By: Ginger Coyote
The Paley Brothers were fixtures on the cover Rock Scene and Hit Parader through out the 70's and early 80's. Their surfer good looks melted many hearts.. But, beyond their good looks was a mountain of musical talent.. I got a chance to ask Jonathan Paley about those days and what he is doing now...
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview Jonathan! Can you tell the readers a bit about your background?
Jonathan: I was born in Alexandria Virginia. When I was two years old we moved to a very small town called Crescent, (population 75), 25 miles or so North of Albany, New York. When I was eleven we moved to Brooklyn. I didn't really move up to Boston till like '77. My brother Andy had been living up there since the early 70's.
Punk Globe: How old were you joined your first band?
Jonathan: The first band I was in was in Brooklyn. We were called "Dig It and the DooWops". I was about 14 and played bass with these local greasers who were in their 20's and 30's. I was really a guitar player but I borrowed a bass from a friend to play with these guys.This was in like 1968/69. We did all old fifties covers, doo wop stuff, some Elvis/Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry/etc. These guys couldn't believe it that I knew all this old stuff, but I listened to lots of "oldies" and used to go out and buy old records from the stores in Brooklyn. We had a regular weekly gig at this place on 7th avenue in Brooklyn called the Red Coach.
Punk Globe: I know that before you started the Paley Brothers you played with a New York band called Mong. Can you tell tell us about them.
Jonathan: Mong was me on guitar and lead vocals, Steve Warren on bass, and Barry Marshall on drums. We did mostly covers. A lot of old Sidewinders songs, some Who, some Elvis, some Beach Boys, "I Fought the Law", Deadman's Curve", the theme from "Fireball XL5", "Lonesome Tears". The thing was, we played all these songs really really really LOUD! We were together for pretty much all of 1975 and some of '76. We opened for Television quite a few times, the Heartbreakers, Mink DeVille, etc.
Punk Globe: As I recall you produced Shrapnel. Who else did you produce?
Jonathan: I produced Shrapnel's first stuff when Legs was their manager, "Combat Love", "Hey", "Seigfried Line" a few other songs. Later on I produced a couple of songs by the Dogmatics, "Thayer Street" and "Sure Don't Feel Like Christmas". I produced some of the the Band 19 album "Dictate". Way later, in the 90's I produced an album by Skirt, "Faith Loves You", on Egg records.
Punk Globe: When did you start doing the Paley Brothers?
Jonathan: My brother had been playing in bands since he was like 12 years old. I used to go see him play at Max's in like 1970/71/72. In 1973 he and I drove across the country to L.A. and spent the summer. We'd do a lot of singing as we drove, along with and without the radio. I think the idea of doing a band together kind of started there. We did our first demos together in '74 and we started playing some gigs in the Boston area as the Paley Brothers while I was still doing Mong in New York.
Punk Globe : Was it before or after The Paley Brother broke up that Johnny Thunders wanted you to join the Heartbreakers?
Jonathan: I rehearsed with the Heartbreakers 3 times. This was way before the Paley Brothers were signed to Sire. Richard and Johnny really liked me, I know Johnny wanted me in the band, but Jerry just didn't like me at all, so it didn't happen. They did their first gigs as a trio. The first one was in in Queens, I think the club was called the Canterbury. I went down there kind of hoping Jerry would change his mind. Then soon after that Walter Lure joined them. Walter was a really nice guy. I haven't seen him in 30 years but he was really a nice guy back then. I remember he came to Madison Square Garden and saw the Paley Brothers open for Shaun Cassidy.
Punk Globe: You had quite an all star line up in The Paley Brothers. Can you tell us who was in the band?
Jonathan: There were a few different lineups in the Paley Brothers. The one that went out on tour with Shaun Cassidy in 1978 was a big big band, Andy, me, Eric Rose on lead guitar/background vocals, Jeff Lass on piano, the Nervous Eaters, (Steve Cataldo on guitar/background vocals, Jeff Wilkinson on drums, Rob Skeen on bass, Alan Hebditch on guitar) and two percussionist/background singers, Chris Phillips and another guy who shall remain nameless for the time being.
