The Punky Meadows Interview
As the lead guitarist of Angel, Punky Meadows cemented his reputation when he became the subject of the Frank Zappa song “Punky Whips.” The song was less than complementary and held back from its initial release by Angel’s record label (Casablanca, the same label that had Kiss). Meadows, on the other hand, was flattered and even made an appearance at a Zappa concert.
Nevertheless, Angel enjoyed marginal success, largely due to their flashy white wardrobe and elaborate stage shows. Discovered in a club by Gene Simmons, they recorded five studio albums and the live Live Without A Net before disbanding in 1981. And then Meadows disappeared completely. Rumors abounded as to what happened to the guitarist, who declined to be part of any and all Angel reunions, as well as invitations to join other bands, like Aerosmith.
Though he continued to play and write, Meadows left the music business and went on to become a successful entrepreneur. He dabbled with country music here and there, but it wasn’t until decades later and a fortuitous meeting with a record label owner that Punky Meadow’s professional music career was resurrected. Now he’s back with a new album, Fallen Angel, his own band and shows around the country. In the following interview, this particular angel flies again to tell the tale.
Fallen Angel truly rocks, with just the right mix of pop sensibilities. Were you and Danny Farrow Anniello (Meadows’ writing partner) consciously going for a mainstream, commercial sound?
Melody and rhythm will always be my first loves. I love creating heavy, great pop songs you want to just roll the window down in your car and listen to. That’s what I have always been after and thank you, I think we captured that here.
I’m thinking that kind of sensibility goes way back to your professed love of the Beatles.
Surely, I mean listen to McCartney, still the most melodic songwriter there is. I just don’t want it to get too cerebral, those long instrumentals where the players are just showing off. It just becomes like mental masturbation to me, you know? I love the Beatles, The Young Rascals, Abba, and blues too, big bands with horns. I’m pulling from all kinds of influences.
The harmonies here, what I feel is some of the strongest elements of Fallen Angel, brings me back to pop groups of the 60s and 70s, even, dare I say. the Bay City Rollers, at times.
Yeah, that’s great. I love the Bay City Rollers. Believe me, it’s a lot harder in my view to write a three-minute melodic pop hit then just wailing out heavy riffs. Those poppy songs we’re talking about were very skillfully constructed.
I know this is an oft-told tale by now, but can you run down for us how and why you decided to come out of retirement. It really has been a few years since anyone heard music from you.
How it all happened, making a long story short, is when Gregg (Giuffria) and I disbanded Angel, I returned home back east to Washington DC. I never stopped playing, that’s in my blood. I had a tape recorder pretty much always at the ready, getting the odd song down. But I opened what became a pretty successful business in Virginia, sold that, got deeper into the stock market, made some good money then retired completely and moved down to North Carolina. I have a good group of friends there.
Then about three years ago, I began to notice how much activity was happening across Facebook with Angel fan pages. There were a lot of pages for the band and it was fun to see. Then I got a call from Internet DJ Keith Roth who wanted to interview me for his show in New York City called The Electric Ballroom. So we set it up, and as it was globally broadcast, during the interview the amount of people logging in was so overwhelming that in the middle of it all, the site crashed! Keith also owns a record label, Main Man Records, so he got Danny and I together, got us a record deal, and we started writing songs.
And you are touring the record, right?
Yes, I’m pretty much back full time. We are playing most of the new album with the band, plus slipping in the Angel songs. It’s just a good, kick-ass fun get-together.
So how do you decide, and especially with a good amount of time that has passed since you have been doing this, what of those tunes to play from the back catalog of Angel songs?
First of all, the Angel tunes we are doing fit really well in the set. We have been working them in and they seem to work like every third tune or so. And Danny is a big Angel fan, as are the other guys in the band, so they are all for playing them, of course. At times, they know the parts better than I do, but it all comes back, like muscle memory. Songs like “Rock And Rollers,” “Feelin’ Right,” all those songs are just so fun to play and the crowds always seem to love them.
So making records again, filming videos, touring, amping up the whole machine after these many years — what do you think about the business now?
I think these days musicians might be more aware of what’s going on. I look at the Billboard charts now and people selling like 200,000 records are on it, when back in the 80s, you had to sell millions to make a dent. Kids have streaming and all that kind of stuff, so there is lots of access. I think people are sick and tired too of the big companies robbing artists the way they used to. We signed away publishing rights to be able to drive a fast car, so the band saw very little money back then. So just maybe, while it is still hard to make it to be sure, at least things might be a little more transparent.
In the end, for you or anybody, you just keep on plugging away?
Right, be ever true doing what you love. You never know when you might get a huge hit. An act can plug away and plug away and suddenly they get a hit. Record sales start happening, you get some notice. It can happen for us all — even happen again for some of us.