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Conversation with John Felice

December 24, 2016

Photos by John Keegan
(unless otherwise noted)


John Felice

BGN- I'm glad we could get this interview together. It's hard to get everyone's schedule to jibe. But hey, we don't have anything going on really, right?

JF- I usually just stay home, read books, listen to music and go to practice.

BGN- Everyone thinks you must live this life filled with lots of friends and things going on.

JF- Yeah those days are over. I had this conversation with a friend the other day. My birthday is on December 27th. And for years, for many, many years we would start partying on the 24th and go straight through to New Year's Day. Everyday constantly, so high, so inebriated-just outta control. The whole Real Kids entourage!! Nowadays-completely different. I mean last year I spent it in the hospital. I almost died on my birthday last year. I almost died on my birthday!! The year before that I was in the hospital as well and the year before that too, I had an operation then. But back then it was "Yeah Party!!" But we'd always play on New Year's Eve, at the Rat or at Cantone's. We'd just sober up enough to play the gig, though sometimes we didn't do that either.

BGN- And that was a paying gig?

JF- Oh yeah New Year's Eve was always a big night! I had a job but I would take off between Christmas and New Year's every year. And I remember one New Year's Eve at the Rat it was packed downstairs and there was a line to get into the Rat that was all the way down to the House of Pancakes down the street! And of course Alpo got in a fight. Some kids from New Hampshire said something and a big fight broke out on stage. It was so crowded the bouncers couldn't get to the stage. So we were up on stage beatin' the hell outta these guys ourselves. Taking beer pitchers and smackin' them over the head, kicking one kid's teeth out with steel toed boots. It was bad. When the bouncers finally got to the stage, after we had beat them all bloody, they took them out back and finished them off. And you know what I'm talking about. If those guys got you it meant at least a week in the hospital or worse. I saw some nasty shit there.

John Felice

BGN- The Rat bouncers had quite a reputation!

JF- Oh yeah!! We were always there. We were Jimmy's pet band for a long time and we'd rehearse upstairs there. It was our hang out, play gigs - it was everything.

BGN- And you made money from those gigs there?

JF- Yeah I think the first time I ever made a thousand dollars or 1,500 was at The Rat.

BGN- That was good money then! So between 1975 and say '80 you had big money gigs?

JF- We started playing in '74. And in '75 the gigs at the Rat were four nights in a row, Thursday through Sunday. Friday and Saturday you could get a lot of people in there. Then we started playing places that were further out, like the North Shore where Billy Borgioli and Alpo were from, from that we got a lot of fans in New Hampshire. And a lot of those fans would come down to Boston to see us play. And the scene was getting big. Every year it was bigger and bigger. And then the day I walked into Cantone's everything changed.

BGN- When was that?

JF- 1976. I was living with my wife at the time, Marilyn, on Batterymarch Street and our apartment backed up right on to Cantone's. We were coming home from the movies downtown, and that area was dead at night then, we could hear something…it sounded like music, we could hear the bass so we decided to check it out. We walk in and there's nobody there. The only people there were the bartender and a waitress just sitting there doing nothing and some really awful cover band. I said to the manager "I could get this place full for you if you give me a chance to do it. My band can play here." That's how Cantone's started. First time was just a Friday, then we did Friday and Saturdays then eventually it was full time, every day. Oedipus got his hands on it and started talking about it. People needed another club to go to. The Club in Cambridge was no fun and The Rat people didn't want to go to the Club. So all of a sudden there was this place with tons of parking. I still have the posters from those first gigs. I had to draw maps in the posters to show people how to get there from the subway!! That area was like a no man's land. There wasn't even a Quincy Market back then.

John Felice

BGN- I always thought you worked at Cantone's and that's how it started.

JF- Yeah after a while I worked there part time in the kitchen to get a few extra bucks. The band was busy at the time, we started playing a lot and we had a little bit of money coming in. I moved from Batterymarch St to upstairs over Cantone's and we could rehearse up there so it worked out well for us.

BGN- Upstairs over Cantone's, I heard there were things going on up on the fifth and sixth floors; they had it done over like a private club kinda.

JF- Those guys were mobbed up big time, that wasn't just a rumor. They were lower level but definitely with the mob and they didn't take shit. You wouldn't want to get on their bad side…ever! They had all kinds of stuff going on there. We first started doing gigs on Friday and Saturday. On Wednesdays and Thursdays they still had belly dancing-belly dancing! For a while they had strippers in there and then the guy who ran the Other Side came to Mario and pitched the idea to make it into a gay bar. They tried that for a month but it didn't work out. The Other Side was a big bar and you could go dance there. The Modern Lovers played in there a few times. There wasn't any place to play back then. We had to make our own gigs.

BGN- It was all cover bands in that era.

JF- Yeah it was awful. The early 70's were a real bad time for music.

BGN- In Brett Milano's book he mentions disco to you and you were ANGRY. As if you were STILL angry about it. And I'm thinking Yeah!! I'm still angry too! It was bad. Does he know how bad it was and all the shit we had to put up with??

JF- When you're 15, 16, 17 and you really believe in rock'n'roll and all you can get is disco then you're never going to lose the anger over that. Even 40 some odd years later I still feel the same about that crap when I hear it. Ugh you know, Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees and all that shit. But at the Other Side they played Motown and Stax, shit that you could dance to, it was still rock n roll, that shit ain't disco!!

John Felice

BGN- So let's stay with that era: you are out of the Modern Lovers and you're starting your own band; The Kids. At that time there's stuff like cover bands, James Taylor, Carly Simon, The Eagles….But your mind is focused on straight up Rock'n'Roll.

JF- Oh yeah. Nothing different than what I'm doing now. My focus hasn't changed at all.

BGN- What were you listening to at that time?

