~A conversation with Tony Leek, P.O.N.Y. bassist~
December 22, 2023
via Facebook Messenger video call
Tony Leek talks about his time with Manny Martinez, original Misfits drummer, who passed away in December of 2023...
TVC: First of all, Tony, let me just start out by saying thank you for agreeing to talk a little bit about this. It's always interesting to people like myself when we find these little nuggets of new info. I don't assume because it never ceases to amaze me, that people don't really know how they fit into this whole puzzle, but are you aware of the popularity of Glenn and the Misfits?
TONY: Sure, Absolutely. I played bass for Glenn, before the Misfits. I was the bass player for P.O.N.Y.
TVC: For P.O.N.Y.! There's the name I know. With Manny's passing I'm really anxious to get any new information on him because I really feel like it's just going to slip away. There's not that many people out there that are in your position - where you worked with him and you were his friend and you're here available - and willing - to talk to us.
TONY: I mean, we're going way back, you know, like 50 years here - but, as best as I can remember it, I'll try to share what I can. I'll tell you what, if you're ready, I'll just give you a few nuggets here and you can ask questions.
TVC: Perfect - you want to just roll with like a stream of consciousness and just tell me what you remember? I'm not really prepared with any in depth questions because I don't know what to ask.
TONY: No worries. So, we're talking 1972 through 1973. I grew up in Lodi and became interested in music when I was like 13, and began playing with Charlie Jones, you've probably heard that name.
TONY: Space, yeah! His nickname was Space. It was appropriate - but he was a really good guitarist, and I played bass. When we started to go to high school, same high school as Manny - Manny, I think he's about two years older than me, so he'd already graduated - we had this guy, Guy - you might've heard that name in one of the YouTube videos. Guy LoIacono was a close friend and we began doing music together. Guy knew Manny, so he brought Manny in, and that was the beginnings of a band called Sheba. Sheba was actually Manny's Doberman pincher, so we named the band after the Doberman. When we would play, we'd actually keep the Doberman chained up next to the equipment so nobody would mess with it - and it was very effective. Guy Liacono, unfortunately, he drowned when he was oh, 16 years old, so we were pretty devastated by that happening, but the rest of us stayed together musically. With, Manny, we originally started with - it wasn't a country band - it was more along the lines of Poco, Grateful Dead, that type of Southern rock stuff, as well as a lot of originals. Musically, we started out by writing all our own stuff, then went on to do covers. So, a lot of good stuff was coming out - very creative. Manny wasan excellent drummer. He was getting lessons from Buddy Rich and his family had a club over in New York, so he was saturated with music early on. Pretty much anything that we could throw at him, Manny could do. We tried just about anything we could think of. We did hard rock, we did southern rock, we did some country, we did jazz, you know, pretty much anything that we felt like doing, we did. At one point the band was so big that we moved it all up to a commune up over in Cedar Grove. It was a huge band, a lot of people playing in it, and so big that we couldn't even get a gig because there were just too many people.
TVC: So it was very Grateful Dead-ish in that way?
TONY: A lot of, yes, stuff like the Grateful Dead, a lot of original material too. Manny was drumming, me on bass, Space was on guitar, we had another guitarist, had a pedal steel player, had a violin player and a banjo player. So it was a lot of people, and it was a good sound, but, again, we weren't getting a lot of gigs. So, when Stevie Lindner came and we started rehearsing over at his place, he said, "you know, we've got a singer that we can bring in and he's going to help get us gigs." That's when Glenn started rehearsing with us. We rehearsed for, I don't know, maybe about three or four months, but I'll say that Glenn was - he was more of a visionary - very disciplined, good entrepreneur. Before we knew it, we were playing places, and had stuff lined up. So, that's how all of this began. It started with Guy LoIacono, and then the Sheba band, then when Glenn came in, it became P.O.N.Y.
TVC: From the lore that I've read, P.O.N.Y. stood for "Prostitutes of New York." Does that ring true with you?
TONY: Yeah, that's what it was, alright. Prostitutes of New York.
TVC: I believe Manny talked about P.O.N.Y. performing in saran wrap or something like that? Does that ring a bell?
TONY: When we started doing some of the cover stuff, like David Bowie and Lou Reed and, Doors and all that sort of thing, Glenn booked us, I think it was, if I'm recalling right, over at a place in New York. I think it was called studio 54. At the time, I just started dating this beautiful young lady, and I was wanting to spend time with my girlfriend.
TVC: Of course.
