Sleazy rebellious American rock n' roll has made something of a come-back in recent years with a whole new generation of street-walkin' cheetahs hangin' out in the corners of your local rock club. Ever since Motley Crue's 'The Dirt' made the bestsellers list and indie bands rediscovered the NY proto punk and new-wave scenes sometimes around the early 2000's it was considered cool again to cite bands such as New York Dolls, MC5 and The Stooges as influences.
The now ubiquitous Nikki Sixx haircuts and Ramones t-shirts are to be found in every club and at every rock show, with bands such as Aerosmith revisiting those halcyon days by playing their classic 1970's album 'Toys In The Attic' in its entirety.
Although not as frequently cited as the bands mentioned above, Shady Lady is another group from the golden age of gutter rock who are making something of a come-back. Indeed, singer Stefen Shady has been kickin' out the jams at the cutting edge since the days of the British Invasion to the present day rock revival. Spawned from the same NY sewer as the 'Dolls, the 'Lady relocated to LA where they soon established themselves as the next big thing and signed a big record deal. Sadly their record label went "belly up" and after that things didn't quite happen as they could have/should have. The album finally surfaced on an Italian record label in 2005 but if the name Shady Lady is still not familiar, you've really been missing out.
I conducted this interview via email in July 2009 with Stefen, who is as friendly and genuine a guy you could ever meet in rock n' roll. This dude was born to be a rock star and has some great stories to tell. Think you already knew about kick ass raw and greasy garage glam rock? Read on, and all you musos out there, remember to add Shady Lady to that list of bands to cite as an influence next time your band gets interviewed!
Hello Stefen, okay lets start with the basics. What first motivated you to make your own music?
It was a natural development for me. I grew up loving music and women. And most women in turn love music and the men who make the music! I joined a rock 'n roll band in high school in the early-mid 60's in Lake City, Florida where I grew up. They were called 'The Henchmen' and they wanted me to play bass in the band. In the beginning I did some backup vocals as well until the band let me turn loose on a couple of songs and do some lead vocals without the bass. That's when things changed noticeably with the audience's reaction. I was all over the stage, leaping in the air, down on the floor rolling around while the girls gathered around in euphoria. Half the time I didn't even know the lyrics to the song I was singing but that didn't stop me. The very first moment I had set foot on stage I was hooked and knew what I wanted to do.
I learned about many artists and their music that I hadn't previously known of through my band mates and other musicians. I dove into listening to the blues and the roots of rock 'n roll. I listened to all of those early black artists whom I became to love so much. Previous to that my only music background had been in a Southern church choir. In between it all though was my older sister's record collection which included Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Ricky Nelson just to name a few. I also listened to surf, pop, and country music as well, which was what was being played on the radio. Then came the British Invasion....The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, The Animals and many others. Things started to change musically and lots of good and different music started to emerge on the airwaves.
After I graduated high school and having dropped out of college after only one year I left The Henchmen. I moved to Jacksonville, Florida where I jammed and sang with a number of bands that came through this club called The Beachcomber's Lounge. It wasn't long before I ran a foul with some of the local rednecks as well as the law enforcement. I was out of jail on bail and decided it was a good time to move on. I sold my bass and amp and bought a plane ticket to New York.
After getting settled in Greenwich Village and jamming with a few bands I met guitarist, John McEwen (a.k.a. John Christian) and a bit later on Gerhard Helmut, a bass player transplanted from Austria. Gerhard and I started out jamming with this black jazz drummer. We practiced in Gerhard's loft near the West Village, which much later became known as Soho in New York. Gerhard and I hit it off well and decided to put a band together. I brought John into the mix. John and I moved into Gerhard's loft. The three of us wrote our first song within a couple of days of jamming together. It wasn't long after that when John and I started writing song after song together.
Shady Lady is an LA band but you started out on the East Coast? When and why did you move?
Yeah, the three of us were there in New York playing and having a lot of fun doing so. But then frustration set in as we had been auditioning other musicians for the band and weren't having much luck at all with finding the right persons. I had specific ideas about what I wanted with this band's formation. Firstly you had to be a player and secondly you had to have the right look and attitude. I had run into John Genzale (Johnny Thunders) who I already somewhat knew from the street scene. John dressed and looked similar to myself and so naturally I had always assumed he was a musician. It turned out that he was just starting out to be. Johnny had just begun playing bass at the time and we already had an exceptional and experienced bass player in Gerhard. So that subject was mute. We had exhausted all hopes of finding the missing players we sought in NY. We decided that we should move to London where we felt we would have much better luck in finding the right styled musicians to complete our band.
