In 1977, when punk was the new "cool" and "hip" music, some people called Thundertrain a punk band. Maybe that's because they were cool and hip or maybe because they were as high energy as any punk band.
Either way, they weren't punk. They could tune, as well as play, their instruments. They could write mainstream songs that were original and yet instantly memorable. And Thundertrain played fast, but not THAT fast. The same boredom and frustration with pop radio that created punk also created Thundertrain.
Among the rockers they claim as influences are the Stones, the Yardbirds, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, James Brown, Rick Derringer, Kiss, Steppenwolf, Slade, the Who, the New York Dolls, the MC5, as well as the work of B movie mogul Roger Corman. If you enjoy any of the aforementioned groups / peeps then there is a good chance you will enjoy Thundertrain. If don't enjoy any of the aforementioned, then there is a good chance that you are dead. See a doctor.
Thundertrain's 1976 LP, Teenage Suicide, has just been re-released by Gulcher Records. This new CD contains all the tracks from that album plus half a dozen others, including a few live cuts and an interview from 1977. As usual, Gulcher has put together a first rate package. The sound is ballsy and clear. There are lotsa pictures and history, including separate interviews with every member of the band.
Don't let the title of the album, or the front cover photograph of a girl with her wrists slashed, throw you - this is a party record. Keep a firm grip on your number two pencil as the CD gets off to a flying, kick-ass start with the band's most notorious single, Hot for Teacher. Roaring guitars and a pounding rhythm section are joined by the piano virtuosity of no other than Willie "Loco" Alexander, on loan from the Boom Boom band. Hot for Teacher is lean, mean, raw and drenched with testosterone. The concept of this song was certainly worthy of theft by Van Halen.
For the remainder of the disk there is no piano, there are no strings, no organ, or any other instrument that would need to be overdubbed. The tracks that weren't recorded live in concert were recorded live in the studio. The intensity of a performance comes through on every cut. Lead singer, Mach Bell doesn't so much sing as scream, shout and howl.
That singing style is a perfect fit for the playing and songwriting style of the band, especially principle songwriter Steven Silva. The second track, Let 'Er Rip, features Silva on slide guitar and is almost as fast and frenetic as the first. As a matter of fact, there are no slow songs on this CD. No power ballads. And no love songs.
The next two songs, Modern Girls and Cheater are about the opposite sex, unless you are a woman, in which case they are about the same sex. The concept of a "modern" girl was quite alluring to most guys. We had all gone out with "old fashioned" girls and gotten nowhere. Maybe what we needed to find was a "modern" girl. Well, Steven Silva found some modern girls and perhaps bit off more than he could chew.
Two in a row penned by rhythm guitarist Gene Provost follow, Love the Way and Hell Tonite. Gene and his bass playing bother Ric combine with drummer Bobby Edwards to create what Mach Bell called a "meat and potatoes" rhythm section. That is exactly what you want from a rhythm section. These three lay down a platform from which Mach and Steven can blast off. They are more like steel and concrete than meat and potatoes. These guys are solid.
Lyrically, as well as musically, the songs still manage to seem fresh more than 25 years after they were conceived. That's because the songs are not really about anything except rocking. What more do you want from lyrics then: "I love the way that you love me. I need the way you need me" and "C'mon alright - we're gonna raise some hell tonite"?
I, for one, don't need to hear some sappy story that sounds like it was taken out of a sensitivity trainer's journal. I don't need to know about the mixed feelings some jerk has at the end of a crappy relationship. If Thundertrain were still together and still half as good looking as they were 20 plus years ago, I'm sure they'd be contenders for a major label contract right now and possible superstardom.
Mach Bell is still rocking with his new band, Last Man Standing, but finally had to relent and get a real job. I found it surprising that he couldn't live off of the royalties he made from the Patio Mexican TV Dinner Co. He did some great product placement for them on I Gotta Rock.
In a parallel universe, a universe not too unlike our own, Thundertrain is the most popular band in the world. Thundertrain played at the Superbowl half-time show. Thundertrain does commercials for Pepsi, Hertz, and the new Thundertrain 4 - in - 1 Gril - O -Matic. (George Foreman doesn't sell any grills in this universe - he is too busy being the President.) Mach Bell drinks milk and Steven Silva uses American Express. Ric and Gene Provost and Bobby Edwards endorse, what else, meat and potatoes. This is a good universe and one that seemed almost inevitable as Thundertrain's star was climbing in the ladder half of the '70's.
If you were lucky enough to see Thundertrain in person before they broke up in 1980 then you got a glimpse of that universe. Buy the CD and imagine what music was like when Rock and Punk came together and said, "Don't give me no Barry Manilow"!