Punk Globe: I remember hearing you from my pal Joey Ramone who was a huge fan. Tell the readers about your kinship with The Ramones?
Jonathan: I'd seen a lot of the Ramones early gigs at CBGBs. Joey and I shared a love of old rock n roll/pop music. We were both signed to Sire records. When Andy and I were recording the Paley Brothers album in L.A. in '77 the Ramones were also in town working on something. Joey had to take a few days off because he was sick and Seymour Stein came up with the idea of the Paley Brothers and Ramones recording a song together. It was "C'mon Let's Go", the Richie Valens song. Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy did the basic track, then Andy and I added tympany, organ, hand claps and the vocals. I did the lead vocal, Andy sang a lower close harmony. It came out really nice. It's one of my favorite recordings I ever did. It was in the soundtrack to "Rock n Roll High School" and after the movie came out Joey told me that it was his favorite song on the soundtrack. He was really a sweet sweet guy. I think that may be the only recording with Tommy, Dee Dee and Johnny on it that has a vocal by anyone other than Joey or Dee Dee. I'm very proud of that record. In hindsight, I wish we'd done a whole album like that.
Punk Globe: Can you tell us about working with Phil Spector?
Jonathan: Working with Phil Spector was fantastic but also very exhausting and ultimately contributed to me wanting to try something other than being a Paley Brother. Before we even stepped into Gold Star, Andy and I spent about a month going to Phil's house and spending 8/10/12 hours a day singing the same song over and over and over. He could be very demanding and abrupt while we were rehearsing, but also very kind. He was also very very knowledgable about things other than music and also very funny, had a sharp sense of humor. But he had a problem with alcohol. Just a couple glasses of wine and this transformation would take place and he'd become a real asshole, verbally abusive, just very unpleasant. He never pulled a gun or anything like that. When we were recording the basic track with the Wrecking Crew he was absolutely fantastic. After the basic track was done we spent weeks recording vocal tracks and most of the time he was great, although very demanding, but sometimes he'd have those 2 glasses of wine and the transformation would occur. Andy could handle being around him then but I grew very frustrated with the situation and flew back to Boston before the recording was mixed and, at Steve Cataldo's invitation, joined the Nervous Eaters as guitarist/vocalist. We recorded an album for Elektra that was just plain awful. What happened was that the Eaters recorded some great great demos with Ric Ocasek producing. He was set to produce the album. The Cars manager, Fred Lewis, signed the Eaters. Then the Cars dumped Fred and there was an ensuing legal battle. So Ric couldn't produce the Eaters album and we ended up with someone who'd never heard the band play and had no idea what we were about, Harry Maslin. Harry was a nice guy and had done some good work with other acts, but he was the wrong guy at the wrong time for us. As we were working on the record I knew that we were going in the wrong direction but Fred and Harry didn't really take me very seriously. Also I think Steve was kind of intimidated and didn't want to blow his "big chance" and went along with everything Harry and Fred said to do. So Elektra put out this record that didn't sound anything like the band. We went on the road opening for lots of bands, we did half a dozen dates with the Pretenders on their 1st U.S.tour, opened for virtually everybody that came through New England, The Clash, Iggy, Split Enz, Southside Johnny, PIL, etc, as well as the big local guys, J.Geils, the Cars. Anyway, after the record bombed we kept going for a little while then broke up. I played with Pink Cadillac, then the Classic Ruins. during all this time I would still record with Andy. I worked with him on his various projects like Professor Anonymous and the Young Jacques, and demos of his other stuff. Then Cataldo asked me to join his new band, the Reflectors, on bass. We did one 45, a cover of Bobby Fuller's "Let Her Dance" b/w "Raining Steel". We played constantly for a couple of years in the Boston area and then that band broke up. In April of 1986, through a weird series of circumstances I was offered a job working on a 36 foot sailboat that was down in Panama at that time. It was supposed to be a 2 month delivery job to California but it turned into 4 years of working on sailboats all over the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Punk Globe: You have also worked as an actor and as a model... Can you tell what you have done?
