How did you get involved with Birdland and the Rattlers?
Well, I have known Mickey Leigh since I was twelve years old. We grew up together in Forest Hills and went to the same schools. Therefore, it was that association that eventually brought me to Birdland and the Rattlers.
What kinds of mischief did you and Mickey get into when you were 12?
You know; I feel a little bit reluctant to answer this question. I have kids and I don't want to give them any ammunition to use on me one day (laughs). I guess it would be safe to say; that Mickey and I got into the kind of mischief that children that age often get into. Looking back on it, I suppose it was clean fun compared to the kinds of things that children do today.
Did you know Mickey's soon-to-be-famous brother when you were young? If so, what was he like?
I knew Mickey's whole family. So yes, I did know Joey (as well as Mickey) when I was growing up. Joey was a nice guy. He was a quiet sort of person most of the time unless he was fighting with his brother. Sometimes when Mickey wasn't home, I would hang out with Joey. We would listen to albums. I remember Joey putting on albums like The Stooges and the MC5. He was into a lot of stuff that other people didn't really listen to.
Although we were friendly when I was young, we became really close after the Ramones broke up. That's because besides being a family friend, I was also his computer consultant. I used to go over to his house quite often when I was in the city working with other clients to do maintenance work on his computer. By the way, I was responsible for helping him get his first computer. Joey really loved his Macintosh computer. After he died, I wrote an article about Joey and his Macintosh for a magazine called MacDirectory. I wanted the Macintosh community to know that Joey was one of us. When I received the issue (that the article was in) from MacDirectory and read it, I cried. I really miss him.
How long have you been playing bass? And why did you choose that instrument? Do you play any other instruments?
I started playing electric bass around thirteen years old. I hung around with this guy that nobody's mother liked. He had a brother who played bass (I think he had a Hofner or something). Anyway, I used to go over to this guy's house and see his brother's bass on the bed. I remember holding it once and plucking the strings. It was from that moment on that I fell in love with the instrument. I begged my Mom to get me a bass. The rest as they say, is history. I also play some woodwind instruments. But my main woodwind instrument is the flute. I remember listening to this band called Seatrain. The bass player played bass and flute on the album. There was a song on the album called "Flute Thing" that inspired me to take it up. I guess I wanted to get the high and low frequencies of music (laughs).
Did the Ramones seem revolutionary to you at the time, or were you able to pinpoint their influences - or what?
I didn't even know that the Ramones existed until about 1975. It was around that time that I left college in Boston to gig with a jazz-rock band that was formed up there. One of our first gigs I believe was at CBGB's. I remember at that time; that CBGB's was a place where you could play any style of music. Punk (or new wave) music was just starting to come up but and not at the forefront yet. Actually, I thought what I was doing at the time was revolutionary (laughs). Anyway, It was most likely; that I started to hear the Ramones music at CBGB's the first time. When I first heard them, I don't think that I was too impressed. I mean; you have to understand; I was doing music in 11/8 time and here was this band doing three minute songs loud and out of tune. By the way, and this is a true story. Dee Dee and Johnny used to show up at my gigs. I was never sure if they liked the band or whether they were just in the neighborhood at the time. I remember Dee Dee saying, "We're not here to see you." Anyway, I think it was Johnny who noticed that I had this tuning device. It was called a Strobotuner. The Strobotuner was the first machine that could tune an instrument electronically. Well, guess who started using it for their band after seeing me use it. Maybe I should claim that The Ramones in tune sound was due to me. (laughs).
I guess what I am trying to say, is that in the beginning, I didn't really understand where the Ramones were coming from. Looking back at that particular time, it seems as though rock and roll was really getting away from its roots. It was like all those records that Joey used to play for me when I was a kid just got lost and forgotten. To me, it was the Ramones who bought rock back to its roots. I didn't get it then, but later on I realized that. It was when I got it, that I really appreciated what they were doing and where they were coming from. I love the album Road to Ruin. It is one of my favorite albums of all time.
What was your impression of Lester Bangs? Was he difficult to work with?
I really didn't know Lester in a social way. It was more like a professional relationship. I would basically interact with him at a rehearsal. We would play and work out the songs and then pretty much go our separate ways. That was about it most of the time. As far as rehearsals went, Lester did have a certain way about him that I found unusual. I don't know. Maybe being a rock critic, I thought he might have felt uncomfortable doing what he wrote about other people doing. Lester wasn't your typical front man. I mean; when you go on stage looking like you just got out of bed, you have to wonder what the guy was thinking. But all in all though, I liked Lester and thought he had a lot of soul.
