20 Questions w/ Joe Normal of Cold Blue Rebels, X-The Zeros Guitarist
Joe Normal, from Zero Purple to Cold Blue!
We’ve dug deep into the Hollywood archives and unearthed a true OG solidier this week folks. It’s official we’re now 3 of 4 members deep from The Zeros. Today we bring you guitarist Joe Normal. He’s a proud Father, has a new band (Cold Blue Rebels) and tells some great history of his view on the infamous Sunset Strip. Joe Normal seems to be a normal guy & a good man for sure. Enjoy.
1. Welcome Joe Normal. Tell our readers about you, your band, and what’s new?
Hey everyone! I’m Joe Normal, formerly of the purple haired Zeros of Hollywood Sunset Strip infamy, and currently guitarist and co-writer with COLD BLUE REBELS, a sick new rockin’ psychobilly band with my buds Danny Dangerous (ex-Zeros), Mickey Finn (ex-Jetboy) and Spazz Draztik (Glamour Punks).
2. Cold Blue Rebels is a new project with some old skool guys. How did you come to join forces with former Jetboy singer Mickey Finn?
Danny and I played a Zeros reunion show on the Strip about 6 years ago with Jetboy. Both our bands had played gigs together way back in the day, and this time around Danny and Mickey began a friendship that eventually led to an idea to start a rockabilly/psychobilly together. When Mickey asked if Danny knew a good guitar player, he brought me into the mix. Each of us had been listening to rockabilly and psychobilly for many years, so it was with a real passion that we joined forces to do something fun and creative together.
3.Tell us, what is the first 2 hours of your day like for Joe Normal?
Get kicked in the head or the balls by one of my kids who climbed into bed during the night, fight to stay asleep until the alarm goes off. The wife turns on all the lights and says “get up, guys”. I then thank my god for another night of sobriety, take a leak, get kids dressed and ready for school while trying hard to keep the peace and encourage my older son (with Autism) to be compliant and stay on task. Roll up to school in the nick of time, kiss the kids goodbye, head back home, fight to stay awake, eat breakfast, find a way to make money today. Realize how fortunate I am to have the life I have. Overall, mine is really just a NORMAL kind of existence.
4. We have to get a few Zero’s questions in here. What ever happened and how did the original Zero’s band break up?
Oh Jeez, you mean what ever happened and how did the original Zeros ever stay together! Let me start by saying that I love and value each and every one my former band mates dearly, and have learned to accept them for who they are, as I’ve strived to become a better person myself. Good and bad, without them I’d not be where I am today. But because the readers of Metal Sludge like to hear the GOD DAMN DIRT, I’m gonna try to tell it how I saw it, the full-length version. And I’ll say that it is hard to tell this story without painting a picture of certain people, so I’ll resist the name calling and just stick to my own truth. So in true Sludge spirit…
Sammy Serious, my brother Jimmy (Mr. Insane), and I started the band in New Jersey in September 1982 as The Double O Zeros. By the time we got to L.A. in ’86 (via London, England), and found Danny Dangerous in ’87, we had already been through four bass players. With Danny, we realized that we had the right chemistry to be the next KISS or punk rock Beatles!
However, there were always control issues coming from the singer, who over the years grew more and more difficult to work with, mainly due to his self-sabotaging tendencies. Drugs were never an issue in this band. I can’t say that mental health was not. Our singer was constantly fighting with someone, typically over stupid bullshit. It sucked having that kind of drama in our lives day in and day out. You people on the outside and the fans had no idea. You could never imagine all the bullying, jealousy, greed, drama over girlfriends, the physical confrontations, skewed percentages and entitlements, disregard for personal boundaries and privacy, paranoid and delusional thinking and accusations. I’m sure I was a handful, too, having to be babysat during my heavy drinking days between ‘85 and ’87, but I was always a happy drunk, willing to put up with or go along with anything. And I never drank before a show in those days.