JF- The obvious- Kinks and Stones, The Troggs, The Pink Fairies- I listened to them a lot. ACDC, I think their first record came out in '74. I remember hearing that and thinking "This shit rocks!!" And the Stooges obviously, and David Bowie. But at the time that was it, that's all there was. I had to go to Discount Records in Harvard Square and leaf through the imports to find out what was going on in music that was worth listening to. Curt Naihersy worked there and would recommend a record he thought I might like. This is before we played together. I knew Curt from when I was in the Modern Lovers. He was in a band called The Knobs with Richie Johnson. They were around before '74, it had to be '71. I played with Curt in '74.

BGN- While you were in the Modern Lovers, you played all Jonathan Richmond songs. You weren't playing John Felice songs?

JF- NO. Even though I was starting to write stuff.

BGN- Did he know you were writing stuff?

JF- Yeah. And the rest of the band wanted to do some of my songs.

BGN- Was that the source of the acrimony that made you leave?

JF - There were a lot of things. We went from being offered six figures for a record contract to finally signing for $45,000 but originally they were offering us $650,000. That was because we couldn't make up our minds. There was in-fighting. There was a lot of tension because of the money left on the table just by being unable to decide. I was just starting to get really disgusted by the whole thing and I was also tired of being the baby of the band. We played that gig in New York and it was a really good gig for us but on the way home I was like "I'm done."

John Felice

BGN- Is it true Jonathan had the Howard Johnson's TV dinner boxes lining his bedroom walls in Natick?

JF- I wouldn't say "lined" but yeah he had them up on his walls. He was into Trademarks and Howard Johnson's had those colors, the turquoise and orange and he was into that shit. When we'd play Roadrunner we'd bring it down and he'd go into this rap and talk about Howard Johnson's. He was really into Howard Johnson's.

BGN- You mention how he'd 'bring it down', you do that. Did you learn that from him?

JF - Kinda probably. We both learned it from soul bands maybe…like Otis Redding and James Brown. It creates a dynamic-you wanted to keep people dancing. When we played in the old days there were dance floors - people DANCED. It wasn't a crowded mosh pit, it was dancing. It was rock'n'roll and that's what you're supposed to do - shake your ass. So if you could bring it down to that beat-it was a tool.

BGN- Is there anything thing else you think you learned from Jonathan song writing wise?

JF- The love of rock'n'roll. We don't have a lot of similarities in our writing styles. But you want to be able to get it across as simply as possible. You don't want people guessing what you're trying to say. Jonathan was older than me by five years but he turned me on to a bunch of shit when we were growing up together.

John Felice

BGN- And it's unbelievable that you were living close to each other as kids.

JF- Next door. He had a basketball hoop in his driveway which was right outside my bedroom.

BGN- Did he leave Natick before you?

JF- Yeah he took off and traveled through Europe for a while and he went to Israel for a while. While he was doing that we were in touch by mail and I kept bugging him about starting a band. I was like "What the fuck is this solo shit? It doesn't cut it. You need a band." I kept bugging him and finally he caved. He wanted to continue playing, using a guitar and amp, but by himself. A lot of those songs ended up on the first Modern Lovers album, the songs he used to play by himself on Cambridge Common. He would have kept doing that if someone hadn't pushed him into do it with a band.

BGN- It's such a strange concept. If someone is playing solo or acoustically I'm really not interested.

JF- Rock'n'roll really needs that whole delivery system in your face-and the drama. You need that. Jonathan does OK now with him and his drummer. He's refined his act now to exactly what he's always wanted to do. He didn't want, you know, Jerry on keyboard and he certainly didn't want another guitarist. When we first started playing we were loud and abrasive in a lot of ways. And we'd bring the volume up and down. But he kept chipping away at it more and more and I was getting frustrated more and more. He wanted us to play at a whisper. Sometimes I felt like he was doing it to bust my balls. But he was going in one direction and I was heading in a different one and that was the end of that.

John Felice

BGN- So then you started the Kids. At that time are you in Boston or in Natick?

JF- Boston. I moved out of Natick when I was 15. I was playing with Kevin Glasheen, he was in the Classic Ruins. Kevin grew up with us in the same neighborhood, too. He played drums, we got Curt Naihersy to play guitar and we had this kid named Jeff playing the bass. That was the band. This was like 1974.

BGN- And what are you playing? Covers?

JF- We did a lot of cover songs like Too Many Fish in the Sea, Pushing Too Hard. But I was writing too.

BGN- What originals did you have then, anything we know?

JF- All KIndsa Girls, Common at Noon, My Baby's Book and Just Like Darts…that was a very early song.

BGN- Really?!? That early!

JF- Yeah like 1975.

John Felice

BGN- That's surprising! It's just that All Kindsa Girls is such a massive song and for it to be cobbled together, written that early is amazing. It's sophisticated writing!

JF- It just came to me. I was driving around listening to the oldies station and this melody came into my head. But I didn't just come out with it in one day. I kept working on it. As you say-cobbled together. I had all these songs…I was living down in the financial district and I was in between bands, I auditioned for the Heartbreakers and that wasn't gonna work for me, came back to Boston and decided I was gonna put a band together. Me and Kevin worked on doing that. We'd get people to come to rehearsals and play with us…it wasn't as easy as it sounds though. By '76 we had some songs, we played out; me and Curt and Kevin. We played a gig with the New York Dolls at the Bitter End in New York. Alpo came to the show and saw us play. I'd never met him at that point. Jonathan came to me and said he knew some guys in Beverly who wanted to put a band together but needed songs. I kinda at that point needed a band so that's how I hooked up with them. And when I started playing with them I was saying "I got a ton of songs, you guys wanna get busy?"

BGN- Were you playing gigs? And if so where?

JF- Yeah we played out…we played the Club a lot.

BGN- Was the Club happening at that time?

JF- It was the Ace of Clubs then became just The Club. Oh yeah it was always around as a real sleazy place.

