Hollywood’s Swingin’ Thing reunite 20+ years later.
"When I left (Detroit) my family didn’t even know. 2 months later, I called said I was in LA.
They were like; “OK, when are you going to college?” Guitarist Sunny Phillips
FORMER SUNSET STRIP LEGENDS SWINGIN’ THING REFORM FOR ONE SPECIAL NIGHT
After more than 20 years, the former kings of the Sunset Strip are scheduled to play Saturday at the Roxy in Hollywood with Blackboard Jungle, Glamour Punks and Fizzy Bangers.
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
HOLLYWOOD – Looking back, Swingin’ Thing might have been the best Los Angeles band from back in the day that never sold millions of records, because God knows they certainly should have.
Swingin’ Thing was that good.
Fans used to flock to the Roxy, the Whisky and Gazzarri’s for heavily-anticipated Swingin’ Thing concerts, as capacity crowds could not get enough of the famed fivesome consisting of singer Paul E. Bardot, guitarists Chris Penketh and Sunny Phillips, bassist Henry Kelly and drummer Michael Penketh. With a great rock n’ roll attitude, irresistible choruses, ahead-of-the-pack musicianship and an over-the-top image that saw the boys looking like platinum rock stars even though they did not have a dollar to their name, Swingin’ Thing were kings of the Sunset Strip.
So what happened? Cruel fate, I suppose. Looking back, Danger Danger and Slaughter were the last ones from the old scene to make it big, but Swingin’ Thing was 10 times better than both. It’s a sad reality, one of Rock’s great mysteries why this band was never among the biggest in the world.
Swingin’ Thing signed briefly with Hollywood Records just as grunge was taking over, and as things turned out, the band forever remained one lucky break from stardom.
But now, finally, there is more than simply great memories for all of us aging fans. The famed Glam band is reuniting for the first time in 20 years for one night on Saturday, June 2, joining the bill with Blackboard Jungle, Glamour Punks and Fizzy Bangers at the Roxy in what figures to be a triumphant return to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood where it all started.
Metal Sludge’s very own Gerry Gittelson, among the first to champion Swingin’ Thing a generation ago, caught up with guitarists Penketh and Phillips, and between the three of us, we could barely control their enthusiasm for what figures to be an historic night on Sunset Boulevard.
SLUDGE: So let me get this straight: After all these years, Swingin’ Thing is getting back together for a reunion show at the Roxy? This is really going to happen?
Sunny Phillips: Oh yeah, it’s great. We’re having a good time, it’s been a long time. I never thought it would happen. It kind of fell into place.
Chris Penketh: It’s been nothing but tons of love and respect. This stuff has started to be dug up, and we didn’t realize what we had. I hadn’t seen Paul Bardot in 15 years. He has his family in Colorado, so there were just a few contacts here and there, doing a few different deals over the years like Demon Doll Records and that whole thing.
SLUDGE: So looking back, what happened? I am still shaking my head to this day. Why wasn’t Swingin’ Thing a massive success?
Phillips: Well, you know, it was weird. The whole market changed, hip hop broke, Nirvana broke. If we were all born a couple of years earlier, I think we would have had a real shot. Once we got signed, we saw the writing on the wall. It was get-out-quick-before-it’s-too-late, and if you got a deal in 1990 or 1991, it wasn’t something positive.
Penketh: I remember Warrant singer Jani Lane, rest in peace, wanted to buy one of our songs, “Groove of Love,” Erik Turner and I still talk all the time. I saw Warrant with Skid Row just recently. Anyway, yeah, I remember Jani wanted to buy “Groove of Love,” and I was like, “No way, no way.” That would have been a hit.
SLUDGE: And “Groove of Love” wasn’t even your best song. That was your TENTH best song.
Penketh: Yeah there were so many songs. My wife Kayla is a porn star, she didn’t know anything about Swingin’ Thing, but we were on the red carpet one night for one of her events, and one of the photographers, this lady, I guess she recognized me from Swingin’ Thing back in the day and started freaking out. My wife was like, “What’s going on.” I guess she didn’t know we were the kings of the Sunset Strip!
But that was then, and this now. One thing I will say as far as the whole glam thing going kaput. The songs no one ever got a chance to hear, there were some really good songs, and not just from us. Those songs were really good.
