18 January 2010

The LOCALS/PUBLIC PROBLEMS (interview and unreleased tracks)

A few weeks ago we were contacted by members of the NYC powerpop band the Locals. Their one and only 45 from 1980 on Griffy Records has been an absolute favorite of mine ever since I first heard it a few years ago. We had actually tried unsuccessfully a year or so ago to find members of the band who would be interested in doing a re-issue. Anyways,The guys had seen the blog post I did on the 45 last year and Trey and I ended up meeting at a bar in the East Village with Bill Rohlfing, Lou Selmi, Mike Swanson and the bands good friend and founder of Griffy records Steve Sanford to talk about the bands history. The guys also brought tons of great pictures and flyers some of which I've posted below..

Bill, before we get into the Locals... I know you were in a band called Public Problems from 1976 to 78, can you give us the history of that group??

Bill:I met them through a village voice ad. I auditioned for Fred, Chris and Brad [who was the original drummer] .The guys didn't have a name at the time. I think Fred came up with it. or maybe Chris said the Problems and Fred said Public Problems. we were always arguing about whether or not it was PUBLIC PROBLEM or PROBLEMS.

Can you tell me a little about The guys in the band? I know you mentioned

Mark Bell's (Ramones) twin brother was in the group..

Bill:Yeah, Freds twin brother is Marc Bell - from Dust, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and then the Ramones. we got into a lot of clubs for free because everyone thought Fred was Marc.

You guys had a few drummers right??

Bill:Yeah, Brad was our first drummer... one night i remember that Brad wanted Fred and I to start a ruckus down one end of the bar so that he could get into the cash register down at the other end. Somehow or other that didn't happen, but... maybe it was the same night... we all ended up at the Police Station because Brad was having fun sticking tires on our walk down to CB's. He was a total dick and ready to get into any trouble he could. He decided that he was going to the west coast to become a Hells Angel. So we were out a drummer and did auditions and got Tommy.

Tommy was a professional musician, he use to tour with the Supremes, and i think he toured

with the Guess Who as well. He was great, steady,showed up on time, played the gig, hung out and split... he overdosed the night we were supposed to open Maxs for Chris Spedding. Our singer Chris just came to the sound check and said that Tommy's wife had called and he died in the bathroom of their apt.The Max's live recording is the last gig we did with Tommy before he died.

Anyway - Brad hears there is an opening in the band, he had become a Hells Angel and was moving back to the East coast to re group. As you can imagine I wasn't too happy to hear this. He picked up some hitchhikers coming back to NYC and apparently tried to rob them. They killed him and threw him in the woods somewhere in the Midwest...

So - next drummer - Richie Delecki - some little hyper kid that had the day job of a butcher working with his dad out of Greenpoint. he did fine but i don't think he ever really grooved with the band. he plays on the WPIR tapes.

then we had good old Jerry Hicks. During the auditions for Jerry I think we had a two second discussion on the fact that he was black, heavy, short and could not see [coke bottle glasses].. He stood out with us everywhere we went and that was just fine. He still plays and last i heard lives in the house for the blind on 23rd street. He played with the band until the end - but we have no recordings of him.

Were you guys friends with any of the early bands in the scene?

Bill:We hung with alot of bands and musicians in the scene at the time, Walter Lurie, Johnny Thunders, Ivan Julian , the Ramones. Fred and Chris grew up in Brooklyn - so it felt like they were already connected - there was a contingency of musicians at this time from Brooklyn in the NYC scene. Also, our manager at the time was Tommy Dean - his father owned Max's - that helped. we used to drive in Chris's van from one club to the another hitting all the clubs - Thurs, Fri, Sat - any night after practise. we would chip in on a big bottle of 151 rum and Coke and invite our friends out to the van to party, we would park right in front of the clubs - everyone always knew there was a party in the van - maybe it was the smoke billowing out whenever someone opened the door??? We met Lester Bangs that way. He came up with us once in a while to do Jumping Jack Flash at the end of our sets.

RAD! OK... so moving on to the Locals.. First off, how did you guys all meet?

Bill: well - i was going out with a girl who had a room mate that was dating Mike. Lou called for a drummer ad that we placed.. he knew Mike from the Cherry Hill music scene and had met me before the phone call

Mike: We actually had a drummer before Lou whose name Peter. we played our first CBGB gig we him. i think playing live freaked him out so he quit the band.

Bill:from the Yellowjackets? I remember that too but I forgot he played a gig at all!

