Cataldo on the Nervous Eaters and
the ugly truth about Catholic Schoolgirls
by Chris Parcellin
The Boston rock'n'roll scene of the '70s has been fairly well documented in releases by the Modern Lovers, DMZ, the Real Kids, La Peste, Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, Unnatural Axe, etc. But one band that has really slipped through the cracks historically is the Nervous Eaters.
The band began to take shape in the early-'70s going through various name changes and bandmembers. But the one constant was singer and guitarist Steve Cataldo. Cataldo's roots were in early rock'n'roll as well as '60s proto-punk bands and the heavy blues that was the rage at the end of that decade. With these influences in mind he began to write short, catchy rock songs with tough lyrics and blazing guitar lines.
In 1975, Cataldo and company managed to find the time to jumpstart Willie Alexander's career, including backing him on the studio version of his signature tune "Mass. Ave" and hammering out the arrangements for the tunes that would become the repertoire of the Boom Boom Band, who went on to record two albums for MCA.
But the Eaters had their own fish to fry, so to speak, and they soon became a hot commodity on the Boston scene and in New York. With ballsy songs like "Just Head", "Get Stuffed" and "Loretta" under their belts, they seemed unstoppable. Their undeniable appeal as a live act, coupled with Cataldo's songwriting lead to a deal with Elektra Records, and a debut album that featured a cover with fake bite marks--apparently a reference, of sorts, to the band's name.
The album proved to be a commercial as well as artistic disappointment for both the band and their fans. And shortly thereafter, Cataldo moved on to other projects. But like any true rock'n'roller, Cataldo wasn't about to give up on his band so easily. The Eaters' mid-'80s reunion resulted in the kick ass l.p. "Hot Steel & Acid" (Ace of Hearts). One of the more memorable lyrics being "I don't care where I piss, I might piss on your lips..." (from the song "Shit For Brains") might not have endeared Cataldo to the MTV crowd, but there was no question that--this time around--the band wasn't going to cater to anyone else's whims about the final product.
And the same holds true today as the band prepares to release another album and tour. Recently, Cataldo was kind enough to bring us up to speed on what the band is up to now, as well as talking about the old days, his approach to songwriting a.k.a. "The Gearbox Theory", and a possible preoccupation with teenage Catholic chicks. (Nothin' wrong with that! And if you don't agree I'll take you off my "visitors list" at MCI-Cedar Junction.)
I think I read somewhere that you did a solo album in the early '70s. What was that like?
Yes I did, in fact--it came out in 1970. The album was called St. Steven. It was great getting signed to a major label (ABC Paramount) when you're that young.
Just before that, I had recorded with producer Alan Lorber in 1969. Rich Bartlett of the Fools and I had a band called the Front Page Review which Alan had signed. I was writing the material and fronting the band. Alan tried to lump us in with the Bosstown Sound. Alan also had produced Orpheus. They had a national hit with a song called “I Can’t Find the Time to Tell You”.
Years before this the FPR were managed by the “The Surf” Nantasket Beach, Inc. They had other groups signed, as well. The Pilgrims, which spawned many of the guys from ShaNaNa. The Rockin Ramrods with Jesse Henderson on drums, who is now the chief engineer at Longview Farms. Jesse did the "Just Head" and "Loretta" sessions many years later. Small world, eh? The Surf Management Team was basically Brian Interland, he later went on to be quite successful at Casablanca, then Geffen. I see now that the FPR record has been re-released as “Mystic Soldiers “. You can probably find both LP’s on the Web under “The Bosstown Sound“. Both "St. Steven" and "Mystic Soldiers" were quite psychedelic.
When did you put the Nervous Eaters
together? And what inspired you to do it?
Right after the "St. Steven" record I moved to Boston for good. Most everyone I knew during that period lived on the North Shore so I moved from Cape Cod to Beverly. Rich Bartlett and I formed another band with a few of the members of the Front Page Review (FPR) but we needed a drummer. Enter Jeff Wilkinson. I liked Jeff right from the start and his drumming was next planet stuff. He would do these unbelievable rolls and rhythms and just when you thought he was going to lose it for sure, he would rein it back in like Keith Moon--or as if he was this all-star leftfielder gracefully making the impossible catch. Jeff and Rob Skeen were buddies and really played well together. So that’s how Rob entered the picture. Rob had a worse temper than even me. We could get pretty explosive sometimes. But crap, that’s life. Even though we were in this other band the core of the Eaters was born. That band was called the Fabulous Rhythm Assholes, as you can tell by the name, we got a lot of gigs.
