The Guitarist Who Turned Down KISS, Aerosmith & New York Dolls

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Does the name “Punky Meadows” ring any bells? If not, he cut quite a striking figure within the 1970’s hard rock world – as a member of Angel (who recorded for the same label as Kiss, Casablanca Records, and dressed in snazzy all-white costumes), and as the inspiration for a Frank Zappa tune, “Punky’s Whips.” Punky bowed out of the music biz in the ‘80s, but returned last year with his first-ever solo album, Fallen Angel, and will be playing shows on the east coast and west coast in March and April. During a recent interview, Punky explained how he was asked to join three of the most influential/enduring rock bands of the era, as well as appearing in a cult classic film alongside Jodie Foster.

Is it true that you were asked to join New York Dolls, Aerosmith, and Kiss at various points?

With New York Dolls, Leber and Krebs…David Krebs managed Aerosmith, Nugent, AC/DC, and the Scorpions, I had done an album called BUX with Mickie Jones – the bass player from Angel – and Ralph Morman, who later sang with Joe Perry Project. We did an album up in Boston, and Jack Douglas produced that album, who produced Aerosmith. David Krebs always liked Mickie and I a lot, so we were just putting Angel together, and David called me up and said, “Listen, I’d like to put you and Mickie into the New York Dolls. I think you’d be great in that.” I said, “We have a new band called Angel. I’d really like you to hear this band.” So, we basically turned down the New York Dolls because I was so into Angel, and we went with an organization out in California. But I stayed friends with David, and when Brad Whitford and Joe Perry left Aerosmith, David again called me and said, “Hey, I think you’d be great in Aerosmith.” This was after Angel pretty much was over, but Gregg [Giuffria] and I were still hawking some revamped Angel stuff and were shopping a deal, so I said, “David, Gregg and I are shopping a deal right now.” And he said, “Well, if you change your mind…” but I didn’t. And I was also asked to play with Michael Bolton at one time, too. When Michael first came out, he was wearing leather and was heavier in the beginning, and David said, “I think you’d be a great addition to Michael Bolton.” I turned that down, as well. And then the Kiss thing, around the same time David asked me to join Aerosmith, Ace [Frehley] and Peter [Criss] had left, and Kiss had a cattle call out in Los Angeles, looking for a guitar player. And Barry Levine, who was our photographer for Angel and Casablanca Records, Barry was also the photographer for Kiss, and they were all good friends. So Kiss was recording down at the Record Plant, I think in LA, and Barry said, “Hey, how about Punky Meadows playing in Kiss?” And Gene [Simmons] said, “Wow, that’s a great idea!” Gene was always a big fan of mine, as was Paul [Stanley]. Gene, Paul, and Ace first saw Angel at a club called Bogie’s in DC – they came down after they played the Capitol Centre – and freaked out. That’s kind of how we got our record deal with Casablanca in a roundabout way, because when we were shopping a deal with Angel, our manager called Neil Bogart and said, “Hey, I’ve got this band called Angel. We’re looking for a deal, and Gene and Paul saw Angel and loved it.” Neil said, “Kiss is playing at Anaheim Stadium this weekend. Maybe I’ll get Angel to open for Kiss, so I can get to see the band and what I think of them. Let me call Gene and I’ll call you back.” So Neil calls Gene up and calls us back, and he says, “I’ll tell you what – I’ll sign the band sight unseen, because Gene said, ‘There is no way Angel will ever open up for Kiss’!” But we did play for Neil Bogart, and we got our record deal. But getting back to me playing with Kiss, Gene and Paul were at the studio recording, and Barry said, “What about Punky?” And Gene said, “That would be a great idea.” So Barry called me up and said, “Gene wants you to come down and send him a couple of tunes. Gene is going to give you a call.” So Gene calls me up, and says, “We’re looking for somebody to replace Ace, and we’d love for you to come and sit in. Why don’t you learn just one side of the Alive! album – I don’t care what side it is.” So I said OK. So I learned one side – I can’t remember what side it was of the Alive! album, it may have been the first side. I went down to SIR Studios where they were rehearsing. When I walked in, they were playing “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin – it was Paul, Gene, and Eric Carr. So I plugged in and played, it sounded really good, so Gene said, “Look, you got the gig. Let’s talk business.” I said, “Well, y’know Gene, I’m right now with Gregg. We’re shopping a deal. I have to think about it.” So, as soon as I said that, Gene got so insulted and offended, that he just stood up, and said, “Come on, Paul, let’s go.” So Gene and Paul just stormed out of the place! I sat with Eric Carr for about half an hour, and talked. Then I went home and Barry called, and said, “Hey Punky, what happened? Paul and Gene came back with their mouths to the floor, and Gene said, ‘No one has ever turned down Kiss!’ They were going to offer you $160,000 a year, plus points.” I said, “Well Barry, that sucks, because I didn’t turn them down, I just didn’t say yes right away because I had to let Gregg know – Gregg was my partner, too.” So that’s how that turned out. I guess I insulted Gene and Paul so bad because I didn’t say yes right away. Gene has a big ego, and rightly so – he’s in one of the best bands, ever. And Gene and I were always really good friends – he’d come to our concerts. I actually had a pose where I would point to the neck of my guitar, and Gene saw me do that at the club Bogie’s, and he mimicked that pose of me, and said, “Punky, that’s classic.” I remember we went to LA, signed to Casablanca, and Kiss were playing Long Beach, so they invited us all down. I had never see Kiss live, that was the first time I saw them live. We went down, and of course, Ace was up there, doing my move. The guys in Angel were like, “He’s stealing your move, man!” So I went backstage afterwards, and Ace said, “Hey man, I stole your move. I hope you don’t mind it – it’s just cool.” And I said, “It’s cool dude. I’m flattered.” But Kiss and Angel were on the same label, so we respected each other a lot.

