Tuesday, December 16, 2014

White Zombie

White Zombie, Toronto, May 1988

THIS WAS THEM BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS. I'll be frank and say now that I had no idea that White Zombie would become as big as they did, even when - perhaps especially when - I was a big fan. And as far as I can tell the band was probably as surprised as I would be.

I heard of the band through my buddy Tim, who described them as a "metal Pussy Galore" - a comparison it was tempting to make since they shared a label and the cover of White Zombie's Soul Crusher was shot by the same photographer (Michael Lavine) who did PG's Right Now!. The comparison might have been a little facile but to be frank I was happy to find out there was a metal Pussy Galore.

Both bands were from New York, and both seemed to revel in pulling apart and defiantly reassembling their respective genres of music - metal and garage rock. The cool kids were all about semiotics at the time, so I guess you might have called it "deconstruction." Well, I didn't but I'm sure someone did.

White Zombie, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, May 1988

The band were playing the Apocalypse, the sort of amiable shithole of a club that you spend nights in for a couple of years and never miss when it inevitably closes. The Nerve had run Tim's review of Soul Crusher just a month before - a masterpiece of sorts that began with "As much as I admired Lester Bangs..." and ended with "EAT MY DUST, FUCK-FACE." When your friend commits thoughts like this to paper it's a kind of dare.

With the Nerve behind me and the help of Elliott Lefko, who booked almost everything worth seeing in Toronto in those days, I got the band to sit for a couple of rolls with my C330 and umbrella-bounced flash. I didn't know where I'd get the shots printed and I still don't know today - these photos haven't gotten past contact sheets since I shot them over twenty-five years ago.

White Zombie, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, May 1988

The club was hardly packed, and much as I might have enjoyed White Zombie's fantastically abrasive version of '70s metal, I'd never have pegged them for a stadium filler, which is probably why I ended up filing these photos unsold. In any case, this is the lineup just before the one that became famous; guitarist John Ricci would leave the band a year later, to be replaced by Jay Yuenger, who currently runs one of my favorite blogs. (CORRECTION: I'm told that this is actually Tom "Five" Guay and not John Ricci, who was only with the band for a few months.)

They were terribly nice. Rob, the lead singer, confirmed the rumour that he worked on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and when I offered them the use of my couch and floor for the night, they politely demurred, saying they had a hotel. I left the show with a bit of a ringing in my ears and a really great t-shirt that I wish I still had today.

(UPDATE: Thanks for the link, J!)



  1. Hey, not to be a stickler, but the guitarist in your photos is actually Tom "Five" Guay, later of Angel Rot - later replaced by John Ricci (who wasn't around for more than a few months - but did record the released version of Make Them Die Slowly). Love the pics!