The Raunch Hands: New York City’s Kings of Sleaze and Crypt Records’ house band

Photo © Gregoire Alessandrini; via his excellent website, New York City 1990′s

Photo © Gregoire Alessandrini; via his cool website, New York City 1990′s

Actual conversation at the recent Gories show:

Me: “blah blah blah Gories, Crypt Records blah blah blah”

Person who likes the Gories: “What’s Crypt Records?”

Me: “…”  (In a rare moment, I am rendered speechless)

I would have thought that anybody who was a Gories fan would have already known about Crypt, but nope. I guess since everybody downloads everything now, record labels don’t mean nuthin’? If not for Tim Warren of Crypt, you probably wouldn’t know about the Gories today!

Crypt bands are getting some long-overdue attention lately, even if it hasn’t led to any increased awareness of the label itself. The Oblivians have a new album out. There’s a documentary about Teengenerate. Jack White has released a Gories live album. But one of the bands on Crypt that hasn’t really enjoyed any sort of popular resurgence is the one that best captures the totality of the Crypt Records ethos in all its glory: The Raunch Hands, New York City’s Kings of Sleaze.

Raunch Hand’s guitar player Mike Mariconda has more credits than you have records in your shitty record collection, and they even include my dumb records, but don’t hold that against him.  Slip your Thunderbird in a brown paper sack, and let’s head someplace where you won’t wanna wear clothes you care about:

The attention now being given the Oblivians, Gories, and Teengenerate is kind of misleading, obscuring (for those that even know about it) the fact that Crypt was not primarily a label devoted to releases by modern bands. Those were a nice sideline, but the real heart of Crypt Records was assorted compilations, legal and otherwise, of obscure 45s. Back before every collector had uploaded every hard-to-find record to Youtube, the Back From the Grave and Las Vegas Grind comps were Crypt’s bread and butter. Crypt comps like Lookey Dookey, Talkin’ Trash, T-Bird Party, Strummin’ Mental, and Sin Alley alerted the world to the existence of an undocumented underground of bizarre, raw, and sleazy American music. And the only band to really give a modern interpretation of all the wide-ranging influences that made up the Crypt aesthetic was the Raunch Hands.

Like with the Gories, Crypt didn’t put out the first two Raunch Hands 12-inches. (As a weird side note, those Raunch Hands records came out on Relativity, making them the only Crypt band to be labelmates with the likes of Tangerine Dream, Megadeth, Steve Vai, and Eazy E.)  Despite that, the Raunch Hands would come to embody the spirit of the label.

It is hard to describe the Raunch Hands to somebody who has only heard “garage rock” like Ty Seagall or releases on Burger Records. Kind of like trying to explain to somebody what pre-Giuliani Times Square was like. The Raunch Hands were Noo Yawk and punk when that meant Johnny Thunders and decaying porno theaters, not Green Day Broadway musicals. Raunch Hands records don’t sound particularly “garagey”, their records were actually well-produced, and there is actual musicianship involved. With a drummer that played with G.G. Allin, the Raunch Hands had all the punk cred you could ask for.  They also had a sax player.

Crumbling 1980/90s NYC incubated a number of roots/punk/rock n’ roll combos such as the Cramps, A-Bones, and the Senders, and I get the feeling we’ll never see their like again. It is perhaps easier to understand how something like Count Basie’s big band is lost to the ages, but it is harder for me to accept that they just don’t make rock n’ roll like this anymore. Name me one band out there today that sounds like the Raunch Hands. You can’t, because they don’t exist.

In the Allmusic review of Learn to Whap-A-Dang with the Raunch Hands (by Eugene Chadbourne, of all people!) somewhat snootily opines “Musically, there is nothing the least bit new in a single note played by this group.” The Raunch Hands were never destined to appeal to rock critics, anyway, having committed the twin sins of knowing more about music than any rock critics did, and also having a sense of humor.

“New” or not, I hear more bands nowadays that sound like they’ve been listening to Slint than sound like they’ve ever heard The Upsetters, much less could be capable of covering them (and no, I’m not talking about Lee Perry).  Math was my least-favorite subject in school, I don’t want it in my rock.  I never want to hear another “angular” guitar as long as I live.  I say we need more bands like the Raunch Hands around.  Like: any.