We all three had decent paying jobs and started pooling and saving our monies together. John and I ran a large clothing store in the East Village called 'The Naked Grape'. The store had become a very popular under our management and guidance. I designed clothing for the owners of the store as well. 'Granny Takes A Trip' had opened in NY and I borrowed from their styles but added my own touch.
However, things took a turn with our plans to move to London. John and myself had been involved with some of the local boys called the B.A.U. (Beat Artists Union) previously to our music venture. The B.A.U. was a grift organization made up of mod-styled youths for the most part. There were some hardcore, slightly older hoodlums that we were associated with at the time though. A couple of these guys decided to branch out to a more deadly game of extortion. We became one of their focal points due to the success of the store we ran...especially John. I had been involved in three or four altercations in my association with the B.A.U., which had resulted in my having a reputation as a tough guy. Although I certainly didn't look like one, along with the fact that these rumours were somewhat exaggerated, the rumours had flourished all the same. So, these guys were definitely a bit more cautious where I was concerned but John on the other hand was easy prey in their eyes and so the extortion began. There were some other guys who had left the B.A.U. also and gone into legitimate businesses who fell victims as well. A few of our former pals were ending up either in the hospital or in emergency rooms in order for these guys to get their point across.
So, after being kidnapped and pistol-whipped one night, John began paying them monies. Only these monies were coming from our London bound savings. I was enraged and wanted to take strong measures against these hoods. So, John and I set up a meet with some senior family members we knew of. After some investigation by these elders we were well advised against any plans for vengeance. It turned out their family ties were just too strong and we were told it was best to either keep paying them or perhaps leave NY for a while. We chose to do the latter but England was beyond our reach financially at that point. So we bought a used van, loaded it up with our gear and headed for Los Angeles in late March of 1970. We arrived in Los Angeles in early April 1970 where a new chapter for us began.
Shady Lady is a cool name for a glam rock n' roll band. Was there any lady in particular who inspired the name?
Ha Ha. No, not a woman nor did it come from the name written on the side of the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima either. The latter was what a former manager had once proclaimed to the media as to how we arrived at the name. It was nothing as thought out as that at all. The truth is, it was during a short spell when Gerhard had disappeared back to NY after having a falling out with John and myself over direction of the band. It was during that time that the name actually came about. John and I had continued to write and had begun to seek a recording contract as a duo. We still hadn't come up with a name for ourselves yet. Bones Denault, who was living with us at the time, had found a detective magazine that someone had tossed onto the front lawn of our house. The magazine lay open and the title of the article facing Bones was "The Strange Case Of The Missing Shady Lady". He picked it up and brought it to the house and told John, 'This is a good name for you guys.' I was away from the house at the time and when I returned home the name was presented to me. I said, "Yeah, Shady Lady, that's it! That is the name we will use." Only there were just two of us at that point. So, I said to John, your name should be John Lady, and I will change my last name to Shady.
A couple of weeks later John came to me and said I don't want 'Lady' as my last name. I laughed. I didn't blame him, and asked, "What will be your last name then?" He said he was thinking about his middle name, Christian. I thought John Christian....so, call ourselves Shady Lady with Shady/Christian as the writing duo, hmm? I liked it a lot, and told him so. A few days later Gerhard called from New York and wanted to come back, which turned into an agreement and the three of us making up. He flew back to LA and rejoined us. Bones became the other guitarist in the band and we found our drummer, Billy McCartney right afterwards, and so all five of us were soon off performing together as Shady Lady.
You guys had a major label deal at one point but never quite got the exposure that some of your contemporaries managed. Now you are operating on a much more DIY level. There must be a certain amount of satisfaction in controlling your own destiny and being able to hold your head up knowing that corporate bureaucracy hasn't buried the band in the long run.
No, unfortunately, we did not get the exposure we thought we might have deserved. And yes, there is something to be said for the DIY thing, but the fact is without the exposure that perhaps a major label or a financial backer could provide it is difficult at best to rise from the ashes of time to become more widely known. We just keep at it because we love doing the music is all. We've got no expectations of wealth and widely acclaimed fame. I think perhaps we are destined to remain as underground legends of some sort is all. That and a dollar won't buy you a cup of coffee though. I still believe it is far better to be relatively unknown, poor and happy than to perhaps to be famous, wealthy and miserable though. But I would like to give it a try.