TONY: The style of music we did, Glenn saw early on that you had to add a little bit more theatrical element, to the band to make it more appealing. At the time there were some bands out in New York, like, Another Pretty Face, the New York Dolls - the type of bands that Glenn wanted to emulate. So he had us put on clown white makeup and scuba helmets. This was a radical shift for me musically, and it wasn't really my cup of tea, but, I said, "whatever - if it gets a gig..." Well, the gig over at Studio 54 (I think it was, if I'm remembering correctly,) it was cold, you know, getting late up in the Northeast, and the club was like a hollowed out couple of townhouses for what it's worth. It had a large venue downstairs with a kitchen. On the second floor, there was another venue, not as big as the one on the ground floor. Above that, there was another venue, even smaller. So it was three stories. We got there and evidently the owner was traveling or something, and the staff didn't know that we were supposed to play - and this is after we got done unloading all this equipment, trying to find parking and such, I didn't have dinner, It's freezing cold, and we're lugging all this stuff in and they said "all right, I'll tell you what - we didn't know you were coming, so take all your stuff up to the second floor and you can play there after everyone else finishes." I think we were originally supposed to play at about 10 o'clock or so, and now it's like one o'clock, almost two o'clock, and the club says "well, move your equipment up to the third floor now, and you can play up there." So, I'm hungry, I'm cold, I want to hang out with my girlfriend, and I'm just not in a good mood. We start moving the stuff upstairs, and then they say "the downstairs is open, now you can go downstairs." So it's like a bad joke, you know? Like, are you serious? So, we're talking a whole bunch of equipment here - drums, big amplifiers, and all that stuff. We finally get everything downstairs, and it's gotta be about 2 o'clock, maybe later, and I'm starving. Glenn says, "you know what, we need to play with our shirts off." Why? "Well, because it's gonna, look good with the scuba helmets and the makeup." So now I'm really starting to get irritated. Alright, fine, I'll do it. So I take my shirt off, and this place must have had the air conditioning on, because, I mean, like, I am just like freezing. Everybody else has their shirts off. Everybody's freezing. I say, you know what, I'm gonna go to the kitchen and see if they've got anything. So I went to the kitchen, I said "do you guys have any saran wrap?" They said, yeah, why? I said "wrap me up in the saran wrap, just around my chest and stomach." This way I have at least some kind of, you know, cover, and I figured it would look kind of cool too, because we're, trying to look theatrical anyway.
TVC: Well, nothing compliments a scuba helmet like saran wrap, right?
TONY: Well, I figured it would keep the bass player fresh, you know, so, yeah. I couldn't write this script, right? So I come back out, and I'm just in a mood. I was feeling like the whole theatrical approach was... I just didn't feel we were being authentic. I understand it now, and Glenn was really brilliant for doing what he did. He, of course, took it out to many more iterations. He had the vision early. I didn't get it. So, I came out and Manny says "why're you wrapped in saran wrap" and I said "Because we're all plastic!" so I nipped at him and he was like "all right, F you!" and that was pretty much it. After that, I said "I don't think this is for me. I don't want to wear clown makeup and saran wrap." So, I bailed and everybody kind of broke apart. Manny and Glenn went on to form the Misfits and they had great success. So that's the unabridged story of the saran wrap.
TVC: Let's get back to you - a little bit before you and Manny. How did you get interested in music? Did you play in other bands before you played with Manny? Your lead-up is important to the story, too.
TONY: I went to grammar school with Charlie 'Space' Jones, and one day I just got this bug - I wanted to play guitar. I went over to his house and just said, let's start a band, so we did. It was called The Demonstration, and we played, grammar school parties and that kind of thing - but all of our material was original and it was kind of punkish in a way. A lot of it was, energy-driven. Once you start everything, you pick up more musicians as you go. We went on, afterwards, to form a duet that we called the, the Gibba Brothers for some reason, and we played all kinds of stuff. Beatles, Jim Croce, you name it. I'll give you a memorable story on that one. We were camping up in Harriman State Park. I had a couple of girls, and they said "I don't eat this freeze dried food, and Charlie said "well, there's a, there's a bar in town and they serve food. We don't have a lot of money so, let's go get the guitars. We'll see if we can play for our dinner. So, we walked in with the guitars and the girls and said "can we provide some entertainment? He says, I can't pay you, and I said we'll play, and then if you think we're good, feed us. The place was dead. We broke out the guitars, we started doing some pretty decent stuff, and everybody was into it. The bar started to fill, and the drinks started to flow, and they fed us till we almost burst - it was a cool night. We just, showed up out of nowhere, played a bunch of music, drew a crowd, because I guess they were calling people in.
