Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#898 in the Series) is Tuff Darts, Tuff Darts!
In the spring of 1979, I was a freshman in high school in a little Appalachian town in Western Maryland and a few of my older friends in the Media Department at the local community college were putting on a Saturday Night Live type show titled “Media Madness.” Just like SNL, they did live sketches interspersed with prerecorded pieces that you could see on TV monitors around the auditorium. It was a very funny and well done show and one of the videos was by a guy I did not know and never really met but I remember his name was Dave Thomas because it was the same as the SCTV performer. His video was very racy and original but what really captured my attention was the song he used.
The song was called “Phone Booth Man” and it was by a band I had never heard before but definitely wanted to hear a lot: Tuff Darts!
Fortunately, one of my friends in the show had a copy of the lp and lent it to me. My 14 year old ears couldn’t get enough of the punkish, pop bravado and sexy and violent lyrics! I quickly made a cassette recording of it that I played all through high school and college, introducing unknowing groups of friends and fellow band mates to it along the way. Thirty-five years later, I still have that same cassette along with a vinyl copy which hangs on the wall of my man cave and a cd version that my 49 year old ears still can’t get enough of.
The enigmatic story of the Tuff Darts and their one and only available album goes back to NYC in 1976 when they were one of the first bands to establish an audience at clubs like the legendary CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. The line-up consisted of Jeff Salen and Bobby Butani on guitars, John DeSalvo on bass, Jim Morrison on drums and a vocalist by the name of Robert Gordon. This line up never produced a studio recording but were a part of the famous “Live at CBGB’s” double album (another one that hangs on my wall and a future article sure to be written) that features a half dozen acts from the clubs early years like Mink DeVille and others who, while very good bands, had very little commercial success.
For some reason or another that I cannot exactly find on any research over the last 35 years, Gordon was canned. This worked out well for everyone since Gordon went on to have a fantastic solo career of his own (his 1977 album with Link Wray is a must listen as well as many more!) and the Darts picked up a snarling and growling little popster by the name of Tommy Frenzy. John Morelli later replaced Morrison on drums and Tuff Darts went into the studio to make the quintessential 70’s album of young life and love in NYC that transcended to the teenaged angst of many outside that city, including my little hillbilly punk ass!
First off, the cover is amazing, with the band members in a still life swagger and Frenzy sporting a devilish grill of gold on his teeth long before the days of gangsta rappers. The inner sleeve sports a similar pic of the band with Frenzy pointing a pistol to his own throat and smoke coming out of his mouth!
The group was very fortunate to have not one, but a group of legendary producers at the helm. Bob Clearmountain, Tony Bongiovi and Lance Quinn all share production credits with Clearmountain engineering and they give the boys a brassy and glamourous sound without taking away their inner city edge.
The opening track, “Rats” is a circadian tale that Frenzy belts out with his snotty nosed little vocals and Salen’s riffs are just as snotty. There are new wave/pop dueling leads from Salen and Butani on “Who’s Been Sleeping Here”, great sax fills on “Here Comes Trouble” and the campy death pop silliness of “She’s Dead.”
They give us great raunchy punk lyrics for the Love Canal generation in “Your Love is Like Nuclear Waste,” a ska meets Jerry Lee Lewis ditty called “Slash” about the worst bitch you could ever be with and all the abusive and masochistic things one would do to themselves to get away from her and the punk generations version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with “My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms” and it’s dramatic modulating bridge and alternating leads and repetitive chorus at the end.
Then there is the one that got me, “Phone Booth Man:” a great little Spanish Harlem sounding Latino rhythm about a sexual fetishist that would be tame by today’s standards but brash and daring in 1978! Not to mention that most of today’s young audience don’t remember phone booths at all, especially when “it only cost a dime!”
The hit should have been “Head Over Heels”. Why the label, Sire, never released this song as a single is criminal? A great pop song of a phone conversation, duel guitar/sax leads and the complications of love, androgyny, nosey parents and a little sister who just might be old enough. I still can’t understand why Sire didn’t promote this entire album. It’s a little racy, but not anymore than many other artists on their label at the time. This album’s production is so good you can almost feel Frenzy spitting out the lyrics and every instrument is clearly heard in this cleverly mixed piece.
It seems that the band is still around and occasionally does club dates around NYC and even did an album that was only released in Japan even though guitarist and founder Salen died in 2008 at the age of 55. Nonetheless, they have developed a pretty good cult following, including this now old hillbilly punk, and I will never stop trying to promote this sorely underappreciated album of my youth!
– Bubby Lewis, Frostburg, Maryland USA
- “Rats” (B.B., Butani, Salen) – 2:59
- “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” (Kirke, Salen) – 3:00
- “Here Comes Trouble” (Frenzy) – 2:12
- “She’s Dead” (Frenzy, Salen) – 2:39
- “Phone Booth Man” (DeSalvo, Salen) – 3:37
- “(Your Love Is Like) Nuclear Waste” (DeSalvo, Salen) – 2:57
- “My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms” (DeSalvo, Morelli) – 3:17
- “Love and Trouble” (Salen) – 3:46
- “Head Over Heels” (Jeff Salen) – 2:44
- “Slash” (DeSalvo) – 3:31
- “Fun City” (DeSalvo) – 2:57
- “All for the Love of Rock N’Roll” (Butani, Salen) – 3:18
- Tommy Frenzy – Vocals
- Jeff Salen – Lead Guitar
- Bobby Butani – Guitars
- John DeSalvo – Bass
- John Morelli – Drums