|Bruce Stuckey hammers it out at TT the Bear's in Cambridge, MA on Dec. 27, 1985. |
Photo by Rocco Cipollone for the cover of Al Quint's Suburban Voice #18.
All Bruce Stuckey could do was keep an eye on the guy who was bashing the shit out of the seat in front of him.
"Aahhhhhh! Aahhhhh!" was what the Toxic Reasons guitarist/vocalist remembered the guy screaming, while the girl occupying that pummeled seat three rows from the front was probably wondering what the hell was happening.
All this went down during song No. 3 of the Toxics' opening set during an unlikely pairing with Echo and the Bunnymen in 1985 at a movie theater gig in Milwaukee, WI. The opening band canceled, the Toxics needed the dough, and they snagged the gig.
Playing it safe at first, the Toxics rolled into the first two songs of their mellower "Within These Walls" album -- "Then Came the Rain" and "It's So Silly" -- before bursting into the raucous "No Pity" from the non-mellow "Kill By Remote Control" album.
"And it was just like, 'You gotta be kidding me!' and everybody was just like staring aghast at us," Stuckey said of the gig packed with kids in the 15-17-year-old age range. But that one crazed kid who was murdering that seat was on board to the hilt.
The Toxics' floodgate had cracked open with a vengeance and they unleashed a tidal wave of blistering tunes on the shocked crowd -- except that one guy, of course -- like "Mercenary," "Drunk and Disorderly," "Powercrazed" and more, but slowing it down a bit with the reggae-punk number, "Ghost Town." That was probably still too hot to handle for the teenyboppers.
Stuckey recalls now -- 36 years later from the confines of his home in Indianapolis, IN -- that a magazine review ragged on the Toxics and said it was insulting to have them open for Echo.
"Hooray, punk rock wins again!" said a proud Stuckey, now 61, who added that the band collected their $500 fee, ate Echo's food, drank their beer and more in the process.
Just another wild night in the life of a band that kicked things off in 1979, telling Vancouver, BC's roughhousers DOA that they'd be ready to open for them the next time Joey Shithead and crew trekked to the Dayton, OH area -- home base for the soon-to-form Toxics.
After watching a compilation of funniest game-show moments on YouTube while relaxing on the couch with his two dogs on a recent Sunday afternoon, Stuckey grabbed his phone to talk Toxics.
YouTube has been his friend as of late, and who knows, it may provide some lyrical ideas for the man who last strapped on his guitar alongside his fellow Toxics bandmates Tufty Clough (bass), JJ Pearson (drums) and Vess Ruhtenberg (guitar) about a year ago. They're itching to set up on stage and crank out some tunes, just like every other band in the universe who's had their instruments sidelined during the pandemic.
"I'll find a conspiracy theory and I'll just trace it down to its most absurd moment," Stuckey said of his YouTube-watching spree with his Shih Tzu Milhous and Chiweenie Gitmo. During the interview, one of the dogs leaps on top of Stuckey: "What is it buddy, what's the matter with you?" he playfully asks the canine.
|Stuckey on a recent day with his guitars and albums. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Stuckey)|
Guitars are also Stuckey's playmates, and he's got a load of them at his home in Indy, a city where he's rested his head since 1984, the year the Colts footballers moved there as well, he noted. Looking around the room, Stuckey counts six Gibson Les Pauls, an Ibanez, a Fender and more. His go-to guitar is a Chibson -- a Chinese forgery of a 1957 Les Paul -- that Clough bought for him.
Randomly, Stuckey peeks out the window and says that they accumulated about 10 inches of snow in three days, and his gutters have 6-foot-high icicles hanging off them.
Back to the matter at hand: Toxic frigging Reasons, right?
They were supposed to play the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, UK, again in October after touring Europe, but the pandemic put a squash on that trip. Stuckey notes that he recently wrote a song for Clough to sing and sent the music and lyrics to the bassist and Pearson.
"I've got at least two albums of material I've written over the last seven years. At least," said Stuckey, who notes that the Toxic Reasons records hanging on his wall each represent a different period of his life. There's eight studio albums and a batch of singles and EPs that fired out of the band's cannon.
"Honestly, I am happy with what I've done in the past. I would actually, honestly, like to make one more fucking record. I don't care if anybody gives a fuck, if they like it or not. As long as I like it and put it out, and actually tour it again. Maybe not the way we used to. I honestly don't think I could take that," he said with a laugh.
Bringing his Toxics journey full circle, Stuckey chuckles again when recalling a time two years ago when DOA crashed at his house and he gave up the bed and futons and slept on the hardwood floor. It reminded him of the old days when they would sleep anywhere they could find on their seemingly endless tours throughout America, the United Kingdom and other European countries.
Stuckey's 59-year-old body was racked with pain when he woke up the next morning, but figured he owed it to Shithead, whose place they stayed at for many days back in 1980.
While DOA was one of the first bands Toxic Reasons played with, it was the Sex Pistols who kicked open the punk doors for Stuckey.
