Frankie and the Actions History written by Frankie Clarke
Note: This is the history as I remember it. If I have something wrong, or I forgot something or someone, please contact me. Rest assured, I've left nothing out for any reason other that a faulty memory, clouded by the fog of years.
In 1982, after (The) Razz broke up, I was determined to form my own band. The original lineup consisted of Jere Jones on bass, Todd McDonald on rhythm guitar, and Doug Sanford on drums, with me fronting the band singing lead, playing lead guitar (a '72 Gibson SG through a pair of Traynor YBA-1's, then a modded '72 Fender Twin) and composing original material. Originally dubbed the Maryland Marauders, and playing blues/rock, the band quickly morphed into a heavy Power Pop style. Jere left and was replaced by his nephew Steve Johnston, affectionately called Lil' Stevie Action, and I think it was Doug and Steve who wanted to name the band Frankie and the... somethings. I had the name the Actions, so we put them together and Frankie and the Actions was born. Only the rhythm guitar slot would be in constant rotation, and while I certainly can't remember everyone who filled this role, the two standouts were Mark Matarese and Mark Noone, of Slickee Boys fame. Mark Newcastle was also the drummer for a good chunk of time, but I think Doug left, then came back, because he was the drummer as the lineup most are familiar with was formed. This version of the band played90% originals, mostly in what was a vibrant, eclectic Washington, D.C. scene at the time. Our home club was the Psyche Delly in Bethesda, MD, where we became friends with many great people and players from all genres. We were particularly tight with the Slickee Boys, and played a lot of shows with them. Others who were friends on that scene included some that my dear friend and mentor Danny Gatton had introduced me to, like Billy Hancock (with whom we shared management) and Evan Johns and the H-Bombs, Tex Rubinowitz, Martha Hull, Johnny Bombay and the Reactions (Abaad Behran) and Bad Brains. I also played in a D.C. Hardcore band called Pockets of Resistance (POR) during that time and shared stages with Scream, Henry Rollins, etc. Frankie and the Actions opened for the Ramones more than once during this period, playing with them at The Bayou and U of MD. We played and practiced constantly, and shared stages with acts ranging form Joan Jett and Johnny Winter to Root Boy Slim. Partly because of the proximity of the Psyche Delly to WHFS, we became friends with many of the DJs and promoters (Weasel, Damien Einstein, Seth Hurwitz), as well as D.C.'s greatest music historian of the era, my friend Robbie White. We recorded quite a bit of music at Hit and Run Studio over these years (much of it produced by Mark Noone), released independent singles, including "22 Dollars" , "Rock Like U" and "Girl Crazy", which received full-rotation airplay on WHFS, but it was "Somewhere in America" that received the most recognition, even winning us the title of "Best Unsigned Band in America" in a national contest sponsored by Snickers. I owe everyone mentioned here (and many more) a debt of gratitude, because they taught me not just acceptance of different styles but to embrace and support each other. But even as we flourished in this great, diverse scene, I always loved harder rock music than was popular in the city. I toured England France, Germany and Italy to support our independent "Somewhere in America" EP release, using a European pickup band and rented backline, but in 1989, while playing a large festival, I blew out my voice.
"Stripped To The Bone": 1990-1996
In the fall of 1989 (that's 30 years ago, peeps), I sat at the Michelle's nightclub side bar in Camp Springs, and had a chat with Mike Mead. My voice was blown at that point. I had made it through the last tour by self-medicating with peppermint schnapps, and ripped my vocal cords to shreds, and even though I wasn't performing live, I was still writing and recording demos on an early 4-track. Mike had fronted a local metal band called Krakken, who I really dug. I played Mike some (one?) of my newer, heavier originals as we imbibed some alcoholic beverages. I think it was "Real Wildcat". By the end of the evening, we had made plans to jam. In short order, we recruited Jeff Huffman on bass and started rehearsing in Doug (Ug) Sanford's basement, with him on drums. I was writing furiously, and by early 1990, we had a whole album ready to record. On the advice of Dave Cornwell, Dave Barbee and the other guys in BMW (my favorite local band at the time), we booked time in Reuben Schmeuben Recording Studio with Charlie Hardman. What it lacked in glamour (it was a room above a garage) was made up for by Charlie's ear, wisdom, and knowledge of his own equipment. The whole thing was mixed down onto a 4-head Betamax recorder. We attacked the recording sessions with a fervor, spending many, many hours a day recording. It was brutal, fast and exciting. We even recruited my buddy John Luskey to sing some backups. When the dust had settled, we had "Stripped To The Bone". We played the entire album live many times, as an original band, with a few heavy covers mixed in here and there. It was the beginning of a 3-decade adventure. We shared, and still share, a common vision: One that includes loud, heavy rock music, a party atmosphere that treads dangerously close to self-annihilation, big amps, and leaving everything we had/have on the stage. "Stripped" was only released on cassette, and as such, has been difficult to find as the years pass. It's only fitting that as we near it's 30-year anniversary, we have re-released it, for the first time ever, in digital form. When I listened to the tracks in preparation for the re-release, I was blown away. This album is powerful. It captures our raw, live performance and attitude pretty well. Mike's vocals are incredible, and my playing is... well, judge for yourself. It is now available on all streaming platforms. We recorded the entire album in about three months, and scheduled a release party / concert in early 1990.
We exploded onto the local Southern Maryland scene one night at Michelle's, almost literally. Jeffro (as he used to be known) over-loaded the flash pots that were set to go off with black gunpowder, and as we launched into the title track of our new album, they went off as planned. We had 'X's to stand on so we wouldn't be caught in the blasts, but because Jeffro had gotten over-enthusiastic, the blast radius was too big, and some of the pyro actually hit the ceiling and bounced back down onto us. It's pretty hilarious to watch on video, but it was nearly a "Great White Moment". In truth, the band hardly noticed, and played on. We played the entire album (in order) that night to great response. It was immediately obvious that we had captured lightning in a bottle - this band was powerful. Mike Mead's vocals were amazing, like razor blades cutting through the mix. I was using the same rig I used on every track on the album - Casper (my 1986 PRS) through my Mesa/Boogie MKIII full stack. Jeffro and Ug (Doug) were tight - the groove and bottom they provided were essential to making Mike and I sound good. A word about Doug Sanford's nickname, as it appears on the album credits. One day we were at practice after work, and Doug was an HVAC guy. He was wearing one of those work shirts with his name "Doug" on the front, above the pocket, but some pens in his pocket were blocking the D and the O, so all that was showing was "ug". I don't know who started it, but from that day forward he was Ug.
This was a stable, inspired lineup; one where the sum was truly greater than the parts. We played maybe 75/25 Originals/Covers, and the covers were stuff nobody else was doing; our opening song, for instance was "Prime Mover", by Zodiac Mindwarp, eventually replaced by W.A.S.P.'s "Fuck Like A Beast". We were billed as a "Gypsy Sleeze-Metal" band, whatever the hell that is. We wore leather, spandex, boots and skulls, had long hair, and played the 80's/early 90's Metal circuit, from Wilmer's Park and the Bayou to Baltimore's Rage and Hammerjacks. We grew our fanbase, and built a good draw at all the clubs we played regularly. I began writing the second album, and we added the new songs to our setlists. Although our fanbase was growing, we couldn't make really good money playing mostly originals without going back out on tour, and none of us really wanted to do that. So we made a decision to morph the band's image, brand and goals. It was the first time we did this, but it would be far from the last. We decided to flip the mix of originals and covers to 30/70. We played a lot of metal and hard rock, from Motorhead, Metallica and Megadeath to Deep Purple, AC/DC and Aerosmith. We had a natural tendency to play every cover 'heavier' than the original versions; a tendency that re-defined the band's style. We were doing well in the clubs, and changing our brand had indeed expanded the number of clubs in our rotation, but we were heavy, with a male-dominated audience. When Jeffro left for a while (possibly in Rehab at an undisclosed location just outside of L.A. - we'll never know for sure), Joe Waselewski filled in on bass, and we got even heavier. At this point we were genuinely a metal band, but that was short-lived.
