SLASH PUPPET - The Long End Of The Wishbone
September 11, 2007, 10 years ago
Legend (definition): “A romanticized or popularized myth of modern times; anyone or anything whose fame promises to be enduring.”
See: Slash Puppet.
If the above comes across as obnoxious ass-kissing fanboyism, it’s worth knowing that Toronto’s Slash Puppet is one of the very few bar bands on the planet that can boast a loyal international fan following 12 years after its death.
Formed in 1989, Slash Puppet quickly became a fixture on the local club circuit in Toronto and the surrounding area, pegged as the Next Big Thing out of Canada by many industry insiders. Sadly, after only one official release – a self-titled EP in 1993 on Fringe Records – things began to fall apart, eventually coming to an end in 1995. The grunge-era had effectively smothered yet another ‘80s hair band, but unlike many small time casualties of that day and age the Slash Puppet name would live on in the hearts and minds of fans the world over. Fans that had only ever heard a handful of songs from the band, most of them having never seen Slash Puppet perform live.
Fast forward to 2007. Word began circulating early in the year that Australian label Suncity Records would be issuing a “new” Slash Puppet album tentatively titled Slash Puppet II. Curiosity piqued, BW&BK; tracked down frontman Anthony Mifsud, better known simply as Mif, to find out the truth behind what was quite obviously the work of a chain-yanking prankster, only to discover the news was indeed on the level. Several emails and months later we hooked up over lunch at the Rivoli on Queen Street in Toronto to discuss the how and why of Slash Puppet’s enduring legacy.“It’s strange, because this thing was dormant for about 12 or 13 years,” says Mif, as charismatic as he ever was. “I guess this all started because I was partying one night, woke up in the morning and I was bored, so I put the band name through Google – I’d never even thought about doing that before then. What precipitated that was a phone call from Pete Dove (original Slash Puppet bassist) to inform me of what was happening on MuchMusic, who had started playing the old ‘Slow Down’ video (from 1991) again. It was in medium rotation at the time and had been for about a year; some guy in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia had called in asking them to play some Slash Puppet and Much dug it out of the archives. Anyway, all kinds of shit starts coming up on Google. It was a great feeling seeing all these positive articles and reviews so many years after the fact, but then I started seeing Slash Puppet stuff on eBay. Some guy out of Wisconsin was selling three brand new copies of the six song EP and got $129.00, $149.00 and $189.00 American for them. In that order. I was blown away, and then I began thinking I should get into this somehow. I started checking out the buyer profiles just out of curiosity, thinking they’d be buyers from Canada and the States. Fuck man, I’m looking at Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Germany… I’m looking at Azerbaijan for fuck sake. I was wondering what the fuck was going on (laughs).”
“A few weeks later, completely coincedental, our drummer Franklin (Wyles) got a phone call from his guitar player’s girlfriend – he’s in a band called The Cronics doing originals and cover tunes – asking about Slash Puppet. Some guy out of Australia was talking about wanting to put some stuff out. I met up with the rest of the Slash Puppet guys and asked them what they wanted to do because we had material that was just collecting dust, and it never had an official worldwide release in the first place. We got talking to the Australian label, Suncity Records, and the whole legal side of things ended up in my lap, so the band and I had a meeting. We drew up a list of things they felt we needed to accomplish, we went into negotiations, and I’ve got to be honest they’ve (Suncity Records) been bang on. We’d been burned before, so I told the guys I didn’t want any interference, and we worked out a good deal.”
The “new” Slash Puppet CD, released on September 3rd, is entitled No Strings Attached and features the first eight songs Slash Puppet put out on the cassette known as The Demo from 1989. Fans from back in the day will be familiar with the material, such as barroom brawl favourites ‘Evil Woman’, ‘Some Kind O’ Lady’ and ‘Squeeze It In’.“Before we got down to discussing contracts there was talk on Suncity’s part about calling it Slash Puppet II,” Mif reveals, “but the premise there would be that the band is coming back, which it’s not. The idea of doing some reunion shows is open, but the band right now is not coming back and we don’t want to mislead anyone.”
Mif doesn’t dismiss the possibility of comeback outright, however.“I wouldn’t say the band has no intention of coming back, but as it stands right now it’s not a priority. I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. If it goes to radio and people start going mental, who knows? When we had the deal with Suncity sewn up and the conversations about the reunion thing got to the point where it went from ‘I don’t know if we can do this…’ a year ago to ‘Well, if we don’t go on tour..,’ so I think the guys could be convinced, but we’ve all got so much going on in our own lives that dropping everything for the band isn’t realistic. I told Franklin straight up, though, that I don’t know what’s going to happen with this, but if it hits radio in Europe and does well I’d take four other guys to tour for it if they don’t want to. For me it’s an integrity thing, though. I’d like to have at least three of the five members on board for something like that.”