John Felice

BGN- Yeah there were hookers at the bar when we'd go there to see a band. So at this time you are playing out but did you tailor your sound to the main stream stuff that was out there?

JF- My inspiration was to get kids to rock. I felt like I had something more important to get out there. With all that crap that was on the radio - what I was doing felt more important than ever. I was never discouraged by it, just angry. I mean I was mad that rock'n'roll was suffering. Radio used to be such a great thing; top 40, garage rock and stuff, then in the '70's it just went down the fucken' tubes and that really pissed me off so I figured I had to do my part.

BGN- You were doing gigs then, playing your original music. Did people show up?

JF- Oh yeah! Little by little more and more people would come and they'd say "You're a fun band!" and "We can dance to what you're doin'" People want to dance! If you go out to see a rock'n'roll band and you are dancing you're involved from the very beginning. Have a couple drinks and loosen up. First of all the chicks all hit the floor and then the guys follow and by the end of the night it's a big party type thing. Now you go to see a band and you stand there waiting for the band to start and no one's really involved. You're just sitting back in the dark, watchin' the band. Back then you were involved from the minute you walked in the door. It was different. The Modern Lovers played these college mixers because there was nowhere else to play. These mixers were just social dances. It wasn't exclusive; you didn't have to have a college ID. My friends from out in the suburbs came to see us play.

BGN- Back then I was looking for music like the Modern Lovers but I didn't know about the band then.

JF- Well you had to know people who knew or we had to make up posters and put them up in record stores and places like that. Eventually we put together mailing lists we'd have people sign in with their addresses at the door. Believe it or not it worked! They'd appreciate that you'd send something out and put a fucken stamp on it. Then they'd tell their friends and people came. There was no internet; it was all DIY back then. You had to go looking for it yourself and if you were a band you had to get the word out yourself-whatever it took!

Real Kids at the Rat
Real Kids at the Rat
Photo: Blowfish

BGN- So when Punk was just starting you're already in place. You were pre-punk. What other bands starting showing up? Willie was there of course, Marc Thor …

JF- Mickey Clean & The Mezz. The way the scene exploded in Boston was just as incredible as it sounds. It literally exploded…overnight. But you know, the Mezz weren't punk either. The difference between Boston and New York was Boston wasn't about posing and being cooler than everybody else. Boston was all about just working class.

BGN- It was more garage at that time.

JF- Very much so! It was rock'n'roll, it wasn't punk. But people had to label it something. It wasn't a scene that was based on posing and images and spittin' and fucken' stickin' safety pins through your eyeballs and shit like that. Here it was just about rock'n'roll…and dancing. When people talk about the birth of the punk scene in Boston-first of all you're wrong 'cause there wasn't a punk scene, OK. The birth of, let's say, the rock'n'roll scene in Boston was '74, '75, '76. When Jimmy put the Live at The Rat thing together is when it all just went nuts.

BGN- You're playing and punk grew up around you. But you were loud raw and angry.

JF- Yeah we had a lot of the elements. We had the attitude. But we were just were not a punk band. The first time I heard the term "punk rock"-I saved it as a matter of fact- it was a shoppers' newspaper. I was playing with Kevin, Jeff and Curt and it was about this thing at the Heinz Auditorium, some music convention thing. We weren't invited to play but we loaded up our gear and we drove in and we set up and played! We just rolled up and acted like we were supposed to be there. You know; "Hey where do we pull in? We're with the band" "Oh yeah that dock right over there!!" We put our shit up on the stage and played! And they loved us. And this guy wrote an article about the show and said "These guys are punk…they are PUNKS!" Because we went in there with that attitude, we were determined to be heard!! And all the other bands they had playing at that convention were those horrible soft rock idiot bands that no one wanted to hear. And we just said "Fuck that! We're gonna play! So what if you didn't invite us!" We were like "we're not getting off the stage, we're not surrendering the stage!"

John Felice

BGN- Yeah back then you were out to kill. You wanted the best gig, you were fighting….

JF- It was a healthy competition with all the bands. But I don't remember any animosity between bands really. You're better off being friends, you gotta share the stage. But when we first started playing we used to go to the Reddy Teddy gigs at the Rat and we'd just stand at the side of the stage with our arms crossed and just GLARE at them. We thought the music they played was so awful. We made them nervous and pissed off and they asked Jimmy to throw us out. Whenever they played at The Rat we'd do it to them. And it still wasn't like a fight. I mean Matthew became one of my closest and dearest friends but we really thought they were bad.

BGN- Recording wise-Reddy Teddy were the first ones to put out an album.

JF- Yeah it was a big deal for someone to actually put a record out then. Willie had something out.

BGN - Willie had the Mass Ave/Kerouac 45. Maybe the Boize had something out…and Marc Thor and maybe FoxPass.

JF- Our first very record was the single we did for Sponge, the French label. We did All Kindsa Girls. That guy was Philippe Garnier, he was a rock journalist for Rock & Folk Magazine a super glossy and fancy magazine. He somehow connected us with French people. And he decided we were worth investing in, he gave us the money upfront to record the single and we did the whole thing; had the pictures taken on the balcony of my apartment on Batterymarch Street, and got the recording done. And that was our recording debut.

BGN- How did that feel being in the studio for the first time?

JF- Weird. We knew what we wanted to do but we didn't have any idea how to do it. We tried different stuff. If you listen to Common at Noon it's got the glockenspiel in there. That single is recorded completely differently than anything else we've ever done since. Then we put out that first Real Kids album which was just loud, blasting.

John Felice

BGN- Yeah there's no glockenspiel on that! Was that a conscious decision?