The guitarist cut his teeth in his first band, the hard- and soft-rockin' Exodus at the age of 15. Stuckey began playing guitar a year earlier, first on a Silvertone acoustic and then he entered electric land with a Crestwood green-and-black sunburst model. His initial goal was to play Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," and then he upped the ante by playing eight hours a day on that Crestwood and Kingston amp, which his mom purchased for her son for painting the garage. He just wanted to make a racket at first, but then the Noise Boy improved his skills along the way.
Toxic Reasons came into play about five years later in 1979 when Stuckey and fellow guitarist Joel Agne -- who both became enthused by punk rock two years prior -- were ripping through their version of the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" when future vocalist Ed Pittman banged on the front door. Stuckey managed to make his way to the door with his guitar still strapped on and cord stretched to its limit.
Stuckey cracked the door open and there was Pittman: "And he goes, 'God Save the Queen!' I said, 'Come on in!' He had a 12-pack of Stroh's under his arm."
Toxic Reasons began playing Clash covers and later started penning their own tunes, including "War Hero" and "Somebody Help Me," which were featured on the band's first single. Stuckey played bass on that 45 while Agne handled guitar duties. The single was birthed in 1980 because a Dayton radio station employee told the band they needed a record to snag some airplay. They spent $500 to make 500 copies, but that damn station still wouldn't give it a spin.
"I would be stunned, like 20 years later, being in Germany or something and somebody goes, 'Can you autograph this for me?' and I look at them and go, 'Where the fuck did you get this record?'" Stuckey said of the "War Hero" single, which has fetched its highest bidding price of $675 over the years, according to popsike.com, while the following year's "Ghost Town" EP (backed by "Killer" and "Noise Boys") has reached a top bid of $191.
|Stuckey receives a beer blessing from Jello Biafra. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Stuckey)|
After a ton of touring and experiencing tortuous times -- Stuckey was homeless, the band slept on whatever floors they could find and they were jailed for a bit for working illegally in Calgary, Canada -- the Toxics released the "Independence" album in 1982 with Zero Boys vocalist Paul Mahern and John Helms handling engineering duties and Terry Hammer and the Toxics producing.
Mahern would lend his studio expertise in the engineering and producing realms to four more Toxics albums. Speaking of the ZBs, their bassist Clough eventually joined the Toxics' ranks, as did guitarist Terry Howe and drummer Mark Cutsinger for a spell. In fact, the ultimate ZBs/Toxics conglomeration was when Clough, Howe and Custinger played on one song, "It's a Lie," on the "Bullets for You" album.
When "Independence" hit record-store shelves -- I bought my copy at Zed Records in Long Beach, CA, when it was released -- Stuckey liked what they unleashed to the punk scene. The songs still hold up in today's world.
"Oh, I like them. I mean writing songs is what I always like doing... Honestly, I've never been a very good guitar player. I like to work really hard and do really simple things. All the songs on that record are really good," said Stuckey, noting that the songs are a half step out of tune because they didn't have a guitar tuner.
Following Pittman's departure from the now-San Francisco-located band in 1984 to join his girlfriend back in Dayton, Stuckey stepped up to the microphone for the "Kill By Remote Control" album and every platter since then. During this time, bassist Clough joined, which also featured Pearson and Rob Lucjak on guitar (he was part of the band for the "Independence," "Kill By Remote Control" and "Within These Walls" years).
Stuckey had evolved as a songwriter and the songs were more demanding this time out (Clough and Lucjak were writing as well). Becoming the singer was tough for Stuckey at first and he referenced the band's performance on Target Video: "That is a terrified young man who's only sang maybe once or twice in his life in front of people -- and this place is packed and they're going fucking apeshit."
Clough -- who also sang on some tunes -- became a crucial cog to the Toxics' wheel when he stepped into the fold.
"When he started playing, I was like going, 'Oh, this is how you're supposed to play bass, Oh, I get it,'" said Stuckey, noting that he felt the Zero Boys with Clough smoked the Toxics when they played on the same bills.
If "Kill By Remote Control" was an evolution in the band's sound, "Within These Walls" turned the screw in full melodic mode for one album. Stuckey felt he penned some of this best lyrics on that album and pieced chord textures together well. However, the punks didn't dig it, and Stuckey recalls having only "Within These Walls" merchandise left at the end of one massive gig. Kids swooped on the "Independence" and "Kill By Remote Control" merch and left album No. 3 lonely at the table.
The Toxics toured the hell out of that album and every one that has come forth from their sturdy hands. They experienced good times, tough times and non-eating times. But they've survived while raising the punk flag all the while. They're fucking warriors. And the band was truly an international unit, with members from the US, Canada, UK and Italy over the years.
The back-cover photo of "Within These Walls" shows four guys looking a bit ragged, but Stuckey remembers them feeling fine at that point in 1985, probably a few months away from that intriguing Echo gig.
"After a while, you get used to sleeping sitting up, sleeping on floors, sleeping on a stage, sleeping on a concrete floor. I couldn't do it now because I'm fucking 61 years old," Stuckey said.
One more album, though, that's all he wants. And some touring ... but give the man a bed this time.
|Toxics on tour in the 1980s. From left to right, Pearson, Clough, Stuckey and Lucjak. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Stuckey)|