George Casey of BANANAS MAGAZINE recently conducted an online interview with Cheepskates guitarist
David John Herrera. Excerpts from the interview were used in the magazine's two part story on the history of Midnight Records.
Below is the entire (unedited) interview.
me about your band - when/where/how/why did you form? Who were / are the members? What records did you put out (on any label?)
In the spring of 1982 I went on the road with a post punk/psych group out of Hollywood.
By the start of the fall things were coming apart and I ended up in NYC. I answered a Village Voice ad that was looking for
a guitar player and an organist for 60s/Pebbles influenced music. The ad had been put out by bassist Tony Low and drummer
Van Keith Morrow. Shane Faubert also answered the ad and things pretty much clicked from there. We did a couple of gigs at
a lower east side club named Great Gildersleeves before settling into a club named The Dive over on West 29th St. in Chelsea.
We had started out covering the Pebbles stuff but soon started writing our own music. As for live shows Shane and I preferred
doing somewhat obscure covers by more popular artist like the Kinks or The Who, and I would also do some R & B. Hell,
we even covered a Marty Robbins tune once in a while. All this time Shane was writing more accessible pop material and had
come up with a great hook in a song called "Run Better Run." Tony had also come up with some cool pop songs, the best one
being "Read Your Mind." I worked with Van to arrange his tunes, one of which titled "Drive In Movie" was about as bubble gummy
as we got. I tried to stay a little more edgy and came up with an outer space/surf instrumental called "Xtra Collestrial."
scene at the Dive was really starting to happen and we were playing there very often. Because the owner and I had struck up
a pretty good friendship he would allow us to take any open spot available along with our regularly scheduled gigs. This period
was so invaluable because it allowed us to not only play for audiences other than the garage/psych scene it also gave us the
time to hone our craft. We were rehearsing less and playing out more which was fine by me because I hate rehearsing. By the
summer of '83 we had fifteen originals and recorded all of them in one fourteen hour session. We self produced a single with
"Run Better Run" on the A side and "Xtra Collestrial" on the B side and called our label 5 & 10 Records. I did the artwork
with Michael Chandler of the Outta' Place doing the lettering on the back of the sleeve. Van and Tony took the record to all
of the local stores like Venus and Midnight and it really moved quite well. We put a press kit together and, along with the
record sent it out to radio stations, magazines, and fanzines and by the end of that year we were starting to become well
known within the scene and around the east coast.
did you first encounter JD Martignon and/or Midnight Records?
A fellow I met in Kansas City had moved to NYC and got a job at Midnight Records. He
hooked me up with a job there sometime in early '84. J.D. soon approached me to find out what else the Cheepskates had in
the way of recordings because he had seen us play and liked what he heard on the record. Who knows, maybe that's why I got
were your impressions of JD and/or Midnight?
J.D. was a businessman who grew up (as I had) listening to all kinds of music. To that
end we shared a lot of the same ideals. Where we differed was I was spending every penny I had drinking, taking drugs and
having a good time playing music. He was drinking and running a business.
were your impressions of the New York scene at the time?
The scene was interesting and clique-ish. There was a scene our age that consisted
of the Vipers, Fuzztones, and Mad Violets and pretty much emanated from the lower east side of Manhattan. Then there was a
younger scene that had branched from one of the Fuzztones member's siblings. That younger brother had formed a group named
the Outta' Place and their core audience were all very young and from the upper west side. The Tryfles also grew out of that
scene. Suffice to say the Cheepskates fit into neither one of these groups and at times felt pretty out there on an island.
My time during this period (and most of my life) was pretty much spent in bars or studios. In fact I was living at a rehearsal
studio for much of 1984. The other band members had well paying 9 to 5 jobs and lived nice lives in their flats writing tunes.
I think because they generally did not hang out (they were the smart ones unlike me) no one really knew who they were. There
was also the whole "dress like me" aspect which became comical at times. It could work onstage but try going to your Wall
Street job looking like that. For me this wasn't the case working in a studio or at Midnight Records.
scene also functioned on alcohol, pot, acid, and mushrooms. The Mad Violets had a reputation for handing out "shrooms" so
you were going to have an interesting evening whether you knew it or not. We did a New Year's Eve show with them at the Dive
on 12/31/83. They dosed the whole club (including yours truly) and by the time we went on at 2:00 AM we could have sung "Take
Me Out to the Ball Game" and the audience would have danced. We did do a killer set and that particular evening is indelibly
etched in my mind. Wendy Wild of the Violets was the queen of the scene, god rest her soul.
your release(s) help your band get a wider audience? What effects / benefits did you see from the release(s?)
