were responsible for the birth of the punk music movement however, looking at the Bazooka Joe photo, I don’t spot any of the angst or anarchic qualities usually associated with Punk.
CHRIS: Its funny, we never set out to change anything or start anything. We weren’t politically driven or angry, we were just boys who enjoyed playing music. We enjoyed the camaraderie of it all; writing music together, getting drunk together and picking up girls together. It’s easy to reflect upon a time and apply labels to various cultural factions. We were playing in a time when Punk didn’t even really exist, our role in establishing Punk was therefore not a literal one it was more conceptual. We represented a generation who were bored. The 60’s were groundbreaking and exciting. They had The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan and Hendrix. By ’66 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were around, but after this came a period of what I like to call, ‘smoke and mirrors bands,’ where emphasis was less on musical content and more on bigger performances. It was a post-hippy era of self-indulgence and the music industry was saturated with flaccid, mediocre Glam Rock bands such as The Sweet for example. Junk.
ME: So you started with Junk and made it Punk?
CHRIS: Ha. Well yes, I suppose so. Our reaction to the banality of the musical situation in Britain was “Punk.” We were driven by a logic that said “Fuck all of that music. We’ re a new generation and we think it’s a load of bollocks.” We wanted to define our own generation.
ME: Whilst all of this was kicking off in England there was a similar uprising in the U.S with the formation of bands such as The Ramones. Did this in anyway influence the direction of your music?
CHRIS: We were definitely influenced by bands from across the atlantic but it was mainly older Do-wopp stuff such as Sha-Na-Na and American Rock & Roll stars like Frankie Valli. Our look was pretty Grease Lightening at the start, we slicked our hair and wore leather biker jackets. Like The Ramones though, we looked at our clean cut influences and tried to give them edge when applying them to our own music. This was all in about ’74, Punk didn’t really happen until ’75 and it hit the public in ’76.
ME: So you never jumped on the Westwood/ McLaren mohawk and saftey pin bandwagon?
CHRIS: Well yeh, of course we did to some extent. But that was all a bit later on. We used to play to audiences packed full of hardcore punks at The Vortex, those who couldn’t afford the real Westwood stuff would come in bin bags safety pinned together. I remember thinking I was going to die one night. Everyone used to spit at you whilst you played, it was a sign of adoration. We used to come of stage covered in golly. It was amazing though, there was a huge amount of energy.
By 1977 when Punk was in full swing, Bazooka Joe disbanded. By this point the band had become less niche and had acquired a cult following, so it is unsurprising that their musical influence managed to transcend both genre and generation. Ex-members saw that Bazooka Joe played their role in the music of the greats, such as The Pistols, The Vibrators and Adam and the Ants. The Bazooka influence also infiltrated the musical output of numerous lesser known Punk bands as well as the Ska scene with bands like The Specials and The Police looking to their music for inspiration. Madness also covered one of their songs; “Rockin’ in A Flat,” on their debut album One Step Beyond. British rock did not go untouched either, with bands such as The Stranglers and The Jam picking up on the Bazooka vibe. Whether or not they consider themselves to be responsible for the creation of the Punk sound, it is clear that Bazooka Joe were an important stimulus for British music at a time when it needed a kick up the back side. Their spot at the top of NME’s Punk family tree is one that I believe, is truly deserved.
For more on the history of Punk Rock visit Noise for Heroes – www.nkvdrecords.com