Believe it or not, there was a rich and vibrant Rockabilly scene in the 90s. There were many artists making interesting music for a community of enthusiasts around the country who all at least kind of knew each other. I always refer to that time and my place in that world as “When I was a kid…” As a teen sneaking into bars and events to be a part of what was happening, it was like the most exciting thing that could ever be for me.
One of my favorite bands from back then was King Kerosene. Scott Murphy brought a very clever sensibility to his lyrics without sacrificing catchy tunes.
After a few years off, Scott has returned to the fold with a newly released CD that you can grab off the King Kerosene website. Scott said of this big move; “King Kerosene is rising like the Phoenix. Well, no…More like a half eaten cheeseburger you find on the edge of the fire pit the next morning after the party is over…”
I sent him a few questions, he told me everything I ever wanted to know about this band that I still consider an all time favorite.
So in a nutshell, what’s the story of King Kerosene?
Well, let’s see. I guess the King Kerosene story started in 1992, when I was trying to put a new band together. I was listening to a lot of Morrissey, and his album Your Arsenal. Then, as if by divine intervention, in late 1993, early 1994, I answered an ad for a guitarist spot in a band called Jet Black Machine, with Poorboys/Rockats bassist John Willoughby and singer Andy Martin. They were a rockabilly band who played some Smiths/Morrissey covers, and had opened some US shows for Morrissey. Well, I didn’t get the gig, but it set me on a path. I had started getting together with another guitar player to work on songs, and we advertised in the local music paper for bass and drums. So, in 1994, George Mattesini (bass), and Jim Hall, drums, joined to form the first version of King Kerosene.
We started playing various bars in New Jersey and New York. We were playing a mix of my original songs and some old rockabilly covers. The reaction was pretty good, and I wanted to record a demo, but George and Jim weren’t quite up to recording, so I enlisted the help of Ed Fingerling (bass) and Chris Peck(drums) from a Brooklyn indie band called Oral Groove. We recorded 5 songs at Waterfront Music in Hoboken NJ, a self-released cassette, Emotional Junkyard, in 1995. In August of 1995, we went up to Cape Cod and opened for the Incredible Casuals at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet. Johnny Spampinato, the guitar player in the Casuals, would join his brother Joey in NRBQ around the same time.
George knew a lot of people, and we started playing Nightingale’s in NYC and The Saint in Asbury Park. We got a gig closing for Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys at the Saint, not very fun, with the bands loading out during last call, but a good experience. They were fun to see, I loved their sound, a very tight band. We would cross paths several times after that.
In 1996, we opened for Sonny Burgess and Rosie Flores at the Saint. That show was a lot of fun, and in the audience was Mike Lynam of Run Wild Records, who we would meet the following year. Jim left the band right before this show, due a DUI situation. Thankfully my friend Ray Calluori sat in on drums at the last minute to save the day, or night. We also opened for Dale Watson at the Saint. George brought another drummer into the band named Edno, and in December 1996, we recorded another group of songs, this time at Water Music in Hoboken. A 7″ EP, with Fifteen Seconds, Veronica, and Totally Crazy, was released in 1997. I stopped in all the independent record stores I could find, to put our record on display. As a result, we were invited to play at Dragonfly Records in Hoboken. The owner, Denise McDougal, recommended us to the booking agent at Maxwell’s, and we shortly found ourselves opening for Robert Gordon and the Rockats. It was great to see John Willoughby again, after having auditioned for his band, and now playing on the same bill. Around this time, Edno, who was great drummer, didn’t seem to be happy with the situation (making very little money, playing original music).
Fortuitously, my friend Ray introduced me to Mike and Anthony Saporito, two young guys who had recently split with their punk band. A promoter in Asbury Park named Lenny Lounge suggested I get in touch with Mike Lynam of Run Wild Records and inquire about a record deal. Mike liked our EP, but primarily released compilations, however, was willing to release one of our songs in his upcoming series, “Friday Nite Rumble.” I wrote Five More Minutes for Vol. 1, and we recorded it at Mix-O-Lydian Studio in Lafayette NJ.
In August of 1997, Joanne Van Vranken (Rocket J) was promoting a weekender called We Wanna Boogie at the Lead East car show in East Hanover NJ, and contacted me, at Lynam’s recommendation, to fill a last minute slot in her Saturday afternoon lineup. With only two weeks practice, Anthony and Mike were ready to go and we played our first show as a band.
So, with this lineup, we started tearing things up. Took as many gigs as we could get. We continued playing at the Saint in Asbury Park, Maxwell’s in Hoboken, and Connections in Clifton NJ, and the Rodeo Bar and the Red Room in New York. We continued adding new songs to the set, recording singles as we went. I went to David Loehr’s Rockabilly Rebel Weekend for the first time in 1998 with Mike Lynam of Run Wild, who made introductions all around. It was an eye opener to see what kind of turnout the weekenders get. I had only read about it. I came back to New Jersey, and we continued playing shows, and recording new songs both at Mix-O-Lydian and my friend Mark Addeo’s Radon Studio in Freehold NJ. I decided to compile 10 of our original songs in the first CD. As I worked on the art and production for the CD, things were going a little sideways. Mike, our drummer, was having some personal problems that had me cancel some shows, and hope for the best. So, in April of 1999, “Just Warming Up” was released with no shows to promote it. I did all the promotion from home, emailing and mailing various fanzines like Blue Suede News, Country Standard Time, Southern and Rockin’, Dynamite, and Big Beat. Overall, the CD received a good reception, as well as a decent amount of airplay. In the meantime, we got back together as a band, and started playing shows around the northeast, in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.
