Today marks the anniversary of my fist ever post on Talk Toxic! A whole year has passed and in that time I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in two fashion film projects for Jed Phoenix of London, multiple amazing events with the fabulous Psycho:Drama crew and of course… A whole bunch of incredible interviews with luminaries of outsider drag, burlesque performance and electro homo solo musicians!
To commemorate this fact I have the great fortune to release the latest instalment of Talking Toxic – this time, with the wonderful Gregory Langston, former member of the Wasp Women’s backing band! The wonderful Greg has been involved with the S.F. punk scene since the early eighties and continues to play within a number of brilliant groups.
Read on as we piece together the history of the Wasp Women, talk post-punk and new-wave as well as the infamous, ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane’…
Dis) As part of the Wasp Women backing band, jokingly referred to as, ‘The Maggot Men’ – what was your role and how did you become involved with the group?
Greg) I was the drummer for the Wasp Women. Some time in 1979, I joined a band called the Touchtones. I was interested in the experimental side of Punk/New wave, and they fit the bill. After a short Time Guitarist Jan spoke of seeing the weirdest wildest band ever. I did not know that Teena one of our three Keyboard/ synth players was one of them! Touchtones practices morphed into Wasp Women practices as well.Teena as well as Walter Black shared both bands. We often Played on the same bills together, often at the famed Mabuhay Gardens, just seconds down Broadway from our practice space. The Wasp Women’s songs got me to explore the heavier, hard rocking side to my playing. I am more well suited to this style of playing.
D) The Wasp Women really stood out from the pack and still do! The band was so unique, what was it about the WW that made them so special?
G) The Wasp women were unique for a couple of reasons. First, visually. Three women, (one was a man in drag), dressed in tight black dresses and extreme make-up and large white bee hive wigs. At a time of musical and sexual freedom, the time was right and the doors were open to the new and extreme. Second, Musically. The band freely mixed styles and used several influences. What pulled it all together was the front line, the singers.
D) Of surviving documents, Marc Huestis’ film ‘…Susan Jane’ is the most famous. How involved with that project were you and what was filming like?
G) “What ever happened to Susan Jane” turned out to be far bigger than I expected. We were being booked into several venues with regularity, and each show seemed to be a real production. I knew this was a special show, and filming was happening, but it really turned out to be a whole lot more than just another show. We were called back to record some songs for the film, but I can’t remember how much was actually caught on tape.
D) Recently, Dark Entries Records released a re-mastered version of the song ‘Kill Me!’ – but what many of us want to know is… Does the album named in the film or an EP exist and if so, when can we hear it?
G) Sadly, what was announced in the movie was only part of the script. Not many recordings of the band exist, and those that do, are poor quality practice tapes. We recorded Lou Reed’s “Vicious”, in the studio. Teena is the only singer on that one. It came out on an obscure CD compilation a few years ago, “best of the Mabuhay”
D) Recently I spoke with Teena regarding her involvement with the group, looking back, how do you feel about the SF scene at that time?
G) The SF scene at the time was great! It was a time of great creativity, Ten years of musical progression in two! With the early underground SF punk/ new wave /experimental scene, we all supported each other in a way that was not compartmentalized. It quickly changed.
D) Of course, you were also a member of Tuxedo Moon and of the Vibrant S.F. post-punk scene. Which of these projects are you most proud of and are you still in contact with many of your collaborators from those days?
G) Surprisingly, I am in contact with many people from that time period. I briefly was with Tuxedomoon before the Wasp women and I spent a little time with Winston Tong last weekend. I have been In contact with Blaine too. Since I have been regularly playing drums and recording for almost thirty five years, I am in contact with many musicians from the past. Way too many to mention!! Other than previously mentioned, I have played with No Alternative, the Sea Hags, Fang, Fade to Black, The Renegades (Wire Train), Hellbillys, Offs, Insaints, The Next, Bryan Gregory’s Beast to name a few…. Oh, there are others too!
D) Returning to the Wasp Women, I’d like to clarify a bit of the timeline – how long did the group last? I’ve heard it was just over a year before you ceased activity with the group, why did you guys stop?
G) Yes, a year sounds about right. I don’t remember why we split. I jumped right into No Alternative after the Wasp Women.
D) Yourself and Teena worked on a few projects following the bands demise, is there much surviving from these projects and what were they called?
G) Yes! I still regularly play with No Alternative. The Offs, and the Next. I do reunion shows with a couple of others from time to time.
D) I know you have quite an archive built up – is there any plan to release this material?
G) Interestingly enough, much has already been released or is not quite the quality it could have been to make it outstanding. If anyone shows interest, I try and accommodate them in any way I can. Luckily, my band history has not been lost, stolen or misplaced.
D) Which projects are you currently working on and what would you like to plug?
G) I recorded an LP with the Next about a year ago. the songs all date from 1978-80. This is one of the best punky albums I have ever recorded, but the interest and the music industry have changed so much, that nobody is hearing it! The musicians all have so much talent and history, but we are not so young and cute any more. We have It all together, artwork and all, yet it remains unreleased.
A massive thank you to Greg for taking the time to Talk Toxic with me today! This helps piece together a part of The Wasp Women history and uncover another vibrant aspect of the SF punk/alternative scene. Make sure you continue to support Greg and his phenomenal musical output by going to see No Alternative live and buy all of their merchandise! Also, head over to Dark Entries records and grab yourself a copy of Bay Area Retrograde featuring the WW whilst you can, here: http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/