Thursday, September 13, 2012

Checkin' in with The Atlantics' axeman Fred Pineau

I recently caught up with Fred Pineau, lead guitarist of the Atlantics, one of the most successful Boston bands of the late '70s and early '80s. Fred went on to produce records by local bands, including a 1985 EP by my band Loose Ties, which yielded a #1 local hit (my only #1 thus far…), a ska take on the Stones' "Last Time." Fred had just hit the stage with his band Big City Rockers at a V66 Reunion concert at the House of Blues, but he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his Atlantics days.

tk: You're probably best known as the guitarist of the Atlantics, but you'd played in some local bands before that. I recall seeing a photo of you and another Boston rock stalwart, John Horvorka, who later formed the Turbines, trading licks at a '70s outdoor concert. Do you remember the band? Any other pre-Atlantics moments stand out?

FP: The photo was taken on the Cambridge Common; they had free Sunday concerts there for several summers during the early '70s. The band was called, and I have always really, really hated this name, Ozone Shirley. I don't remember why, but I do remember that the other suggestion was Chrome Rat. The drummer was Richee Johnson, who went on to The Boize. Later John and I were in Automatic Slim, with Vampyre Mike Kassel on the other guitar. Mike moved San Francisco and became a writer, but sadly passed away a few years back. At the time there was no original scene in Boston, only cover band clubs, so we wasted away from a lack of shows. The shows we did play, though, were like the Wild West - anything could happen. In '75 I put together a band called Bonjour Aviators that included one of the drummers from the '60s hard rock band Blue Cheer.

tk: ...who at one time were listed in the Guinness Book as the World's Loudest Band...

FP: I believe it. Anyway, another Aviator was Kim Preston, who (along with Jon Butcher) was one of the few black rock performers in Boston at the time. Kim grew up in NYC, and his best friend was Richard Lloyd of Television. We were beating our heads against the wall since there was still no place to play in Boston, but then Kim told us about two NYC clubs that were showcasing original bands, CBGB's & Max's Kansas City. Richard got us a gig at CBGB's opening for Talking Heads.

tk: Wow. I saw them in '78 at UCLA, but that was two albums into their career.

FP: No one had been signed yet in '75-'76, the scene was still pretty underground. Then we went back to open for Television.

tk: Again, wow - the characters in my book are big Television fans.

FP: We began playing a lot at both NY clubs, staying at either The Chelsea Hotel or Terry Orks' loft, he was Television's manager. One night in February we were at Terry's loft and his heat had been turned off. We burned everything that we could find in the fireplace, and when we ran out of chairs and such, we tore the wooden mantle surrounding the fireplace off the wall and burned that! Ah, the life of a suffering artist! In the end we got to hang out and play with a lot of the great bands who would shortly define music moving forward. It was at Max's that I met John Cale - I'd been a huge Velvet Underground fan from 1967 when I purchased their first album. It was not a good interaction, he was a real dick and I told him so, but it was still cool on some level to have met him.
            When The Rat opened to original bands I was down there talking to Jimmy Harold (the owner) the first week. He booked us to play a Saturday night - we were the only act and had to do three 50 minute sets, but he paid us $75.00! We released one 45, "The Fury In Your Eyes," and our highlight was unquestionably a weekend bill with Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, also at the Rat. It was a wild and wooly ride, but both nights were an insane success. We lasted a year longer and then I joined Third Rail (with Richard Nolan) for about a year.

tk: This is like a lifetime's worth of music, and you haven't even joined the Atlantics yet...

FP: Getting there. I was playing a cancer benefit at The Club in Cambridge (later Nightstage) with Johnny Barnes, and that's where Tom Hauk & B. Wilkinson from The Atlantics saw me. I knew that they were looking for a new guitarist, but their current player was kind of a Berklee guy, he ran scales and such, and I'm a meat and potatoes rocker, influenced by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. so I never thought they'd be interested. But they asked me to audition, and after three auditions they brought their manager up from NYC to see me, and then offered me the gig.

tk: Must have been the hair! You had kind of a Nu Wave Rod Stewart rooster thing happening (see above photo…)

FP: In any case I was psyched - they were the biggest unsigned band in town! Within two or three months we got a deal with ABC Records and I was recording at The Hit Factory in NYC - it was like falling down the rabbit hole, for better and for worse...

tk: By the time I hit town in late '81, your ABC deal had run its course, but you had some very successful singles you produced yourselves - "Lonelyhearts" and "Pop Shivers." Did you record those locally in Boston? Did doing it yourselves help make the final product more reflective of what you wanted? "Pop Shivers" especially seems like a great piece of Nu Wave pop. Any other faves? Can people still find those songs?

