Seminal Chicago Punk band Pegboy turning up the volume with spate of shows
To become a legend in Punk rock, perhaps more than any other genre of music, integrity and credibility are essential. Record sales and fame, metrics for most other genres, are actually usually negative traits for punk rock. So it’s a given that Chicago punk outfit Pegboy hasn’t achieved riches or much fame outside of the punk scene, but the band’s influence and workingman-like humility has earned them arguably the largest cult following in town, despite not releasing anything new in twenty years.
Formed in 1990 by ex-Naked Raygun guitarist John Haggerty, his brother Joe Haggerty, formerly of The Effigies, singer/guitarist Larry Damore and bassist Steve Saylors, both formerly of the Bhopal Stiffs, Pegboy is a rare band that has never broken up and aside from the bassist spot, the original lineup has always remained the same. Saylors left after a couple years and Steve Albini ended up playing bass on the band’s Fore EP. Shortly after that, Pierre Kezdy, formerly of Naked Raygun would become the bassist and remain for 13 years before returning to Raygun in 2006, which opened the door for skinny Mike Thompson, who still remains.
Considering their roots and their hot start — they had three albums and three EPs in six years along with two videos that were featured on MTV in the early days of shows like 120 Minutes — some fans have always been puzzled why they didn’t achieve more commercial success. It’s true that true punk bands like Pegboy never had a chance of achieving mainstream success like a poser band such as Green Day (The thought of Larry Damore singing a song like Wake Me Up When September Ends is laughable); but surely if they had done this or that they would have been as big as Bad Religion or Social Distortion. That’s a debate for music nerds, but what isn’t debatable is the fact that despite not releasing anything new for 20 years and only playing one or two shows a year for the most part since their last release, Pegboy has always had one of the strongest and most loyal fan bases in the punk music.
The reason is simple: Their clean-cut workingman image (John Haggerty sports a crew cut out of 1959, Joe Haggerty and Larry Damore usually wear “the uniform” — blue Levi’s and a white T-shit; and baby-faced Mike Thompson looks like he escaped out of a prep school) and their muscle ’n’ melody songs with lyrics that mean so much to their long-time fans. You won’t find any face and neck tattoos or nose rings with these guys, just hard-driving, melodic songs that most of their fans can recite line by line — a fact that makes them more punk rock than any green-haired band that thrashes a stage. The truth is, the guys in Pegboy are more likely to help an old lady get across a street than to thrash a stage. It’s that humility and sense of decency that make them punk rock and the embodiment of Chicago, along with the fact that they all are blue-collar guys who always kept their “regular” jobs— (John Haggerty and Mike Thompson tend bar, Damore is a contractor and Joe Haggerty is a plumber in the City of Chicago’s Water Department).
2017 is proving to be an interesting year for the band. They are currently in the midst of one of their busiest periods in a long, long time, having played the Don’t Panic Fest in Denver in February; Motoblot in Chicago in June; upcoming shows at Fest 16 in Gainesville, Florida; then a few days later, a fest with Bad Religion in Sao Paulo, Brazil; topped off with a Thanksgiving Eve show, (a night they used to play for years but haven’t in a long time) at Chop Shop in Chicago. All this activity brings up the eternal question — are they planning to write and release anything new? That’s a question, along with several others, that Bob Chiarito of The Chicago Ambassador put to them after one of their practices to gear up for their upcoming gigs in the West Side practice space they occupy.
Photos by Patrick Houdek.
CA) You know you guys owe me at least 3 pairs of glasses over the years, including at Motoblot this year. [Laughter]
JOE HAGGERTY: We’re doing something right.
CA) One of the conversations among your fans has always been, and I’ve been listening and going to your shows since the 1990s— back then, the question was, when will the next album come out? And now the question is, will there ever be another one. I’m sure you get that question a lot.
LARRY DAMORE: Right, right.
CA) Do you guys think about it at all?
LD) You know, we do think about but it never seems to get into full swing. I could say this. If we ever do it, if we ever decide to record again, it will have to be real good to ever see the light of day. We won’t record something to just put a record out or to put out something that we aren’t happy with, there’s no reason.
CA) Hypothetically speaking, Would it be new stuff or is there stuff that you left on the floor from the old days?
LARRY DAMORE) No, we never really left anything on the floor.
JOE HAGGERTY) We left a lot of things on the floor.
LARRY DAMORE) Well, yeah.
JOE HAGGERTY) We left a lot of parts on the floor, we fucking hated everything.
LARRY DAMORE) It would be parts of songs and things like that. We never had any complete songs that we decided not to record, so it would have to be all new stuff.
CA) There are some bands that have been around just as long, some even longer, that laid off for a long time as far as releasing new stuff and now they are. Does that kinda spur you guys at all?
LARRY DAMORE) To a degree it does. It seems like a lot of the older bands are doing relatively decent now. So it’s kind of encouraging that anyone would want to hear bands like that, or us.
JOE HAGGERTY) It’s not out of the question.
JOHN HAGGERTY) For some reason they want us to go out to Brazil all of a sudden, so who knows?
CA) Who’s ’They’?
