Rocket From the Tombs

Best known for being Cleveland proto-punk trailblazers,...

Rocket From The Tombs were quite a different band when they formed and started gigging in the spring of 1974 by David "Crocus Behemoth" Thomas of the former musical comedy/parody act The Great Bow-Wah Death Band along with jokesters and Funn Bunns members Charlie Wiener (born Kim Zonneville) and Glen “Thunderhand” Hach. Drummer Tom “Foolery” Clements and later on teenage guitar wizard Chris Cuda completed the initial line-up, with Peter Laughner joining on guitar and vocals in late August or early September of 1974.

Drawing by Jack Snyder


The six-piece RFTT's only show was opening for the British heavy metal act U.F.O. at Cleveland's Agora on October 21, 1974. Wiener, Hach, Clements, and Cuda all departed the group following this gig and guitarist Eugene “Cheetah Chrome” O’Connor, along with drummer Johnny “Madman” Madansky, joined around November. Bassist Craig "Darwin Layne" Bell, then still a member of the Lakewood band Mirrors, joined soon afterwards.

The “new” RFTT made its debut at what was dubbed the “Special Extermination Music Night” at the Viking Saloon on December 22, 1974 where they were joined by Mirrors and electric eels. Owing to his obligation to Mirrors, Bell did not play with RFTT at this gig or the second “Extermination Music Night” at the Viking on January 19, 1975, which again included Mirrors and electric eels. Following his termination from Mirrors, Bell finally made his onstage debut with RFTT opening for the semi-reformed Iron Butterfly at the Agora on February 10th.

Just over a week later on February 18th, RFTT would tape nine originals along with one Rolling Stones and two Stooges covers at the group’s loft rehearsal space for broadcast on the WMMS-FM program "Local Color" on February 23rd, 1975. Many of these recordings would later appear officially on the Smog Veil Records release The Day The Earth Met Rocket From The Tombs.

RFTT played three more shows before Madansky quit, and was subbed for by Pictures drummer Don Evans at their next show at the Agora on May 5th.

After 18-year-old Wayne Strick, an acquaintance of Bell's, became the group's drummer, what would become the final RFTT line-up did four shows in one week in July, playing the Viking on the 20th (with Mirrors) and 27th (with Tin Huey) and at the Piccadilly Penthouse on the 24th and 25th with a New York band Laughner had grown quite fond of: Television. Significantly, these were Television’s first shows outside of New York.

After the breakup of RFTT at the end of July 1975, two new groups emerged from the split:

Chrome and Madansky (now calling himself Johnny Blitz) formed Frankenstein with Jimmy Zero, Jeff Magnum, and former Mother Goose vocalist Stiv Bators (born Steven John Bator) who was considered at one point to replace Thomas as lead vocalist of RFTT (although this did not come to fruition). Frankenstein made their debut at the Piccadilly Penthouse on October 31, 1975.

Thomas and Laughner formed Pere Ubu with sometime RFTT soundman Tim Wright on bass and guitar, Tom Herman on guitar and bass, former Hy Maya synthesizer player Allen Ravenstine, and ex-Cinderella Backstreet/Fins/Hy Maya drummer Scott Krauss. Ubu would release their debut single in December of 1975 which included RFTT's "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" as its "A" side. Ubu made their debut on a joint bill with Frankenstein at the Viking Saloon on December 31, 1975.

Not long after this show, Frankenstein would change their name to Dead Boys (after a line in the RFTT song "Down In Flames" which they were now playing) and move to New York where they found considerable success. They continued to do "Down In Flames" along with other former RFTT songs including "Ain't It Fun", "Never Gonna Kill Myself Again" (re-written as "Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth"), "Sonic Reducer", and "What Love Is". Stiv Bators died in Paris, France on June 4, 1990, aged 40, due to injuries sustained after being hit by a car.

Pere Ubu would release the former RFTT song "Final Solution" as interpreted by Pere Ubu and become the "A" side of their second single, self-released in April of 1976, and would also perform a version of Laughner's "Life Stinks", first done by RFTT. Laughner was fired from Pere Ubu in May of 1976 and died from pancreatitis on June 22, 1977, aged 24.

Craig Bell would move to Connecticut in the fall of 1976 where he would lead several bands, including Saucers, The Bell System, and The Plan. After moving to Indiana in the 2000s, Bell would lead The Down-Fi as well as playing solo shows. Bell has also served as bassist with The Gizmos, Simply Saucer, and X__X.

Rocket From the Tombs
Gig List

1974.06.09 Viking Saloon

1974.06.16 Viking Saloon

1974.06.23 Viking Saloon

Viking Saloon

1974.07.07 Viking Saloon

1974.07.27 Clockwork Orange w/Blaze

1974.08.24 (Viking Saloon?)

1974.10.21 The Agora w/U.F.O. (Captain Beefheart cancelled)

1974.12.22 Viking Saloon: Special Extermination Music Night w/electric eels, Mirrors

Viking Saloon: Second Extermination Night w/electric eels, Mirrora

1975.02.10 The Agora w/Iron Butterfly

1975.03.16 Viking Saloon w/I Don’t Care

Viking Saloon w/Empire

1975.04.12 Elks Hall, Berea w/Voices of Sin

1975.05.05 The Agora “A Nite of Heavy Music” w/Left End, Paragon (b’cast on WMMS on 1975.05.12)

1975.07.00 Thomas family farm, Franklin, PA (impromptu set 4th of July weekend)

1975.07.20 Viking Saloon w/Mirrors

1975.07.24 Piccadilly Penthouse (aka Piccadilly Inn) w/Television

Piccadilly Penthouse (aka Piccadilly Inn) w/Television

1975.07.27 Viking Saloon w/Tin Huey