Lou: I answered an ad in the Village Voice that turned out to be Mike who I'd been playing with for years and Bill.They were auditioning drummers,I tried out and they called me back for a second audition and I got the gig. i remember that drummer you had before me he used only a snare and bass and a cymbal! i think i saw you guys at Kenny's castaways, I don't think you guys played at CBGB...

You mentioned to me that you were going to Pratt at the time..what was the scene like at the school then?

Bill: Everybody seemed to be doing something creative, it was just a looser time....social interaction was looser - you have to remember this is pre aids - pre herpes - post civil rights and just a little after the Vietnam war ended.

On my first day at Pratt, a neighbor noticed my roommate and i were on the balcony without t-shirts on and he invited us over for drinks sometime - he was dressed up as Doris Day... he always was dressed as Doris Day! I remember guys walking through the cafeteria in makeup and with bras on the outside of their clothing, and Nick Zedd was walking Donna Death around in a bondage harness. Elliot Javits had lime green hair, drug life seemed more accessible - pot and acid was sold openly in Washington Square, but you could get better stuff anywhere else. the city seemed more fringe - because it was an empty industrial city.

So,When you first started playing were you writing your own songs?

Bill:Mike came to the party with a few he had written -he was doing solo shows i think but doing his own stuff before we formed - "Tonight", "Take Her Tonight", were the earlier ones. I came in with "Symptoms of a Married Man" and maybe one other. we wrote "You Never Have Fun" together and then most of the other stuff like "Alibi Club". Mike wrote "Don't Look Back" and brought it in - i wrote "First Impressions" and brought it in. it always seemed like a collaborative effort of the band but Mike and I did most of the writing together or separately.

Lou: Mike and Bill did most of the writing. I helped write you never have fun.

Who were you listening to at the time?

Bill:We had ALOT of influences,the Rascals the Kinks and Donovan.. BEATLES of course. Emitt Rhodes, Lennon and the solo Mccartney stuff. the BYRDS [Mike loved the 12 string] , the Who, Creedence and lots of other smaller pop bands - Zombies, Paul Revere , T-Rex, Bowie, Monkees, etc.

Lou:I really liked XTC at the time.My influences drummer wise were mostly jazz drummers.

Did you guys play out alot?

Bill: We played once or twice a month when we got goin' after the record.

What were your favorite venues to play?

Bill: CB's was always fun, the Ritz was great [Webster Hall], Max's, Trax and even Kennys castaways was fun - the ukranian place - what was that called - oh Irving Plaza!.. there were a ton of smaller clubs, like Copperfields, Bottoms, - they were our filler between the bigger gigs that seemed to happen monthly and fortunately got more regular as we got more "popular"

Mike: my favorite place was Trudy Hellers, she treated us with respect and Trax, they had the best sound system.

Lou: I think my favorite places to play were The Ritz,CBGB and Trax.I remember at Trax we finished or set and we were siting in the dressing room and in walked band members from Bachman Turner Overdive,they came back to say they loved the set!

Were there any other bands on the scene at the time that you felt a special camaraderie with? I know you were saying that the Speedies were more like your competition than your buddies.. was that the case with alot of the pop bands in NYC at the time?

Bill:we liked a band in NJ that was getting signed named Quincy,opened for them a few times as well ... they were good eggs and mike and Lou knew them from the Jersey scene...I really don't think most musicians in the city mingled - we could always go see shows for free to hear everybody else but we didn't talk much. I sang back up for the Romilars. after the Locals broke up Lou and I played with the Moberlys so i guess we got to know some of the musicians, but probably only the ones that we liked.

The whole No Wave thing was going pretty strong here in the early 1980's, Were you guys into that to that sort of stuff ??

Bill:we were a band that was not cool enough to be arty or part of the no wave thing that was happening [Lounge Lizards, James Chance, Teenage Jesus, etc] - we went to see everybody but we thought it was wierd. we were one for all about pop and what we were doing - no time to really think about the other stuff.

Mike: I felt that we were ignored by other bands but like Bill said we ignored them as well..

Lou: I think we were very different from what was going on back then. I don't think we really tried to be part of that mix...

SO.. Do you guys want to talk about Steve Sanford and his role in the band?

Bill: Steve was my best friend from pratt and he was also a steady roadie and poster hanger. i got him a job at the door store and they realized he was super talented artist so one year i guess he made enough money and asked me if he could pay for the record - he thought the band was great and going places. he also did the artwork for the cover and our pop image was reinforced by that whole pennant thing that he had included as part of the record cover printing. we would glue stick those things all over!!