JOE HAGGERTY) This girl on Facebook from Brazil said ‘I wish you guys could come down here to Brazil and play here.’ Then a few months later this promoter called and invited us to play with Bad Religion.
CA) When is that?
LARRY DAMORE) After we play in Florida, we’ll be back for a few days and then we’re off to Brazil.
CA) I recently interviewed Chuck Ragan at Riot Fest and he confirmed that Hot Water Music’s new song Never Going Back was indeed a hat tip to you guys and Strong Reaction. What are your thoughts on that?
MIKE THOMPSON) Yeah, I saw that. That’s cool.
LARRY DAMORE) It is pretty cool. They’ve done really well for themselves since we’ve known them. We met them in the early 1990s when they were just forming and they used to come to all of our shows. I think they put us up when we were straggling along back then. It’s cool that all these years later that they would tip their hats to us. I always remember them as being super nice kids.
CA) This one is more for Mike. Mike, you’ve been with the band for 10 years now, but you’re still kind of considered the new guy. [Everyone laughs]
MIKE THOMPSON) I still get it every day.
CA) I think Pierre had you by three years, but out of 4 guys if I count Steve Albini [who played bass on the Fore EP], you’ve had the second-longest tenure. It’s kind of weird.
DAMORE) Until we fire him, he’ll be ‘the new guy.’
CA) To go back to my question about new stuff, everything was written when you arrived, so would it be extra special for you to contribute to something?
MIKE THOMPSON) I feel like they owe me a record. [laughter]
CA) Larry — You sang or attempted to sing that song with Hot Water Music at their Riot Fest after show at Cobra.
LARRY DAMORE) Brutal!
MIKE THOMPSON) I like the “attempted” part.
LARRY DAMORE) I had heard it a couple times before that night. They asked me and I said, ’Sure, why not?’ but then I thought to myself, what the hell did I just do?
CA) You were there, right John?
JOHN HAGGERTY) Yeah, I was there.
LARRY DAMORE) He witnessed the debacle.
CA) I interviewed Naked Raygun about a year and a half ago and when I talked to them, I did bring you guys up. Pierre and Jeff said a couple interesting things. This question is more for John. Jeff said he didn’t know why you quit Raygun and Pierre said that you wanted a fourth of the assets of the band. Is there still bad blood between you and those guys?
JOHN HAGGERTY) No, I told them exactly why I was leaving and it wasn’t because of money. It wasn’t all because of money.
CA) The other thing Pierre said was that you don’t want to talk to him and he doesn’t know why. Have you guys talked?
JOHN HAGGERTY) Nah, I’ve made it clear why I’ve left.
DAMORE) (To Haggerty) Go on…
JOHN HAGGERTY) At this point in time it will just hurt peoples feelings.
CA) I’m not looking to start a controversy. I’m just curious.
JOHN HAGGERTY) All I could tell you is that they were absolutely certain why I left. They just decided to replace me. Instead of doing what I thought we should do, they decided to replace me. The only thing I can remember about that is that they were real proud they found someone and didn’t have to cancel any gigs. [Laughter]
CA) Not many bands have tribute albums to them, at least not many that are still alive and still playing shows. Yet, in 2006 The World I Know was released — a compilation of 24 of your songs performed by 24 bands that like you guys and/or were influenced by you guys. What did you think of the tribute?
LARRY DAMORE) It was flattering. At that point, we were playing a little bit and we still don’t tour. We’ve gone on a couple jaunts here and there, but especially back then, we weren’t playing a whole lot. Even though they knew we didn’t break up, it was cool and flattering. He called me if it would be cool.
CA) Who’s “he”?
LARRY DAMORE) Justin Schwier, from Underground Communique Records. He was all jacked about it, he was a long-time fan. He had talked to a few people already and he approached us with it and we said, ‘Have at it.’
MIKE THOMPSON) That came out right before I joined.
CA) How did you guys hook up with Mike?
LARRY DAMORE) We kinda became fast friends, hanging around the same clubs together. I had seen his band, Making Ghosts, a few times. [Making Ghosts is still active with Thompson as its front-man]. When all the stuff happened with Pierre, I knew he was a good front man. He wasn’t a bass player but he had a good presence and we got along as friends so it was easy to ask him to jump right in.
MIKE THOMPSON) I was someone they wouldn’t get sick of right away.
CA) It’s been ten years.
LARRY DAMORE) That’s shocking.
CA) How’s it feel to sing ‘My Youth’?
LARRY DAMORE) There’s a line in it, ‘Here I sit at 26.’ Ten years after we wrote it, I started singing ‘Here I sit at 36.’ Then I started singing ‘Here I sit at 46.’ We’ll see about the next one if we’re still doing it.
JOE HAGGERTY) It’s an old, old song.
CA) (To Larry) I think this is the first time I haven’t seen you in a white t-shirt.
LARRY DAMORE) I came straight from work. (Points to Joe Haggerty) He’s got it. [Laughter]
CA) Is that your plan for Florida and Brazil too?
LARRY DAMORE) Absolutely, have to have the uniform on.
CA) Another thing fans discuss, you’re probably aware of it or maybe not, but they say things like, ‘Oh man, I wish they would have toured back then, they would have been huge.’ Do you guys every regret never taking a summer and touring?
