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THE SNARE & THE IDIOTS STORY
by Steve "Snare" Arnzen (as told to Scott Soriano)
Snare & the Idiots were a back to basics punk band from Newport, Kentucky who made a lot of noise during the hardcore era. Because they were alive after the so-called Killed By Death years, they unfortunately get overlooked. They released one great 7” in 1985 and disappeared. This is their story. ---SS
"We were from Newport, KY, right across the river from Cincy. When we formed in 1982, I was 20, Donny was 22, and Dave was 17. I met Dave Dunkum in 1977. He was eleven, I was fifteen. We both liked KISS and he said he could breathe fire like Gene Simmons. All of us neighborhood kids told him he was full of shit, but sure enough he did it. Pretty soon every kid in the neighborhood was breathing fire. We had a mutual interest in the hard rock of the day. That's what brought us together.
I met Donny Watson a few years later when I was a senior in high school. Some mutual friends had an apartment which they rented to party at. That's where I met Donny. Like me, he liked the more rock 'n roll side of Punk. I heard that he played guitar.
I had the concept of the band in my head as early as 1980 - band members, everything. It didn't come to fruition until late 1982/83. Donny was drawing unemployment and I was off on Fridays, so Fridays we'd get together and play some Thunders and Sex Pistols tunes and a few originals. Bill Leist, the booker at the Jockey Club, told everybody we were called Snare & the Idiots before we ever played a gig, so we just went with it. We could’ve came up with something better I'm sure.
It really came together in the Summer of '83. We recruited a drummer and practiced four or five days a week at Donny's parent's house. We played mostly covers and gradually added more originals as we wrote them. We played our first gig like two weeks later. Here's what we played that I can remember: Originals: "Do The Seizure", "I Love Me More Than You Do", "Newport Blues", "Stab Somebody". Covers: "You Gotta Lose" (Richard Hell), "Little Queenie" (Chuck Berry/Rolling Stones/Johnny Moped), "Pills" (NY Dolls/Bo Diddley), "No Fun" (Stooges), "Let Go" (Heartbreakers), and "Great Balls Of Fire" (Jerry Lee Lewis).
Being from across the river in Newport really shaped us. Most of the Cincy kids that I knew came families that had more money than we did. We were lower middle class and weren't into the fashion aspect of punk. One scenester once told me I looked like I should be wearing a Journey T-shirt. See, I didn’t fit in my family, who are all Catholic jocks. I also didn't fit in with a lot of the hardcores.
We were misfits among misfits. We were about the music and the passion. We did go against the grain because me and Donny first and foremost loved rock 'n roll. We thought bands like the Ramones, Pistols, Hotrods, Thunders were bringing back that early Rock 'n Roll spirit that arena rock had lost. As punk became "hardcore," we felt like that little R&B Chuck Berry thing was being lost in the shuffle and we wanted to hold on to that. Also it was getting more political and about who can be the fastest, loudest, nastiest. We wanted to have fun, drink beer, and meet chicks. Plus we hated heavy metal. To us it wasn't rock 'n roll (although our drummer on the EP was a metal drummer).
When we first started out we had a rhythm guitarist who brought some blues and rockabilly songs in, which we appreciated, but we wanted to rock a little harder. After he left the band we got the sound you hear on record. By that time, the hardcore kids accepted us, even though we had no mohawks, leather or studs - just feathered hair, sweaters and all. (I'm a little hipper than that these days.) Some of the younger hardcores weren't the most open minded people in the world, but when it came down to it they just wanted to rock, and we delivered.
At that time, Newport was actually the perfect place for the whole Jockey Club scene to exist. In the 1940s-early Sixtiess, Newport had legalized gambling and was run by the Syndicate until the Kennedy Administration cracked down on organized crime. (Syndicate Wife and Razzle Dazzle are two books available on Newport's gambling history. Newport is also mentioned in the "Godfather 2" in the scene where the Corleones go to Cuba to set up an operation. Someone says "We have two of our best men here from Newport.")
In the Fifties, the place was a casino called the Flamingo Club and the building still had the Pink Flamingos on the outside. It was not an uncommon sight to see members of the Rat Pack there and at other places around town. After gambling was outlawed in the Sixties, it was a rock club and featured Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee and Little Richard (supposedly with Hendrix as his guitarist).
In the early Seventies two brothers, ex-speakeasy operators Haynes (Tiny) and Hallman (Shorty) Mincey bought the place. When they bought it, it was a top 40 rock bar where a lot of bikers and white trash hooligans hung out.
I first went into the Jockey club in March of 1982. I'd seen the place there for years and never thought twice about the place. I went in with some friends of mine from high school. One of their brothers played in an FM rock cover band. I was really taken by the place and thought it would be ideal for punk.