As far as doing this reunion thing, it’s taken a while to get our shit together. It took a little while for Paul to commit, but now it’s OK. It’s cool. It’s all coming back. We’ve been rehearsing.
Henry/Bass, Sunny/Guitar, Chris/Guitar, Michael/Drums, Paul/Vocals
SLUDGE: How does it sound?
Penketh: The rehearsals sound awesome. It was weird, the first time in 15 years I’m just a guitar player again and not the singer.
SLUDGE: Any regrets? I’m assuming so. (laughs)
Phillips: Back then, we signed as Swingin’ Thing and changed to The Things, and that was how it went down. A month into the deal, we’re in the studio cutting demos, and the A & R guy, the president, the one who signed us, they all got fired.
There was talk our first single was going to be on the “Encino Man” soundtrack, and we demoed this song, “All For the Love of Rock N’ Roll,” a cover from a band called the Darts, and it never made it. Everything seemed to stop, and there was no talk with the label because everyone was fired. The “Encino Man” song got shelved, and the next thing we know, we’re showcasing for the new president of the label and the new A & R guy, I forget his name but he was totally into grunge. They let loose like 10 to 15 bands. We made the cut until the very end, but eventually they cut us loose.
I guess you could say it was bad luck, bad timing. Like I said, By the time we were signed, the scene was changing.
SLUDGE: That’s just so sad. Swingin’ Thing had so many good songs.
Phillips: Yeah, they songs still sound really good. Good memories. The whole set brings back a lot of memories.
SLUDGE: What are those memories?
Phillips: Just following your dreams, living the life, being in a popular band in Hollywood, and the whole lifestyle. It was awesome. There was nothing better. Coming from Michigan, where nothing ever changes, Hollywood was a dream come true. We knew what we wanted, and we instantly starting going up.
Penketh: Me and Sunny grew up together. We’re like blood brothers. Henry was from Michigan, too, we jammed together.
Phillips: I was 19 years old. Chris and I did the couch tour. We’d walk out onto the streets with our bags and nowhere to go. We had to leave one place with some other girls, then stay with different girls for two weeks or maybe two months.
Speaking of memories. Check the Swingin’ Thing profile page from Hollywood Rocks.
This is from 1990. Click HERE to see it larger & read the whacky stuff the guys wrote.
SLUDGE: Was it rough not having a real job back then, wondering where your next meal was coming from?
Penketh: Are you kidding me? It was like that for seven years. It was a couch tour with the usual rotation. God, I’ve lived with Chuck from Fizzy Bangers, all the Fizzy guys, Christian from the Brats, so many others. I remember once, I finally found someone who gave me a place with my own room, or maybe I got the couch instead of the floor, and two days later there’s Michael at the door with everyone else, and I’m like, “Fuck, there goes that.” I thought I could get two months out of that deal, not two weeks. I remember me and Sunny, we had our bags pack, dropped off on the Sunset Strip at Martel Street with nowhere to go, sitting out there with the suitcase that I still have to this day, by the way, and we look at each other and go, “Where to now?”
Just then, a car pulls up, and it’s some Japanese girl fans, and they’re like, “Oh, do you need a place to stay? You can come stay with us!”
Another time, I’m drunk at night with no place to go, I hear a noise, climb a tree to see what’s going on, and there’s Christian and Bam and a few others, and they asked what I was doing. I told them I needed a place to stay, and all of sudden, they’re like: “It’s OK. Just stay here. It’s cool.”
Sunny and I were always looking for a home, a new place to stay. Michael, he pretty much always had his shit together, and Henry, too, he always had a home. I remember hangin’ out with Michael Michelle, the original singer from Alley Cat Scratch, he and I lived throughout the whole town of Hollywood. We were like brothers in that way. We just went everywhere together, the same places. Hollywood was like a family with the Glamour Punks, Blackboard Jungle. I also remember hanging out a lot of Wikked Gypsy. They had some great songs.
Chris Penketh on meeting girls years later on in life: "I’m like, “Who are you?”
And the girl is like, “Dude, you lived with me for two years!”
SLUDGE: And Big Bang Babies, of course.
Penketh: Oh yeah, Phil, Charlie, Kit Ashley, whatever he is calling himself these days.
