Penetrators Make Good on 'Bad Woman'
“Some people my age have moved on to golf or $2,000 watches and Cadillacs, or whatever they do at my age,” Penetrators frontman Jack “Penetrator” Lipton, 53, says, “but I’m still 18 at heart.”
Lipton, along with co-founder/guitarist Eliot “Spike” Kagan, is the backbone of the Penetrators, a band revered by a cult following of garage-rock and punk fans alike. The band released its new album, “Bad Woman,” on April 12 on independent Slovenly Records, marking the first time Lipton and Kagan had recorded together in more than 15 years.
The band has more than 30 years of recording history to back the new album up, having released its first single, “Gotta Have Her,” in 1976.
Lipton reminisced that he and Kagan hit it off in 1968, while they were in the eighth grade at Jamesville-Dewitt High School, and bonded over the Rolling Stones. After high school, they went to different colleges – Lipton to Syracuse University and Kagan to Hamilton College, a short drive down Interstate Highway 90. The two stayed in touch as Lipton became one of a cast of regulars to record music with Kagan in the studio he built in his parents’ basement -- Cheese Studios.
“When Eliot and I got together, it was always second-rate Rolling Stones,” Lipton joked. “It’s always Rolling Stones-based.”
When the Penetrators released its first single, Lipton said punk rock and new wave were booming, so he and Kagan developed a name for their new label, Fred Records, and devised a scheme to “cash in” on the latest fashion by branding the outer sleeve of the record with a stamp exclaiming, “Syracuse New Wave!”
“We’re going to jump on this punk bandwagon and we’re going to ride it,” Lipton said, recalling the “marketing” ploy. He admits, however, that the band didn’t change its sound to adapt to the punk environ, because it still employed its Stones worship.
The ploy worked; the Syracuse New Times proclaimed as the headline in an article about the band, “Watch Out for the Penetrators.”
Lipton and Kagan soon formed a live band that featured bassist Paul Bawol and drummer Curtis Seals, and played the local scene, spewing forth hits such as “Teenage Lifestyle,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Face,” and “#1 Band in Town.”
The Penetrators were put on hiatus in 1985, when, Lipton said, music took a backseat to his wife, kids, bills and responsibility. The band’s singles were packaged together in a compilation on Venus Records in 1988 called, “Kings of Basement Rock,” bringing Lipton and Kagan’s “noise” to a new wave of fans, but it was still only on a grass-roots level.
In 1998, the Penetrators’ “Teenage Lifestyle” was featured on the popular punk-rock compilation series Killed By Death’s “All-American Punk” volume, which led to Italy’s Rave-Up Records re-issuing the “Kings of Basement Rock” anthology and a live album, “Live at Kenny’s,” as well as “Watch Out for the Penetrators,” a four-song record that combined both sides of the band’s first two singles.
“Here we had virtually nothing for 13 years,” Lipton said, “and here I am with these cool records in my hands. When Pierre Paolo (of Rave-Up) reissued ‘Kings of
Basement Rock,’ it was that album that tapped us into the younger audience.”
In 2004, San Diego’s Swami Records issued “Basement Anthology 1976-84,” the band’s most widely distributed release to date. The union was made possible by filmmaker Ernie Quintero, who taped the Penetrators during a one-time reunion show at Chicago’s Blackout Festival in 2003. Quintero was also responsible for helping the band hook up with its current label, Slovenly.
By the time of the release of “Basement Anthology 1976-84,” Lipton and Kagan had already been working on tracks that would become the latest album, “Bad Woman,” spurred on to do so by the band’s resurgence in the late 1990s.
Lipton and Kagan reunited at Penetrators’ bassist Bawol’s 16-track analog studio, Tuffy’s Barn in Sangerfield, N.Y., on July 4, 2000, 15 years after they had last recorded together, and eight years before they would release the record that would come out of these sessions.
Lipton and Kagan enlisted long-time Syracuse session guitarist Mark Doyle, who had previously had stints with Meat Loaf, Foreigner and Judy Collins, to lend guitar to the basic tracks.
Two drummers – Curt Kemp and Lyman Christansen, culled from Tuffy’s Barn regulars, the Barn Cats, also played on “Bad Woman” as did organist David Hanslowe, who added his tracks after the initial live recording session.
“Bad Woman,” which features re-recordings of some of the Penetrators oldies, as well as covers of some of the band’s favorite songs of the 1960s, became a labor of love, but Lipton believes the final product is the proof in the pudding of what the band set out to do.
“We’re infinitely better now than we were in the 70s,” Lipton said. “’Bad Woman’ is our second chance to do these songs. Growth, development, maturity: that’s what ‘Bad Woman’ is about.”
Lipton cautioned that this growth, development, and maturity doesn’t mean the band can’t still rock out.
“On a good day, it’s all about the energy and heart we can muster,” said Lipton
There are, however, differences in song structure from the originals with the solo by Mark Doyle in “Teenage Lifestyle” being the most glaring.
“The solo in ‘Teenage Lifestyle’ makes that song this time around,” Lipton said.
Lipton and Kagan tried to walk the fine line between offering a re-hashing of what they had already done, and offering up something new to their hard-core fans. The end result, “Bad Woman,” radiates with the ragged charm and enthusiasm of the band’s early works, while still exuding a slightly more polished sound that the band hopes will attract a broader audience.
Further highlights from the record include the title track, which was originally performed by 1960s Syracuse rockers the Fallen Angels, and a haunting cover of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “If You Have Ghosts” with Kagan on lead vocals. Lipton lends his pipes to fervent covers of Nugget-era gems “Little Girl,” originally popularized by Syndicate of Sound, and a gritty version of the Music Machine’s “Talk, Talk.” The band also offers up covers of the Pack’s “What Will Be If You’re 70” and Sam the Sham’s “Li’l Red Riding Hood.”
The album ends with a loose, wanton cover of the Jagger-Richards penned, “The Last Time.” In the end, Lipton says they looked to their inner-Rolling Stones.
“If we would’ve sat down to make ‘Basement Anthology Part Two,’ it would’ve sounded lame like ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by the Stones. Instead, we took a deep breath and tried our best to make ‘Beggars Banquet’ or ‘Exile on Main Street.’”