JF- Yeah! It was sort of a group production, everybody was involved, it was by committee almost. And yeah we wanted to just go bare bones and it ended up that people love that record so much. I can't understand …when I listen to it all I can hear is everything that's wrong with it. But there's no bells and whistles. You can't make the same record over and over again. Your fans might want that, you know? We're working on an EP right now and these 6 songs take you back to what the first record were kind of…real straight ahead bare bones. But it's all new stuff. We really wanted to do this EP before we go back out on tour in the Spring of 2017. But for the next album we do we're gonna record some cover songs we do; Baby Blue and Don't Talk to Strangers, Gotta Get Away and Outta Time.

BGN- You played those last two songs at The Abbey. It was so good it made me understand how good the Stones really were again.

JF- It was fun to dig those songs out. It was a blast. Norton asked if we wanted to be part of this project and we said "Sure!" because anytime Norton asked us we always said yes. So we picked the songs we wanted to do, got them tight enough to record and we then got a box of records in the mail one day. They also did that Turban Renewal record, people covering Sam the Sham songs. I did Little Red Riding Hood. I didn't have a band then. I had studio time booked for 6PM in Brooklyn and I got to NYC way earlier. I wandered into this hole in the wall bar and they just happened to have Little Red Riding Hood on the jukebox. I was there all afternoon! I pumped ten dollars worth quarters into that jukebox and got completely hammered. I was so drunk I could barely find my way to Brooklyn! But I got there and I recorded it and it came out great!

BGN- So you are still writing songs now.

JF- All the time.

BGN- Some of your songs you're playing slower now. Are you writing slower songs now?

JF- Oh you mean Common at Noon on Shake Outta Control, we slowed it down yeah. And Who Needs You? we slowed down as well. See, the version of Who Needs You that came out on Live at the Rat, it still exists in a vacuum because that's the only recorded version. It's the only version anybody ever heard. You gotta remember Live At The Rat was an adrenaline fueled chaos thing. Everybody was supposed to two songs. For some reason we finished our two songs and somebody said "Do another song" as we were trying to get off stage, they tell us to go back on and we played a rushed version of Who Needs You. Rocket From the Crypt covered that song and they did it the original way. If we had had a chance to record that second album with Red Star we would have done that song and it wouldn't have been as fast.

John Felice

BGN- In our original Real Kids interview from way back when you said "Just put it on record that I hate that Live at The Rat". Do you still hate those cuts?

JF- I'm not crazy about 'em. Because it was just too fast, they're too rushed.

BGN- Let's talk about some other songs….Common at Noon. In that song you do parts where you talk in a whisper in your voice. It's a trick, like you're rockin and rollin and then all of a sudden you whisper. Are you doing that on purpose? What's the reason for that?

JF- It just had that feel for me. Like…you're singing it to yourself …or like …I'm not singing it to the person it's about, I'm thinking it to myself. When you're alone in the middle of the night and you're thinking about how much you miss that person kinda tone.

BGN- And with Common at Noon it's attached to a place. You're like Jonathan Richman in that sense.

JF- I do it all the time and I'm not ashamed to do it. I think where we live is the most special place in the United States by far. Plus it's where I live, it's keeping it real. You go to places in Europe and kids over there ask me….a lot of them have visited Boston, and they come over here and they look for the places I've sung about.

John Felice

BGN- Yeah like to The Common…and at Noon!!

JF- Oh yeah I've heard that before!

BGN- Just a couple of weeks ago someone emailed me and said a friend from Europe came over here and they said the friend wanted to go to The Common…at Noon…what really made their trip was that they saw YOU there….at The Common… Noon!

JF- Shit!! Small town, man!

BGN- Wallace Stevens says "Life is an affair of people not of places. But for me life is an affair of places and that's the trouble." Meaning that The Common at Noon is about the place but it's also about the woman.

JF- Can't you see being able to identify with a place where you were with a person you've broken up with!?? How it evokes that feeling!? That's what that song's supposed to do. That's what THESE songs ARE supposed to do. These places are my personal places but everyone can relate to that feeling. It's universal!

BGN- But how did you capture this feeling AND place….

JF- I don't think I intentionally…ugh, it just happens! It comes naturally and it's not because I was in a band with Richman and shit, it was just a natural thing to write about. Like Better Be Good is about the bands in Boston and the North Shore…

BGN- In Better Be Good you name check The Pandas, The Remains and The Ramrods. Did you ever see them live?

JF- No. I saw them on TV though. But they were big enough to get on the radio which was a big deal for someone like me: "WOW! A local band on Top 40 Radio!! That is so COOL!!" The song is exactly what it sounds like. It's talking about the history, and we should we proud of the rock'n'roll history of Boston- that's it. It was kind of a theme song for what was going on back then. And of course it was about dancin'. We'd play Better Be Good and people would get up and dance, especially at the end when it breaks into double time. People would go nuts.

BGN- When you wrote that song you double timed it at the end!

JF- It should be double time at the end. It's supposed to rock, you know?

BGN- Then in All Kinds of Girls you do the reverse….the intro is five times slower than the song itself.

JF- Yeah I used to do that for a long time. I would write intro parts to my songs. My Baby's Book too. It seemed like a necessary way to start a song. And a melody that comes outta nowhere…in the very first chorus of All Kindsa Girls it slips into that Chuck Berry thing then it comes on really strong and it doesn't come back to the slow part or the first part again. Sir Douglas Quintet's song Mendicino; you know just riding that one chord.

BGN- All Kindsa Girls and Common At Noon are about the same woman right?

JF- Yeah… and Who Needs You.

BGN- What a great relationship for us! Not for you though, HA!! There's SUCH anger in Who Needs You.

JF- You know that feeling that you get when you're breaking up with somebody and you just fucken hate 'em. There's nothing wrong with that feeling. I mean I'm friends with all my exes but it's something you pass through. When that feeling is raw ….you just fucken' hate 'em.

BGN- "Best thing I ever did was get rid of you." What a great line.

JF- Yeah hey you don't want to beat around the bush ya know. A lot of people identify with that song! And having songs people can identify with is important and it's why people like the Real Kids. It's rock'n'roll, people can identify with it, with both emotions.

