The guitarist reveals the truth about Tom Verlaine and Marquee Moon
Tom and Richard started coming down to Terry’s loft. Tom and I, our guitars meshed immediately. I had studied classic rock guitar, where you do whole-step bends, half-step bends. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who knew Jimi Hendrix. Jimi gave this guy lessons, who passed them on to me, and I met Hendrix and watched him.
Tom played a completely different style. He used the classical vibrato. Like on a violin: you move your wrist, the finger doesn’t move. I don’t know where he got it. It was more like a sitar player. Never whole-step bends, always micro-bends. But our two styles suited each other beautifully. Between us, we had all the guitar aspects you could want.
The next thing was convincing Hell to play bass. Tom couldn’t. Richie said, “I’m not a musician. I can’t do it.” When Tom wasn’t around, I asked him what the problem was. He said, “Listen. Playing with Tom is like going to the dentist. Except you’d rather go to the dentist.” Tom and Richard had tried doing a band before.
I said, “But Richard, you’ve got the look. You’re like a combination of Elvis and some movie star. You can learn.” The compliments got to him. So then we had three.
Tom and I talked about drummers. Tom was insistent the best rock’n’roll drummer he knew was his friend Billy Ficca. We called Billy, and started rehearsing. Three days in, Tom called me aside: “I’m about to pull my hair out. I can’t stand it. Billy’s turned into a jazz drummer.”
And Billy was all over the place – but in a good way. I said to Tom, “Look. All the greatest guitarists we know – Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Townshend – they all had crazy drummers.”
We were having a great time, although Tom was already growing frustrated with Richard Hell, because Richard never practised. But we meandered along in rehearsals in Terry’s loft, and started planning for our first gig. Thing was, there was no place to play. Literally.
Finally, we rented a place, The Townhouse, an 88-seat theatre on 44th Street. We put up flyers Hell had designed. The four of us went around with paste and plastered the town. We’d go up to journalists and ask them to come watch us rehearse, so we could get quotes. Terry knew some film people, and asked Nicholas Ray, the director of Rebel Without A Cause, to come to the loft to see us. Nick didn’t want to. Terry offered him a gallon of wine. Nick said, “OK.”
So, Nicholas Ray came down, and sat on the bed in his eyepatch, drinking wine, while we went through our ridiculous repertoire. We’d knock things over. If a mic fell on the floor, we’d lie down and sing into it. When the wine was almost done, Nicholas said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Terry: these are four cats with a passion.” Then he proceeded to pass out. So we used Nick’s quote.
We took an ad in the Village Voice. The night came – March 2, 1974 – and, well: we were like the Sex Pistols that couldn’t play. We were all over the map. But we were surprised: 88 seats, and we filled most of them.