Angry Johnny & The Killbillies – Ain’t no peace for an angry young man
“It’s whiskey-swilling, chainsaw-swinging, psycho-killing, gospel singing rock and roll,” Angry Johnny explains to me about his band’s music. “I guess.”
Poor guy. He’s been dumped, screwed over, abandoned by managers, dumped, promised, pushed around, and dumped again. You’d think that’s where the name came from. “Nope,” says Angry, “my dad named me that as a kid ’cause I always had a puss on my face.” That particular name, by the way, is the official name he goes by. Bandmates call him Angry, and it’s the only way you can find him in the phone book. Go ahead, call information, but you have to ask for Angry Johnny.
He and his band, the Killbillies, play scorching country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, with a tiny dash of rockabilly thrown in. Nearly all the songs are about Angry’s dastardly love life, and often someone ends up killing or being killed. “I’ve been dumped a lot,” he says. In fact, on one of the band’s records, a small note reads: “Recorded on Good Friday, a year and a day after this old heart got busted for good. One year and a day after the last day.”
The band formed in the mid-’80s, when Angry traded his 1966 Volkswagen Squareback for his brother’s guitar. At first they called themselves Angry Johnny & the Snots, then switched to The Millrats, and finally settled on Angry Johnny & the Killbillies in 1991. Angry sings and plays lead guitar and occasionally adds harmonica. Jim Joe Greedy handles electric and standup bass duties, while Al Camino strums guitars and mandolin. The drummer is Sleepy Animall Kaisla, from Finland. Angry first met Animall at Holyoke Community College, where Angry eventually was kicked out for being a “fuck-up” — and those were the exact words of the dean!
“Yeah, Animall has got the biggest cranium in the world,” says Angry. “We’ll take on any challengers — anyone. Bring out your big-heads. And unfortunately for us, he’s also really into Thin Lizzy. But he’s Finnish; what are you gonna do?”
The band is based in Easthampton, MA, and often can be found playing the watering holes of nearby Northampton. They’ve toured with Dinosaur Jr, played various gigs in Philadelphia, New York City, Maine and Boston, and also played the side stage at Lollapalooza ’95 in New York. J. Mascis, a friend of the Killbillies, invited the boys on the Dino Jr tour; the Where You Been? album artwork features the paintings of Angry Johnny.
But back to the music. The band plays their shows in two halves: one acoustic, the other plugged in and plenty raucous. They always travel with the fifth Killbilly — Elvis, the fat, dead version, in stunning plaster-of-paris get-up. “We’re a cross between Hank Williams and the Ramones,” Angry says. Songs such as “Life, Love, Death, and the Meter Man” — a country music Pogues song if I’ve ever heard one — confirm that statement: “But when he saw the clipboard lying in the severed hand/He realized that he’d just limb-from-limbed the meter man/He heard the sirens coming and he sat down on the steps/He shut off the McCullough and he lit a cigarette.”
A McCullough, by the way, is a chain saw.
The band has put out one single on Chunk Records and also has released a few cassettes and LPs on their own. All the recording is done in “Hell” — Angry’s home in the basement of a warehouse. “I have to go up three floors to use the bathroom,” he says.
Angry Johnny & the Killbillies are currently recording a CD, due out “sometime soon,” Angry says. In the meantime, go check out Animall’s head and the fat, dead Elvis next time you’re in the area. It’s well worth Angry’s pain, and he wouldn’t mind if you bought him a beer, either.
(Angry Johnny & the Killbillies recordings are available from the band at P.O. Box 1164, Easthampton, MA 01027.)