BGN- And then there's Do The Boob. Tthat song is so beloved. And it's been covered. I heard it covered two months ago! Let's talk about Colby. He was there when you were just Kids!!

Bob Colby
Bob Colby
Bob Colby and Micky Clean
Photo: Blowfish
JF- Yeah he'd be in the front row of every Modern Lovers show! And Bob's social skills have definitely mellowed. I was like who IS this guy?? He was at every fucken show! Then one day I'm on Beacon Hill and I'm walkin' down Myrtle Street and and see he's on the other side of the street staring at me! I'm thinking "Who is this fucken GUY!!! He's following me around!!!" I had to go introduce myself to him and I said "What the fuck!?!" "Don't follow me!" And he's like "Oh no no no no!" But like I say he's mellowed a lot now! I wrote a dance song because we thought about how Bob dances. So we did Do the Boob. And we didn't call him that to be mean, we loved him. He was just…odd. He was at every gig and he was a fan!!

BGN- And he's still out there.

JF- Oh God love him! Really. He was there in the very beginning and is still doin' what he's doin'-now he holds the record for THE long time fan. I'm not kidding, he's the real deal. I should really write another song for him. You know in Europe people go mental for that song, we start the drumbeat and people just fucken lose their minds! He really deserves another kind of song though.

BGN- Do you think more about how to arrange a song now or less?

JF- Nothing has changed. I still process rock'n'roll songs the way I did when I wrote my first song. We're finally gonna record a studio version of Hot Dog. We bring it down at the end. It's kinda like that Stones song, Going Home. That song it's drawn out, ours in shorter but it sounds really cool. The bottom drops out and also there's a double time piece at the end of Girl Don't Get Me.

BGN- And what about the other guys? Like does Cole ever say "Hey what about doing this here?"

JF- Yeah yeah!! Me and Billy have been playing so long it's always..…Hey, I'm not like Jeff Connolly who comes in and directs every note of every song. I show everybody the song and let them fill in the blanks kinda and when it comes to stuff like double time I just say "Kick it into double time here" and they'll say "How long do you want it to go?" I just try to point them toward an idea of what the song is supposed to feel like. Who Would Want to Be the One You Love. It's that kind of Shangri-Las feel to it coz I wrote it for Mary Weiss. That song requires a certain way to play it to get that feel. It's stuff I would not use in any other song, like it has a particular drumbeat and I would probably not use it in any other song but in that song it works. A lot of people might think it's a formula, and it is, but it works.

Real Kids 45 Real Kids 45 Real Kids 45

BGN- In your whole catalog of song there is one that stands out as really different: Reggae Reggae. And it's become a real show-closer nowadays. Was that supposed to be a faux reggae song?

JF- It was a sex song…"Come on baby I want to reggae reggae with you" coz I used to think that reggae music was good to fuck to. And I love reggae music anyway. When I wrote the song a long time ago, like 75, I wanted it to have kind of a Stooges feel to it.

BGN- Let's talk about touring Europe. It's so great that you are over there again!!. You have so many fans over there!

JF- Yeah it's been a success. They love us over there. We went to England, France, Spain.

BGN- When you are touring do you play every night?

JF- Yeah we play a full hour and ten minute shows every night. And we'd drive during the day to get to the next gig. Like if we were playing Bordeaux, we'd sleep there then get up the next morning and go. We'd drive 7 hours to Madrid - sound check, then the show…and do it all over again. You just do it! Touring is tough and it's not made for people my age to do.

France 1983

Boston TV 1983

London 2016

BGN- You've had some bad health over the years now, disastrous stuff.

JF- Yeah! Some seriously fucked up shit!

BGN- And it's still there….

JF- Well yeah, the heart thing can never go away, they can't fix it. There's other things; my lungs aren't filling up with blood like they used to so that's under control for now. I have neuropathy in my lower extremities. It's like walking on broken glass. I have to take a ridiculous amount of medicine just to keep up with it. It's not stuff that will totally lay me up its just stuff you have to learn to deal with. I've got no cartilage in either knee. Gettin' old man, it sucks it sucks it sucks it sucks.

BGN- What drives you so much to keep going when you're health is getting in the way?

JF- That's a hard to answer that really...I think it's just that I don't want to disappoint fans. I hate to cancel gigs.

John Felice
Middle East 6/16/14
Photo: Blowfish
BGN- There was that gig downstairs at the Middle East - you had just gotten out of the hospital…as in got out of the hospital and came straight to the gig!! During the set you had to leave for a few minutes like you couldn't play anymore and people kept cheering. You can back out!!! And you had to sit down for the rest of the set…My estimation of you soared at that point. What keeps you going? What makes you persevere??

JF- That was a difficult night, just being able to sit down for a couple minutes to catch my breath and stuff helped. I haven't had to deal with anything that bad since then….well…it has been hard. I was so sick in Europe I was scared, I thought I was dying. I couldn't eat, I couldn't keep anything down, and I was in so much pain. I couldn't figure out what the hell it was so I went to the hospital and they shoved the camera down into me to take pictures of the inside of my stomach and they found out I had ulcers caused by the fucken' medicine I'd been taking. The doctors wanted to keep me there but the tour promoter came in and he was arguing with the doctors and he said "You can't keep him! We have a show we have to do and its seven hours away." We ended driving the seven and did the show…and it was packed and it was 120 degrees inside the club.

So my point is we didn't cancel any shows…I thought I was going to have to cancel the TOUR. But that is to answer your question I don't want to cancel any gigs. People pay money to get in the door. And that's my job, to entertain people, even at the Midway…or no matter where it is. Despite everything, we played 14 dates in Europe, every one of them was packed and no one left disappointed I can guarantee you that. We had worked really hard leading up to the tour getting the set down. While we were on the tour we could play the set with our eyes closed.

