Michael Grecco was an 18-year-old guileless college student from suburban New York when he first discovered punk music. He followed the throbbing sound of a local Boston band named ‘La Peste’ to the basement below his favorite late night food spot. The underground club was known as ‘the Rat’ – Boston’s answer to New York City’s legendary punk venue, CBGBs.
‘That was my introduction to punk,’ he says, recalling how the smell of cigarettes and sweat did little to mask the odor of the Rat’s beer and vomit soaked carpet. Nonetheless, Grecco was captivated.
‘I found I suddenly joined a club where everybody belonged. I could finally be myself, or at least find out who I really was,’ he says.
From that day forward, Grecco went out every night, trolling the bowels of Boston from one basement to the next, always with a camera in hand. He shot The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, Billy Idol, The Cramps, The Talking Heads, Joan Jett and The Dead Kennedys.
Now, some 43 years later, Grecco’s work can be seen in all their safety pinned glory in a special collector’s edition of his book: Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978 to 1991. His candid portraits of these legendary iconoclasts and all their rude awakenings come as close as the music itself in capturing the raw, raucous energy of that era.
He catches up with DailyMail.com below with exclusive never-before-seen images, and tales from his debauched years spent as punk rock ‘chronicler and participant.’
Renown photographer, Michael Grecco spent a decade embedded in the punk-rock community of Boston during its hey day in the late 1970s through the 1980s. Bouncing between underground clubs he shot everyone from The Clash (pictured above backstage), to The Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, Buzzcocks, Billy Idol and so many more
Lead singer Lux Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) of the punk rock band ‘The Cramps’ performing on stage at a theater in 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts. For Grecco, punk rock wasn’t just about the music, it was also a movement that had ‘infectious freedom’
Jello Biafra, lead singer of the punk rock group, Dead Kennedys, poses back stage in April 1981 in Boston, Massachusetts. Grecco was an 18-year-old college student at Boston University when he followed the thumping sound of music coming from the basement beneath his favorite late night food spot. The underground club was called ‘The Rat’ – a legendary DIY venue that hosted punk shows for bands that went on to become very famous
Musician Joan Jett performs at the Cape Cod Coliseum in 1981 in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. Rock journalist, Jim Sullivan writes in the books foreword: Any American band that played a New York club played a Boston club—the CBGB-to-the-Rat express was very much on the rails. He added: ‘Think of Boston as a microcosm for a youthquake that was happening in cities across America, England, and Europe’
David Byrne of The Talking Heads stands center stage. After discovering Boston’s underground music scene, Grecco said: ‘I found I suddenly joined a club where everybody belonged. I could finally be myself, or at least find out who I really was’
Michael Grecco snapped Joey Ramone of the Ramones in his iconic leather jacket and stripe tee-shirt. ‘College radio changed everything,’ says Grecco, who attributes local student radio stations with the raise of punk rock music. Up until that time, the music industry was dominated b hyper-produced, manufactured classic rock bands like Kansas, Journey and Rush. ‘And I think that bands or organic small bands felt like they couldn’t be part of that system’
Jonny Rotten (John Lydon) lead singer of the band, Public Image Ltd, performs a set at the Channel Club in Boston sometime in the early 1980s. Rotten formed Public Image Ltd (PiL) following the breakup of his first band, The Sex Pistols in 1978
Billy Idol performs live on stage one month after his debut solo album release of ‘Billy Idol’ on August 01, 1982. Grecco became close with Idol over the years and recalls how the musician once sent his manager with ‘a gallon bag of blow’ as a peace offering after he flew into a violent rage over a perceived slight
For Grecco, it wasn’t just about the music, it was also a movement that had ‘infectious freedom.’ He tells DailyMail.com: ‘It was an explosion.’ During a time when the mainstream music industry was dominated by hyper-produced classic rock bands like Kansas, Journey and Rush. ‘Blech! Make me puke,’ said Michael Grecco.
Michael Grecco, now 63, is a commercial photographer based in Los Angeles. Grecco looks back on his youth ‘in awe,’ he tells DailyMail.com. ‘We were part of an incredible time that you can’t replicate ever again’
‘Punk was like a wound, or a sore building up under the surface and then it just exploded.’