SLUDGE: He will always be Kit Ashley to me.
Penketh: Yeah, I used to hang out with the Big Bang Babies guys all the time. Then years later I went to see Alice Cooper and saw Keri Kelli playing guitar, and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Fuck, that guy got good.”
SLUDGE: Keri Kelli was always good. He was good back then, too.
Penketh: Yeah, I don’t remember.
SLUDGE: Before you got signed, how big was Swingin’ Thing at its biggest?
Penketh: We played the Roxy two nights in row We went to Japan, and it was awesome to walk into stores in Tokyo and they’re playing your music — that was awesome, doing signings at record stores. I remember when I was kid, I used to watch the Partridge Family on TV, and I remember saying that I would never run from a horde of girls, that I would sit in the middle of it if it ever came to the point where they were chasing me, trying to get a piece of my clothes or a lock of my hair. But this time, when it came down to it, I did actually run.
But the funny thing is — and I’ve talked to Mandy from the Glamour Punks and Kenny from Blackboard Jungle about this — back then, when all of us were selling out the Roxy and having these big shows on the Sunset Strip, all I remember was sweating it out backstage, worrying if there were enough people to fill the place. I was always so nervous I couldn’t enjoy it.
Then, fast forward, I would meet girls later on who told me, “Oh, you guys were so cool.” All these chicks, and I’m like: “Why didn’t you tell me back then. Why didn’t you tell me cause I would have loved to fuck you. You should have said something.” (laughs)
So weird. It’s a trip. But the truth is, we did make an impact on Hollywood, and Swingin’ Thing will go down in history, and that’s awesome because I never thought of it that way. Those were good times. It was a good, happy scene, and I did appreciate it. I mean, here I am, doing another interview with Gerry “G-Spot” Gittelson, just like the old times, just like back in the day with Rock City News.
SLUDGE: Well, it’s good to reconnect, Chris. Keeping in theme with the old Gerry G-Spot style of questions, then, do you ever bump into old groupies from back in the day, the ones you did fuck, and as you’re reconnecting, you kind of put it together and slowly realize you had sex with them?
Penketh: Oh, all the time. I’m like, “Wait, who is this girl? Oh yeah, I slept with her.” That happens all the time, plus my wife doesn’t care. She does porn, so what is she going to say? (laughs) I forget all the time. I’m like, “Who are you?” And the girl is like, “Dude, you lived with me for two years!” But for some reason, I don’t remember.
Phillips: Everything was pretty crazy, especially when we had nowhere to we go, but there was always a scene, so there was always someone to help you out, and that was the best part about the whole thing. It’s NOT like that today.
An old Swingin’ Thing ad for a gig @ "Coconut Teaser" August 1992
SLUDGE: Swingin’ Thing had great songs, too. Do you remember “Avenue Boys.”
Penketh: Oh yeah, “Avenue Boys” was one of the first ones. That song reminds me of our first demo, driving home listening to it after we first recorded it, just cranking it up and going, “Fuck, this sounds awesome.” That was our first professional demo, and I was so stoked to have a professional recording. That song reminds me of going through all our pictures, sitting on the floor. We’re going to play that one on Saturday.
Phillips: Looking back, yeah, “Avenue Boys,” that’s Swingin’ Thing. Changing the name from Swingin’ Thing to The Things, that was our biggest mistake. We were really into being Swingin’ Thing, but once we signed with Hollywood Records, what choice did we have?
SLUDGE: What about “Let’s Do it With the Lights on.” Great song.
Penketh: Yeah, that was a song that Paul had brought in. That one reminds me of being in our place in Van Nuys. When Paul brought that song, I was like, “Fuck, that’s a great song.”
SLUDGE: Do you notice the risqué themes with all of these songs. “Let’s Do it With the Lights on,” “Groove of Love,” “Coconut Cream,” etc. Even the band name, Swingin’ Thing, a lot of double entrendres.
Phillips: Well, you know, were were young lads with very hyperactive libidos, and we expressed ourselves through music.
The name Swingin’ Thing is actually about a girl, it’s a song about a girl, so there you go.
Penketh: Yeah, “Coconut Cream.” I remember finishing that one up in the studio, because the lyrics were not finished, and Nirvana was doing their album next door.