TVC: That's wild.
TONY: That's how it was. Sometimes we'd go into New York and we'd just play down over in the village. You know, you'd just break out your guitars - street performer style. Yeah. We'd play anywhere.
TVC: So, I'm guessing by the name... the demonstration, that was it, right?
TONY: The band. Yeah. That was the very first band.
TVC: Yeah. That sounds very sixties to me.
TONY: Oh, it totally was. It totally was. We had a sixth grade teacher that was really into the movement and we thought he was fantastic. He took the whole class to go see 2001 A Space Odyssey. We didn't know what we were watching.
TVC: Speaking of school, was that at Jefferson?
TONY: No, it was Lodi High School.
TVC: Maybe you can help me with something. I noticed that - I want to say it said "Jefferson High School" on the building - etched in stone. It's maybe four or five blocks away from the current high school as I recall. Was Lodi High School anywhere else except that building next to the cemetery over there on Putnam?
TONY: It originally was on, I think it was First Street. You might have seen - it might have had Jefferson or something similar etched on some of the the stones. They turned that into the middle school and built a new high school, which was by the cemetery.
TVC: It's amazing, something so simple as that... it's hard to get a good answer because, nobody cares that that used to be the high school or what it was before then. And as a kid, you probably didn't care either, right?
TONY: As a kid, you really don't care much. I mean, who would have thought we'd be talking about this stuff 50 years later?
TVC: When I do these interviews, I often put myself in your position and think, "well, what would I remember about school or whatever, all that long ago?"
TONY: I got a pretty good memory, long term.
TVC: I'm super glad!
TONY: I'm glad. I'm glad it makes a difference. Again, I mean, Manny was a great guy. We were like brothers, but like, like everything else, you form close bonds when you're kids, teenagers, and some of them do last forever. Then life shows up and, you know, people drift. It wasn't until around 2016, I was querying Manny just to see if I could find him - on Facebook or anything. I found the YouTube videos and when he mentioned the whole Saran wrap thing, I laughed my head off. He called me, and we talked a couple of times after that, just to kind of see how he was. We were laughing about stuff that happened, so that was nice. We reconnected after a long time and I had a feeling he was sick - I wasn't quite sure what the deal was. I didn't want to press him on it.
TVC: Just from his videos and from his social media posts, he seemed like a real funny guy, real joker.
TONY: Oh yeah, Manny had a great sense of humor. It's actually his whole family. He had a good sense of humor. When we were, when we were with Sheba, we had a guy by the name of Bob Wicks playing guitar. I think at the time we had maybe the pedal steel player, and we had Manny. Wicks was playing rhythm. Space was playing on, lead and I was on bass, doing most of the singing, but we had a decent harmony, you know, like two, three part harmony. So, Manny's brother, Jimmy, I guess he had something happening with running a halfway house down over in Newark, New Jersey, and he said "Hey, would you guys want to go down there and play the halfway house?" So we loaded everything up, and had another guy helping us out - Gary Rocket. He had a van, and Space had a Ford, LTD. We head down to Newark and it's the dead of winter - seems like the only time we ever played anywhere was when it was cold. Anyway, we're hungry. Space stops over at a Burger King and says, I got to eat. For some reason, he left the keys in the car - running - and he locked the doors. We're stuck in like one of the roughest sections and the cars running and now what do we do? Somebody comes along with a Slim Jim and opens the door for us. It's like everybody had one. So, we went, and we played the gig. But, Wix - What happened was we were playing in the halfway house and you know after the first set, I sent Wix out to go get some beer but he hadn't come back for about a half hour. He finally got back and I found out that he went out into the audience, and they mugged him!
TONY: Yeah, a tough crowd, huh? He got rolled. [The next few minutes are spent discussing Italian names and culture...]
TONY: Yeah, most of the town of Lodi was Italian, but it was kind of a melting pot. I was the token English kid. [The next few minutes again drift onto other subjects, until we circle back and touch on why I'm even having this discussion...]
TVC: I got exposed to the Misfits in the late 80s by a friend who was into punk music. He played American Nightmare, and being a huge Elvis and Ricky Nelson fan, the minute I heard that, I was struck. Now, of course, that was not really indicative of their entire catalog, but to me, it all still had that sort of feel. Later, all the right things just fell into place - I moved just a few hours from Lodi The internet was just happening I found a website (Misfits Central) that was documenting the Misfits I was inspired to build a website of my own Jerry and Doyle started the Misfits back up So I start researching and finding all these people that are very willing to talk - and it was a lot of fun. With the advent of social media, it got so much easier because these guys - like yourself and Manny - were actually on social media and easier to reach out and just get a quick message to, but I started out doing phone call interviews like this.
