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Nerves of Steele

Undead but not forgotten

Seventeen years after Bobby Steele's controversial departure from the
Misfits, he is still chipping away at the wall of misconception -- the result
of what he calls a "campaign of hate against Bobby Steele" led by Misfits
bassist Jerry Only. Despite efforts to put the past behind him, Steele always
seems to stay behind the eight ball.

Steele formed the Undead shortly after he was kicked out of the Misfits in
1979. Since then, he's produced a stream of punk rock music on his own Post
Mortem Records. The Undead's journey has been rough, to say the least, pocked
with mudslinging and misfortune. But Steele has managed to take it all in

Before setting out on the East Coast leg of his tour, Steele takes a minute
to tell CL the story of the band that wouldn't go away. 

Steele joined the Misfits in 1979 after singer Glenn Danzig answered an ad in
The Aquarian in New York which read "Punk guitar player looking for punk band
with management and label." Steele auditioned and a week later was a member
of the Misfits. 

"I was so happy with the Misfits," says Steele. "I was a guitar player, I
stood off to the side, Glenn handled the whole show and I got to just play."

This happiness soon turned to confusion and resentment. The Misfits decided
to kick Steele out of the band in mid-1979. Reasons surrounding this decision
are unclear, ranging from Steele couldn't play fast enough to Steele didn't
show up for recordings, but Steele believes it was a political move set into
motion by Misfits bassist Jerry Only, who convinced Danzig that the Misfits
should replace Steele with Only's brother Doyle. 

"Jerry has always been able to manipulate Glenn," says Steele. "Glenn is very
insecure and very paranoid."

Once the Undead had formed, however, Danzig made his way out to a couple of
their shows, and eventually told Steel -- who by then had enough material to
go into the studio -- that he wanted to record the Undead on his Plan-9

According to Steele: "He saw the Undead two or three times and said, 'Hey
look, I want to put your record on my label.' So he put up the money, we went
into the studio and we recorded and he was really happy with things."

The Undead soon began to get the attention of the press, and a 1981 article
in Sound magazine lauded Steele's efforts. But back came the guitarist's
luck, or lack of it: It seems the magazine's praise for the Undead came at
the Misfits' expense. According to Steele, Sound said that the Undead had
done more in the past year than the Misfits did in the past six. Danzig was
insulted, and told Steele that "the record sucks and I don't want anything to
do with it." 

Later in 1981, the Undead shared the stage with the Misfits at the Ritz in
New York. Here the mudslinging began, with the Misfits changing song lyrics
to insult Steele. That moment marks the beginning of a feud that may soon
reach into its third decade.

"They started this whole 'Bobby Steele sucks' stuff," he says. "The irony of
that was we walked out of the show with a contract and they walked out with

No longer with Plan-9, Steele signed on with Stiff Records, who put out the
Undead's first EP, Nine Toes Later, named shortly after Steele had a diseased
toe amputated.

In 1983, Stiff Records folded, and Steele began the search for a new label.
Although there was still a demand for the Nine Toes EP, he couldn't seem to
get picked up. Answers like "This isn't what we're looking for" and "Punk is
dead" were common. But Steele blames the difficulty on the Misfits'
propaganda and the discrimination against the Undead because of Steele's
disability -- as a result of a spinal birth defect, Steele wears a leg brace
and walks with the aid of a cane.

"They hear my music and they're really interested," he explains. "[But] as
soon as they see me they've got this look on their face -- their face just
drops. They're thinking 'This guy's got great music but nobody's going to pay
to see a cripple go out on stage.'"

Frustrated with an industry that he calls simply "bigoted," Steele created
his own label, Post Mortem Records, and re-released Nine Toes Later in 1983.

In the years that followed, Steele continued to produce music on Post Mortem,
but suffered financially. The band also went through a number of members --
dozens, actually. The ex-Undead lineup includes Jack Natz of Cop Shoot Cop,
Steve Zing of Samhain, and Inger Lorre of the Nymphs.

"I'm a pretty erratic person myself," says Steele in response to the high
turnover. "I'm not that easy to get along with, but sometimes [musicians]
just aren't falling in with the image of the whole band."

Steele's constant search for production money took him down a number of
avenues. He went to the Small Business Administration to try to get a
zero-interest loan. He was told that the SBA couldn't finance any business
that could affect public opinion. This included a record company. He then
applied for money under a government grant that would give money to veterans
or the disabled, but was again turned down.

"I was told if I was black or if I was a woman or if I was Jewish I could get
that $150,000 ... for anything."

Undaunted, Steele turned to his personal resources for start-up funds. He had
saved a 100 copies of early Misfits singles -- "Horror Business," "Night of
the Living Dead" and "Bullet" -- and in 1989, he sold them for $75 each. The
proceeds financed the pressing of the Act Your Rage LP, which went on to sell
almost 20,000 copies. 

The Undead's latest release Dawn of the Undead was first put out by Shock
Records in Australia, followed by an American release on Halloween, 1997. 

The Undead in its current form is comprised of Steele and the bass player and
drummer from the Independents, a ska band managed by Joey Ramone that played
with the Undead in 1994. 

"They're like a touring machine," he says. "These guys have done more touring
in last year than I have my whole career."

Steele has recently gotten together with another former Misfit, Joey Image,
to try to recover some of what they feel is owed to them for material they
"recorded and never got paid on." They have hired a "kick-ass lawyer" and
plan to take legal action against Danzig and Only, according to Steele.

"You can't pick up an interview with Jerry Only without him saying something
bad about me," says Steele. "Everybody thinks that Jerry is the nice guy and
Glenn is the bad guy and they have it ass-backwards. Don't believe what you
hear when it comes to the Misfits and me because it's all bullshit. They have
destroyed my life for the past 15 years." 

The Undead play the Point, 420 Moreland Avenue in Little Five Points, on
Sunday, Nov. 30. Call (404) 659-3522 for more information.