The Furys are a punk band from southern California that was started by Jeff Wolfe and his high school buddy Gregg Embrey. The 70's had progressed musically from guitar hero hard rock bands to lighter rock, disco, and candy apple pop. This didn't sit well with Jeff, Greg and some other kids throughout the United States and the world. They decided to take to take matters into their own hands and start a band that rocked back to their roots of rockabilly, British mods, and California surf music. The newly formed Furys took gigs wherever they could and with a rocking punk style eventually worked their way up the ranks to major clubs such as the Whiskey a Go Go, Club 88, and many others. During this time they had a single out and were getting radio play. Things were on a fast track for the Furys but as with many bands in the fast lane, things didn't last forever and they eventually called it quits. As time passed and life took its course, Jeff Wolfe's son asked him whatever happened to the Furys. As Jeff was explaining their story it set off a signal to maybe try and revive the band. That's exactly what happened and the magic came back right away. They have released a new EP and the Furys are now performing again. I asked Jeff about the story of the Furys.
R.V.B. - When the Furys formed in the 70's, what was on the radio at the time and what direction the band want to take?
J.W. - When the first Furys single “Hey Ma/Jim Stark Dark” came out in 1977, we were the featured act of the week on local record store chain Licorice Pizza’s singles chart. #1 was something called “Undercover Angel” by Alan O’Day. Also on the chart were Shawn Cassidy, Andrew Gold, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Foreigner, The Eagles, Kenny Rogers, Barry Manilow, and Jimmy Buffett. No wonder we were fed up! We knew then it was time for a serious change in rock and pop music, something less wimpy, more gritty with majesty and power, all elements lacking in contemporary popular music at that time.
R.V.B. - Where did you meet the other members in the band and where were some of your early gigs? How did they go?
J.W. - I had known Gregg Embrey—with whom I co-wrote the majority of the songs —from high school. We were in art class together, the two misfits. When I formed the Furys with him, we enlisted his brother Gary on drums, a monster musician. The other members fell into place pretty quickly. We had some real help management –wise in those days from Marty Black in the beginning and later Jett Compton. The venues for our early gigs were pretty remarkable. We played movie theatres, rec rooms, cafeterias, roller rinks, any place that would let us in the door. Since this was a new music movement, the clubs—as usual—were slow to catch on. But by late ’77 we were playing the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood USA on a regular basis. Other venues soon followed suit.
R.V.B. - Were there any other bands that influenced the sound of the Furys?
J.W. - The Who and Bob Dylan were huge influences on The Furys. So were The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Byrds, The Beach Boys and many of the rockabilly greats from the 50’s. We not only loved Buddy Holly, Elvis, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran but we covered their songs, something unheard of at that time; in fact, this was many years before the rockabilly revival of the mid-80s. I subsequently heard from a lot of kids that followed the band that they developed an interest in the 50s era rock’n’roll through the Furys. That makes me proud.
R.V.B. - What is behind the meaning of the 70's single "Say Goodbye To The black Sheep"?
J.W. - The song was originally written about generational conflict, young versus old, that kinda thing. But as the years go on and I continue to sing it, I’ve realized that the meaning is broader, closer to cultural or social conflict and the ramifications thereof. I figure we’ve all been black sheep at some point in our lives; perhaps this is why the song has had an impact for so long. I must say too, that the band really swings on that record.
R.V.B. - Any interesting stories on some of the live performances that you had?
J.W. - I could—and should--write a book about that era. From punching out Darby Crash of the Germs on stage at Club 88 to pissing on Doug Fieger of the Knack backstage at the Troubadour to playing a three night stand at the Whisky a Go Go with the Weirdos, I got thousands of remarkable stories. The first date our great pals The Plimsouls played was with The Furys at a hole-in-wall in Orange County called the Cuckoo’s Nest. That same year—1979-- we played there with David JoHansen of the New York Dolls, after which I was intimidated by the huge bouncer to forgo our agreed-upon fee. Years later, the owner of that dump showed up at my mom’s house to clean her chimney—karmic retribution.
R.V.B. - How did you guys write songs together? Did someone bring an idea to rehearsal and you guys expand upon it?
J.W. - Generally, Gregg would have a musical idea that I would record on cassette at rehearsal and then write the melody and lyrics for it, sometimes re-arranging the position of the parts to suit the narrative. I can’t recall us ever writing eyeball-to-eyeball, it was primarily done separately. Nowadays, I write the majority of the band’s material on my own.