The nucleus of the band, Sammy, Jimmy and I had been together already for nearly 10 years by 1992 when we did our first legitimate tour, in support of the “4,3,2,1… The Zeros”. Just before leaving for the tour, Sammy demanded we fire our management. I can’t even tell you what for. Probably some stubborn power play that arose. Regardless, we hit the road and within days an argument ensued and he booted Mr. Insane out of the motor-home we were touring in, threatening to leave him in the desert over something unimportant. Then a week later he kicked Danny out of the band in Carbondale, Illinois simply because Danny wanted to fly home for a couple days to be there when his pregnant wife delivered their baby that week. Sammy’s decision really sucked. It was a crippling move that Jimmy and I knew was wrong, and it directly impacted our personal hopes for any kind of success. There was no arguing with his ruling. This was no setback. This was sabotage.
The tour mustered on and we played several gigs with just drums and guitar. No bass player. We played a sold out gig in Detroit, and we actually went over! I looked over at my brother on the drums and realized that we constituted the musical backbone of the Zeros. It was our harmonies, our guitar parts, our rhythms and bombast! We didn’t need Sammy to make the band sound good. He needed us.In fact, it had likely been that way all along. Unfortunately for us, he monopolized the songwriting, positioning himself so that we would always need him.
I knew it was over at this point. I had to break-in two more bass players over the next three weeks, a job I was absolutely sick to death and tired of. With the threat of leaving us behind on the East Coast, my brother and I were offered an ultimatum… Surrender our rights to the name The Zeros (we were a trademarked corporation) or find our own way home. I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s called extortion. 10 years of my life were wrapped around this guy’s finger, and I was completely helpless, or so I thought, stuck in a hopeless situation, stuck in a toxic relationship that I couldn’t get out of. My career was tied to this guy. Depressed, I sought the bottle again. I figured, fine, we’ll do whatever it takes to end this nightmare. I’ll just numb myself. Let’s just get ourselves home after the last tour dates, then we will decide what to do.
When we got back to L.A., we were contractually obligated to record another record for Restless Records. We did one more show with the new bass player on the Strip. It didn’t go so great. The internal struggles continued and tensions were high. There were lack-luster feelings about the band at the label. Then, after getting punched in the face outside of Sammy’s apartment, I finally woke up from the years of manipulation, brow beating, and low self-esteem, and said “Fuck You, I quit!”
I drove straight over to my brother’s and asked if he was with me, and he said “I would have done this years ago, I was just waiting for you!”
And that’s my side of the story.
The Zero’s were Joe Normal, Danny Dangerous, Sammy Serious, Mr. Insane
5. Going back to the Zero’s days. How often did you have to dye your hair purple to keep up with the demand?
We actually had a Manic Panic endorsement! “Plum” was the color we used. I would dye it fresh before any really big show or photo shoot. I think maybe once a month or so was about right. I got sick of always having a purple stained pillow case and purple straggly hairs around the house and in the sink and tub. What a nightmare!
6. Rate a guitarist 1-10. A 1 being a straight up hack, and a 10 being a Guitar God.
CC DeVille = 6
Steve Jones = 5
Billy Joe Armstrong = 6
Joe Satriani = 5
Keith Richards = 8
Steve Stevens = 10
Eddie Van Halen = 6
Brian Setzer = 10
Mick Jones = 5
Yngwie Malmsteen = Oh Jeez!
JOE NORMAL SAYS: How about these guys!?
Cliff Gallup = 10
Mick Ronson = 10
Brian May = 10
George Harrison = 10
Pete Townshend = 10
Elliott Easton = 10
7. Of all the bands/musicians you’ve had the chance to share the stage with, who were great guys to hang with and who were pure assholes?