JOE HAGGERTY) We toured a lot.
LARRY DAMORE) We did a lot of touring. Looking back on it, we toured a lot but we probably should have jumped in the van and stayed on the road for a solid year. It would have probably have helped. The 1990s were a good time for bands like us and we benefitted to a degree, but looking back on it, we probably should have toured more.
CA) You had a couple videos on MTV in its early days and things like that. The punk rock thing isn’t really a commercial thing anyway though.
LARRY) I also think in hindsight that we were with a booking agent who really wasn’t willing to go out of his way to put us with like-minded bands. It seemed like he just threw us with whatever bands he had touring. Had we sought out a little different management and put with a few other bands that were more like us, that might have helped.
CA) (To Joe and Larry) I’ve seen the documentary and heard you guys talk about the fly fishing. How did you guys get into that?
JOE HAGGERTY) We used to bass fish and muskie fish before that.
LARRY) Joe and I started fly fishing and one night we were sitting at the bar. You know Herb Rosen, the owner of Liar’s Club and the old Rights of the Accused guy. He talked about how much he liked fly fishing as well, so fast-track us three fly fishing together. One time I was on a fly fishing [online] forum and my name was Pegboy1 and one of the fellow fly fishing forum guys asked if I was with the band. We started chatting and it turned out he was a filmmaker, so the next thing you know he approached us with it. It was fun.
JOE HAGGERTY) Chuck Ragan is into fly fishing too.
LARRY DAMORE) He’s a fly fishing guide.
CA) Yeah. He talked about how the fly fishing community is kind of like the punk rock community.
LARRY DAMORE) It is to a degree, yeah.
CA) You guys still all work ‘regular’ jobs, right?
JOE HAGGERTY) Yeah. Always have and at this point, always will.
CA) Anyone married with kids or anything like that?
JOE HAGGERTY) Just me.
LARRY) Joe’s married, no kids. None of us have kids so if we ever did decide to do a new record it would be very easy to go back on tour. It’s hard to tour these days. Back in the 1990s you could go out for a month and a half and have shows every night. The music scene is so diluted now. That’s why a lot of people are flying and doing one or two shows here or there. It’s different.
CA) What’s the deal with Riot Fest? Have they approached you?
LARRY DAMORE) We’ve played it several times [when it was at different clubs]. I’m not particularly — no offense to anyone at Riot Fest, but I just think that type of thing really sucks money out of a scene that would otherwise be going into clubs year-round. They’ve turned it into a money grab.
JOHN HAGGERTY) There’s no doubt about it.
LARRY DAMORE) Punk rock to me isn’t meant to be three days with 40,000 people in a park.
JOHN HAGGERTY) That’s right.
LARRY DAMORE) Punk rock to me is a small scene that needs to be dark.
JOHN HAGGERTY) Indoors, at night. No carnival atmosphere.
LARRY DAMORE) There’s no love lost. He hasn’t asked us and we wouldn’t do it.
CA) When you played it, that’s when it was at different venues?
LARRY) Yeah, we played it several times. I think the last time we did it was the first year it was outside, but we played an inside show the night before the fest began.
CA) I know you’re not a fan of outdoor shows. I remember you said something at Motoblot and even the Touch and Go Records [25th Anniversary show in 2006].
LARRY DAMORE) It just kills what the whole—
JOHN HAGGERTY) Yeah, I don’t like those. Even the Touch and Go thing, it would have been better inside at night.
LARRY DAMORE) If the wind changes direction, the sound goes away. Have you ever seen a good outdoor show, really?
CA) Thinking about the Touch and Go thing, I remember you guys talking about the atmosphere in the old days were bands were dealt with through handshake deals. Does that still go on?
LARRY) There’s certainly less and less of it. The last time we played at one of recent bigger shows we did, the venue made us get hold-harmless insurance. It’s kind of really killed the spirit of it. Now that punk rock is commercial and valuable, all these scumbags have gotten involved and everyone wants their little piece. It’s just anti everything that punk rock as we knew it is anymore. Who thought about getting insurance to go play and somebody else’s club? It was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard, but we had to do it.
CA) That was recently?
LARRY) We went off with The Offspring and played a couple casino shows. They would not let us play until we had our own policies.
JOHN HAGGERTY) The mob was worried. [Laughter]
CA) Were they worried about you guys or the crowd?
LARRY) In case somebody were to get hurt at our show, that they couldn’t be liable and that we would hold them harmless against any lawsuits against us. Stuff that you would have never thought of back in the 1980s or 1990s.
CA) I never sued you for the glasses. [Laughter]
CA) You guys have been around for as long as the ages of some guys in new bands. What would you say to them, especially Chicago punk bands coming up?
JOHN HAGGERTY) Get out. [Laughter]
LARRY DAMORE) Go to college, get a degree, don’t look back.
JOE HAGGERTY) We don’t recommend it. If you really love music, have fun. You’re not going to make a career out of it, absolutely not. If you don’t have fun, there’s no fucking point.
Pegboy plays the Chop Shop in Chicago, Wednesday, November 22.
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