Written by Andy Nystrom. Originally posted on There’s Something Hard in There
As a teen in 1985, I’d been a fan of Mad Parade’s debut album, but had never seen the band play live.
However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t witness vocalist Billy Ledges “perform.” While attending a record show in Anaheim, Calif., he was selling punk vinyl at his table and broke out into an impromptu chorus of an Undertones song: “Jump Boys, oooh, Jump Boys,” he sang while standing on a chair when someone asked him about the fab Northern Ireland band.
Just brilliant, I thought, and shook my head and smiled.
[My wife] Cat and I finally saw Mad Parade, which formed in West Covina in 1982, at the Cactus Club in San Jose with 999 in 2000. I sang along, yelled out song requests from the crowd and was probably a nuisance, but that’s punk rock, right?
I spoke with guitarist Joey Kelly afterward and told the above tale about his older brother’s record-show performance. We both chuckled as we strolled backstage to hang out with the guys from 999, who I and several others joined onstage that night to sing backup vocals on “Homicide.”
Also that night, I purchased Mad Parade’s “God Bless America” CD, which is a solid offering of old-school, English-style punk rock with a Southern California flair that gets me going every time I spin it.
Mad Parade is back in the game, folks, with a new sterling 45 on Hostage Records: “The Fool” and “Lovers and Strangers.” And another slab o’ 7-inch vinyl is on the way. (Along with Ledges and Kelly, the band consists of Mike Sosa on drums, Stevo on bass and Danny Tessier on guitar.)
I caught up with Ledges, 53, by phone on Thursday night and here’s the lowdown on Mad Parade and his punk-rock life.
What were some of your early musical influences that pushed you to start a band?
See, I’m an older guy, so pre-punk, I’ve always liked Alice Cooper, David Bowie and that stuff, but I always figured those guys were so out of touch because it seemed like they dropped down from stars.
So it wasn’t until ’76 when (I first heard) punk rock, I’m like, you know what’s great about this music? I figured, not only is it great, I never heard music like this before, but I could do this, too. Before that stuff came out, I was in different bands, we were doing covers of songs that I couldn’t even sing if I wanted to, not that I was particularly thrilled to sing: “Rock and Roll,” KISS or whatever. I thought to myself, ‘Alice Cooper’s great and everything,’ but I remember buying, especially the ‘Bollocks,’ I got that home and my life changed. The music, there was a feeling of camaraderie, everybody’s accepted and I like that a lot. So I was instantly attracted to that, and from that point on, I stopped doing covers and I talked to my little brother, who was still even younger than I: ‘Dude, we gotta get a band together’ … and Mad Parade started from there.
It was supposed to be, pretty much more English stuff than anything else because that’s we first heard. I was buying all kinds of stuff, but I was really a fan of the Pistols, the Clash, The Damned, Generation X, Vibrators, Sham 69, UK Subs, all that stuff. And I also liked LA stuff, the NY stuff, basically I just liked the whole thing about it — it made me feel like, ‘This is mine; my ship has come in.’ (laughs)
Unlike the music before punk rock, it was kind of like going to concerts, everything was so far away and it was so separated. And punk rock was right up in your face, and you could see these bands at the Whisky… right there, sweating. I thought it was great.
What was the first punk gig that you went to?
Let me think, let me think, let me think … (not his first, but…) You wanna hear something funny? In ’79, I saw the Ramones open up for Black Sabbath, I kid you not. That was crazy, man! All those hippies and it was at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino over here, and the Ramones couldn’t get through five songs.
But shows that actually lasted, probably at the Whisky, I saw the Dead Kennedys and Sham 69, I took my little brother to that. I went to the Whisky every weekend, saw Stiff Little Fingers, whatever was playing, they’d have a bunch of great frickin’ bands… Magazine, the Lurkers. You got to see a lot of the LA bands because they would open up for these English bands.
Speaking of the new 7-inch, tell me about those new songs, lyrically and musically what they mean to you.
‘The Fool’ and ‘Lovers and Strangers’ … I haven’t written anything for Mad Parade for a while, so when I was working on it, it’s like a whole new (thing). It kind of reminds me of stuff I’ve done in the past, it has that bite and everything, I just felt it kind of came naturally.
‘The Fool,’ that song is just about basically, sometimes considering all the things that are going on in the world today — just like back when I wrote ‘Court Jester’ years ago — sometimes perhaps it’s better to be a little foolish, because if you take yourself too serious … I’ve done that before.
And ‘Lovers and Strangers’ … it’s like that one line, morphine and alcohol, which is a really bad combination, so it’s like a relationship that doesn’t make sense — you shouldn’t be with this person, whether it be a guy and a girl or a band or whatever the situation. Sometimes that person that you’re supposed to be closest to can be a complete stranger, even though it might be your parent.
How does it feel to be still be putting out some tunes here under the Mad Parade banner?
It feels great. It was weird because we got approached to do it from Hostage Records and it kind of came out of nowhere. I heard it from our original bass player, and I was like ‘Yeah, right,’ I thought he was just jerking around. We hadn’t put anything out since ‘Bombs and the Bible,’ which was in 2004.
I realized one thing — that I’m not crazy about nostalgia, however, I will say this: I’m trying to have a more open mind about it, because if a band, all you do is continue to play stuff that you wrote years ago and you’re not creating anything new, you kind of become a cover version of your own band. If you’re gonna do something, make it worthwhile, especially if you’re gonna go out of your way and (record).
It’s good to keep it fresh and still know that you can go out there and do it and still make an impact, and it sounds like you’re in a good spot right now.
Before the recording, we were playing these shows and I was kind of thinking to myself, ‘Ahh, this is alright and everything, but it’s kind of redundant.’ So, I told my brother, if we’re gonna do this, we gotta keep writing songs. (Editor’s note: He’s got plenty of song ideas to offer that he’s been working on all along.)
The two songs that I heard on that 45 sound driving and it’s got your guys’ signature sound, but it’s taken it a step further and that’s how you’re gonna be able to thrive nowadays without just relying on the old tunes.
Exactly. Those songs ‘The Fool’ and ‘Lovers and Strangers,’ when you put them next to ‘Sex and Violence’ or ‘Horror Show’… it makes those songs better because you’re not just repeating something that you’ve done over and over — you’re bringing something new to the thing. Obviously, when we put our minds to it, we can still kick up and racket and make it sound pretty good. So let this be an example, and I’m just glad that it happened that way.
What did punk rock mean to you in the early days and what does it mean to you now?
So much. I felt like I had no direction, I was young at the time when it came out and it was like I had this feeling … and I still get this feeling, if it’s done right, that the music basically spoke to me in a sense that said, ‘Hey, we accept everybody. Come over and hang out with us. We’ll take the misfits, we’ll take the rejects, the square pegs in the round holes.’ Whatever it might be. It was welcoming.