I wrote the following interview that was published in Subversive Zine issue #5 (subversivefrederick.com). This was my second interview with Marshall Keith.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?
Marshall Keith. Moved to Rockville, MD when I was 7 from Louisville, KY. Lived up here ever since.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN MUSIC?
I was probably interested in it before I was even paying attention. The Twilight Zone was a big influence. My parents liked the “easy listening” genre and Broadway musicals like Carousel and My Fair Lady. I liked that stuff too. I would watch The Wizard of Oz and think “OMG” I WANT TO GO OVER THE RAINBOW WITH YOU, DOROTHY, I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL!!! I would hear big band stuff like Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” and “String of Pearls”. I hardly ever heard country music, or blues or anything like that. My siblings would make fun of those kinds of things. But some of the things that would pop up on the radio were irresistible: The song “Charlie Brown”- starts off with these lyrics: “walked in the classroom cool and slow, who calls the English teacher Daddy-o?” We started thinking beatniks were cool; my sister listened to modern jazz. When the Beatles and Bob Dylan came along, we jumped right in with everybody else. I was too young to be “cool.” Just the pesky little brother.I always liked the outer fringes, but for instance playing clarinet in elementary school was cooler than you might think! Our band teacher wrote a couple of cool things- things that would “tug at your heart strings.” When you’re involved emotionally, mentally and physically with something, that can be profound.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INSTRUMENT AND HOW DID YOU GET IT?
Clarinet – My parents bought it. But bass was my first “real” instrument. I left the clarinet at school and stopped practicing after I got the bass. I remember the band teacher whacking me on the head with his baton. (I probably deserved it).
WHO WERE YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS GROWING UP?
Besides the British invasion groups, the “jangly” stuff- The Byrds, The Mamas and Papas, more rocking things like “You Really Got Me” (Kinks), Mitch Ryder, Question Mark and the Mysterians, then the psychedelic stuff, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, The Doors, and especially Jimi Hendrix. I loved the years 1966 through 1970. I hated when everything went country and folk-y after that. I was playing a lot by myself in my room by the time I was 14.
DESCRIBE YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCES PLAYING LIVE/FIRST BANDS.
I played bass in a band with a few friends. We played at a party in the 7th grade. A lot of jamming/party situations up until college age. Slickee Boys was the first actual gig.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO SWITCH TO GUITAR?
Seeing the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night. But music seemed to be everywhere then, with not much else to do but watch black and white TV. Also I was very shy and awkward, so I guess I secretly hoped to meet girls and cool people.
HOW DID THE SLICKEE BOYS FORM AND WHAT WERE YOUR ORIGINAL ASPIRATIONS?
My friend Martin “Kim” Kane was a quirky artist friend of mine who wanted to make a record. He knew how to actually manufacture a record- where to send it to get it pressed, etc. Nobody had that information back then. He wanted to do the artwork himself for the cover and knew Martha Hull who sang in a band called Lone Oak, so he recruited me, her, and her band members. He wanted to make a “punk rock” record, but that was a big stretch for all of us. It was an EP called Hot and Cool.
THE SLICKEE BOYS SOUND IS VERY DISTINCT YET NO ONE GENRE COULD SPECIFICALLY DESCRIBE IT. EXPLAIN THE INFLUENCES/THE PROCESS THE BAND WENT THROUGH TO FIND THE SOUND AND THE SOMEWHAT UNUSUAL LYRICAL CONTENT.The first song Kim wrote was a bunch of visual type lyrics. Pretty stream of consciousness- “Our star names are heard like blued steel. By pulsing stratos crackling Ruby Starr voices.” Martha took his random words and rearranged them into sing-able phrases. The song was called “Manganese Android Puppies”. He just had chords, so I had to write a lead part and we put it together committee-style. Not really very punk aside from rock guitar bar-chords. We added a few punk-ish sounding songs to the EP including “Brand New Cadillac” which The Clash did later on. The most punk sounding was “Psycho Daisies” (a Yardbirds song).
When we decided to become an actual band, we played anything we could think of that WASN’T what was popular in the ’70s- all that disco and smooth un-emotional un-creative slimey-ness. Luckily, there were a lot of audience members that thought like us. Surf music was NOT cool in those days, but we loved it so we played it. Rockabilly, goofy 60s songs, etc. We were way too eclectic for our own good, but we had fun. In the 80s when Mark Noone became singer, he had a lot of good songs written, more mainstream, but we all liked them. That sort of became the “center” of our sound. We still wrote quirky things like “The Brain that refused to Die.” On my own, I usually wrote un-Slickee stuff. One of the few songs I wrote was”Escalator 66.” It was originally a metal parody of “highway to hell” called “escalator to purgatory.” But then I wrote an intro inspired by the TV show Route 66, so the working title was Escalator 66 when Mark got it and wrote the vocals.
YOU OPENED FOR SOME LEGENDARY BANDS. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE SHOW MEMORIES?In Baltimore at The Marble Bar, this big guy named “Space” got so excited he jumped up on stage and tackled the drum kit. They all fell over like bowling pins. Dan Palenski managed to hold on to the snare drum and kept the backbeat going.
After a gig in Boston, we went to an after hours party at the top of an old abandoned building. We carried all our guitars, amps and drums up about 7 flights of steps. Took us awhile to set up. People were more uninhibited than in a normal venue, so there was some sketchy stuff going on. We started playing, and about 10 seconds into the first song a bunch of cops came running in blowing whistles and yelling at everybody. So we moved ALL THAT EQUIPMENT all the way back down 7 flights of steps. But it was actually pretty fun. We all have good senses of humor.