But I'm thinking of taking a few years off and living over there for a while. It's hard to put tours together so I could go live over there and just go out and play all the time. There's a lot of places we haven't toured…like Eastern Europe is wide open, like Czechoslovakia …they are starved for this stuff. This next tour we have places in Italy and Portugal and a lot of other places. But we're not getting to Eastern Europe and I think I should just live over there…like on the South coast of Spain.

BGN- Well that's a huge change!!

Real Kids BGN
BGN 1978
JF- Well truth be told I'm not sure how much longer I'm gonna be able to do this physically. Things are good right now but you never know what you're going to wake up to. And ya know, there's also the thing of us staying welcomed. I mean how long are you gonna be doing something before you look stupid? The minute I feel like I'm lookin' stupid - that's it. I've had 40-45 years of this, I don't have to prove anything to myself. I know the fans love it and I'm still writing songs constantly. It's just when is not cool for a 65 year old guy to be up on stage thinking he's a fucken' teenager? I mean let's face it-truth be told rock'n'roll is a young man's game. Yeah old guys played it in the past and the Stones are still fooling people into thinking they are playing rock'n'roll but they're not that's old blues stuff. I don't play blues I play rock'n'roll.

BGN- But we love seeing the Real Kids, seeing you up there! So many people do!

JF- In the moment you can find an excuse to keep going and on stage it is great. I'm just talking in terms of making a conscious decision. I mean look at Willie, he's been doin' it for a really long time. In 1979 people would have given you 10 to 1 odds he wouldn't make it to 1980. And that's a fact. And me; I never thought I'd see 30! The way I've lived my life and the shit I'd done to myself…not the stuff that's happened from being sick, I'm talking about MISbehavior. I mean seriously bad shit.

BGN- And drugs.

JF- Serious drugs! fucken' too much….too long. But you know I'm not going to apologize to anyone for anything I've done - drugs included. I chose to start doing drugs when I was a kid and I liked it so I kept doing it-that's all. It has nothing to do with why I have a heart condition or why my hands don't work.

BGN- How do you feel about that "legend" of the Real Kids? You guys have a big reputation as drug users.

JF- Yeah true

BGN- How did that affect your career, the band's career?

JF- I think the reason we never made it as a big band is because a lot of people felt they couldn't trust us because we were so out of it with our habits and shit - we just didn't care. We didn't care if you liked us or not. We were sort saying "Fuck you I can shoot as much dope as I want and you can't stop me." I think we would have been a lot bigger if people felt they could have taken a chance on us.

But you know, this wraps up into your question, it will never cease to amaze me how important it is to other people what I do in my own personal life. I just don't get it. What the fuck does anyone care what I do? People fucken' hate me 'cause I was a junkie. Don't you have somethin' else you can be involved with besides hatin' the Real Kids?

Real Kids
Billy Cole and John
Photo: Blowfish

BGN- Especially when you're producing the music you are producing.

JF- I've never done anything to anyone. I'm not out stickin' up convenience stores. I just don't understand it. People think it's an issue that they should be worried about. So what! And that IS the reputation of the Real Kids. That is our legacy unfortunately. And there's nothing we can do about.

We cemented that story back in the 70's. Between '78 and '83 me and Billy we were outta control. But whatever we did, I don't understand why it's anybody's business. I mean there are plenty of drunks out there who get up on stage and can't play! We get up there and we delivered the goods.

And by what we're doing now, by going over to Europe and playing that tour successfully, proves to everybody over there that had their doubts about us that we can still do it. That's also why we doing another tour in a couple months. I just don't get why we have to constantly prove…eventually someday somebody's gonna recognize us for something other than our bad habits. And it wasn't just the drugs. Guys hated us for stealin' their girlfriends!

BGN- You're still writing good songs that are very …John Felice.

JF- I've got a ton of songs. There's a record coming out soon and when we get back from the next European tour we're gonna start recording another one. I've got more songs than I know what to do with.

BGN- So getting back to the idea of a move to Europe. What would you do then? You could be a rock'n'roll song writer.

JF- I could write and do occasional performances here and there. We could record I guess. But we're not selling records, ya know? Rock n roll is a….we dig it, you guys like it, ya know…but I mean, we're not gonna make it big. I mean Rick Harte is committed to us as a producer and I consider myself fortunate to be hooked up with Rick. He is SO good at what he does and really believes in us.

ShakeOutta Control
BGN- Shake Outta Control sounds like a Kinks album …it has the sonic envelope of an English Invasion LP.

JF- That's what he wanted us to sound like! I was listening to that Kinks Face to Face album for a while when we were getting ready to record that. I talked to Rick Harte for hours about that. Coz I've worked with Rick before and I knew he'd be perfect for that record. And it's everything that I had hoped for. And this EP is great and I can't wait to do the next record. And if there is one writer who influenced me at all its Ray Davies.

BGN- Fly into the Mystery, what does that song mean to you?

JF- Well I know what Jonathan wrote it about. Because I was on a couple of those drives that he's singing about, driving in the winter up to Haverhill on 128. On those frigid nights the moonlight hits the snow and that's all you can see…when he was driving up through Peabody toward Beverly. It's like going someplace and having it feel like an adventure no matter if you've been there once or twice or ten times before. It's still pushing out in the night in the winter when you are literally the only car on the highway.

BGN- Back then, you have to remember. There wasn't a lot of traffic on that road and there were no lights either. JF- And it was really dark and all you could see was the moonlight reflecting off the snow. It wasn't all built up around there then either, that's what I'm talkin' about.

BGN- That feeling…what is it? Freedom? A change from everyday life?

JF- Yeah. When I play it on the record I change the lyrics around for Alan because he was from up there and I identify it with him. We covered this song from the very inception of the Polino/Borgioli version of the Real Kids. That was one of the first cover songs. The song just reminds me of Alan. That's why I changed the lyric to be more personal.