I gotta say Stiv Bators (Dead Boys, Lords of the New Church) was a riot to hang out with, C.C. from Poison was always a fun hang, Bam from Dogs D’Amour was a good bloke, Sammy Hagar is a kind and generous dude, Playing with The Smithereens was great. I love all their albums still. (THEY were the best band Jersey had to offer in the 80’s, NOT Bon Jovi). Some bands that I liked playing with were Dramarama, the original L.A. Guns, Celebrity Skin, Glamour Punks, Jetboy. I especially learned to love all the color-haired copycat bands that began creeping up as the Zeros rose to prominence. It meant that we were doing something right!Looking back, if only we had some outside counseling like a marital therapist, some kind of relationship counseling, maybe we would not have imploded. (Individual therapy and medication would have helped some of us FOR SURE!)
There were many guys in the “poodle-haired” bands on the Strip in the day that were just clueless. A lot of closed mindedness. Machismo bullshit. No sense of street-cred, rock n roll cool. No sense of quirky fun. To me, they were the real posers. I tried to stay as far away from the Gazzarri’s end of the strip as possible. That’s where most of the assholes would be hanging out.
During our Strip years, 86-92, I was listening to The Pretenders first four albums, The Beatles, Bowie, The Cars, Gen X and Billy Idol, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, T-Rex, The Smiths, The Smithereens, The Raspberries… I loved power pop and jangly guitars. I hated that the press was calling us a big hair metal band. Would you say the same about The Ramones or Cheap Trick?! Theyboth had long hair!… It was retarded. We were being blindly judged by the industry because of the type of bands that we were billed with, you know, because we eventually came up through that Strip scene. We had to… we had no choice.
There simply were no other bands LIKE us! It was unfair. I remember opening for this lame band Hans Naughty at the Troubadour, our first gig in L.A., September of 1986. Their ad in the Weekly said “No Glam Fags,” or something to that extent, and here we were, more fucking glam than GLAM, opening the show with our comical “Ouch-Proof” clothing, colorful enormous kindergarten style stage props, riding around on a Big Wheel with a leather jacket that had a cartoon of Sammy’s face painted on the back!
In hindsight I see now that by ’92 we had evolved to the point that if we had stayed together for just 14 more months without losing Danny, we were literally only a haircut away from beating Green Day to the punch.
8.The internet. How does it affect your life today?
I can’t imagine a life without the internet! Do you remember receiving handwritten fan mail? Actually answering fan letters with paper and a typewriter!? Sending out flyers in the mail, licking envelopes! Handing out flyers that you took to the lithographers?! I can’t get over the access we have to lyrics, recordings, and information. We were in the fucking Dark Ages until the internet!
Today, you can be in a band and be seen by anybody in the world! COLD BLUE REBELS get emails and messages and press from as far away as Russia, Chile, Japan, Indonesia, Greece, Germany, and the list goes on. Incredible! Ya know what I love? I love the fact that your readers can follow this link and go straight to a page where they can actually HEAR & SEE our band and decide to BUY a CD or a DOWNLOAD with the click of a button (shameless AMAZON plug!) BUY ME NOW How great is THAT!
9. Sammy Serious did our 20 Questions back in 2003 and sounded a little less than excited at the mention of you (and the former members of the Zeros). Any comments to reply?
I think I covered a lot about that in question 4, but I wanna say that these days I try to see the good in everyone in my life, Sammy included. I reached a point several years ago where enough time had passed that I could detach emotionally and consider working together again.
When we did the reunion shows in 2005, I had hoped we could make some kind of peace and work together to restore some dignity to and solidify our legacy. I’ve got kids now, and I’d love to be able to share stories about my past without that plaguing feeling that I had been ripped off, or knowing that I was played for a fool and had been taken advantage of, be it because of my low self-esteem issues, my alcoholism, or because I didn’t recognize someone’s selfish intentions for me as a pawn in their own game, or whatever. I wanted to be able to embrace that part of my past with a sense of accomplishment and pride, and get past the hurt. Get past the shame.