Sadly, if and when there is a Slash Puppet reunion it won’t include guitarist Lou Garscadden, who passed away on August 4th, 2001 at the age of 36. Mif sheds as much light as he can on the situation.“So far as we know, it was due to a heart attack. I remember his family telling us that Lou had come home one evening around 5:00pm or 5:30pm to his grandmother's place where he was residing at the time, told his grandmother that he was going straight to bed as he was feeling a little run down that day, only to have his grandmother find him deceased in bed the next morning. The word spread around like wildfire as all the guys in Slash Puppet and myself rallied to make sure that all of his friends and associates knew. His funeral was packed to capacity and the service was heartfelt, not a dry eye in the house as his coffin was escorted out of the chapel to the Slash Puppet song 'Hitch A Ride (On A Train)'. Ironically apropos if anyone is familiar with the lyrics about a journeyman always trying to find his peaceful place in the world. Canada and the rock 'n' roll world lost a true talent verging upon legend by my estimation when Lou passed away, and he will always be sorely missed by his friends, family and bandmates, and always remembered. Believe me when I say, Louie was one of the finest guitar players in Canada if not the world. He was definitely one of the most charismatic Canadian artists and personalities out there. This guy lived and breathed rock 'n' roll, he was the real deal, and had Slash Puppet not been side swiped by the whole grunge thing and had made it to loftier hights, Lou Garscadden as well as Bart (guitarist Frank Bartoletti) would have been iconic guitar players and international guitar heroes. No doubt in my mind!”
Mif looks back on Slash Puppet’s heyday with a sense of accomplishment. There’s no hint of bitterness or disappointment as he reflects on the past.“We may have shot ourselves in the foot at times because we really stuck to our guns, and this band built a rapport with the fans on its own for its own. In the long run maybe it was good that we didn’t get involved with a major record label. We tried a big manager - Ray Daniels, for Christ sake, the manager for Rush and Van Halen – thinking something big was going to come of that, but it didn’t pan out. Had we met Ray two years prior to that, before the Seattle scene kicked in, things might have been different for Slash Puppet..”
“It used to be a knock back in the day when you had a diverse sound,” Mif adds. “We had a guy from Sony Records come to see us after a show and he asked me who wrote the music for Slash Puppet. I told them it was a band thing and he didn’t like that. He asked me, ‘Who are you guys, Metallica or The Black Crowes?’ because Sony was looking for that AC/DC one sound package. Don’t get me wrong; I love that, but I can’t do that. I’ve got so many different genres of music flowing through my veins. I told him, ‘With all due respect, we’re not Metallica and we’re not the fucking Black Crowes. We’re Slash Puppet.’ You came to see us and you’d hear ‘Rippin’ On A Wishbone’, prior to that you’d hear ‘Slow Down’, so you’d have no problem hearing ‘Hitch A Ride (On A Train)’, which was a power fucking country tune. That was Slash Puppet.”
Since his departure from the band in 1995, Mif has made a name for himself as a film and television actor. But, he makes no bones about the fact that “when the Slash Puppet thing started happening again the blood started boiling. I’m actually chomping at the bit to get out and do a show.”
The fact of the matter is, Mif never left music behind.“The acting thing kicked started for real in ’98. I’ve done films, television, HBO TV, and it’s great; I sign a contract, I work, I get paid. People may not know this, though, but I had a band after Slash Puppet under the name THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) from about ’96 to ’98. We weren’t aware there was an industrial band out of the States on Cleopatra Records out there at the time when we did the name search. The person who did the search for us fucked up real bad, but it didn’t matter because THD fizzled pretty quick. It was a very progressive metal thing and people loved it. Sonically it could have been better, but we were guinea pigs for a brand new studio. We were able to do the album on spec because they were breaking it in. We toured a bit in the U.S and Europe but it was the wrong sound at the wrong time.”
And while acting is what pays the bills these days, Mif is back to making music thanks to the creation of No Strings Attached. His new band, currently sporting a name that is sheer genius but has to remain secret for the time being, has developed to a point where Mif sees a definite possibility of unleashing it on the masses.“The guys in Slash Puppet are resistant about doing a whole new record, so I’m doing something with a couple guys and we’ve got seven or eight songs in the can,” he reveals. “They’re eclectic, but many of them are still in the metal vein. There’s a Euro-rock power tune, and an anti-war song tentatively called ‘The Big Smoke’ with a big Slash Puppet type chorus, there’s a ballad. It’s very cool music and I’m really excited about it. Where this is going, who knows? I’m looking at it as a band with plans of releasing a new record.”
“I’d love for Rich Chycki (Rush, James LaBrie, Aerosmith) to produce this record,” he adds. “He’s fucking phenomenal and God bless him. I would never hesitate to work with him because he saved the Slash Puppet EP, and that’s on the record. The first producer we had made it sound way too Bryan Adams, the drums were too splashy, and it wasn’t powerful at all. We got into Metalworks with Rich, he remixed the whole thing, and made it what it is. I had a little dilemma with Rich over the Slash Puppet masters, which was unfortunate because at the time I was the only guy that made an effort to come up with the money that was owed to him. Back then I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, so I gave him as much as I could and eventually paid him out. I’m hoping that bridge is now repaired because I’d like to approach him if I need a producer. From what I’ve heard we’re all good, which is comforting for me.”
Mif considers the question as to how far he believes he can take his new project, or Slash Puppet for that matter. He’s one of the old guard and times have changed since he and his band had the world, or at least a corner of it, by the balls. Does he see a place for himself and his bandmates on the current metal scene?“Music is cyclical,” he offers, “and I think we’ve progressed to a point now, especially with the media and the internet, to where metal, glam, hard rock, whatever you want to call it, has taken its rightful place back. There used to be this resistance to metal, but it can’t be ignored anymore because there are so many ways and avenues for people to access what they want to hear. In Canada, for example, we’ve always been told what we have to listen to with the 30% Canadian content rule for radio, and how much of that was metal? Not much. Now it’s wide open, and we’re in a time and place in the world where anything goes musically again.”