It’s almost bittersweet hearing Frank Ferrara and Frankie Glicken talk about their brief stay in the rock and roll limelight. The two 60-somethings weave together old memories about their newly-reunited doom metal band, Bang, that involve more concerts, parties and hijinks than any given Andrew W.K. song. Performing shows with the likes of Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac. Nights spent partying in Puerto Rico during 1972’s infamous Mar Y Sol Pop Festival. Introducing Ozzy Osbourne to his first cheesesteak.
As evidenced by their rapport at West Philly’s Satellite Café on this rainy night, Ferrara, who handles bass and vocal duties in Bang, and Glicken, who plays guitar, are prone to bouts of marital bickering. Was it the Rod Stewart-led Faces or the pre-Rod Stewart Small Faces that the band opened for so many years ago? they argue. Or, when Ferrara talks about his frustration playing with other musicians over the years, how he’d want to “smack [them] upside the head,” Glicken chimes in with a wink: “I think you did that to me.”
The pair first met in elementary school, in Chichester, PA. “He was the nerd nobody wanted to hang out with, and I was the immigrant everybody was picking on,” the Italian-born Ferrara tells PW, “so we were drawn together.” By the time they were 16, freshly dropped out of high school, they met drummer Tony Diorio. The three jelled instantly, despite Diorio being 10 years their senior, and a formula fell into place: Diorio wrote the lyrics while Ferrara and Glicken figured out the instrumentation. Not too long afterward—factor in a year and a half spent practicing in basements and a band name change—Bang was born.
In 1971, after moving from their home bases of Claymont, DE and Philadelphia to Florida, armed with what Glicken describes as “that cocky 18-year-old thing,” Bang got their big break: an opening slot for Deep Purple, Matthews’ Southern Comfort and—going by the band’s page on AllMusic, since they can’t settle on if Stewart was there or not—the Faces. After going to a record store to cop some rolling papers, they caught wind of this Faces concert going on the next day.
“We got up at eight the next morning, drove the two hours to Orlando, pulled the U-Haul in the station around back,” says Ferrara. “We knocked on the door and said, ‘We’re Bang. We’re from Philadelphia. We’re the best fucking band in the world, and we want to play.’” Their brand of hard rock impressed the concert booker so much that the trio didn’t just play that night, but spent that summer touring around the country, stopping only to record what should have been their debut: a lofty concept album called Death of a Country.
Once record labels came a’calling, Bang chose Capitol because, according to Glicken, Capitol’s A&R rep Herb Belkin, their personal champion, was “an artist guy,” and not “a business type.” But seemingly even before the ink could dry, there were problems. “Capitol signed us off Death of a Country,” says Ferrara. “The minute they signed us, they basically told us, ‘We don’t do concept albums.’ We were like, ‘What are you saying? You signed us off this record. Now you don’t want to release it?’ They said, ‘No, we don’t think a concept album is a good idea for a debut album. You’ve got two weeks to write a record.’” (It wasn’t until 2004 that Death of a Country was finally released.)
The resulting debut LP, despite its rush job, did pretty well; 1972’s Bang produced “Questions,” a Billboard Top-100 track. But, as the guys remember it, after Belkin was unceremoniously fired, Capitol stopped promoting it. “Our support group from Capitol—the guys who were there when we were signed—within six months, they were not with the label anymore,” Ferrara says.
More conflict followed: Diorio was forced out by the label. Their sophomore release, Mother/Bow to the King, failed to move commercially—although it did garner the band a cult-like status. Other label-pressured attempts to achieve a mainstream sound failed too, and by 1974, they’d disbanded. “When you realize it’s not the music business, it’s the business of music—like selling shoes—you rip the heart out of it,” says Ferrara.
But their chronicles don’t end here. Subsequent years saw the rise of heavy metal and, as a result, a renewed interest in Bang. They flirted with brief comeback attempts, even releasing two albums of new material, 1999’s Return to Zero and The Maze in 2004. Around that time, Sean Pelletier—a former A&R man and avid metal fan who gained notoriety for his part in rehabbing Pentagram, another long-dead proto-metal act—reached out, and Bang accepted his managerial offer. “I found all these people who dug that lost ‘70s music and were looking for more. It became this cult movement,” Pelletier says. “Bang absolutely is one of the keystones of that.”
Whatever the case, they’ve got one hell of tale to tell. “Everything that happened in the Bang story is a true story,” muses Ferrara. “It’s not Spinal Tap. It’s not Almost Famous. The things we went through, man.”
Fri., April 11, 9:15pm. $15-$17. With Serpent Throne + The Company Corvette. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
We just can’t do without Caribou