Grown Up Wrong
BGN-Talk about the songs that are on The "Grown Up Wrong" CD from Norton.

JF- All that stuff is recorded live in the Midwest, Chicago, Cleveland, New York City. We played a bunch of dates on the tour after the Red Star record came out. It was a two record deal but we pulled out after the first record.

BGN- Because you were unhappy with them?

JF- Well, they lost their financial backing and some of the people at the label had lost their dedication to what the vision was and we kind of got stuck in the middle of it. It wasn't as if I was mad at Marty Thau because it wasn't his fault. It was just the roll of the dice as it came up. They wouldn't have been able to put us in the studio for another album anyway. So, we just left. And contractually to get out of it we had to get lawyers to get extricated from the deal.

BGN- So, after that all those songs were pushed to the side.

JF- Then all the next songs I wrote were picked up on the Taxi Boys record, so we were always one record behind.

BGN- Tell us about the Taxi Boys.

JF- I can't even remember what the exact issue was….Allen took a break for a while; his Mom died. Then he started back playing for a while. We had switched Billy to bass and we got this other kid to play rhythm. It was short period of time. The Taxi Boys played around for a while and that was it. Then got together again with Bobby Morin on drums and that's the Real Kids Out of Place record. That collection of songs is available on Norton CD No Place Fast.

BGN- Then after that were The Devotions.

JF- No, The Devotions were in the '90's, after The Low Downs which came out in '88. Rick produced that record as well.

BGN- That record is really a low key confessional almost.

JF- Yeah it was a real personal record. I hadn't written songs that were really emotionally open like that before. I was really proud of that record when we made it and I still am. It's still my favorite record of all the stuff I've ever made. It has a totally different feel to it. But it still fucken' rocks though. Now the Devotions record is a real punk rock record, that's what it's meant to be.

BGN- The song Don't Be Telling Me (off the Lowdowns CD) you talk about you're on Broad Street and say, you'll "never play that song again."

JF- Oh yeah that song is about Cantone's and I no longer want to play All Kindsa Girls. The song says "Broad Street Lounge" and that's Cantone's. It was written above the door.

BGN- You actually felt that?

JF- Yeah I just got tired of people expecting it all the time. My attitude though is like I said - that's my job.

BGN- So as you are going along in time, the Real Kids was both a blessing and a burden.

JF- Oh at that point it certainly was. I just reached a point where I wanted to write songs like we were going in a different direction but people just wanted hear was the Real Kids.

BGN- The Real Kids are just something you carry with you. I mean you show your face and that's what people think of.

JF- Yeah it's turned out that way. But unless I had Billy with me I wouldn't call them anything else but the Real Kids.

John and Billy
John and Billy
Photo: Blowfish

BGN- You've played with Billy Cole for so long, what makes him so compatible with you? Is it musical or personal?

JF- He's just right he's my right hand man, he's perfect. It has nothing to do with the gear we're playing at the time as much as it just the way we feel about what the songs are supposed to do. Billy just knows. I can show him something and he just gets it. Billy's of the same mind as me as in "How long can we keep doing this?" But as long as it's fun and its fresh it's good and as long as we don't embarrass ourselves on stage, ya know? If you're too old to be doing rock'n'roll you shouldn't be doin' it but me and Billy are still having a good time.

BGN- Along with the Billy question. You always have that two guitar attack.

JF- That's the Real Kids, that's our sound.

BGN- There's no other way it's gonna be?

JF- No. That's our sound. It's an integral part of what we are. If you have to pick on things that is our sound it would be have to do that, that two guitars in your face thing.

BGN- What about your singing voice? It's been that way from the very beginning. Did you ever think about your singing voice?

JF- No.

BGN- Were you trying to sound like anything in particular?

JF- No! I can't sound like anything but me! I can't do imitations very well. There are certain things I do when I'm singing….

Real Kids
Photo: Blowfish

BGN- Like what are those things?

JF- Ugh, I don't know…like you could sing Common At Noon, like a ballad and it requires that you just hang with the melody. The there are other songs that are more aggressive. Then there are songs where I feel like there should be something on the side like a "Oh yeah" or stick something in at the tail end like "That's right!" little things like that maybe other people wouldn't do that. I do that. It's just something that comes naturally to me. Where I got it from I don't know but it happens a lot. Somebody else pointed it out to me that I was doing it then I started to listen and though "Wow that does happen a lot!"

BGN- You do have a pleading, yearning sort of quality that comes out.

JF- Yeah part of its being from Boston and having a really fucked up accent. Part of it's um…..I don't know… every song requires something different. Like Hot Dog is a fun song. Others demand an urgency to it or whatever. I never thought of myself as much of a singer to be honest with you.

BGN- You have an iconic way of you hold you head and where you place your microphone. You keep your microphone high. I don't think I've ever seen anyone else do that. Every time I see you I think "There's John!" because it's so unique to you.

JF- Yeah, it's easier for me to sing with my throat up like that. I can't imagine singing with my head down. It allows me to expand my chest. I have to be able to breathe to sing and get the notes you want.

BGN- What about your guitar playing. Do you have a lot of rockabilly in there? There's some obvious stuff like Eddie Cochran but I also hear some Carl Perkins kind of stuff too.

JF- Yeah I used to listen to a lot of that. I never wanted to be a Stray Cats kind of band or anything. I Iike that kind of music. It's just so simple.

BGN- What about psychedelic music?

JF- Hmm, no. I mean I like a lot of stuff but I'm not gonna use it in my own music. And we don't use much in the way of effects.

BGN- I'm lookin' at ya and there's just one chord from the guitar to the amp.

JF- Guitar playing these days …a big part of my problem is I have early onset arthritis. I've had all these operations on my hands. I've had three on this hand and a fourth here. I mean JUST so I can keep doing what I'm doing. If I hadn't had that done I couldn't continue playing. And it sucks getting your hand operated on because you have to wait a long time to heal and stuff. I've got pins and shit holding my hands together.