College radio paved the way for punk music because it proved that people were interested and wanted to hear these local bands that would have never garnered the attention of big record labels in the first place.
In his foreword for the book, rock-journalist Jim Sullivan quotes something Joe Strummer told him backstage after a gig in 1979. ‘At least the young people are playing rock ’n’ roll now,’ he before adding, ‘How can you be like Yes and have a secret ambition to be a rock ’n’ roller? You think ‘Forget it, I’ll go back to my cleaning shop.”
Grecco captured the youth rebellion in its very nascent years – on stage, back stage and on the gritty streets of Boston between 1978 to 1986. It was always the first tour stop for bands visiting from England. Now those very same irreverent performers have gone on to become legends.
One such person was Billy Idol, with whom Grecco said they immediately ‘hit it off’ after meeting through a mutual friend at Boston’s rock radio station. ‘Every time he would come to town, I’d get a call from his road manager, Ace Penna, ‘Billy wants to see you and hang out,’ he told DailyMail.com, while recalling their all-night, drug-fueled ragers.
The two friends had a deal: Grecco would be allowed to shoot if it were for an assignment, but other than that, Idol didn’t want to be pestered for a picture. One night after a show, Idol was inexplicably angry. He picked up a metal milk crate and threw it at the wall (narrowly missing Grecco’s head). ‘He goes, ‘Your girlfriend keeps asking me to let you photograph me and we’re mates and you can’t take pictures of me all the time.” When Grecco explained that he didn’t have a girlfriend, Idol sheepishly sauntered off into his dressing room before sending a peace offering, ‘a gallon bag of blow,’ he recalls.
‘Billy feels really, really bad,’ said his Idol’s manager to Grecco. ‘Do you want a line?’
Grecco says he was the ‘unofficial/ official’ photographer for the local Boston band, Human Sexual Response. He was close friends with the singers Dini Lamont and Windle Davis, who were and still are a couple. ‘We had wild times together and in a moment of bisexuality, we shared a girlfriend’
Mick Jones guitarist for The Clash poses for a portrait back stage in New York City. Grecco drove down from Boston with Steve Jones (from The Sex Pistols) to catch The Clash play a two-week gig at Bonds Casino. They crashed on the floor of an apartment and Jones got them access backstage where he said: ‘I wound up doing lines with Topper [Headon] after the last show at Bonds in New York City.’ The Clash fired Headon the next day for his drug addiction. ‘I always felt like I possibly contributed to his demise with the band’
Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys performs a set at the Spit – a two-floor punk rock mecca where every ceiling, wall and floor was painted black. Grecco remembers how the bartender, Dini Lamot (also singer of the punk band Human Sexual Response) would end every night with his ‘own special nightcap’ consisting of all the drink spillage from the bar trough that he would drain and pour into cups
Guitarist Bryan Gregory (Greg Beckerleg) of the punk rock band The Cramps back stage at a Boston theater in 1980. The Cramps were part of the early CBGB punk-rock movement and are also widely recognized as one of the prime innovators of ‘psychobilly’ music
Members of The Cramps consisted of drummer Nick Knox, lead guitar Poison Ivy (born Kristy Marlana Wallace), guitar Bryan Gregory and lead singer Lux Interior. Poison Ivy and Lux Interior remained husband and wife until Lux’s death in 2009
Siouxsie and the Banshees vocalist Siouxsie Sioux performs live in Boston sometime in 1980. Sioux formed the band in London in 1976 with bass guitarist Steven Severin and rapidly evolved to create ‘a form of post-punk discord full of daring rhythmic and sonic experimentation’
Jonny Rotten takes a break during recording for his band, Public Image Limited (PiL)
Drugs were a mainstay every night and an entrée fee to a good photoshoot. ‘I think every story in that time revolved somehow around coke,’ he tells DailyMail.com.
Grecco recalls the first time he shot The Clash during their two-week gig at Bonds Casino in New York City. He drove down from Boston with Sex Pistols guitarist, Steve Jones and they crashed ‘on the floor of some apartment.’