We had found a great singer named Mike Jirade who also was a close friend of Rich Bartlett’s. Rich knew every musician that played on the North Shore. Everybody likes Rich, he has an easygoing personality and a great deal of patience. Which is why--after some thirty years--we still play together, and we are still good friends. Anyways, Mike played with us in the first couple of bands, and name changes, we had in ’71-72…
Then Mike formed the Fools with Rich. Jeff, Rob and I split to form the Eaters. The three of us would get together at Jeff’s house and listen to the Stooges, Stones, Frank Sinatra. Jeff played all kinds of stuff. We practiced in Jeff and Rob’s cellar. We would go get stoned out of our minds, start the tape recorder and they would follow me thru all kinds of riffs and stories. Some jams I made up became actual songs. However, I wrote the real tunes at home by myself, brought them to rehearsal and taught them to the band.
I miss Jeff and Rob a lot. They are great guys. Rob lives in New Hampshire, he actually called me last year. Jeff passed away some time ago. He and I still talk, usually while I’m shaving.
You mentioned the Stooges. To me, it sounds like there's a big Stooges influence in a bunch of your songs. Were they important to you?
Yeah we loved Iggy--still do. So many bands have imitated him--Ig's THE original. Which is a rare find these days…The big three: Beck, Clapton and Page were just as much an influence, along with all the early blues and folk masters. The Big Three had these great instrumentals--one was called “Snakedrive”. Man, I played that to death and tried to learn all the licks. But I’m much better at making stuff up than learning the songs exactly as they go. That’s why I was never in cover bands.
What memories do you have of recording the "Just Head/Get Stuffed"
That was recorded thanks to the wonderful foresight of Jimmy Herald, the owner of the Rat. He let me produce those sessions and Iplayed all the guitars on every tune. It was recorded at Northern Studios in Maynard Mass. Jesse Henderson was the engineer. We had a great time with Jesse because I knew him from way back so it was a real kick to see him again. We were stoned all the time. Jesus, we smoked a lot of dope then, come to think of it. I’m lucky I have any lungs left.
We would make the trek from Beverly in the afternoon and record way into the night…We searched for the Master tapes years ago. But the studio is long gone and so is any hope of ever finding them. I broke my Les Paul at one of those sessions because I was so blasted. I knocked it over like a big stonedhalfwit and the headstock broke. I was in total shock, like I was just in a car accident or something--just numb--which is almost normal for me but still, it sucked. And that ended the session.
The guys all told me that the guitarshop would fix it (super glue) as good as new, in fact stronger that new. The shop did indeed fix it, and you would never have known it was in pieces. ButI knew and it bothered me for a long time. So, I got my LesPaul back and we finished the sessions. “Loretta”, “Just Head”, “Get Stuffed”and few more, which stayed in the can. That’s why we went back to find themasters. What a shame. But we thoughtthe sessions and mixes were very cool, and we were really hopeful the peoplewould dig it. They ended up digging it alright, then rediggin’ it even more twenty years later. As they say, “timing is everything “. Or is it?
Why do you think that single has stood the test of time so well?
Because it’s pure rock and roll. Clean, hard-driving, with great guitars and my personal philosophy of how weput our sound together. This Theory was known as “The Gearbox.” Just likedriving a sports car really. You could refer to it as “the 1st,2nd,3rd, overdrive way to writing hard, fast songs.” 1st gear being the intro or verse, 2nd being the prechorusand chorus, 3rd being the instrumental section and overdrive beingthe go nuts-vamp. No matter if the sections repeat or not, the shifting is thesame…So, when I brought in a song I would say “and we go into 3rdhere, then downshift to 2nd here…. It worked like a charm and still does today. Straight to the point. like a great blues song with a cool riff.
Did you consider yourselves a punk band?