Mike: without Steve this record would never have come to fruition. this man was a saint to us! At times i felt he believed in us more than we did in ourselves.

Lou: Steve helped us realize the dream of releasing a record. He was a true friend and believer in the Locals.I thank Steve for that!I remember we went to a college radio station in Philly where we got some airplay and we did Take Me To The Freezer in studio and I did my drum part vocally anybody remember that??

How it was distributed and did it get any airplay?

Bill: All the bars we frequented had juke boxes - and we frequented A LOT OF BARS!! we got our record out there that way - had it on the wall at Bleeker Bobs. i had a few good friends from school who helped me get evrything done or were there to roadie - like Ed Smith and those two other guys doug and cliff.

Mike: those days there was a consortium of college radio stations, WFUV, and The NYU station.. we were played on those.

what was the session like?

Mike: we were nervous as hell this was our first trip to a recording studio. the man behind the controls did the first Ramones demos so obviously we were intimidated.

how long did it take?

Bill:I forget how long... - a couple of takes for each?? we were well heeled.

On the back of the record sleeve there's a phone number to the Locals fan club. What would happen when people would call the number?

Bill:if you called the number you would have gotten me or Lou.... it was previously the number for a Spanish abortion clinic down there, so we would get many calls from Spanish women that didn't speak English. it got to a point where i had to learn the Spanish and recorded a response on my answering machine.

Was there any major ( or indie) label interest in the Locals after the record came out?

Bill: We were always trying to get record companies to look at us. i remember Micheal Rosenblatt coming down from WB [he signed Madonna] and he liked the band but didn't think anyone needed another Beatles.

Mike: Elizibeth Small (Billy Joel's first wife) was very interested in us as was Don Kirshner. i think as Bill said earlier that nobody wanted another Beatles band rings true. although the music industry enjoyed our music they couldn't find a pigion hole to put us in that they felt could make them money.

What was the last year or so of the band like? I know you ( Bill ) said that your sound started to change a little, was everyone in the band wanting to take different directions musically?

Bill: not really, our styles were growing, Lou was coming to the table with his own funkier stuff, i was getting into the casio stick sound - repetative tech pop sound - and we always had our ears out for any newer styles or sounds we liked - like the song "First Impressions" was a stab at the Socca / Ska thing - like Madness and the Specials.

It's pretty obvious that you were great friends at the time and are still good friends to this day, how do you guys feel about playing again?

Bill: We did do a rehersal last spring and dusted off the cobwebs. we're looking forward to getting the Locals together again and are happy you've shown the interest to re release the 45.


Public Problems were:

Fred Bell - Guitar

Chris Acosta - Vocals

Bill Rohlfing - Bass

Tommy Longbody - Drums







Hit By A Chick,Steal the Show and New York Nights recorded in 1977 on WPIR, Pratts radio station

City Love, Poor Boy and Party Message recorded in the summer of 1977 at Max's Kansas City

Tommy Longbody plays drums on the Max's recordings, Richie Delecki plays drums on the WPRI recordings.

The Locals were:

Mike Swanson - guitar/ vocals

Bill Rohlfing - bass/vocals

Bob Jay - Guitar

Lou Selmi - Drums

"Happy" Dave Hoatson replaced Bob Jay after the release of the 45 - Guitar








It's You, Sincerely Yours Goodbye, Stop in the Name of the Law recorded 1980 an Max's Kansas City

She's a Liar, Nobody Loves You Anymore, Don't Look Back and Wildwood beach recorded 1982 at Backstreet Studios in the Bronx

Bob Jay plays guitar on the live at Max's recordings and on the Griffy 45, "Happy" Dave Hoatson plays guitar on all other recordings.

...Look out for an official re-issue of their INCREDIBLE single from 1980 You never have fun b/w Yes Or No on Sing Sing records later this year!


  1. 'Hit By A Chick' is my Christchild pick-to-click! And I mean seriously! It's nasty!

  2. Those Locals teasers are killing me! Great songs, great recordings. Somebody's doing something with that, right? Good lord.

  3. cheers...and again thanks for some great post!
    Problems remaind me on early Ramones,that's mean it couldn't be bad...but also,i'd rather want to hear full and complete song and is it possibile just for one and only song download complete?!?Maybe Steal The Show?
    Anyway keep goin and thanx!