Jones got him backstage on multiple nights and together they all indulged in the punk rock vices. ‘The ironic story is that The Clash fired Topper Headon the next day for his drug addiction, and I always felt like I possibly contributed to his demise with the band.’
Grecco says he was drawn to the energy and originality that punk rock exuded. ‘It was just an interesting culture of people that were wild and accepting,’ he says. ‘They were different from everyone else.’
By day, Grecco was a student at Boston University and an intern at the Associated Press. By night he was clad in his nightclub attire: ‘a leather jacket with zippers, tight jeans and cowboy boots’ and hitting up the city’s legendary punk outposts like the Rat, Spit, the Paradise, Jonathan Swift’s, Metro, Cantone’s.
Occasionally he would catch a show at some of the larger theatres like the Opera House and the Bradford Ballroom, the latter of which he shot the Specials and his personal favorite, the Buzzcocks. ‘In fact, I was the onstage camera. That just does not happen anymore.’
‘We all ended up at a house party after the show. Pete Shelley kept giving me his number and inviting me to visit him in England. I thought that was nice, but I was kind of naïve at the time.’
This iconic portrait of Billy Idol was taken in the corner of his dressing room at The Paradise Club. ‘It was an odd place to see a show because it was set up like a comedy dinner club, where the chairs were nailed down and you were looking directly across the table at the other two people there. You had to jerk your head about 90 degrees to see the band’
Members of the Buzzcocks Danny Farrant, Chris Remington, Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley pose for a portrait session at the Bradford in 1980. ‘We all ended up at a house party after the show. Pete Shelley kept giving me his number and inviting me to visit him in England. I thought that was nice, but I was kind of naïve at the time’
English musician Adam Ant gained popularity as the lead singer of the New Wave group Adam and the Ants. Grecco snapped this picture while he was on tour in Boston in 1981
Johnny Ramone pictured on stage in an undated photo. Michael Grecco told DailyMail.com: ‘Punk was like a wound, or a sore building up under the surface and then it just exploded’
Elvis Costello performs live at the Orpheum in 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts
Musician Joan Jett performs at the Cape Cod Coliseum in 1981 in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts
Now aged 63, Grecco lives in Los Angeles where he works as a celebrity, commercial and fine art photographer. He was also an executive producer of the Epix television series, ‘Punk.’
Michael Grecco’s decade in the festering underground has resulted in a stunning cache of 655 time-capsule photographs- each of them depicting the blazing, incendiary comet of punk rock pomp and pageantry. 162 of these images are featured in a special edition series Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978 to 1991.
The release of the book also coincides with an immersive exhibition of his work Punk Days; which is currently on display at the Photo London through September 12.
Speaking of his early days chronicling the chaos of punk rock, Michael Grecco says, ‘I look back at it in awe. It felt like we were a part of something special and unique.’
‘But I don’t miss that lifestyle. I’d be dead if I continued that lifestyle.’
Nonetheless, punk rock will always own Michael Grecco’s heart. A heart held together with a safety pin.
Members of the band Devo perform live at The Paradise Rock Club in 1976 in Boston, Massachusetts. Grecco recalls: ‘They were freakish, they had total free flowing creativity’
Rick Ocacek from The Cars poses next to Deborah Iyall from Romeo Void at The Spit Club in 1981. ‘It was an amazing time to be young, playing in a great band, and living in Boston,’ says Cars guitarist Elliot Easton in the foreword. The band got their start at The Rat in 1977. ‘We never even noticed how poor we were. We were having too much fun. It was an incredibly exciting time in my life. Every day seemed to bring exciting news’
A photograph of Michael Grecco during his punk rock early years in Boston. He wrote in his book: ‘Upon reflection, looking back forty years you have to think: ‘Wow, what an amazing life.’ Now, given my upbringing with an oppressive old-world Italian mother, of course, at times I felt guilty about it. You slept with someone new every night, you were always doing drugs, you were always drinking too much. I was having not just fun, but debauched fun – sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll’