I was introduced to the music of Hugh Cornwell and the Stranglers by none other than Joey Ramone himself, backstage at a Ramones gig at the Armadillo. It was one of the bands they started listening too after their early trips to the UK, and he thought I would really like them.
In the days before MTV, the internet, Amazon.com, and MySpace, a few small magazines with limited distribution and word of mouth were the only ways to get buzz, and it passed slowly as a small number of bands toured the tiny punk club circuit of the late 70s and early 80s. The crowds they reached were all rather small, but all the old school bands that survived started that way. Bands like U2, the Police, even the Red Hot Chili Peppers did their first tours on this circuit and the interest in what is now known as "alternative" music was slowly spread this way. Mainstream music was embracing songs from Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees, and god help us, the song "Muskrat Love" was still being heard on FM radio. "Freebird" and "Stairway" were in constant rotation on all the album oriented rock stations, and anything that even remotely smelled of punk was limited to the middle of the night on a few college radio stations.
The Stranglers made their run down that circuit as well, but only briefly. By the time the Stranglers hit Austin, I was already a huge fan, owning all their released vinyl up to that point, most of it as UK imports. Their only Austin appearance was at brand new punk club called Club Foot. Formerly the 404 Club, one of Austin's first gay hotspots, Club Foot's opening night had the Stranglers as headliners. But the show was poorly publicized, the club was unknown, and nobody seemed to have told the former patrons of the change in the club's business model, making me glad I had left my studded leather Ramones jacket at home.
I looked back on that night as one of my best memories of the old scene days. The audience, though few in number, was comprised mainly of Austin's music hipsters and members of local bands, along with a small number of friends I had talked into going. We had a blast as they roiled through songs like "Tank" and "Peaches." JJ Burnell's body flailed wildly as he provided the driving bassline behind Hugh Cornwell's throaty growl.
Hugh Cornwell, former lead singer of the Stranglers, will be a performer at Austin's SXSW this year and it gives me an opportunity to dust off all my old memories from those days. I got to relive some of them again with Hugh as well as discuss all his neat new solo work in our interview. Click on the player link on the "continued" page below to listen.