SLUDGE: And “On The Run.” That was your hit single waiting to happen.
Penketh: Yeah, I think Sunny and I wrote that in Michigan. It has the same basic chords as every hit ballad did back in the day. (laughs). The people enjoyed that one, along with “Avenue Boys” and “Let’s Do it With the Lights on.” And “I Want Your Body” and “Groove of Love.”
Paul on the set of the bands official video for "All That Glitters" on youtube.
SLUDGE: Why did it end? What happened?
Penketh: I have to be careful about what I say, but there were drug issues, me and Paul doing a lot of drugs. We go through times, and me and Paul went through them, and we drank a lot.
Everyone dabbles, I guess, with drugs, and I did a lot of drinking. I really can’t say, other than there were different views, so we decided to split. I started doing my own stuff, more punk rock stuff. Mike was in Jet 68 and got signed, plus he signed with some other band with Kenny from Blackboard Jungle. I think Mike has had three record deals.
SLUDGE: What do you do now, Chris?
Penketh: I train animals for movies, exotic and domestic. I did the Britney Spears video, the Steven Tyler video, a lot of movies. Dogs and tigers and birds.
SLUDGE: Have you been bit?
Penketh: Oh yeah. Lots of times.
SLUDGE: What was the bloodiest?
Penketh: Actually, it was a little Chihuahuadog. I’ve been bitten by a tiger, but this little dog shredded my hand. Everyone was like, “Are you OK?” It was a bloody mess.
SLUDGE: I remember you guys took rehearsals very seriously back then. More so than most bands.
Penketh: Oh we did. We used to rehearse every single, even on Easter Sunday. We didn’t care.
SLUDGE: Was it frustrating working so hard for no pay?
Penketh:Yeah, we couldn’t get a job. People used to ask me why I didn’t have a job, but we couldn’t. I had to rehearse. We didn’t have any money, but, looking back, it was kind of the same way with a lot of bands I admired that never really broke it big, financially — bands like Ramones and Iggy and Black Flag. They all had no real money but still went down in history. All I really wanted was to be in a band that’s remembered. Others might have multi-platinum albums, but I just wanted to make my mark. And I think we had that. We made history, and that’s what I’m most proud of.
SLUDGE: Did you ever break down and call your parents to send you a check?
Penketh: Oh, I’m sure I complained about money a lot but my parents weren’t super wealthy. They were middle class. Of course, they used to tell me I needed a backup plan. My dad was very responsible, he wasn’t the gambling type. Fast forward, I remember telling everyone to buy stock in Sirius radio just when Howard Stern was signing on. I was up like $50k or $60k, and I told some people, told some producer friends, and they all made money, and my dad did it, but I think he only made like nine dollars (laughs).
Swingin’ Thing became The Things
SLUDGE: You all used to have such beautiful long hair.
Penketh: Yeah I know. Henry has been growing his out, and Sunny too, for the show. They’re purposely not cutting their hair, and Mike, too. I have a Mohawk.
SLUDGE: And you were always so skinny, especially you and Paul.
Penketh: Yeah, too skinny. Paul has really filled out. He and I were in the thin competition together. That’s because between us we didn’t have a dime to eat, but we always drank for free. I remember me and the Glamour Punks, we used to hang at Rock N Roll Ralphs, the grocery store on Sunset Boulevard, and collect the shopping carts in the parking lot so we could eat a 25-cent burrito, a big one. That was our secret, we never told anyone of course. We also used to scour each other’s apartments, looking for change. “Oh wow, I found a dime!”
Swingin’ Thing in May 2012 @ rehearsals. Paul, Henry, Chris, Michael & Sunny
SLUDGE: So of all the Swingin’ Thing guys, who is the most successful today in the real world?
Penketh: I’m not sure because it doesn’t just depend on money, but it’s more about being the person you’ve always wanted to be. I count my blessings, I’ve done so much. I just turned 42, and I’m just warming up. My brother, Mike, he works at Disney in development of cartoons. He green lights Disney animation, and that’s a pretty cool job.
We’re just all looking forward to this show at the Roxy. It’s going to be awesome. I’m trying to get in shape a little bit, so I’m doing my thing.
Flyer for June 2nd show @ "The Roxy" Hollywood