This many years later, what do you think of the Birdland CD?
Well, I originally played those songs way before the album came out and loved all of them. I don't have the CD. However, I do have a few rehearsal tapes that we made and I thought they rocked when I listened to them. You know; now that I think of it, I did go on Amazon.com a few times and listened to snippets of the album in Real Player. It sounded really good. In retrospect, I think one of the positive things about me leaving Birdland; is that had I not left, that album might not have happened and that means that we would have very little today to hear musically from Lester.
What was the greatest professional success of your life? Were the Rattlers a popular touring band?
I think that the greatest professional success of my life (other than making the Rattler's album) was being able to play in all the different bands that I played in. This gave me the opportunity to learn so many different styles in addition to all the experiences that came along with it.
Were the Rattlers a popular touring band? That's hard to say. I guess only to the people that came to see us (laughs).
Did you ever feel like too much attention was put on "Joey Ramone's brother" and not enough on the Rattlers' music?
Yes I did. Maybe the writers (or some reviewers of the album) thought that it would be a good idea to mention that "little brother" stuff or the connection. Maybe they felt that it would sell magazines or hook the reader into reading their article. So it's possible that it helped the band in some crazy way. I'm sure that it hurt us in many ways too. It's hard to say. I think that when you have a brother who is so well known in the same music community you're playing too, it is pretty hard to avoid something like that totally.
To you, did Mickey seemed bothered by the fact that he was constantly compared to his brother?
This unfortunately, was one of the curses that Mickey had to deal with. I know Mickey wasn't too pleased seeing a review of the album or an advertisement in a local paper saying, "Joey Ramones baby brother, or little brother" or some variation of that. I remember once, being on tour and arriving at one of the places for a sound check. Mickey picked up the local paper and read something in there referring to the little brother or whatever thing. He lost it and started ripping the paper into shreds. He was quite fed up with all of it but took it well nonetheless. It was also frustrating having some people write and compare the Rattlers music to the Ramones instead of reviewing the album on its own merit. In my opinion, comparing the Rattlers to the Ramones was like comparing apples and oranges. It was just plain silly.
Same question -- this many years later, what do you think of "Rattled"?
I am very proud of that album. A lot of love went into making that record. When I listen to the album today on my car stereo or on my iPod, the music still seems as current today as when we first did it. I'll never forget when the JEM/PVC record company signed us to do the record. That was probably one of the greatest musical moments of my life.
I was also really happy, when I found out that Dionysus records wanted to reissue Rattled on CD. It gave people that heard of the band, (but never had a chance to buy the album) a second chance to hear the music.
What did you bring to the table in Birdland and the Rattlers? Did you co-write any of the songs? Or bring in ideas? What were the situations like?
When I was in Birdland, I basically brought my talent into the band. Mickey and Lester wrote all of the songs in Birdland. The music (from what I remember) was already pretty much structured. However, I do remember me being able to interweave my style here and there in the music.
As for the Rattlers, I feel I brought a lot more to the table than I was able to in Birdland. Even though certain individuals might not agree and write me off as a fly by night second bass player. I guess it is easy to forget that someone got the clothes together for the band or designed the album cover or helped develop the band's concept or whatever.
As for the music, I didn't write or co-write any songs for the Rattlers in the beginning. When I first got into the band, it was more like learning the songs that the Rattlers already were doing. However, as time went on, the band started to eliminate songs from the set list. Thus, opening up the playing field to contribute. It was then that I started to think about melodies and rhythms that would fit into what we were trying to say as a musical unit.
The problem about writing songs for the Rattlers was that you felt as though you were invading Mickey's territory. Mickey was very critical about anything you brought to the table. So for a while, I didn't bother to bring in anything because I didn't want to get myself aggravated. So I just contributed my style of bass playing. However, I did get credit for co-writing one song with the band. Our first song writing team effort was the song "I Won't Be Your Victim." When the album came out, that sort of became our single along with our music video. I wrote the middle part of the song and the most of the title. Later on, I wrote a song called "Let's Be Friends" that the Rattlers performed before the end of my tenure with them. So as you can see, I did try to contribute to the band.
Mickey mentioned that there is a whole album's worth of Rattlers material that was never released. What is this material like? Do you think there's any chance it ever will be released?