The Raunch Hands managed to do roots rock – blues, R&B, country, rockabilly, gospel – and make it dangerous, gritty, and punk-rock obnoxious. They did roots but were too raw and too punk to appeal to the ponytail-and-Hawaiian-shirt contemporary blues bore demographic. Yet, they didn’t have to resort to shooting fireworks out of their butt crack, drinking piss onstage, or wearing a smelly bunny mask and tighty-whities. It’s like the difference between Lee Marvin and Ryan Gosling acting tough onscreen. With one, I buy it.  The other is just not convincing.  The Raunch Hands could provoke an audience just by their sheer stage presence and capacity for alcohol consumption.  Lots of bands invoke the lily-white violence of punk rock, but the Raunch Hands combined it with an R&B element that provoked hip-shaking and illicit thoughts of a deviant nature. Americans can handle violence, but throw sex into the mix and they get uncomfortable.

The Raunch Hands are one of the few bands, not just on Crypt or in 1984’s NYC, but pretty much anytime/anywhere, that combined the bump and grind of Las Vegas Grind, the raw R&B of Lookey Dookey (covering Andre Williams long before his “rediscovery” by trash rockers in the 1990s, like a bluesman rediscovered by 60s folkies), the surf instro stomp of the Strummin’ Mental compilations, and the punk snarl of Back From the Grave. Hell, even that woman from My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection is hip to the Back from the Grave comps now. Well, lady, how would you feel if you knew that the Raunch Hands were the only modern band to be featured on a volume of Back from the Grave? You still wouldn’t like ‘em, that’s how you’d feel!

The Raunch Hands in some ways remind me of another great and under-appreciated American bar band: NRBQ.  If you took away NRBQ’s pop songs and replaced them with alcohol, smart-assery, and menace, that is. To get the Raunch Hands, take Al Anderson and add two different Al’s: Al Goldstein and Alfred E. Neuman. All of the musicianship, wide-ranging influences, and killer guitar playing of NRBQ, but with none of the icky sweetness. Instead of pop songs like Riding In My Car, you get Chandler’s signature lyrical couplets such as:

Gettin’ wet/at The Met

It’s gonna be… screwin’ time at the Guggenheim!

– From Naked, Naked, Naked, an ode to a former girlfriend of Chandler’s who liked to have sex in public places.

But, I confess that it took a while for me to really “get” the Raunch Hands, myself. Unlike the straightforward charms of the Oblivians, Teengenerate, and the Gories, the Raunch Hands were coming from so many different directions by comparison that the music was hard to get a handle on. It didn’t help at first that lead singer Chandler was more of a “personality” than a vocalist. Unlike bands such as the Gories, Raunch Hands songs had breaks, tempo changes, and other musical pyrotechnics. The rhythm section was a monster, and provided a solid foundation for Mariconda to go apeshit, with Chandler gibbering his unique lyrical content over the top of it all.  No droney/arty Velvets-style garage jams, here.

Three things helped me understand how to appreciate the Raunch Hands. Okay, four things if you include alcohol.

First, I finally got to see them live. Like many other cool things, I was too young to catch them in their heyday.  But I did see them at a reunion show, and they delivered. All the breaks that seemed jarring on the records were tailor-made for spilling your beer and drunkenly yelling along with. The Raunch Hands are definitely one of those bands that are meant to be experienced live, while drinking in a bar. They weren’t meant to be listened to on earbuds at work, or in bright sunlight on an outdoor stage at a music festival. Outside of this scene from Mean Streets (an apt and sleazy old New York comparison), drunken shenanigans have never been captured so accurately via art as in Raunch Hands songs:

Second, time passed, and I heard a lot more of the music that they were drawing from. I heard the Raunch Hands version of Dr. John’s guitar stomper Storm Warning long before I ever heard the original. Same with Mariconda’s version of Night Train, derived from the primal juices of Travis Wammack’s original. And a million others.  It took me forever before I put two and two together, and realized that Hanging From the Rafters was kind of a profane re-working of the unstoppable train beat of Big Al Downing’s Georgia Slop. Like your average music writer, I was simply too dumb to appreciate them at first.

And third: again, time passed. That’s the difference. Like seedy, pre-Giuliani Times Square, the Raunch Hands ain’t for kids. I still enjoy punk like the New Bomb Turks (whose breakthrough album Destroy Oh Boy was produced by Mariconda) but it does have a decidedly adolescent flavor in retrospect. The Raunch Hands are for adults. Even when they were a young band just starting out, the Raunch Hands made sleazy rock n’ roll for middle-aged alcoholics who had made poor life choices. Maybe I didn’t get it when I was younger, but now, I’m starting to relate!