Jonathan: In 1990 the last boat I worked on ended up in Los Angeles. I started doing extra work and stand-in work in movies and television, got an occasional acting gig. I was in great physical shape after spending 4 years working on boats in the tropics, lifting anchors, hauling sails,etc,so I got alot of body double work in movies and cable shows, my ass for actors who didn't want to show their asses. About 1994 I went back to Australia for a short visit and while I was in Sydney I was looking in a newspaper and saw an ad for male models. I went to the office and they hired me for a spread in Australian Playgirl. We went down to a beach South of Sydney and I got naked. A couple months later, I've been back in L.A. for awhile and I get this phone call from Australia, "You're on the Cover". So that's the story there. I continued doing stand-in and body double work. I was also a hand model/hand double. I was actually MacGyver's hands for most of that show's final season. I did a lot of stuff like beer commercials where you'd see hands pouring a glass of beer, that kind of thing, and a lot of second unit stuff for films where they needed close-ups of the actor's hands doing something. I was doing some theater and still getting an occasional on-screen acting gig. I got the lead in a low-budget feature called "Disturbing the Peace". It never did get released but I really enjoyed doing that movie, 27 great days of work as THE actor in a feature. In 2000 I was checking out the calls at some agency and heard that they were going to be doing a movie that had Denis Leary in it. Now I knew Denis from back in Boston in the 70's, in fact we were going out with sisters for quite a while. So I get the stand-in gig and I show up on the set the first day and Denis of course doesn't know who's standing in for him. So he walks on the set and does a triple-take, "Jonathan? Holy Shit!" So for the next few weeks we're hanging out and he says "I want you to come to New York next summer and work on this show I'm gonna do, "The Job", you can play my brother or something." So the following July I fly to New York, but when I get there, it's just another stand-in job. They gave me a small part on one episode but that wasn't what I went there for. So I was commuting back and forth, 3 weeks in NYC, one week back in L.A. Then the attacks of 9-11-2001 happened, I was in Manhattan, I saw those buildings fall with my own eyes. So after a few weeks the show starts back up, we find out that it's not getting picked up. One day I'm sitting there on the set complaining to Denis' P.A., who's a former paramedic saying, "Oh shit, now I gotta go back out to LA and find another stupid stand-in gig, I gettin' sick of this shit." and he says, "Why don't ya become an EMT? You could do some good and still go out on acting auditions and you wouldn't have to stand in anymore." And it was like a light bulb switched on. What a great idea! So after the show wrapped I went back out to L.A., went to EMT school for a couple months in the spring, got phlebotomy certification and by the late summer I was working in a clinic, then an emergency room. I've been an ER tech/phlebotomist since then. I did get a part on an indie feature in 2002, a really good film called "Girl In 3-D" It hasn't been released in the US but I think it's available as an import DVD. You should look for it online, it's a dark comedy about the music business. I play a sleazy record company executive. I've been in nursing school the past couple years, at the same time working in the ER. I'll be graduating school this November, should get my license a couple months after that. Then I'll start going out on acting auditions again.
Punk Globe: I understand you played on a Nikki Corvette release. Tell us about that?
Jonathan: I sang and played guitar on one song on Nikki's "Record Party" cd. It's a cover of Mickey and Sylvia's "Love Is Strange". It came out really good. I'm hoping we'll do another duet sometime.
Punk Globe: Can you tell us about your daughter Violet's musical career?
Jonathan: A couple of summers ago I took Violet and her BFF Anya to see the Jonas Brothers and after the show they said "We wanna start a rock band!" So I said "Okay, we'll see." So my daughter knows I've always loved Johnny Cash. One day she's reading this article about the Jonas brothers and she says "Dad, look, Nick Jonas' favorite songwriter is Johnny Cash!" Then I got the idea to do a cover of "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen" with Violet and Anya, (although it was written by "Cowboy Jack Clement, Cash had recorded the original version). So we went into the studio with Earl Mankey and we recorded it and shot a no-budget video and put it up on youtube and then RAMO Records released it on 45, on pink vinyl. So now Violet and Anya are both juniors in high school and I'm hoping to get them back in the studio soon. I also want to record some new stuff myself, me singing and playing.
Punk Globe would like to thank Jonathan Paley for the great and informative interview