As I mentioned before, when I first got into the band, I learned songs that were eventually eliminated from the set list. I am not exactly sure if it was an album's worth of material we scraped from the list. It is possible however, that the Rattlers may have recorded some songs after I left the band that I don't know about. So it is possible that there may be enough songs for another album. The music that I am aware of was kind of pop sounding. I liked all the Rattlers songs. But I think the rational was that once we decided to go into a certain direction, we wanted the songs that we were doing to have continuity. So eventually some songs that weren't in the vein were scratched.
As far as Mickey releasing the songs, well, that is up to him. In fact, when we talked about this subject once, I remember him saying to me that he wanted to record the "Let's Be Friends" song if he ever did decide to put out unreleased material. I believe he said to me, "We did that in the Rattlers so it should be on the record if we ever do another Rattlers album." So I guess anything is possible. I know he is very busy now writing a book on his brother. Therefore, I don't see Mickey doing a project like that for a while.
What did the Tribe sound like? Did you ever record any material?
I can't really put my finger on it, but they did incorporate a bit of the U2 sound in their style. I think that U2 was really hot at the time so maybe that's why it was in there or perhaps it was accidental. I sometimes wondered if the singer thought he was Bono's alter ego. (laughs).
It was a totally different sound than the Rattlers or Birdland. I don't remember every song. But I do remember really liking the music. I am not sure about me personally recording any material. I might have done a demo or something but I would be speculating on that. I did perform a few times with the group. One time in particular was at the Ritz. Joey organized a concert and we were one of the bands that performed that night. I still have the tee shirt to prove it. (laughs)
Do you still keep up with Mickey at all? Why did you end up parting ways after three bands together?
Well, we really never parted ways totally. Mickey and I still speak to each other on the phone or over the Internet. But it seems only when I initiated it (laughs). He still forgets to call me on my birthday which I rib him about every year (laughs). Seriously though; after playing in three different bands with him on and off; he and I would just go our separate ways so to speak. Mickey was a dominating person to work with and sometimes I felt I just needed some space from him to clear my head. However, despite it all, he and I still remain friendly today. One thing I learned in the music business is that business is business and friends are friends. Since we started off as friends, I didn't see jeopardizing a friendship over a business relationship. I guess what I am trying to say; is that I always considered his family my extended family. And family is very important to me.
Did you hear his Stop cd? Any thoughts?
Not only did I hear it, I even played on the record (laughs). If you look at the credits, you'll see that I am listed on it playing flute. I played flute on "With our Hands we Pray." I think that the Stop cd was a stepping stone record for Mickey. The record felt to me as a kind of bridge to a new style and sound he was starting to explore.
Have you played in any other bands since Crown the Good?
Yes. Actually, I tried to start my own band at one point. Right after I left the Rattlers, I wrote like twelve songs. I think that they were all about Mickey (laughs). I hooked up with this drummer who used to play in the Dictators and we went into a recording studio to put the material down on tape. Since we didn't have a full band, I hired some the best studio musicians in New York that I knew at the time to help demo the tapes. I even asked Mickey to play on one or two tracks (definitely one). Anyway, after we made the tapes, it seemed as though we just couldn't get any musicians that we auditioned to duplicate the sound from the tape. Then, the drummer (who was the only permanent member besides me of course) started to have personal problems and eventually betrayed me. So I scraped the project and put the tapes away in storage. After that, I just played as a hired gun for bands that called me up for gigs. However, I was pretty selective with whom I played with. Some things you can't do, even for money (laughs).
What are your main artistic pursuits these days? And what do you do professionally?
Well, back in the 1980's I started to get involved with electronic music. I always had a love affair with technology ever since I can remember. I first worked with drum machines (for my demos) and eventually graduated to analog and digital synthesizers. Then, when MIDI came out, I started to learn how to write and compose music on my computer. I am still very involved with computer music today and teach it as well at a school in Brooklyn. When I am not doing anything musical, I do Macintosh computer consulting. I've also written articles and reviews for the Macintosh in a few computer magazines. I enjoy working with digital photography as well using iMovie and iPhoto.
What does the "U" in your name stand for?
Well, Mickey always used to say to me, "You do this, you do that". So I just substituted the U for You (laughs). Actually, for some reason, I was always the one who was elected to supervise hauling around the equipment. So I used to say to Mickey, "What am I, a U Haul?" So I put the U in my name as a joke to mean Dave U Haul the equipment.
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