You have a raw garagey rock n roll sound, the sort of music that is sometimes unfairly criticised by mainstream music snobs as being 'basic' or 'one dimensional' but I get the impression that there is actually quite a lot going on in your music beyond guitar, bass and drums. For example, I hear you play Theremin. Is Shady Lady prone to experimenting and pushing its style?
Yeah, we have a down and dirty raw sound and we currently do rehearse in a garage although we didn't always do so. I don't really give a fuck what any of the mainstream critics might say. We don't play and sing all pretty like. Our music is the type of rock 'n roll that comes from the gut, heart and soul, but we do look real pretty doin' it.
Shady Lady in the past has always had other musicians join us live on stage from time to time as well as in the studio. Sometimes we'd pull in some conga players, a saxophonist, a violinist, or a honky-tonk style piano player. I never used a Theremin back in the day though as I never owned one until after the band split up. We have added it to certain songs today, though. Right now there is basically guitar, bass, drums and vocals with Theremin, harmonica and some added percussion thrown in. However, we are looking to add another guitarist to the band. Bones plays a mean slide and the addition of another power guitarist would only add to our mix. We do experiment somewhat but from the start up of the reformed band I wanted to keep our original sound intact. So many bands reform and don't sound anything like they used to and that is not usually a good thing. I think we still sound pretty much the same as we did years ago.
What countries has Shady Lady played in and where would you like to tour next?
Oddly enough, Shady Lady has never played as a band outside of California. We were all set to go on a world domination tour with the slated release of the album in 1973 but the label we were signed with went belly up. Therefore, the Raving Mad album wasn't released and then the split up of the band followed. So, yes there are many places over here as well as in many other countries that we would love to play.
Has the Internet been a useful tool in expanding your audience in recent times?
I would say it has been very helpful along with Italy's Rave Up Records 2005 release of our original vinyl LP. The Rave Up release would never have happened had it not been for the Internet. It wasn't all that long ago that I felt that Shady Lady's music was forever lost and never to be heard. It wasn't until I surfaced on the Internet that I found out differently. I was astounded to find that there was still that much interest out there in Shady Lady. Once I surfaced numerous websites contacted me along with fans that I didn't know existed. Things just began to mushroom in an odd sort of way. What astounded me most though was having fans from various other countries contact me and especially those one's being from much younger generations than my own. As I previously said we had never performed together as a band outside of here in California. So naturally I was and still am somewhat perplexed about how they learned of our music.
Any plans for reissuing old recordings or creating/releasing any new music with Shady Lady?
Yes, there has been more talk going on about a re-release of the album here in the States along with some recently found and unreleased material of old. We also want to release some newer material as well.
Word Association. Respond with one sentence maximum:
Arguably the best front man ever.
Talented and unique.
- John Lee Hooker
Love John Lee.
As everyone knows always the King.
- Little Richard
Good golly Miss Molly, there is no one else like him and never will be.
Best guitarist ever and was one hell of a super cool dude.
They aren't called 'America's Best Rock 'n Roll Band' for nothing. However they were never 'The Most Beautiful Rock 'n Roll Band In The World' that distinction went to Shady Lady (well, of old it did).
- Guns n' Roses
Could have been America's biggest rock band.
I was never there...I hung out at Max's.
- Whisky Ago-Go
I have great memories of it and it's too bad it turned into what it did, a pay-to-play venue, which has ruined part of its history in my eyes.
Thoughts/Memories of any of the following:
New York Dolls
Fuckin' Aye, they went through some heavy shit and deserved way more recognition and success than they ever got. That goes for Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, too.
Those guys rocked.
Lucky little prick that barely remembers anyone he knew back in the day, let alone extends a helping hand like he got. Just kidding, Jimbo. I love Iggy/Stooges!
Yeah, they are one of the best bands ever that most people never heard of. I am speaking of the masses of course and not about all you kicky champs out there.
They did what they did which took big balls to do and I liked it.
Okay, that wraps it up nicely. Thanks to Stefen Shady for giving the low down on the Shady Lady story and I hope to hear more music from you guys soon. For everyone reading this, you will find more info and sounds at Shady Lady's Myspace Page, so go hear what you've been missing out on.
- Alex Gillett