The Misfits are an American rock band often recognised as the progenitors of the horror punk sub-genre, blending punk rock and other musical influences with horror film themes and imagery.
Founded in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey by singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, the group had a fluctuating lineup during its first six years with Danzig and bassist Jerry Only as the only consistent members – a trend which continues to this day. During this time they released several EPs and singles, and with Only’s brother, Doyle, as guitarist, the albums Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983), both considered touchstones of the early-1980s hardcore punk movement.
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Named after the 1961 Marilyn Monroe film, the band stuck to the familiar template of riotous gigs and short, frenetic songs but embellished both themselves and the songs with classic horror imagery.
The revolving door of band members settled somewhat when Danzig was joined by Jerry Caiafa – his name-change was prompted by an early misspelling, to which he responded he should be referred to as “Jerry, only Jerry”. With Danzig on vocals, Only on his recently obtained bass guitar, they also featured Manny Martinez on drums – the lack of a lead guitarist necessitating Danzig to play electric piano to flesh out their sound. Martinez became one of many to occupy the drum stool, friction between new members and Danzig/Only and the rigors of touring forcing a succession of stick holders to flee.
By 1977 the band had recruited Franché Coma (born Frank Licata) on lead guitar, meaning Danzig could concentrate on both singing and developing his looming stage persona, whilst also ensuring the music became noticeably punkier and more aggressive. The position of guitarist also soon became vacant, with Coma replaced by Bobby Steele (later himself to form The Undead) and eventually settling on Only’s 16 year-old brother, Paul, who adopted the pseudonym Doyle.
Whilst their music later influenced many bands, their image had an even broader influence on fashion and style. By 1978, Danzig song-writing was taking many elements from horror movies, in particular many of the classic Universal films and 1950’s B-movies and science fiction. He began to appear onstage with skeleton designs on his clothing, whilst Only began to apply dark make-up and a hairstyle which became known as the Devil Lock, an extreme exaggeration of a widow’s peak – other band members also soon adopted this look.
Their place in rock lore was assured with the release of their single, “Horror Business” in June 1979, the cover of which featured the now almost omnipresent image of The Crimson Ghost, from the 1946 film serial. This simple but distinctive image became their logo and was soon featured on t-shirts, records sleeves, posters and a range of merchandise even Kiss would have been proud of. The skull also became the emblem for their fan club which was known as The Fiend Club.
Early support slots in New York for British punk rock pioneers The Damned promised much but breakthroughs were hampered by travel problems, poor organisation and the band’s habit of getting into fights at the drop of a hat.
Early releases appeared on Mercury Records sub-division Blank Records, though the band later released recordings through their own Plan 9 label, named, of course, after the notorious Ed Wood film, Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Whilst their first album proper, Static Age would not find a home until 1997 in its unabridged glory, their first full-length release to hit the shelves was Walk Among Us, the 1981 album release on Los Angeles-based Slash Records.
As the band’s image and sound became more widely known, the found themselves elevated to headliners, with bands such as the Necros in support. They continued to bait both audiences and unbelievers, their shows becoming must-see events, the spectacle onstage often spilling out into the hungry throng.
In 1982 they were arrested in New Orleans on charges of grave robbing while attempting to locate the grave of voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, but bailed themselves out of jail and skipped their court date in order to drive to their next performance.
The following year, before the release of their Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood opus, tensions between the band members reached new heights and by the time of their annual Halloween show, the situation became untenable, Danzig announcing to the audience that this would be their last show.
Danzig reappeared with a new project, Samhain, a far more heavy metal vehicle and featuring longer tracks and a more prominent role for the singer, who revelled in the new press adornment of ‘the black Elvis’. He would later release his best-selling work under his own name and regularly re-worked Misfits songs to fit in with his new style.
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Meanwhile, Only and Doyle returned to New Jersey, an unlikely finding of faith leading to the formation of the Christian metal band, Kryst the Conqueror. When Metallica covered the Misfits songs “Green Hell” and “Last Caress” the band received more attention than ever, a new audience eager to find out who they were. The compilation, Legacy of Brutality was released, as was the long-lost Static Age, with Danzig re-dubbing much of the original recordings to avoid paying the parade of ex-members.