Well there was too much blues in the Eaters songs for us to qualify as punk, but everybody was riding that horse to town in those days. We didn’t dress or look like British punks either. I think every city that had a scene had their own version of what was punk to them…. If you listen to the lead in “Just Head” you will hear Chicago Blues guitar. I’m not a blues guy by any stretch, but my diet besides very early rock & roll (Elvis, Little Richard, etc) was among others Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and Paul Butterfield…Of course, this was way before everybodyand their brother became a “bluesman”. Man oh man, poor Howlin’ Wolf must be spinning in his grave at all the cats trying to play the blues. At least it’s died down somewhat.
What was it like playing around Boston in the mid-to-late '70s when bands like DMZ, the Real Kids and the Boom Boom Band were around?
It was the greatest time. Everybody was competing in songwriting. Everybody showed up at each others gigs. We were young and full of energy, trolling for girls was in the Top 10 for sure. The scene was cooking with musicians. Each band had following of loyal fans that carried over into the next band’s fans. Then the drunken college kids would fill in the spaces, so the clubs began toget packed…After awhile, lines started forming outside the clubs as the wholething took off. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I’m glad I was there. I was rude to a lot of folks I’m sure and I do regret that. But then again, they can all go fuck off.
How did you feel the Boston scene matched-up to what was going on in NYC?
Well New York had a headstart on us.There were many more clubs for original music plus the city was a Mecca for hungry musicians. But Jim Herald and Hilly Kristal had this little deal cooked up where Hilly would send down a New York band, which nine out of ten times the Eaters would open for. Then in trade, Jim would send a Boston band down to CBGB’s. It worked out great for us.
We had a blast going to New York City. One day Wilk spray painted “The Eaters” on the outsidewall of CBGB’s, it really stood out. We thought it was the nuts. We came back like four months later to do another gig and it was just about covered over by other bands. At one gig this turkey from the Sick Fucks was shouting for people to get off their asses and rock. So, Jeff wings this shot glass off the stone wall and it shatters all over the stage. I’m in the dressing room just behind the stage and Jeff comes flying in--I mean flying in the air with Stanley Clark in between one pissed off Cheetah Chrome
and Jeff climbing passed my shoulder. It was like a Three Stooges movie. Stanley calmed the whole misunderstanding down.
Next time don’t ask the audience to rock if you don’t want them to rock, mannn!
Another thing that really struck me about the club was that Hilly had like five Dobermans running lose and they shit everywhere inside the club. I said, man, now that’s fucking Punk. But it wasn’t punk after all, it was just dog shit.
One night this record exec comes strutting in with this hot lady in tow. She was wearing this expensive looking fur coat. She slips on a fresh pile and falls flat on her butt in steamy doggie poop. Man, was that a howl.
Anyways, the thing about New York bands, like many of the other groups forming in American cities at that time, was that bands are bands and the good ones are just great artists--forming something special, independent of the “next big thing”. It’s just being in the right place at the right time. Most of the good bands were already forming before Punk hit the states. Because they were new and much different from the norm. The press--as well as the audience--just said, yeah man, this is punk. But it was just rock’n’roll reinventing itself once again.
You did one major label album, for Elektra, which was not nearly as raw as your indie stuff.What happened with that? Was that a case of the label interfering?
No, that was me not checking out the producer like I should have. That was me not seeing that although Harry Maslin was a great guy, and had a lot of super credits to his name (like “Fame” with David Bowie and John Lennon) he was not right for the Eaters.
We should have jumped to another label right after the first session, and quickly recorded the Eaters with someone like Rick Harte or myself producing.
It’s my fault and I apologize to everyone for letting them down. Anyways, the BIG TIME didn’t happen for us. The damage had been done. The ship had been torpedoed, sunk, and we all drowned in a sea of bad press--with fans deserting the sinking ship like rats thru a porthole.
But you can’t blame them, you can only blame me. Which is really sad, because we had done many arena type shows, opening up for major artists and just knocked the audiences out. They were screaming and going wild. I knew we had it, and so did our Boston fans. That’s why it sucked so much. Any other group would have been allowed a second chance. But that’s life kids. Months later, I got drunk one night on the roof of the Rat, tied a rope around my neck and was about to jump off, but I stopped to look at the girls walking by down on the street and passed out on a ‘lude I had taken. I never did jump. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.
You also had a great album in the '80s called "Hot Steel & Acid" which was criminally ignored. Why do you think it didn't do better?