One Friday night in 1992, I was watching a show on TV called "Video Jukebox", an alternative to the very corporate MTV, and they played a new video by some band I had never heard of. It was in black and white, and after I got over the shock of seeing Dave Grohl playing drums, who I had last encountered as the drummer for Scream, (a band I had shared bills with on DC's original circuit 7-8 years earlier), i realized I was watching and hearing a seismic shift in rock music. Nirvana had hit the airwaves, and everything was about to change.
I showed up to practice with "(Smells Like) Teen Spirit" on a cassingle (Yes, that was a thing), because "Nevermind" hadn't been released yet. Mike and Joe wanted to work on Megadeath's newest release, "Symphony of Destruction", but I really believed we should learn this new song by upstarts Nirvana. As a compromise, we learned both, and agreed that we would let the crowd's reaction to them dictate our course, so to speak. The next Saturday night, we played a club called Malibu's on our home turf. When we played "Symphony", crowd reaction was good. Lots of guys banging their heads up front, decent cheers, etc. But when I started the now-famous opening riff of "Teen Spirit"... wow. It was fresh, in a way that's hard to describe. It was aggressive and powerful, but in a different way than the more metal stuff we had been playing. It seemed like every female in the place pushed to the front of the stage, and of course, the guys followed. We knew we were on to something. Speaking to people in the crowd on break that night was a fascinating experience. The women all loved the Nirvana tune and were ready to fully embrace the Grunge revolution that we were on the cusp of. They complained that their boyfriends hated it, and wouldn't let go of the metal and hair-metal they loved. Our goal was to become the "Best Bar Band in America", so our path was clear. We morphed once again, and while our bassist ran off with little warning as a wanted fugitive (hey, it is rock and roll) and was replaced for a short time by our good friend Wayne Fuller, it was Jeffro's return to the fold that truly ignited our new direction. Because we were such early adopters of "Grunge", we owned the genre locally for awhile. We played Greenday, STP, Soundgarden, Smashmouth, Weezer, Screaming trees, etc. We played them all heavier than the original recordings, making them our own - not by design, but just because that's who we were. Our metal backgrounds showed through whether we wanted them to or not. Fortunately, that tended to work in our favor, and the crowds just got bigger and bigger.
Generation Why 1996-2001
In 1996, with Robert Torrey having taken over drumming duties, we went back to Reuben Schmeuben Recording Studio to record the second album, Generation Why. For the second album, we recorded more diligently, doing more re-takes and making sure the product was as polished as possible. The end-result is probably more professional and slick, but less true to our frenetic, aggressive live presentation. Still, it's a very good album; one that we're all proud of. While the title track of the first album had proved to be the most popular (and would forever be our anthem), there were a number of standout tracks on Generation Why, including "Tattoo Baby" and a killer cover of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein", both of which are still staples in our live repertoire. We also recorded several tracks at Mike Bossier's then-new Oblivion Recording Studio. Once again, we played the entire album, in order at Michelle's nightclub in Camp Springs, which had truly become our home base by this point, and although nothing exploded at the release party, the band itself was hotter than ever. Live, we had become a force to be reckoned with. Our circuit once again expanded, and we became a staple on the biker-bar scene with Apehanger's in Bel Alton, MD heading the list. We were regulars at Pier III, The Hideaway in Clinton, MD, and many other Southern Maryland bars, but we were feeling boxed-in. We still had a strong draw when we played, but we were getting frustrated. It felt like we were running in circles without advancing. As a solution, we were the first band South of Baltimore to sign with Starleigh Productions, a move that was calculated to gain entry to venues over which they had exclusive control. One of these was the Purple Moose in Ocean City, MD.