Only contacted Danzig about receiving a portion of the royalties from these albums’ sales, beginning a legal battle that lasted several years and involved other past members of the band. All of the Misfits material had been credited to Danzig, and though Only later conceded that Danzig had written nearly all of the lyrics and most of the music, he contended that he and Doyle “wrote 25% or maybe 30% of the music” and deserved compensation. Danzig, however, insisted that he had written all of the songs in their entirety and that the other members’ creative input had been minimal. Eventually Only ceased his pursuit of songwriting credits and sought the rights to use the Misfits name and imagery, including the now-famous “Crimson Ghost” skull face logo.
In 1995 the parties reached an out-of-court settlement that allowed Only and Doyle to record and perform as the Misfits, sharing merchandising rights with Danzig. Collection II, a third compilation of Misfits songs, was released later that year.
The murk of the proceedings led to Only and Doyle (now Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein!) reforming the band – both Danzig and Damned singer Dave Vanian declined to take part, unknown Michael Emanuel (dubbed Michale Graves) stepping into Glenn’s tiny shoes – David Calabrese (“Dr Chud”) handled the drums.
This new collective released the album American Psycho in 1997, an album which firmly divided audiences, many original Misfits fans declaring it all but heresy. Regardless, 1999 saw the release of Famous Monsters, perhaps their most accessible work (or at least their most mainstream). Of note, is the track, “Scream!”, which was accompanied by a promo video directed by George A. Romero.
Further incarnations and releases appeared, up to the present day, band members as luminary as Dez Cadena of Black Flag and Marky Ramone appearing. On May 6th, 2014, it was announced that Glenn Danzig had filed a lawsuit against Jerry Only claiming Only registered trademarks for everything Misfits-related in 2000 behind Danzig’s back, misappropriating exclusive ownership over the trademarks for himself, including the band’s iconic “Crimson Ghost” logo. Danzig claimed that this violated a 1994 contract the two had. Danzig says that after registering the trademarks, Only secretly entered into deals with various merchandisers and cut him out of any potential profits in the process. He said that Only has purposefully led, and continues to lead, merchandisers, including Hot Topic, to believe that they are legally bound not to accept licenses to exploit the Marks from Danzig or his designees. He said that through this, Only has caused merchandisers not to do business with him and has deceived consumers as to the source of the merchandise which bore the trademarks.
Danzig said a vast majority of Misfits fans associate the band’s trademarks with the “classic” Misfits era of 1977–1983 and not with Only’s more recent incarnation of the band. Danzig feels that through these misrepresentations to merchandisers and consumers, he has been caused to suffer damages in excess of $75,000. The case was ultimately dismissed, with Central District of California Judge Gary Klausner ruling that Danzig failed to allege which terms of the 1994 agreement Only actually breached.
Despite this, Only remains hopeful that Danzig will eventually return to the band. Their influence can been seen and heard in all subsequent horror-punk bands, horrorcore outfits and many psychobilly acts. Their Crimson Ghost logo appears in many high street retailers and, as with the Ramones logo, are often worn by people who have little idea of the band themselves.
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- Jerry Only (Gerald Caiafa) – bass guitar (1977–1983, 1995–present), backing vocals (1977–1983, 1995–2000), lead vocals (2001–present)
- Dez Cadena – guitar, backing vocals (2001–present)
- Eric “Chupacabra” Arce – drums (2010–present)
- Jerry Caiafa II – guitar, backing vocals (2014–present)
- Glenn Danzig (Glenn Anzalone) – vocals, electric piano (1977–1983)
- Manny Martínez – drums (1977)
- Franché Coma (Frank Licata) – guitar (1977–1978)
- Mr. Jim (Jim Catania) – drums (1978)
- Bobby Steele – guitar (1978–1980)
- Joey Image (Joey Poole) – drums (1978–1979)
- Arthur Googy (Joseph McGuckin) – drums (1980–1982)
- Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (Paul Caiafa) – guitar (1980–1983, 1995–2001)
- Robo (Roberto Valverde) – drums (1982–1983, 2005–2010)
- Brian Damage (Brian Keats) – drums (1983) (died in 2010)
- Doctor Chud (David Calabrese) – drums (1995–2000)
- Michale Graves (Michael Emanuel) – lead vocals (1995–2000)
- Myke Hideous – Vocals (1998)
- Zoltán Téglás – Vocals (2000)
- Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) – drums (2001–2005)
- Studio albums:
- 12 Hits From Hell (1980)
- Walk Among Us (1982)
- Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983)
- Static Age (1996)
- American Psycho (1997)
- Famous Monsters (1999)
- Project 1950 (2003)
- The Devil’s Rain (2011)
Daz ‘I ain’t no goddamned son-of-a-bitch’ Lawrence, moviesandmania