Origin: Cleveland, Ohio
Genre: Garage rock
Years active: Protopunk
Craig Willis Bell
Glen “Thunderhand” Hach
The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs (2002)
Rocket Redux (2004)
‘I Sell Soul’ / ‘Romeo & Juliet’ single (6 April 2010)
Rocket From the Tombs (or RFTT) is an American rock music band originally active from mid-1974 to mid-1975 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Heralded as an important protopunk group, they were little known during their lifetime, though various members later achieved renown in Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. Billy Bob Hargus wrote, however, that “The sound of the Rockets is much more ferocious than Ubu or the Dead Boys.”
In 1974, the original line-up included Peter Laughner, Chris Cuda, and Glen “Thunderhand” Hach sharing guitar duties; Charlie Weiner on bass and other implements; and Tom Foolery (née Clements) on drums.
There was some fluctuation of the group’s personnel, but what’s come to be known as the “classic” lineup included Laughner, David Thomas (then known as “Crocus Behemoth”), Craig Willis Bell (a.k.a. Darwin Layne), Gene O’Connor (a.k.a. Cheetah Chrome), and Johnny Madansky (a.k.a. “Johnny Blitz”).
When RFTT disbanded, the personnel split and formed two different musical groups:
O’Connor and Madansky joined with singer Stiv Bators (who made a guest appearance on-stage at the last RFTT show) to form Frankenstein, which later morphed into the Dead Boys, a more straightforward punk rock group.
Laughner and Thomas went on to form the more experimental Pere Ubu with bassist Tim Wright (RFTT’s soundman). Laughner died in 1977, of acute pancreatitis brought on by years of drinking and drugging.
Both groups used songs first written or performed by Rocket From The Tombs as parts of their repertoires: the Dead Boys were known for “Ain’t It Fun,” “What Love Is,” “Down in Flames,” “Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth” (done by RFTT as “I’m Never Gonna Kill Myself Again”) and “Sonic Reducer”; Pere Ubu went on to reinterpret “Final Solution,” “Life Stinks” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.”
Rocket From The Tombs never recorded an album in their lifetime, but various live recordings and demos circulated occasionally as bootlegs. Most of these were collected on a single CD by Smog Veil records, and titled The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs (2002).
The Smog Veil Records CD rekindled interest in Rocket From The Tombs, and they reformed in 2003 with original members Thomas, Chrome, and Bell, joined by Richard Lloyd (guitar), and Steve Mehlman (drums). Some claim that decades earlier, when Lloyd briefly quit the New York-based band Television, Laughner was seriously considered as his replacement. However, on his website richardlloyd.com, Richard Lloyd asserts that Laughner “was never even close to being in Television, unless I was way out of town for a month, and I don’t think so.”
On June 10, 2003 they played their first live radio concert since the 1970s (when two shows live from the Agora club aired on WMMS) on Brian Turner’s program on WFMU.
In 2004, Smog Veil and Morphius released Rocket Redux, consisting of Rocket From The Tombs originals performed in studio by the 2003 lineup. It received mostly positive reviews; one critic declared that Redux “never sounds like a complacent reunion record, and in a way, I suppose it’s not really a reunion record in the first place so much as it’s a debut album, played with all the hunger and fire of a band eager to make their mark on the world.”
In 2006, Thomas announced that the band had again reunited, this time to work on new material. The band toured the US in the summer of 2006 and debuted some new songs, but no further activity occurred until 2009 when the band contributed a song to the Mark Mulcahy tribute album Ciao My Shining Star. An album of new material, Barfly was released on September 13, 2011 with a tour scheduled to begin in November 2011. However, Richard Lloyd was replaced in the band prior to the tour’s launch, and Cheetah Chrome announced his departure from Rocket From the Tombs on December 30, 2011, leaving David Thomas and Craig Willis Bell as the only remaining original members.