One thing that annoys me about “my generation” and those to follow – X, Y, Millenials, however you wanna label them – is the constant insipid odes to childhood innocence. Younger folks like to bag on the baby boomers, but at least boomers weren’t still wearing Howdy Doody t-shirts when they were 35. I’m an adult now; I don’t wanna talk about the Muppets anymore. I’m sick of Wes Anderson.  I don’t want to read a full-length book treatment on the concept of “Twee.”  We live in painfully non-sleazy times. The Raunch Hands are the antidote.

I’ll let Crypt Records head honcho Tim Warren explain the appeal of this band, he can do it better than I can:

I’m afraid t’was these guys that caused me to fall offa the wagon after a 5-year booze-free spell. And who could possibly resist? In 1984 these guys got together, crankin’ out buckets o’ drunken, irreverent, rude-ass “treatments” of the greatest array of cob-webbed, fucked up old R&B lechery, copping (for ex:) an odd Bo Diddley instro, slapping lyrics to it, mashing down hard onnit, an’ out came squealin’ the logical kin of an unholy mating of Andre Williams, Gerry Roslie, Link Wray, Hound Dog Taylor, and Johnny Thunders inna steamy six-way with Amber Lynn. At their LAST ever gig I downed a full bottle o’ Jim Beam, snorted 3 lines of NASTY speed, blacked out and ended up in jail c/o the “friendly” local cops, soaked in blood and “sporting” some wiseguy’s magic marker Hitler mustache.

And thus the most “Crypt” of the Crypt Records bands ended their career.  Let us cast off Wes Anderson, the Muppets, city witch dream pop, jokey Ramones retreads, and jerky angular math rock-influenced sophistry. Time to move up to mid-shelf bourbon and the Raunch Hands.  We need it now more than ever.

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This entry was posted in COMEDY GOLD, Forgotten History, General Orneriness and Contrarianism, Guitar nerd shit, Lengthy discourses, Long-winded screeds, Lost classics, Music, My opinions are important and should be displayed on the internet. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Raunch Hands: New York City’s Kings of Sleaze and Crypt Records’ house band

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Great post. I recall being perhaps a little too loose with Mariconda in a discussion about roots, punk, and people’s predilections, then spouting, “That’s why nobody likes the Raunch Hands!” Immediately awkward and slightly embarrassing, but mostly true.

  2. Thomas F. Lynch says:

    I got to see them just once,but it was beyond perfect, it was as unexpected as a mugging. It was like a John Hughes film was suddenly hijacked by Ron Haydock. Baby,while The Raunch Hands stood their ground wagging their dicks at a teenage Goth crowd that most clearly hated them, I was sent to a place I have rarely returned to. Surely they were the sons of God.

  3. David says:

    I saw them in Knoxville, Tennessee. When I got to the club, my first thought was “Somebody needs to tell the band there are some SHADY looking characters hanging around their van.” Then I realized.

  4. Sal says:

    Fuck yes! Every word is true… maybe each word more true than the last! I, too, came to the Raunch Hands late (just before their reunions in ’98), though I was young at the time (21). I used to pore over every Crypt catalog, and RH always jumped out at me. They’ve been my favorite band since then… no lie! My crowning moment as a “journalist” (funny that it was also my “first” moment as a journalist) was interviewing Mike Mariconda in 2001, for a zine that is no more (Rock’n’Roll Outbreak), then re-published in 2005 for a website that is no more (Life in a Bungalo Digest). I’ve been searching for my copy of the zine since starting my blog a few months ago so I can re-type it and publish it for the world to see, or ignore again! Reading your article today justifies every stalker-like Google search I do on the Raunch Hands every few months…

  5. Pingback: Schooley and Mariconda – TWO man band! | John Schooley and his One Man Blog

  6. Pingback: Schooley and Mariconda – Let’s Get Frankie! | John Schooley and his One Man Blog

  7. JCB 30339 says:

    I saw the ‘Hands in Atlanta at the old 688 Club in the mid-1980s. I had no idea who they were but by the time they wrapped up, “Spit It On The Floor” I would remember them for sure. So many great bands then, so little time.

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