So, I put together a game plan to compile and release some CD’s of our original early recordings, unseen photos, band history, etc. You know, to focus on the work the original line-up had accomplished during and leading up to our hey-day when we were ruling the Strip and painting the Whisky A Go Go and Coconut Teaszer purple. To make a solid package that would appeal in a nostalgic way to the fan base that was out there, both old and new. AND, there was the possibility that maybe we would go in the studio to finally cut some of the great songs we co-wrote that never got recorded.
At that time I was taking inventory of the songs I had written and realized that I had 14 co-writes with Sammy that never saw the light of day. My brother had probably even more! Some titles were, “Rockin’ The City”, “Have A Purple Day”, “Can’t Wait”. These were great SONGS that would have given depth to what the Zeros were all about.
As it turned out, Sam basically dicked us around for another year, trying to control and manipulate as he had done in the past, and I finally said fuck it, I’m done.
The final nail in the coffin came this past January when he tried to stop Danny and I from using our stage names, Joe Normal and Danny Dangerous, claiming that he owned our names, and we had to cease and desist. We actually had to hire a trademark attorney to prove otherwise. I mean, come on… Then I get a text from him asking if he could come up onstage to sing a song with Cold Blue Rebels at one of our recent shows. Meanwhile I am still making payments to my attorney. How fucked is that?!
10. Sunset Strip in 2011. What does it mean to you today, compared to what it meant 20 some years ago?
I am grateful to have been a part of the Strip’s history, and always look forward to playing the Whisky, Viper, Roxy, Key Club etc. Unfortunately these days to me the Strip means restricted parking, no scene, no chicks, no originality, pay to play… a faded memory of what it once was. Today it’s a ghost town being kept alive purely because it has a legendary past. It’s basically now one of the city’s “brands” to be marketed and exploited to tourists and those who come to California with stars in their eyes. I can’t imagine another Doors, Zeros, or Motley Crue ever bringing that vitality and importance back to the Strip like it once had. I hope I am wrong.
20 years ago it was unbelievable! It was alive! A thousand kids in the streets, bands all competing to hand you a flyer, all trying to make an impression, to out-do each other to get you to their next gig. Chicks dressed up all sexy looking for rockers to party with, guys wearing make-up and flashy clothes, looking like rockstars! The Zeromobile pulling up in front of the Roxy, the punks and colored hair kids lining-up outside the Whisky to see The Zeros! I remember all these Japanese girls in the front rows at every show! There were groupies! All the bands had road crews! It was when being a band in Hollywood actually meant you had a chance to do something big. You knew you were a part of something special. And when grunge came in, you could feel it dying. You knew we were the last generation that would ever get a chance to live the rockstar/groupie/party life without actually being famous!
The Whisky-A-Go-Go all Purple courtesy of The Zeros
11. Memory Lane with these Los Angeles area Clubs. What do you recall about…
The Troubadour = Summer 1986, Bear-hugging David Lee Roth in the front bar while being blitzed outta my mind. I’m surprised his body guards let me get away with that considering I looked like a fucking drag queen with the make-up and bleached blonde hair.
Red Light District = Some bullshit band fight the night of a show there.
Gazzarri’s = “I’m Bill Gazzarri, the Godfather of Rock n Roll!” I never felt like we belonged there.
Country Club = Having our gear confiscated after our first show there for not pre-saling the tickets we were given. Fuck that shit. A lesson learned. That lesson is ‘Presale Is Wrong’. It transfers the responsibility of the promoter to the artist. That is hardly fair. We are the ENTERTAINMENT portion of the night… not the FINANCEURS.
X-Poseur 54 = Free Food.
Cathouse = Feeling like the outsider while sitting in a club for outsiders.