R.V.B. - Did the Furys have issues maintaining their punk style as the major bands such as The Clash or Sex Pistols started fading?
J.W. - The Furys broke up in 1980, a real bad move, but absolutely not my idea. The group continued without me—another bad move—going nowhere. I formed another band called Factor Four in Hollywood that did pretty well, playing quite a few dates. By ’83, I wanted to sing the Furys songs again and write with Gregg Embrey, so I phoned him and we reformed with three new players that gave the band a much more contemporary sound, relative to the 1980s. We used a much superior guitarist than the guy in the 70s lineup and dropped the keyboard, Gregg taking over on second guitar. It was a massive sound. We recorded a powerful EP at EMI/America called “Indoor/Outdoor” that we did pretty well with. We still perform some of the songs from this record on stage to this day. Some of our best material is from this era.
R.V.B. - Things always come full circle and there always seems to be a revival, no matter what musical genre. Did you guys always know that someday you might re-unite?
J.W. - After a lot of disappointments regarding The Furys—business, personal and musical--, I switched directions in 1988 and formed The Horse Soldiers, a harbinger of the alt-country movement that would emerge in the mid 90s. That band played 500 gigs, released three albums and appeared on four major label compilations with the likes of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. It was my son Ethan who asked me about the Furys about five years ago when he was around 16. He and his pals had become aware of the band via the internet. I had never mentioned the group while he was growing up, I was too busy with the Horse Soldiers, and, of course, raising my kids. So a spark was ignited in the back of my brain about perhaps reviving the band. The legacy continues as Ethan now performs in his own band, Tongues, a punk rock powerhouse. That makes me proud. It was at a Fleshtones gig I attended with my great friend, director/screenwriter Steve Latshaw that the wheels really began to turn. Through Steve’s encouragement—and the increasing revenue of SayGoodbye to the Black Sheeproyalty checks from BMI—that I realized there was an interest in The Furys that I could no longer deny.
R.V.B. - How was the chemistry in the studio as you were recording the new material?
J.W. - Oh the chemistry with these guys is great! I got Chris Silagyi with us on guitar, piano and vocals. Chris has a huge legacy owing to his stint with power-pop legends 20/20 as well as his extensive production credits which include Dave Alvin, the Untouchables and UK band Redskins, who had a top 30 hit under his aegis. Having Chris on board as producer made the load a lot lighter for yours truly; I could simply be the singer for once and let him handle producing. Robert A. Lane has been with me in the Horse Soldiers for almost 20 years, so having his massive talents with us in the Furys on bass is a natural. He is a brilliant arranger as well as a player, as his solo project Lanes Laire attests.
I’ve admired Kelly Fair’s drumming since I first saw him working way back in the early ‘80s. Kelly’s roots run deep, as his work with Seattle New Wave pioneers Connections will affirm. Kelly’s also worked with The Real Impossibles, Mike Post Productions and Stringtown, definite proof of his versatility. Kelly, too, is a great arranger and a very funny man. When the drummer position became available in The Furys, he was my first choice. The two songs we’re promoting at the outset are a Furys original from 1977, called “Wicked White”. The number was a warning cry about the onset of technology that rings true more so today than yesterday. For the b-side we have covered the great tune made famous by the Walker Brothers in 1966, “The Sun Ain’tGonna Shine Anymore”. We tracked the string section—brilliantly arranged by Chris—at Gary Griffin’s studio, The Hall of Supreme Harmony (greatest studio name ever!). Gary has a huge legacy with both the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. The string players were: Calabria Foti - violin and viola and Peggy Baldwin – cello, who have also worked on stage and in the studio with Brian Wilson. Kelly’s brother, Jeff Fair, is a renowned producer/musician/cool guy. We’re mixing our new material at his studio, Parod/Fair Productions which houses not only gold records from the 007 Soundtracks Jeff has worked on, but the MGM studio piano, which, legend has it, was played by Harold Arlen as he was crafting the songs for “The Wizard of Oz.”
R.V.B. - Any plans to support the new EP?
J.W. - After this thing has been released we have extensive plans not only for stage work but also television and licensing deals.
R.V.B. - Thanks for considering answering these questions
J.W. - You bet.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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