First of all it was almost as big as Bogart's (in Cincy) which featured a lot of bigger name New Wave acts like Iggy, Stranglers, Gang of Four, 999 etc. It was much bigger than Club COD in Chicago where I had seen the Damned. Also it was big and run-down and smelled like a combination of mildew, piss and stale beer. The paneling was coming off the walls. The roof leaked and bathrooms, well, let's just say you had to go pretty bad to use them. They smelled like an ammonia factory.
The Cincy punk scene got started around '78 or '79 with the short-lived "new-wave clubs." There were a few good bands around like the Customs and The Explosive Broomhandles, both long gone by time Bill Leist started booking punk at the Jockey Club started in '82.
The JC scene could be broken down into three categories. Early on the biggest draw were the "Art Bands," everything thing from Dementia Precox, who used tape loops and beat on trash cans and street signs, to synthesizer-based bands like Dream 286. One the biggest drawing bands circa '83 was Junta. They were sort of Cincy's answer to the New Romantic movement. Junta were more about what they and their audience were wearing than about music. They were very slow, minimalist, couldn't really play, had a drum machine instead of a drummer and were very boring. One of the best “art bands” were BPA (By-Products of America) who just had some of their stuff reissued on Shake-It Records.
Then there were the Garage/Roots/Slop-Rock bands which included Snare & the Idiots, The Reduced (Bill Leist's band), The Auburnaires, The Thangs, Stiff Kittens, Doc & the Pods, and Human Zoo.
The third and most consistent category (and the club's main feature) was hardcore. Let's see, some bands were SS 20, Musical Suicide, Sluggo (from Lexington), Active Ingredients, and Malignant Growth (from Louisville). Many small-time regional and national bands too numerous to name also played there. Hardcore was the club's main feature probably because there were so many hardcore bands out there touring and it had a regular crowd. (For more check the Jockey Club Website.)
Besides the bands, one very important thing that contributed to the Jockey Club‘s "success" was the owners. At an early Toxic Reasons show there were about 75 punks there with mohawks, died-hair - the whole bit. The thing that freaked me out was the fact that these two old geezers - Tiny and Shorty - were totally unfazed by these odd looking kids and this loud, angry aggressive music.
Tiny and Shorty had seen it all. They tolerated under-aged kids, drag-queens, slow business, strange music, and all kinds of unusual things. I think they actually got off on it and had an affinity for the kids. Tiny was in his 70's and had a very long beard that he quit shaving when Reagan was elected (and would not shave until he was out of office). Tiny died in 1984. Shorty was the mainstay and also in his 70's. He was a short hunch back who you could tell was a "wise guy" just by his face.
We all loved Shorty. If it wasn't for him, none of this would've ever happened. He was not a guy you wanted to cross though. I've seen him crack people over the head with his flashlight/club on several occasions and I had heard that he had actually shot somebody and did time once. He sold the club to the cab company next door in '88 and he died in '92. He was almost 90. Some used to refer to Shorty as their favorite bad person.
We got away with a lot. The Newport P.D. kind of let us do our thing. One of them told the booking agent that they didn't even like coming in the Jockey Club. Since Newport used to be a big syndicate/gambling town in the Forties and Fifties, I guess they were used to a little vice as long we never bothered anybody. Nearly all the patrons were from Ohio anyway. Newport has now become very commercial and yuppie-fied. Something like the Jockey could never happen here today.
I was the one in the band who had the good job. My stepfather got me a good paying factory job at Dover Elevator in 1980, when I graduated high school, so I had plenty of money to buy records, beer and weed. I also financed the Recycled Garbage EP because we were desperate to get something out. It was recorded in one night (12/21/84) at Group Effort Sound Studios on 16-track. At $35.00 an hour we had to rush it. We re-mixed it about a week later.
In the Spring of '85, we moved to Boston (without a drummer and into their friends’, After the Edge, apartment - eight people in one living space - SS). We thought we had a better chance playing music in Boston. It was a very bad mistake. I quit my job and left my girlfriend behind. After about a month I about lost my mind and had to come home to Newport. I lived in the back seat of my car all Summer. Very bad time in my life. Donny came back to Newport a short time later. Dave stayed in Boston until the fall of '85.
The band got back together in the spring of '86 and we wrote some of our best songs, including "Slam Bang." I didn't have a good job to sustain the band and it fell apart again. We had no money and more drummers than Spinal Tap. We did do the occasional one-off reunion, the last being in 1995. Me and Donny have started a new band project similar in style to the Idiots. Dave was involved but had to bow out for personal reasons. We'll see what happens. We are still in contact and if there's a demand and opportunity to bring some cash back with us the others told me they're ready."
(Right click and "Save as..." to listen to "Pimples")
(Right click and "Save as..." to listen to "Political Song")
Fliers provided by Jockey Club Remembered website. Thanks.
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