Well, Rick Harte
is great guy and a great producer, but he never had a budget to advertise or a staff to pester the hell out of college and national radio. Selling the LP to a major label might not have been a bad idea either. It sure would have helped us, helped his label and helped all the other groups who would have been seen by a much wider audience. But I think the Boston fans and press never forgave me for the Elektra album. Even you are asking me about it 20 years after the fact. See what I mean? Eventually Rick took the other ‘lude I had in my pocket and passed out on the roof of the Rat some months later.
Who's playing with you now? What made you decide to put the band back together a few years ago?
Well, I’m playing with myself a lot, usually late at night watching “ Naughty Catholic Girls On Spring Break” But around ‘99, when Billy Loosigian called and mentioned putting a new version of the
released by the Eaters
back together, I turned off the TV got out of bed and grabbed my guitar.
We did some gigs, recorded a CD--which I’m in the studio now finishing. The first eight songs have Jeff Erna from the Dropkick Murphy’s on drums, Alpo on Bass, Billy Loosigian on guitar and me. More songs are to be added to the CD. That should finish it up. Playing on those remaining tunes are Walter Gustafson from Gang Green and the (original) Outlets on drums, Alpo on bass and I’m doing all the guitars and vocals. That should be finished and out in the Spring of 2002.
Are you playing a lot of gigs?
Well, I’m not playing out much in the Eaters, as we speak. I do play in another band with Alpo from the Real Kids and Rich Bartlett from the Fools and Dave Mclean from the original Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band. We play 50’s rock n roll, British Invasion and 50\60’s early R&B;…it’s a lot fun. The band is solid and really rocks. Mostly we play the burbs just for fun and a lot of cash.
As far as the Eaters go, after finishing up this new CD, which is being released by No Tomorrow Records
located in Spain--the Eaters plan to do some gigs here and some shows in Spain and France to support the CD’s release.
Is your current material similar to the old stuff? Or has your sound changed a lot?
Some of it is very similar. No matter what I do it is still going have that sound. It’s just me. I write the way I write. The Gearbox special, I really don’t deviate too much from the concept. It’s the only sound I have.
What do you think of the music scene today?
What scene would that be? There are so many groups that you better beable to light yourself on fire and live to talk about it, if you think you’regoing break thru the bullshit laden crud of popular music these days. I’m not sure there is a local scene. Someone call me up and tell me where it is so I can go check it out!
In fact, if I was a young band with something new to offer I would go find a neighborhood club, talk to the owner, cut some type of deal and start your own scene at the dude’s club. Get bands like your own to come on the bill with you. Call all your friends to come on down and drink like fish. Make sure it’s a small club. It will fill up quickly then everybody will try to go. People love to go where they can’t get in. I say do it yourself, don’t wait for some knucklehead to tell you where it’s at.
Do you think rock'n'roll can make a comeback?
I’m sure of it. As the song says,“Rock’n’Roll is here to stay, it will never die”. Hopefully, radio will keep spoon-feeding this non-music inane, trite puked-up pabulum to these poor sick saps until their numb-nutted teenage brains blow up. Then maybe they will reach back into the oldies record bin and pull out “Jailhouse Rock”, My Baby’s Red Hot” or “Rock Away Beach”. Duh! Maybe the Lemmings will become Leaders. Who knows where it will come from? Kids bored to death will reinvent rock once again. It could be hotrods and synth-guitars, or folk-metal or maybe someone will have the blessed sense to listen to the Beatles or Link Wray, maybe pull something new out of that, call it Beatle-Wray .That would be great. I would board that hell-bound train myself!!!!
What's your message for America's youth?
Don’t bother jerking off to“Catholic Girls on Spring Break 2” it sucks. Yeah, just be true to yourself and to your band. Strive to be different and don’t let one guy in the band just wear whatever he wants while the othercool guys are trying their hardest to have “THE” rock image. It’s the band man, it’s the BAND! Dudes always forget that. They try to go solo then they suck and die. Last, remember three of the greatest rules my father ever told me. (Which I still live by to this day).
1) Never eat anything bigger than your head.
2) Don’t let the Roadies rock out on stage, NO ROCKING OUT!!
3) Never screw your Critters. Nothing good can come of it.
Now get in there and rock.
© 2002 Chris Parcellin & D-Filed, All rights reserved.