Whisky-A-Go-Go = Painting the mutha purple. We did a publicity photo the day they painted the building. They handed us paint rollers and in big letters we scribbled The Zeros #1, the Zeros Rule, etc, all over the front of the Whisky. The painters were late getting there to finish the job, so it sat like that all day. We got in BIG trouble for “tagging” the building, or so it seemed. So much for enjoying our 4 minutes of fame. I can laugh about it now.
The Roxy = Never had a bad gig on that stage. We were selling it out at the end. Still my very favorite venue to play on the Strip.
Coconut Teaser = Sawdust on the floor. Playing a benefit there with Guns n Roses before they were huge. Free food. We did a lot of gigs at The Teaszer. We also painted it purple!
Raji’s = It got razed. I played there a few times. Never remember being particularly enthusiastic about the opportunity to play there. It didn’t smack of the same prestige as The Roxy, The Whisky, or downtown Scream club. Nonetheless, I’m glad I can say I played there.
12. If you could kick any person in the face (with boots on) who would it be & why?
That would have to be more of an entity as opposed to a particular person. I’ve got two gripes… One, I’d say companies like Monsanto and the giant corporations that misinform about, support, lobby for, and create genetically modified foods, and the government for allowing this bullshit to continue, and Two, the pharma-corporatocracy that misinforms about, creates, distributes and enforces the toxic vaccinations our children must receive, some laden with Thimerasol and heavy metals, regardless of the statistics that say Autism is now 1 in 91 children diagnosed with the disorder. Yes, I want my child back.
13. Are you superstitious? This is question #13, If so, about what and why?
I don’t believe in bad luck. I believe in good luck, which comes from doing good things. When shit goes wrong it’s because the universe is trying to tell you something. Intuition over superstition any day!
Joe Normal, just an every day normal guy, with a guitar & sneakers
14. Joe Normal’s bucket list. Name 3 things you want to do before you die?
See my kids grow up to be good men.
Visit my father’s grave site in New Jersey.
To finally have a financially stable career as a recording artist / performer.
(Go Cold Blue Rebels!!)
Danny Dangerous & Joe Normal back in the day.
15. Word Association. We mention a name, you give us your thoughts.
Danny Dangerous = A great entertainer. A partner in crime. Keeps me in stitches laughing! He’s writing some amazing songs in the Cold Blue Rebels, as is Mickey. I hope the winning-streak never stops!
Rueben Blue = Photo Historian of the 80’s L.A. Music Scene! He came to take a shower once in ’86 at the Zeros shithole apartment! I believe he was homeless and living in the Rock City News office on Hollywood Blvd above a pizza shop. I think we got a free photo shoot outta that favor!
Ron Goudie = A good guy who believed when no one else did. Patient as all hell. Especially when it came time to do vocal tracks!
Mace = A rock n roll trudging buddy, someone who understands without having to say a word. Still a bro. The only guy I know who owned a transgender pogo stick! He actually rode that thing ONSTAGE in The Double “O” Zeros!
Mr. Insane = Multi-talented musician, songwriter, artist in his own right. A faithful brother. Compassionate. Quirky. Funny! He’s just silly “Uncle Jimmy” to my sons!
CC DeVille = The real deal. Get’s a bad rap. A good showman. I saw Poison at The Palace in ’86 and thought CC was the best part about that band.
Toy Stacy = A drinking buddy at the end of my Zeros days. Loyal, dedicated, a good bandmate. He used to make Barbeque Sauce sandwiches! How appetizing!
Howie Hubberman = The man with the vision! Howie coulda made the Zeros a household name! (If we had only let him!) A great guy to have on your side. Always there for you.
Flaky Starr = Same last name as Ringo, and he plays drums! I love Kevin!
Sammy Serious = A talented guy I once looked up to. He was a prolific writer, creating his best work during the 10 years we played together. Someone needs to help him properly preserve and exploit the legacy we created. God knows I tried.
