Pagans - Biography
By Oliver Hall
The Pagans were a no-nonsense garage punk band from Cleveland, Ohio. The band released just a handful of singles on manager Johnny Dromette’s Drome Records during their original period of activity in the late 1970’s, but those singles stand among the best early American punk releases. The subsequent Pagans’ reunions also produced several beloved live albums.
In 1974, at the age of 18, Mike Hudson formed the Mad Staggers, which was primarily a Velvet Underground and 60s-garage cover band. The group featured Hudson on guitar, his brother Brian Hudson on drums, and Tim Allee on bass. Hudson and his various bands were still rehearsing in his long-suffering parents’ basement when he formed the Pagans in 1977. Bill Digiddio, then calling himself Robert Conn, became the band’s original singer. The Pagans made their live debut on July 7, 1977 on a bill with Pere Ubu, The Nerves, The Styrenes, and the Rubber City Rebels. The Pagans’ first single was the crude punk blast “Six and Change” (1977 Neck), recorded at a friend’s house on a busted tape deck in October of 1977. “All the Pagans’ stuff started with me and Tim Allee in the basement,” Mike Hudson told the webzine Utter Trash. “Tim would come up with riffs and I’d write lyrics, or we’d go back and forth.”
By the time the Pagans entered Suma Studio outside Cleveland in March of 1978 to record their second single, Digiddio was gone and Mike Hudson had become the lead singer. New guitarist Mike Metoff, who called himself Tommy Gunn, had played in a garage punk cover band called the Transducerz. In a 2004 interview with Capinch Zine, Metoff says that he auditioned for Cleveland band Wild Giraffes, who “were not impressed with my guitar playing skills but told me that they knew of a band that I might fit in with. A few days later they introduced me to the Pagans. The following night I was onstage with the Pagans in Youngstown, Ohio, opening for the Dead Boys.” The audition was decidedly low-key: “In fact I’m not sure we actually played anything. I seem to remember sitting around Mike Hudson’s house for a few hours drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Then they said, ‘OK, see you tomorrow.’”
The first session at Suma Studio with Metoff produced the classic single “Street Where Nobody Lives” (1978 Drome), with the immortal B-side “What’s This Shit Called Love?” The Pagans’ Halloween session of 1978 (produced by David Thomas of Pere Ubu) yielded the single “Not Now No Way / I Juvenile” (1979 Drome), as well as “Boy Can I Dance Good,” probably the only recording ever made that features lead guitar by Thomas. “Boy Can I Dance Good” appears on the 1982 compilation album Cleveland Confidential (1982 Terminal). The B-side of “Dead End America / Little Black Egg” (1979 Drome), recorded towards the end of 1978, is a cover of an obscure 60’s tune by Florida’s The Nightcrawlers.
Metoff told Capinch, “we blew all our money and never finished the album sessions that we started in late 1979. We went to play gigs in New York and when we got back we broke up the band. There was a lot of tension between the band members and with our manager at the time. A lot of in-fighting... and drugs.” Mike Hudson agreed in the Utter Trash interview. “I’d blame [the breakup] mostly on coke.” The Pagans broke up in November of 1979 without releasing a full-length album. Metoff subsequently formed The Clocks.
Mike Hudson and Metoff co-founded the Terminal label and formed the new band Les Raving Sounds in 1982. Les Raving Sounds quickly became the second incarnation of the Pagans, with former lead singer Bill Diggidio on bass, Bob Richey on drums, and a keyboardist named Chas Smith. They opened for the Ramones, toured, and recorded The Pink Album (1983 Terminal), comprised of live recordings from reunion shows, a radio performance, and recordings made in Hudson’s basement. The band broke up again in the summer of 1983 and Metoff was invited to move to Los Angeles and join the Cramps, an offer he did not refuse.
Metoff didn’t fit with the Cramps and left in 1984. Back in Cleveland, Hudson and Metoff got the Pagans back together again following the release of 1986’s Buried Alive (1986 – Treehouse), a compilation of the original band’s singles and unreleased studio recordings. The Pagans’ November 1986 show in Minneapolis provided the material for the album LIVE: The Godlike Power of the Pagans (1987 Treehouse) and the Scumbait EP (1989 Treehouse). In 1988 and 1989, the band recorded at Beat Farm Studio in Willoughby, Ohio, and then broke up again following a November 1989 gig opening for the Buzzcocks. Six of the Beat Farm songs appeared on the German release Family Fare (1990 Glitterhaus).
Brian Hudson, who had declined to be involved in the reunions, died in a car accident in 1991. Mike Hudson moved to New York, where he replaced the late GG Allin in the Murder Junkies for a short time. During the 1990s, he recorded the solo album Unmedicated (2006 Sonic Swirl). In 2001, Crypt Records issued the definitive Pagans compilation CDs Shit Street (2001 Crypt Records) and The Pink Album…Plus! (2001 Crypt Records). Hudson, Metoff, Allee, and Richey reunited for an August 2003 show at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and in 2005 for a Chicago date. Keyboardist Chas Smith, who had started the Church of the SubGenius-affiliated band Einstein’s Secret Orchestra in the 1990s, died of a stroke in October of 2007.
Hudson published the memoir Diary of a Punk: Life and Death in the Pagans in 2008. He is also the author of Mob Boss: A Biography in Blood (2008) and the co-author, with Rebecca Hudson, of Niagra Falls Confidential (2007). The Blue Album (2008 Smog Veil), released in 2008, is a live recording of the Pagans in Madison, Wisconsin in 1988.