punky meadows_danny sanchezPhoto by Danny Sanchez

Angel also appeared in the film, Foxes, starring Jodie Foster, Scott Baio, and the Runaways’ Cherie Currie.

Movies are funny, because Casablanca did Foxes, Midnight Express, Thank God It’s Friday. They did a lot of movies back then. So they put us in Foxes. It’s funny – when you’re doing a movie, you get there early in the morning, like 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, you get into costume and make-up and you sit around all day long. So they can get lights just right and the smoke sequences set up, you go and shoot for like, 15 minutes, and you’re done. Jodie was there, she was really cute. There is actually a picture of her…if you go on Facebook, I have a group page and there is a picture of all of us sitting around a car with Jodie Foster in the middle. She was just a kid – she looked at us, and she was in awe! Just starting at us. There was a little cafeteria we could go eat lunch, and she was quiet. I guess she didn’t know what to think, because we there, seven feet tall with our white outfits, make-up, and the whole bit. It was a lot of fun.

What can fans expect at your upcoming shows?

We did BB Kings last year – last June – and it was sold out. That was our very first show we’d done together. It was fun and exciting but also nerve-racking, because we’d never played in front of anybody. It came off really well. This next show is going to be even better, because we’re well-rehearsed now, and we’re going to be touring out west. We’re going to be playing in Las Vegas, San Diego, and also the Whisky in LA. And we’re doing BB Kings, and Poughkeepsie, New York, too. We’re going to kick ass. We do stuff from Fallen Angel and a bunch of classic Angel songs, too. We’ve got two female background singers too, that are really great. That’s what’s fun about doing a solo thing – you do what you want to do. I love vocals, and on my Fallen Angel record, there are a lot of vocals on that record. I mean, I love the Eagles – great vocals. On Fallen Angel, I wanted to have a lot of vocals, so there are a lot of background vocals. It’s going to be a fun show, a good party, a good time.

punky meadows_richard galbraithPhoto by Richard Galbraith

Plans to work on a follow-up to Fallen Angel?

I’m a pretty prolific writer – so is Danny [Farrow]. We’ll get together. A lot of these songs on Fallen Angel, we got together and I have a little recording studio in my house, and I’d send him a CD, and say, “Hey, check it out.” We’d write it over the phone, like, “Hey, what about this?” I’m writing a lot of songs right now. Even when I quit the music scene…I never stopped playing. I’m a guitar player – I love playing. Even to this day, every night when I watch TV, I play my guitar. Nobody can watch TV, because I start playing along with commercials and the soundtracks! And I’ll put the blues channel on my TV, and that’s “my back-up band.” And I have a little tape recorder sitting next to me, so if I come up with ideas, I’ll tape them down. So I’m always writing songs. We’re writing for the next album and I can’t wait to do it, because I have all kinds of really cool ideas this time around. It’s going to be really neat.

TOUR DATES:

March 8th – Backstage Bar and Billiards (Las Vegas)
March 9th – Brick x Brick (San Diego)
March 10th – Whisky (Los Angeles) 
April 21st – Chance (Poughkeepsie) 
April 29th – BB Kings (New York City)

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Bio: After having his articles posted from other outlets on Alternative Nation (and before that, Grunge Report) for years - heck, he was even interviewed by GR back in 2009! - Greg Prato finally began contributing articles to the site in 2014. He has written for various sites/mags over the years (Rolling Stone, All Music Guide, etc.), and is the author of quite a few books. And as evidenced by such titles as Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, and Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets, he also has a deep fondness for alternative rock n' roll music. You can check out info on all of Greg's books here, see what he's up to on his Twitter page here.