Cold Blue Rebels live in Los Angeles
16. What are the 3 high points and 3 low points of your music career to date?
Some high points are being in COLD BLUE REBELS! I can’t say enough about this new band. I know we hit on something special that will take us farther than we ever got with The Zeros, Jetboy, and Glamour Punks combined! Other high points are recording a song with Stiv Bators, Brian James, and Nigel Harrison. Writing a song with Sammy Hagar that ultimately became the title track to his “Not 4 Sale” CD was quite a blessing. (It’s a great story folks, but you can read about it someday when I write my book). Recording and contributing to the original Howard Stern Theme Song with The Double O Zeros. That was a big deal back home in Jersey when Howard was still on WNBC AM Radio in New York in 1984. We started to become local stars on the club scene. We could’ve really capitalized on that success if we had only released a single, but blew it because Sammy didn’t want to become known for being “The Howard Stern” band. Nonetheless, I supported that decision purely from an artistic standpoint, but we definitely shot ourselves in the foot that time. The first of many bullet holes through the sneakers of Sammy Serious and Company.
Howard Stern & The Zero’s
Some low points would be coming back home to New Jersey homeless and penniless after a mostly-successful “sell-everything-to-make-it” 6 months in England with the Double O Zeros in 1985. (Some heavy drinking ensued and would last nearly two years). Having a demo deal with Atlantic Records in New York and ultimately getting rejected in ‘84. (One of the tracks, “Show Me” would end up on our “Be A Zero” EP; One of Sammy’s best songs, if you ask me). Recording the entire 4,3,2,1 record for Pasha Records/Total Chaos and having the deal fall apart after the basic tracks were finished. (I actually saved the original guitar strings and picks I used for those sessions, thinking someday I’d be auctioning them for mega bucks. I still have ‘em. Any bidders!?) Not playing music anymore with my brother since 1999 is quite a bummer, too. (I’ve learned to accept that we have separate paths to follow. It’s actually been healthy for our relationship, too). Having a nervous breakdown and being disgusted with the music business, quitting it altogether, and not being able to listen to the radio or music in general for nearly two years without it affecting me negatively from 2003-2005. I’m glad that’s behind me. It feels great to be impassioned and inspired about music and the guitar again!
17. Break bread with the dead. Name 3 dead celebs you’d love to have dinner with?
18 .If you had to dye your hair daily again for the rest of your life what color would it be outside of purple?
Black, black, and non-more black! Really I’m just grateful to have any hair left after all the abuse it’s been through! I may be resorting to a reverse Mohawk soon!
19. How much money in your pocket RIGHT NOW (change included)?
I’m wearing pajamas! But there’s a wad of singles on the desk in front of me. About $45.00.
The original Double 0 Zero’s.
20. The last of Joe Normal….Last time you got pulled over by the Cops = Shit! On my birthday last year, March 11, 2010.
Last time you had purple hair = around November 1992. Thank God that’s over! It was purple for 6 years!
Last concert you watched from the crowd = Glamour Punks reunion show at the Viper Room this month.
Last fast food drive thru you hit = Taco Bell!
Last time you broke a guitar string = last Saturday (6 days ago).
Last famous person who called your phone = Sammy Hagar.
Last time you felt betrayed = See last paragraph of Question 9.
Last time you laced up knee high Converse = Ha! At a Zeros Reunion show 2005 at the Whisky.
Last type of cereal you ate = Probably the hemp crunch from Trader Joes.
Last time you cried = I’m not ashamed of crying anymore since I read last night that a hero of mine, Carl Perkins, regularly cried. Hence, I’ll admit that I felt a tear when I received an award this evening for my work with Autistic kids. A cause close to my heart.
LINKS:CD’s at AMAZON: go HERE
HOME PAGE: http://www.ColdBlueRebels.comVIDEOS: http://www.YouTube.com/ColdBlueRebels
CBR on iTUNES: http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/cold-blue-rebels/id378907622
We wanna thank Joe Normal for his interview. We implore you to support Cold Blue Rebels!
Cold Blue Sludge