40 Years of The Misfits: An Interview with Jerry Only
On April 18, 1977, the Misfits made their onstage debut in the hotbed of U.S. punk rock at the iconic CBGB in New York City.
Forty years later, the legendary punks continue to impact the scene. Their unique blend of punk and horror imagery has influenced bands from Metallica to My Chemical Romance, and their skull logo is worn like a badge of honor.
We spoke with founding member Jerry Only about the band’s legacy, the 2016 reunion concerts, and the new items inside of the Rock Hall’s punk and new wave display.
Rock Hall: The Misfits are now in their 40th year. Can you discuss your feelings on the longevity of the band?
Jerry Only: I believe that when you come up with a concept that is as powerful as this one, it will stand the test of time. I think 40 years is definitely a milestone, but nowhere near as long as it’s going to live on.
RH: The band’s emergence coincided with the explosion of the punk genre. How did you separate yourselves from the pack?
JO: I think our emergence coincided with the death of Elvis Presley more than the initiation of punk. I think it was a time for a new era of music, and The Misfits were more than just a punk band.
RH: Can you discuss the influences on the band’s sound?
JO: The influence on our sound was DNA from the original Rock & Roll of the 1950’s, and I would say we were also influenced by Iggy and the Stooges; who were really the predecessor to punk rock. Aggressive, atomic, hard rock ‘n’ roll.
RH: The band has always placed an emphasis on its image. Can you talk about crafting your image and how it reflects your sound?
JO: If you can find a way to make your image a reflection of your soul, it’s always the best approach. You don’t have to mask yourself in a theatrical character without having a connection to it. We were great fans of Sci-fi and horror, and worked in our machine shop. We were working class kids who had a dream of something big. We used all of our resources to create an image that represents who and what we are. Our image reflects our sound, and our music matches the monster we physically embody.
RH: The items you donated are displayed in our punk and new wave case, alongside items from the Ramones, the Damned, the Clash, New York Dolls and others. Can you speak about any influence they may have had on you as a musician or do you have any special stories to share about them?
JO: When you would see the Ramones in CBGB back in the 70's they all had a symmetrical look, like they belonged together, and you immediately knew that they were part of the same thing. I’m sure that had an influence, even if it wasn’t a conscious one at the time. I always liked how The Clash wrote songs that cover many spectrums and weren’t tied down to any one genre of music. We are very versatile too. Each Misfits song has its own personality, but at the same time, each is unmistakably the Misfits.
RH: These items on display are tied to the 2016 Riot Fest appearance, a rather significant performance for Misfits fans. Describe your emotions and thoughts heading into the reunion with Danzig and Doyle? Your feelings now?
JO: I’m very happy that it finally occurred. It was something that haunted me ever since we split up. I think our fanbase, which was divided, has been united. I think the bands who have taken influence from us have been appeased, and I believe that at age 40, the Misfits are still the most formidable presence in the music business.
Once we agreed the reunion was going to occur, it was a matter of putting a machine that had been dormant for many years, back into full-on attack mode. We worked vigorously for 6 months to bring the original Misfits lineup musically and physically back together as a unit. We were all individually at the top of our game from decades of honing our craft apart from one another, but the next step was to achieve that in tandem again. Reunited, we’d become more ferocious than ever before. For the sake of the fans that have wanted to see us together again for the past 33 years, we had to live up to the legend. In hindsight, I believe that we accomplished that goal, and we became the icons people always dreamed we were, or would be. The reaction from our fans exceeded my expectations. Many said it was the best show they’ve ever seen, and that’s why we came back—to bring that to them.
RH: Did you feel like it was appropriate setting for a reunion, and what did you expect from the performance? From yourselves? From the fans?
JO: For me it was the perfect scenario. I had my first wrestling victory in Denver; it was good to return on top…we remain undefeated in Denver! (Laughs). As far as Chicago goes, it couldn’t have been any more surreal. I‘ve never seen so many people with smiles on their faces. Everyone looked out for each other, and everyone was there for one reason—to see history. I had prepared all of my equipment ahead of time, and everything ran like clockwork. My vest and bass guitar on display at the Hall of Fame were used at both reunion shows to make it almost a holy relic for your collection.
I’m also very proud that this is the first Devastator bass made from Louisville Slugger wood, which is an American institution. For every home run in major league baseball hit with a Louisville Slugger bat, I don’t think any one ever hit a home run bigger than I did in Denver and Chicago with this bass. It may be the concert of the millennium. The reaction from our devoted fans, the fiends, was unparalleled and their blood lust is for more…
RH: Large music festivals have taken off in the past ten years and are popping up everywhere attracting a wide range of people. How did you feel performing at a modern punk rock festival?
JO: We’ve headlined almost every festival in Europe, South America and now the United States. As long as we’ve been around, ironically, this was the first festival that the original Misfits lineup has ever done together. It was really exhilarating to have both a longtime dream for the band, and another aspect of my life be fulfilled—teaming back up with my brother and Glenn. It was like I’d died and gone to heaven…or hell depending on your personal taste! (Laughs…) It was one for the record books.
RH: During the 2014 Alternative Press Awards, you performed with artists that were inspired by the Misfits. What was it like to see the Misfits’ influence extending into the modern musical landscape? Can you discuss the performance and attending/participating in the awards ceremony?
JO: It was really great to work in conjunction with Alternative Press and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the event. We were glad to appear and show our support for the modern music landscape, because we’re honored that we’ve made such an impression, and inspired so many young artists who may some day do the same. I feel that being real, staying grounded, and having a positive influence both in music and in the way you live your life, is a privilege and responsibility we all have. Magazines like Alternative Press really give young fans and bands a voice, and I’m glad to say we’ve appealed to young audiences for all of this time. Like vampires, we haven’t grown old! (Laughs).
RH: What differences do you see between the punk scene from late 70s-early 80s, and that of today?
JO: Back in the day, the New York scene was full of a lot of drug abusers who were older than me. Although the music was great and it was a sign of the times, most of them self-destructed. I buried many of my friends… Sid Vicious, Jerry Nolan, Johnny Thunders. In the 80’s, punk wound up being toned down and re-classified as new wave, it was something the record companies felt they could control when the punks were completely out of control and unmanageable. In the 90’s bands like Green Day and Rancid wound up taking punk rock and putting it into a format where it was always capable of going—but never did. They sold out arenas and stadiums. Its ironic that 40 years later, one of the bands who didn’t fit into the scene, and created a sound and image ahead of its time, would return and take the world…
RH: Following the Riot Fest reunion, you said you wanted it to continue. Now in your 40th anniversary year, what does the future hold for the Misfits?
JO: For the Misfits it holds unlimited possibilities. We can create a new era based on our original strongholds. I always believed we were the greatest band—and we have an opportunity to prove it. In the end our legacy will endure. We are the icons that remain from an era long ago, and almost like androids from Sci-fi movies portraying the future, we live on becoming more and more viral. There is no stopping us.
We’re really fortunate that after four decades in horror business, we’re stronger than ever. Our time is now, and we have our fans to thank for that. I hope the Misfits will soon join the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame roster as inductees in reflection of our fans, the fiends all over the world who’ve supported us, and for all the bands who’ve looked up to us, and those who have taken inspiration from what we do. Because of them, we are immortal.