Friday, July 19, 2013


Sometimes, somebody says something to you, and it stays with you. It might not be a profound remark, it might even be something others have said, but it's the way he said it. Or the circumstances. Or both.

I was asking Peppi Marchello how he and his Good Rats were doing. He said, "Keeping the price up."

Important. Something to remember. And I have. You can go through many hills and valleys in your career...but you must retain your dignity. No pay to play gigs. No selling t-shirts if you don't want to, especially not below cost. No compromise if it in any way affects integrity. Even when his band's "Tasty" album was more a cult remembrance than a best-seller, and there were empty weeks on the touring calendar, Peppi was "keeping the price up." No half-empty local bar. Full house or nothing. An indie label that will at least do it right or stay out of the studio. The Good Rats played B.B. King's in 2008 and yes, that place does have a meaningful cover and minimum. And yes, there were enough of Peppi's fans willing to pay up to get in.

Peppi died July 10th, age 68, due to heart surgery complications. Most who remember The Good Rats mourn the end of "the greatest bar band" they ever saw. (Ironically today's set of postings includes another band that could be candidates for that honor, Dr. Hook….one of the truly great "good time" bands to enjoy with a few beers).

At this peculiar blog, The Good Rats became a fave not because they were a good bar band. Their first album (1969) was impressive. The highlight was a gruesome song called "For the Sake of Anyone." You can hear it below. It's way ahead of its time, opening with the same foreboding of a Shangri-La's single. Then, with Vanilla Fudge organ spitting along, Peppi jumps in with a pre-Alice Cooper, strained, snarly growl of great intensity. And just to fuck with you a little more, the five-minute track wanders into some Sgt. Pepper violins and Peppi ends up doing some mental-hospital moaning as solemn brass chimes in. But that's not all. There has to be the confrontation finale, Mom and Son. And WHO produced this? Ron Haffkine, who would later find fame and fortune behind the controls for...Dr. Hook! The other cuts on the album (except perhaps for the Three Stooges "Hello Hello Hello" humor in the opening "We Are the Good Rats" tune) are all seething, like the fantastic "Gotta Get Back."

I remember mentioning to Peppi, the letter to the editor I saw in a 1972 issue of Creem. Quote:

"Since you guys like to keep track of so called "killer" groups, I'd like to know if you know what ever happened to a group called The Good Rats? I picked up their album, which I vaguely remember being released around early 1969, in a 59 cents bargain bin the other day, and it like to blew my head off. They make the Stooges and MC5 sound like Donovan. The lead singer whoever he is, or was, sounds like his balls are caught in a garbage disposal. All the songs are written by Peppi Marchello, but I've never heard of him either. I'm curious because I've never heard of these guys since, and wonder if they have any other recordings available. They seemed too good to be a one-shot wonder…Andy Lee, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla."

I had to admit that I'd gotten that album from a bargain bin as well…for 47 cents. "That much," Peppi noted, drolly. Creem, by the way, didn't have an answer to the letter. Two years after it was published, in 1974, the group was signed to Alice Cooper's record label for "Tasty." Me...I was still tasting that first one. During my disc jockey time I preferred to play an old Kapp cut like "Gotta Get Back" alongside a Cooper track like "Under My Wheels." That was because "Tasty" was, well, a little too tasteful!

Rolling Stone (you remember them, they used to review records) loved the new album, declaring "the revamped Good Rats have discarded the droning heavy-metal slag that marred their first effort in favor of some fresh, tight, jazz-tinged rock…John Gatto in particular is an exceptionally nimble guitarist, stylistically based in rock though owing much to the jazz idiom. Tempering adroit solos with equally adept fills, he is a welcome change from the distortion-freak guitar bangers currently in vogue…Marchello…sporting a piercing, gravelly voice…Stewart and Cocker first come to mind as he shares elements of both but copies neither. What Marchello lacks in smoothness and texture, though, is more than made up for in his mannerisms and controlled presentation…"

"Tasty" was a critical hit but didn't exactly sell a lot of copies. It was long out of print by the time I first caught up to Peppi. Not that he was that crushed about it, he was bragging that it was going for "$25 a pop," if not more in Greenwich Village record shops. THAT was an example of keeping the price up!

Rolling Stone even praised Peppi's lyrics ("in a time when non-musicians (the Dolls et al) are thought of as brilliant") and ended by declaring, "If it gets the recognition it deserves "Tasty" will establish the Rats as the best thing to come out of Long Island since the Vanilla Fudge." Except it didn't get that recognition. The Good Rats sporadically made their various new and indie albums in the late 70's and 80's, and veered far from "For the Sake of Anyone" and "Tasty" both. Critics didn't exactly find the new bar-band type albums "Tasty," but Peppi and his group did become known for their live shows, and fans stayed loyal. Into the late 90's and the 21st Century, gigs may have been fewer, but when they played, they rocked.

From their first album, "For the Sake of Anyone," and "Gotta Get Back."




Ray V. said...

Nice story about Peppi.

There are so many out is one of mine.

Ill Folks said...

Nice blog.

Well, if anyone would know when his life is officially over, it would be an undertaker.

Funny how often people do use others as a marker...a celeb who shares the same birthday, etc. "As long as HE is still active, I'm OK..."

Maybe part of why Peppi was able "to keep the price up," and keep the band together...was because he knew the real, sincere devotion of people like you, who came out to not only hear him play, but say hello after.