I gave J.D. a tape of the fifteen tracks we had recorded and it was determined thirteen
tracks would comprise the album. He gave us a contract to sign and Van had some lawyers he was working for at the time look
it over. They basically said if we signed the contract we would see nothing from it, and ultimately they were right. But it
was the only game in town because self producing an album was going to be much too expensive. So we signed and received a
one thousand dollar check as an advance on future royalties. As far as "Run Better Run" goes we would never see another penny
from the LP or the subsequent second pressing of the 45 which J.D. also put out on his label. I was speaking to his exporter
one afternoon in the late 80s and he was astounded to learn we were not receiving royalties because he said the album had
sold over 100,000 copies.
Looking back it would be easy
to be resentful but we recorded a second album and after I left the Cheepskates he personally allowed me to record a solo
LP that featured a bunch of NYC garage/psych musicians. It seemed that every group, artist, or vendor had their own personal
way of getting money they felt they were owed out of J.D. Legal threats, hired thugs and bikers, sudden auction of property.
I once heard a rumor that RCA offered to buy the Midnight Label and all of its artists but he had declined. If that's true
maybe the music did mean more to him in the long run. RCA would have shelved everyone within a year and a half anyway. In
my opinion I don't think it was J.D.'s job to keep anyone employed other than the people that worked at the store. Don't get
me wrong, bands would call from some far flung region of the country with their tour hanging by a thread and he would send
them some dough because they were promoting his product. But overall if you were going to be rich and famous or were even
trying to make a living it was not going to be on Midnight Records dime. You were still on your own.
How did the NY scene
change over time?
The scene changed for a few reasons not the least of which was cocaine and heroin. The original owner sold
the Dive to some friends of his bartender and the club took off for about a year and a half before it closed for good. Some
folks started to permanently check out due to overdoses (and no, Wendy Wild was not one of them) and new groups like the Secret
Service and Optic Nerve were performing along with touring groups that were looking for the NYC scene. Other clubs like Tramps
started booking shows with a psychedelic theme called "The MindsEye" and would feature liquid light shows.
When was the last time
you spoke to JD or had any contact with Midnight?
I worked four different times at Midnight Records from '84 through '91. I probably
last talked to him sometime in the early 90s. I had put together a compilation of tracks from various live performances of
the Cheepskates in the 80s. He liked it and made an offer to put it out. I hadn't spoken to the other members of the group
in some time but because we had always been a democracy I told him I would need to talk with them first. He was under the
impression the deal was just going to be between him and I and that was our last real contact. I guess ex-band members do
that type of thing all the time.
do you think overall is the "legacy" of Midnight?
Midnight Records put us all on the map. It would be easy to say that it was the right
place at the right time but there were plenty of other labels that didn't accomplish nearly as much. The initial releases
of The Cheepskates, The Outta' Place, and Plan 9 put J.D.s finger on the pulse of this music scene. The album covers alone
were very cool and J.D. wrote all of the liner notes on the back of "Run Better Run." The cover was modeled after the Rolling
Stones’ "December's Children" album and J.D. tried to compose his best Andrew Loog Oldham imitation with a long rambling
description of what was inside. It made no sense but was a howl none the less. All of the other bands realized what was happening
and jumped on the wagon. By '85 the world was his oyster and if you were on the Midnight Label you were getting distribution
both in this country and overseas. Pretty soon though tastes changed, new bands that he signed weren't selling, album covers
were awful and ultimately the ride was over.
would continue with his retail and mail order business and was still selling product he had produced as well as the bulk of
the store which was hard-to-find releases of lesser known artists, but the industry was changing. Everything was being put
out on CD and both he and I agreed that compared to an album cover CDs were just no fun. Even then you needed a fucking magnifying
glass to read any of the text.
heard he ran afoul of the law over some unauthorized recordings he was selling. It sounded to me like he was just being made
an example of and muscled out of the retail business by the powers that be (whoever they are.) An old friend said when the
store closed multiple covers of the Outta' Place and Cheepskates first album as well as our single were still donning one
of the window displays. Those things had been there since 1984 so you can imagine how faded they were some twenty odd years
later. I guess I'll have to rob a bank in Manhattan to get my picture back up in a window there.