At 1999’s Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, I presented a copy of the new CD to David Loehr, which resulted in David inviting us to play at RRW in 2000. We also met members of the Road Agents car club, who invited us to play at their first hot rod and custom car show in Connecticut. We continued playing local shows and opening for whoever came to town. We recorded a few more songs at Radon Studio in Freehold, and in June 2000, played the Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, which was a blast. The week after, we played the Road Agents’ first annual hot rod show with the Rackateers from Boston, and 9th Wave, a local surf band. In August of 2000, I sat in with Thommy Burns and Jason “Hoss” Hicks, playing electric guitar, at Radon Studio. The resulting track, Ice Cold Katy, would appear on Friday Night Rumble Vol. 7 in 2001. Thommy invited me to join him and Hoss to form the Steubenville Knights, as a tribute to his father, who came from Steubenville, Ohio. Once again, life got in the way for King Kerosene, so I spent most of 2001 and part of 2002 playing with the Steubenville Knights. We also recorded an album at Radon Studio, released by Jungle Records in Finland. We played several shows, including the Rockabilly Rebel weekend in Indianapolis, and the Dixie Rockabilly Rumble in Feb. 2002 at the Star Bar in Atlanta. King Kerosene got back in motion once again, like a boxer who got knocked down, and made a valiant effort to get back in the fight. We played David’s Rockabilly Rebel Weekend one more time, which was super fun, playing in the Fountain Square Theatre, coming back with a batch of new songs.
Unfortunately, life moves on, and our bass player Anthony took a job with IBM in upstate New York, and drummer Mike moved on, on good terms, as well. We got back in touch a few years ago, and have agreed to get together to record some unfinished material and work on getting out for some gigs. In the present climate, we’ve been forced to put things on hold, but hopefully not as long as last time.
What’s it feel like returning to this project after awhile?
It was great to go back and listen to the master tapes from all the sessions. I was glad that the songs held up pretty well, no dated production or anything. Naturally, there are things you’d like to remix or re-record, but the multi-track tapes are gone, and that’s not what this was about.
What have been your influences over the years?
I’ve always liked rock’n’roll but always listened to a wide variety of music. AM top 40 radio as a kid, into the FM stations of the late 60’s, early 70’s. As far as rockabilly goes, it was second hand, starting with the Beatles. I loved the Beatles when I was about 5 or 6, but there was something about Matchbox and Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby that were special. Being curious as a kid, I read all the credits on the album cover, and saw those two songs credited to “C. Perkins.” I also noticed nobody in the Beatles was C. Perkins. Same with C. Berry. And it would be years later before I heard Carl Perkins’ and Chuck Berry’s original versions. Anyway, growing up in the northeast, rockabilly was practically non-existent, so I heard that sound that in certain songs over the years and it attracted me.
Robert Gordon’s 70’s hits, for example, and the Buddy Holly movie, and then the Stray Cats. Then the British rockabilly bands like the Rockats and Crazy Cavan. Interviews I read with some of my favorite artists mentioned two names: Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent. In the 80’s their records weren’t that easy to find, other than “best of” albums. Then in 1987, I was having dinner at a place called Cafe Tabac in New York, when I heard this unreal sound coming out of the speakers. It was Elvis but not like I ever heard him. It turned out to be the Sun Records recordings. Well, having Elvis, Carl, Chuck, Eddie and Gene added to my record collection, I just went deeper from there. But I still liked the current music, so I kind of led a parallel musical life until I formed King Kerosene, then I was all in.
Your lyrics were always considerably more urbane than one would expect from a Rockabilly band. What made you pursue making music in that form?
I really admire the bands who can emulate that early rockabilly sound, but I never wanted to be that. Or I should say I don’t have it in me to play “archival” type rockabilly. I love the beat and sparse arrangements and the attitude of rockabilly, but I guess lyrically that’s where my other influences come in. So the stories the songs tell, some start off with a grain of an idea from my life, or someone I know, or something I observed. And I have to admit a fondness for late 70’s and early 80’s bands like Dave Edmunds, the Stones, the Clash, the Pretenders, the Cure, and the Smiths. I could go on, but the list is way too long.
What do you hope to achieve with this new release?
We wanted to give these songs a chance to see the light of day, since three of them hadn’t been released, and the other two only appeared on compilations. To kind of bring the band into the present again. And then get to work on new music and hopefully some live shows to breathe life into the songs. Mike, our drummer, has carpal tunnel syndrome, so he’s moved over to rhythm guitar, so we may do a rockabilly trio setup, with upright bass, electric and acoustic guitar.
Hear more at King Keronese’s website.