The Dead Milkmen - Biography

By Scott Feemster


The Dead Milkmen were an early ‘80’s punk-rock nerd’s dream come true. Started as a bedroom joke recording project, the band became bigger and more popular than almost anyone, and especially the members of the band, thought they ever could. The group’s mix of snotty, satirical lyrics mixed with their own brand of jangly punk rock endeared them to a generation of music fans that grew up on Weird Al Yankovic and the Dead Kennedys.


            The group that would become the Dead Milkmen started in 1981 when Joe Genaro (aka Joe Jack Talcum), along with his friend Garth, started making frequently goofy 4-track recordings in their bedroom in the small Pennsylvania town of Wagontown. The two picked the name the Dead Milkmen from a high school project of Genaro, (though there is also the rumor the name came from a Toni Morrison novel), and, along with Rodney Linderman, (aka Rodney Anonymous), who originally joined the band as a drummer,  produced self-released cassette-only releases the next few years. These cassettes included Living Death In The Cellar Of Sin (1981), Funky Farm (1983), A Date With The Dead Milkmen (1983),  and Death Rides A Pale Cow (1984). Later, Garth left the band to join the Air Force, and Genaro left Wagontown to attend Temple University in Philadelphia. Genaro and Linderman kept up their songwriting partnership through the mail, until Genaro decided to make the project a real live band by asking friends Dave Schulthise (aka Dave Blood) and Dean Sabatino (aka Dean Clean) to play bass and drums, respectively. Soon after, Linderman moved to Philadelphia, and joined the band playing synthesizer and singing. The group started playing shows in Philadelphia, and continued to crank out more home-made cassettes, including The Dead Milkmen Take The Airwaves (1984) and Someone Shot Sunshine (1984). After a notorious live radio performance in 1984 and a write-up in the well-regarded punk fanzine Maximumrocknroll, the band were contacted by the small independent label Enigma (later, Restless) Records, and were signed to the label’s subsidiary label Fever soon after. Culling material from their cassette releases, their debut album, Big Lizard In My Backyard (Enigma/Restless), released in 1985, was a crazy grab-bag of the band’s wise-ass ditties, veering from pseudo-reggae to punk-blasters and virtually anything in between. The group scored a surprise college radio hit with the almost nonsensical song “Bitchin’ Camaro”, and took off across the county on tour in a converted ambulance. The Milkmen followed up Big Lizard… the next year with Eat Your Paisley! (Enigma/Restless)(1986), and while it wasn’t quite up to the previous album’s quantity of smart-ass gems, it did contain the semi college hit “The Thing That Eats Only Hippies”. Bucky Fellini (Enigma/Restless) followed in 1987, and was seen as a return to form for the band, especially the single “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance To Anything)”, which mocked many of the usually dour British bands that were popular at the time. The song actually became a hit, and spawned an extended EP the same year and earned the band an appearance on an MTV dance show. The song was a big enough hit nationally, that it pushed Bucky Fellini and The Dead Milkmen into the lower parts of the U.S. album charts for the first time in their career.


The band, as well as their fans, were surprised at the level of success the band had reached, and that surprise was expanded in 1988 with the release of the band’s next album, Beelzebubba (Enigma/Restless), which contained the biggest hit of the group’s career, “Punk Rock Girl”. The song received airplay on college and modern rock stations, and it’s goofy video was played extensively by MTV. Again, The Dead Milkmen had another album that had charted in the lower part of the national album charts, and again they released an expanded EP that contained the second single off of the album, “Smokin’ Banana Peels” along with extra songs that didn’t make it onto the album. The group got slicker and fancier on the production for their next album, Metaphysical Graffiti (Enigma/Restless)(1990), which turned off some of their old fans. The album wasn’t quite up to the snarky quality level of their previous albums, though it did contain a song with guest vocalist (and band hero) Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers, and included the song “Uncle Earl”, which upped the ante on the band’s brand of gross-out humor and reportedly angered their record label. It may have been because of the furor caused by “Uncle Earl”, or, most likely, because Restless went broke, but The Dead Milkmen found themselves without a label in 1991. The group soon after signed with the Disney-backed Hollywood Records, and released the album Soul Rotation in 1992. With Genaro/Talcum changing his name to Butterfly Fairweather, and Linderman/Anonymous changing his to H.P. Hovercraft, fans expected more of the same wise-cracking fun the band had always been known for, but the band switched up and delivered an album that was surprisingly straight faced, and as a result alienated much of their fan base. The group followed up with 1993’s Not Richard But Dick (Hollywood), which was a slight return to the band’s smart-ass ways, but it was not enough to encourage much in the way of record sales, and the band was dropped by Hollywood soon after. The group carried on and self-released the CD collection Now We Are 10 in 1993, a collection of many of their early cassette-only songs, and then returned to a re-started Restless Records for the live 1994 album Chaos Rules: Live At The Trocadero. The group released one more album through Restless, 1995’s Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), but the album was all but ignored by the band’s fans and record buyers in general, so the group decided to throw in the towel and break up.


Rodney Linderman reverted back to his given name, and started the Celtic/goth band (!) Burn Witch Burn, while Genaro and Sabatino continued working together in the band Butterfly Joe, and also played with other Philadelphia area bands such as the Town Managers, the Low Budgets, and the Big Mess Orchestra. Schulthise had to give up playing bass due to chronic tendinitis, and instead attended the University of Indiana, where he studied Serbo-Croatian literature, language and culture. In 1998, he moved to Serbia and hoped to aid in the effort to rebuild the country in the aftermath of the Balkan War, but fled the country when NATO forces bombed Serbia in 1999. Schulthise returned to Philadelphia and worked for a time as a custodian, but, tragically, took his own life in 2004. In tribute, his former bandmates reformed for two shows in late 2004 at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia to raise funds for his favorite charities. Dan Stevens, the bassist in Genaro’s other band, the Low Budgets, stood in for Schulthise on the live dates. The group, with the same line-up, reformed again in 2008 to play three shows in Philadelphia and Austin, Texas.



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