TONY: Yeah, I have to be honest, the MIsfits - I knew that they were taking off. I heard that. I had asked, when I spoke with Steve Lindner, "what's going on with Glenn and Manny?" And, th misfits are happening. They're going places, but, I didn't really delve into their catalog or anything. I really didn't know that they were as successful as they were. I guess I got my first indication many years later, was I was working and I was in a class. I saw a younger guy carrying a Misfits, backpack, and knew the Skull thing - Glenn was even talking, , formulating some of that other stuff when we were rehearsing - you know, early on, formulating a lot of that stuff - so I said "oh, I see you're a Misfits fan. I remember when Glenn was messing with that." He goes "what, you were in the Misfits?" I said "no, no, no. You know, I played bass for him, you know, like way back when. Are they popular?" He's like, "are you kidding me?" So yeah, and since then, I've gotten a few calls from people that were doing films or books or just wanted to get a little bit more insight into the dynamics of what was going on back then.
TVC: So, this call, to talk about these guys - this is not a surprise for you.
TONY: It's maybe the third or fourth. A lot of folks say they hear the names and they want to try to get a little bit more insight into what was going on. Again, my time with Glenn was very, very brief, but the guy definitely had a lot of vision and he knew what he wanted and he definitely achieved it. There's something to be said for a guy who can do that, you know.
TVC: I did some digging on you. Finally, I got a hit as I was just scrolling through the yearbook, and there you are. I thought "that's gotta be the guy right there," so I just took a chance on it, and reached out.
TONY: Yeah, you do your homework.
TVC: ...and part of that homework is asking about things like where it said your nickname was "Elf" in the yearbook. I just figure it never hurts to ask. Sometimes there's a really great story behind those and other times it's just, nothing.
TONY: Yeah. Everybody had a nickname. I don't know where the heck that came from. But, that was my nickname in high school. They called me the elf. I used to sneak up on people, as a joke. They said "he's like an elf - he appears out of nowhere."
TVC: Did you and Manny do much outside of the band?
TONY: We did a lot of stuff. Manny, he had his carpentry skills early on. He actually built a shed in his backyard - which I was amazed his parents actually let him do this. That's where we used to party. He had heat in the thing, and strobe lights, and neon lights, and all kinds of things, you know. So, anytime anybody wanted to come on over and just party, we'd all hang out in the shed. I think we probably made the Guinness Book of World Records for how many people we shoved in there. He was skilled like that. He used to do little jobs for Charlie Space's grandmother. He'd put walls up and that type of stuff - he was good. He was always very handy. There was a park right next to his house, and that's where everybody just hung out. We'd get done playing, practicing, and, we'd just hang out - like kids do.
TVC: I also have heard they had a house fire and there was some equipment and MIsfits records lost. Do you remember that?
TONY: No,I was probably gone by that time.
TVC: The story goes that Manny had quite a few copies of that cough\cool record and they were lost in the fire. So, that came out in 1977. So it would have been...
TONY: I was definitely gone by that time.
TVC: After you parted ways with Manny and P.O.N.Y., what did you do?
TONY: I did, later on, get together with Charlie and we did the Gibba brothers, and there was some recording that we did in a few studios where we had engineers for friends. Nothing of substance after that. Later on I got married and here I am - three kids, four grandkids and I've had a good life. I still fiddle, still play.
TVC: Interesting. As part of my research, I found the Pine Street video.
TONY: Ah, Pine Street, yeah, I wrote that. I can't tell how long ago I posted that up on Facebook. It just kind of captured the whole vibe of what it was like in the sixties and seventies. A lot of people loved it. I've got a lot of hits on that. That's where I'm at now. I write stuff and then I just put it out there. If somebody likes it, great - and if they don't, that's okay, too. Anything else I can help you with? remember, I'm pulling this stuff out from 50 years ago, so, you know - to the best of my recollection.
TVC: I don't think anybody's going to hold you to it in the court of law. Most of the fans understand that it was a long time ago, and at the time it happened, nobody cared. It was just, "I'm in another band," or "I'm in this," or "I'm in that," and they haven't thought about it in 50 years. So, it's fine. I generally look for things to sort of corroborate other things, and any little nuggets that you can get, then run with that. Much the same with how I got your name from a video, then I found you and you're filling in some gaps and corroborating things. So, it's great - it's really a community effort, and I'm sure everybody appreciates when you guys are willing to talk to us.
TONY: Oh, my pleasure.
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