Rocket From the Tombs

Rocket From the Tombs existed only from 1974 to mid-1975. They should have faded into history like thousands of other bands before and after them. The fact that their breakup spawned two of the punk era’s most important bands – Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys – left an asterix next to RFTT’s legend. How could this band that burned out in less than a year, played only a few shows, and never properly recorded anything have produced such prodigious offspring? The more the question circulated, the more Rocket’s legend grew.

Rocket was significant primarily because of their Cleveland origins. Their very existence in 1974 refuted the myth that punk began on the coasts. In fact, punk was crawling through garages all over fly-over country, at the same time it flourished in NYC. The problem for Rocket was that though the cognoscenti of punk knew their legend, few others did.

In recent years, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Pearl Jam and others covered RFTT’s songs. A kick-ass band from San Diego even named itself after the band. Bootleg tapes of the RFTT’s few performances that had circulated since their demise drew huge bids on eBay.

Finally, last year, after four years of compiling the few live recordings and demo tapes of Rocket, its founder David Thomas, delivered to Smog Veil Records the recorded history of Rocket From the Tombs. The result was last year’s release, The Day the Earth Met Rocket From the Tombs. The CD only managed to strengthen Rocket’s legend. Songs that RFTT’s members took to their subsequent bands like 30 Seconds over Tokyo and Sonic Reducer crackled in their combustible, pubescent state.

When Thomas was assembling this year’s Disastodrome Festival, he had the idea to regroup RFTT. The show and the resulting short tour were an amazing success. The band, fleshed out with Television’s Richard Lloyd and Pere Ubu’s Steve Mehlman, headed into Lloyd’s studio to re-record classic Rocket tracks for a CD called Rocket Redux. The CD was meant to sate the appetites of fans who had seen the band live and requested proper recordings of the songs. The effort re-energized the group who headed back out on the road this fall to complete a tour circuit of the entire U.S.

For Cheetah Chrome, Rocket’s guitarist who later formed the Dead Boys and now resides in Nashville, the reunion is a opportunity to address unfinished business: “[RFTT] was always one of my favorite things I’d ever done, so they didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me to do it again.”

Asked if the re-grouping simply ties up loose ends, Chrome says, “it might close the book on that part of Rocket From The Tombs, but it always opens up another one.”

Though in recent press, Chrome’s bandmate, the contentious Thomas, has made much of the volatile nature of the band, intimating that it could break at any moment, Chrome plays down the conflicts. “We’re getting along fine on this tour,” he says. “There’s conflicts here and there, but it’s not anything worse than any other band I’ve ever been in.”

Is it going so well that they might do something like this again? “I wouldn’t see why not. We’re having a sit-down at the end of the tour and [we’ll] decide what we’re going to do from here.” As one might imagine, revitalizing a band so long a legend has uncorked a swell of opportunities for RFTT. “Europe’s on the table, writing new songs is on the table,” Chrome hints.

It may be an odd thing for a band to see its brightest days ahead almost thirty years after they broke up, but as Rocket’s tumultuous beginning announced, they were hardly ever a band who did things according to schedule.

[This piece originally appeared in The Rage.]