BGN- When you were younger did you learn about guitars from someone? Was there another guitarist in the neighborhood? Back then there were no instructions. Sheet music you'd buy in the store were in the wrong key…

JF- I picked it up by ear. I was always in awe of guys who knew how to play…like Joe Perry. He was a few years older than me and when I was in high school they'd play high schools around Natick. He was a hell of a guitar player even back then! I learned a lot of shit from my neigh bor Jerry. We used to jam together a lot. We were both into the same heavy pop and stuff. But it wasn't instruction, it was "You do that and I'll do this" and we kept going back and forth until we had something. Basically I just taught myself.

Real Kids at the Rat
Real Kids at the Rat
Photo: Blowfish

BGN- You picked it up pretty early. I mean you were in a band at 15!

JF- Yeah the Modern Lovers. I was forced to teach myself rhythm guitar on the fly then.

BGN- When did you first pick up a guitar?

JF-My dad got me my first guitar when I was 12. A little Harmony guitar and amp. It was good for a starter guitar. I had a bunch of other guitars in between then eventually ended up with an SG. Then in the 70's I was playing Rickenbacker all the time. They just don't take the beating that I give a guitar though. I really need to play a Telecaster because those things can take it. You could take a telecaster and drop it off the Prudential building, pick it up, and that thing would still be in tune!

Real Kids show
BGN- Was there ever a time when you just didn't play? Not because you couldn't because of surgery but because you just didn't want to?

JF- No I've always had bands. But it brings me back to what I was talking about "How long am I gonna be able to do this?" It's easy to speculate on that. I can't imagine life without this outlet of playing music. My brain is like a fuckeng jukebox. It's constantly playing. I write song every day I can't stop. It doesn't stop, it just keeps coming. So what would I do if I stopped playing altogether? I don't even know what I would do. I DON'T KNOW!!

BGN- You had an initial burst of songs- the single All Kindsa Girls, coming right outta the gate. There you have a handful of classics that people love. Is that ever an issue with you? I mean here you have all these songs…you wouldn't even have to write another song. Did you ever feel that?

JF- No! No no no no no. My biggest problem was that I wanted to do what I wanted to do and not be beholden to have to keep playing that first album for the rest of my life. If I wanted to take my music in a different direction I'd want to be able to do that without having to answer to my fans.

BGN- And that's a hard thing?

JF- Yeah for me it is a hard thing. I have an issue with that. I suppose if the Real Kids break up I could make a solo record and have it be what I want to make. It wouldn't be that much different than a Real Kids album but there might be some things that I want to try that might strike some hardcore real Kids fans and our fans are so fucken' hard core- that's what the problem is! Shit no one gave the Beatles a hard time from when they put out their first record to St Pepper. That was only four years! Four years and they were able to take a complete left turn! God forbid I should want to put an acoustic guitar in one of our songs. Jesus Christ it would be like I murdered somebody! Seriously. They want what they want. They don't want to know about acoustic guitars or fucken string sections or anything like that!

John Felice

BGN- If you could go back to 1975 and tell yourself something, what would you tell yourself now?

JF- Oh Jesus! There's a lot of things I'd tell myself… thing I got no regrets about is being true to what the music is about. When it comes to the band you need to be true to yourself. You know…you can love us or hate us and you can think you know us but the facts we are really true to what we are. You don't have to like that and you don't even have to like our music. But we have done better than most at remaining true to what we do. After all these years I think we still do The Real Kids that we do. If it ever gets to be that we can't deliver like we should - then we're done. It's as simple as that. So that's what I would tell myself if I could go back to '75. Be true to what you are and what you believe in and don't let anyone change that about you.

I mean there are things I'd want to tell myself. Everybody makes mistakes: I shouldn't have told that guy to go fuck himself, I shouldn't have blown off that gig… there's a thousand things I could have done differently but any ONE thing I'd have to tell myself is just stay true to what you believe in, stay true to what you are.

BGN - You did say in a Devotions song "Some things are never meant to be - no matter what you say or do" If you believe in fate then being true to yourself has been your fate.

BGN with Real Kids
BGN 1978 interview

JF- Yeah. Some things you just can't change, you know? You get that draw of the cards and that's the way it is. Look, I'm gonna be 62 in a couple days and what am I gonna do? Cry about the fact that we weren't big rock stars? I never wanted to be a big rock star to be honest with you. What's wrong with what I've done? This might even be the better way to do. I still get to go play big concerts in Europe and shit.

BGN- Alpo said to Frank Rowe once "You'll never be anything but a bar band." Hey what's wrong with that?

JF- I see some documentaries about some bands I like and they're doing big shows and I just wonder if that would really be what I would want to do. Am I better off playing the type of gigs we've been relegated to? I think we can really get our point across in a sweaty crowded bar than we can on a big giant stage. You know what I'm sayin'? You know what they do now they have those video screen over the stage so you're not really seeing the band. The band is a bunch of little tiny specks but you see them on the screen. So why don t you just stay at home and watch a video?!? What are you doin' there?? IS that a rock'n'roll experience? You're not gonna get a rock'n'roll experience unless you're in a sweaty bar!!!

BGN- I'm likin' it. I don't like going to those big shows. It's so much better to be up close. You're in the same room, the same space and the person on the stage IS a person and you can see the expression on the faces.

JF- I'd rather play ten nights in a stinky bar than one night in a big place. You have to be able to dance. So what I've ended up with is exactly what I should have. If our careers had taken a slightly different turn and we were playing in stadiums…what would that be??

BGN- It would be all about money.

JF- Yeah that's about it.

Link to our 1978 Real Kids interview

Real Kids Article
Article in Cellers By Starlight 1978
Real Kids

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