We toured France, Germany and Switzerland for a month. The audiences were crazy in love with American music, so the whole trip was fantastic. After I got back to the states, I wished I could have stayed over there.
Opening for the Cramps in New York was a great night for us. But New York was never a good town for us before that. NY bands were used to playing at 4am and doing a 20 minute set. By 4am the Slickee Boys had hangovers and were NOT in good shape. Besides DC, Boston and Baltimore were our favorite towns. Here are some acts we opened for back in the 80s The Ramones, The Pretenders, U2, The Kinks, The Replacements. There were a whole lot of punk bands we played with that I can’t remember. Kurt Cobain was in our dressing room once. I remember watching Dave Grohl drum for Scream.
DID YOU EVER CONSIDER AT THE TIME THAT THE D.C PUNK SCENE YOU WERE A PART OF WOULD BECOME LEGENDARY?
No, I had no idea. I assumed after 20 years people would be listening to robot music or something. At that time nobody listened to my parents’ music anymore. I figured that would keep happening. Music changes, and nobody likes the old stuff (or so I thought).
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SLICKEE BOYS SONG?
Probably “Here to Stay.” It had all the elements that the Slickees did best – the chugging guitars, the psychedelic fuzz lead breaks, and I really like the vocal phrasing and lyrics Mark Noone wrote.
THE SLICKEE BOYS FORMED IN 1975 AND LASTED FOR AROUND 16 YEARS TO 1991. WHEN DID THE FIRST SIGNS OF A POSSIBLE BREAKUP OCCUR? WHAT STRUGGLES/PROBLEMS LED TO IT FINALLY HAPPENING?
It was pretty hard getting gigs until punk/New wave got trendy. At our peak, we could pack clubs, but in later years only a few venues were dependable. Even the 9:30 club (probably our most dependable spot) was focusing exclusively on non-local bands. We had a lot of core fans, but outside the urban/suburban areas, nothing happening. Clubs wanted dependability like Blues, Country, Metal etc. We were in our mid thirties, so had to make a hard decision. Personally, I was sick of “starving” and mooching off of people. Our best songs were behind us. Kim Kane was the first to quit. I started training to be a piano tuner.
A SLICKEE BOYS PHOTO MADE A SMALL APPEARANCE ON FOO FIGHTERS’ SONIC HIGHWAYS SERIES ON HBO. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO STILL HAVE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THE EFFECT THAT YOUR MUSIC AND OTHER BANDS HAD ON D.C.?
When DC hardcore acts started to get going, that was exciting to see. They started a whole new scene, but we stayed mainly in the old familiar bar scene. It’s very cool to be remembered as a part of that. Mainly, I just like having been a part of something that gave people some happiness, and for being a jumping off point for other bands to do their own thing. When we first started the tiny little scene seemed to be much more diverse. Bands like The Insect Surfers (New wave quirky surf band), The Urban Verbs (synth pop angst band), Overkill (prep school outcasts telling long-haired people to “get a haircut”), Razz (the greatest most underrated live rock band I ever saw). Razz helped break us into the club scene. All of us were having a hard time getting gigs. The DC area was a very Country, Blues type of place (I knew next to nothing about what was going on in the go-go scene). But once we were in the clubs, we had steady gigs for around 8 years. We did reunion shows once a year after we broke up (1991-2011). Those were always great – hanging out with all the scenesters from a long time ago.
YOU HAVE RELEASED SOLO MUSIC AND CONTINUED TO PLAY GIGS. WHAT KEEPS YOUR MUSICAL DRIVE GOING?I’m mainly motivated to write and record. It seems like a basic need. I always want to come up with new things. Sometimes conventional musical structures weigh me down. It’s like I’m fighting against them, but at the same time, within those structures, there’s so much cool stuff that can be done. I’ll write stuff and think “Okay, this is pretty cool, but WHAT IS IT? Could be a movie sound track. Could be a commercial jingle. Should this have vocals? Should I be spending my time doing this?” Sometimes it’s better not to think, and just do it because it feels good.
SOLO MUSIC CAN BE A CHANCE TO STEP AWAY FROM WHAT AN ARTIST IS TYPICALLY KNOWN FOR. DO YOU THINK YOU GO FOR A CERTAIN SOUND SOLO AND IF SO HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT?
The stuff I most easily write is depressing ballady stuff. That’s why I didn’t write many Slickee songs. I like a mysterious atmosphere. Maybe I’m writing in a therapeutic way. Although sometimes it feels more like wallowing. It’s fun to rock. I’d like to be more “uplifting” (not sure if that’s the right word). But lately I find myself concentrating on livelier material.
ANY NEWS OR MUSICAL UPDATES YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?/WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOUR MUSIC?
(The “Roadside Shrine” and “ON” CDs are generally available on most places like ITunes)https://marshallkeith.bandcamp.com/
WHAT ARE 5 RECORDS YOU RECOMMEND THAT EVERYONE SHOULD LISTEN TO?
I don’t expect a lot of people to necessarily LIKE these albums, but here are 5 I grew up with:
Ogdens Nutgone Flake by the Small Faces (pre- Rod Stewart)
Kiln House by Fleetwood Mac (pre- Stevie Nicks)
Foxtrot by Genesis (pre- Phil Collins as vocalist -BUT- he kicks ass on drums)
Love it to Death by Alice Cooper (pre-Alice Cooper solo)
The Doors – The Doors