FP: After the Big City Rock album was released in '79 we went on tour opening for Roxy Music all across the US to promote it, and then went out with Cheap Trick and also did opening gigs for David Johanson, The Ramones and others. Then ABC got bought by MCA, and MCA released a 12" single of "One Last Night" b/w a live recording of "When You're Young." None of the records charted, so we were dropped and not re-signed after we refused to record the song "Pop Muzik" by German artist M, which wasn't out yet in the US.

tk: "Pop…pop…pop muzik…"

FP: That's it. We had "Lonelyhearts" already in the pipeline and we disagreed amongst ourselves on doing a novelty song. Then M's version was released here and went to #1, but you can't carry that stuff with you. We recorded "Lonelyhearts" at The Hit Factory in NYC and released it ourselves. We worked harder on "Lonelyhearts" than any other song we ever did - at one point there were three different choruses to it. With the support of WBCN and college radio the song took off in a way that startled even us. For roughly six months we were in the top three songs on WBCN's local countdown, and it was played so much that it jumped into the national top 20 they listed in the Phoenix every week. After that we recorded almost exclusively in Boston, mostly at Downtown Recorders. We were hoping to score another major label deal but c'est la vie. We followed "Lonleyhearts" with "Pop Shivers," another big hit for us, then "Weekend." We went into Syncro Sound, The Cars' studio on Newbury Street, and did more four tracks, then finally recorded right in our rehearsal space - we set up the board in the men's room! Those songs were in my opinion the best sounding recordings we ever did. It was great to have total control of the process, especially after the disaster we had with the guy who was foisted on us to produce Big City Rock.... None of the songs from "Lonleyhearts" on were available to the public until 2006, when we released a CD simply titled "Atlantics". It's the very best recordings of all those songs that fans would remember from our shows. It's available on line at

tk: We should warn people that there's also an Australian surf band called The Atlantics, so if you don't want a twanging "Hawaii Five-O," be careful what you click on… The (Boston) Atlantics also had a reputation as a high-energy live band. Rumor has it it was your suggestion you cover Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll"... We think of the Atlantics, or my band Loose Ties, as '80s bands, but of course we were influenced by the music we listened to growing up. Were you a British Invasion kid? Any favorite bands growing up?

FP: Well, we did try to be a fun band, and that is a good way to be remembered! I really don't remember who suggested covering "Rock and Roll," but I suspect that it was B. Wilkinson. I'd love to take credit, but at the end of the day I think that it was B who made the suggestion. This was before it became a sports arena sing along, so it was kind of an obscure cover at the time we did it. My first decade was the '50s with Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc., and then I got into bands like The Beach Boys, Link Wray, Dick Dale & The Del Tones - I began playing in '62 after hearing Link Wray's "Rumble." But when the British Invasion hit, all bets were off! From that point forward I lived for music, from the Beatles, Stones and Kinks to the Nashville Teens, Honeycombs, Searchers, and so on. The Beatles are still my #1 band - if you look at how long they were putting out recordings - 9 years - and how they evolved during that time, they were a once in a generation occurrence. I mean, they began with "Love Me Do" and ended up with Abbey Road. Other than that I love and was influenced by a wide assortment of artists, from Bowie to the Stooges to MC5 to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. I also love folk artists such as David Wilcox, James Taylor, Paul Simon, etc.

tk: You're just saying since I'm a folkie these days…

FP: I listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage on the radio because he plays a lot of unknown new bands as well as the classics. As far as newer artists, I like The Black Keys, Butch Walker & The Black Widows, and even Adele. I try to never limit myself stylistically.

tk: After the Atlantics broke up, a couple of the guys went on to form Ball and Pivot, but you got more into producing. Aside from Loose Ties, who are some of the other acts you worked with? Did you enjoy being a Svengali for young bands?

FP: My only regret regarding that post Atlantics period is that I was not able to do more for the artists that I worked with. I worked with you in Loose Ties, and it broke my heart that we didn't get more action off of the EP we recorded together as it was really worthy of national attention. I also worked with The Lowgistics, Ball & Chain, and produced a concept album for a label that I was a partner in, Condor Records. We brought in a singer by the name of John Warren to sing on it, and one of the real highlights that I had as a producer is that the single from that album, Advance Warning, was a pick of the week in Billboard magazine! The next time that I played in a band was Third Person, along with Steve and Tom Greeley. We released an album in 1988, but I left the band soon after that. I was in a band called The Syphlloids in the late '90s that got a deal with an independent label, released an album, and got to open for bands such as Rancid.

tk: And now here we are, amazingly, in 2012. Your V66 set was a blast. Are you playing out much? Recording any?

FP: Oddly enough, since 2001 I have been at it constantly! I played in a band called The Kenmores in 2001-2002, and we opened for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in one of their Home Town Throw Downs. From there I formed a band that became 5-Point, which lasted for over 6 years. We actually have an album of material that is going to be released at some point soon. I am currently working on a new band that does not have a name yet. I'm writing with a very talented singer by the name of Julie Dubela, who is 21 years old, and am once again working with Joe Darko, who was the drummer for Godsmack. It's still in the formative stages, but it should be interesting once we roll it out!
            Because of the success of the Atlantics CDs, Tom Hauck and I decided to put together a band to play Atlantics material one last time. The Atlantics' singer, Bobby Marron, has retired from show biz, and we didn't feel right calling it the Atlantics without him, so instead we dubbed it Big City Rockers. We did The International Pop Overthrow and then The House Of Blues. It was great fun, and wonderful to play an entire set of Atlantics material again. And good to see that you're still at it as well - I call myself a lifer, and I guess that puts you in the same category!

tk: It's been great catching up and hearing what you're up to. And thanks for twirling those dials for us back in '85! (And BTW, any similarities between The Atlantics and any bands in my upcoming novel are purely coincidental, and not legally actionable…)

To hear Fred Pineau with The Atlantics visit