By Drew AIles
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The notion that the music industry is corrupt certainly isn't new--rock history is rife with scandalous tales of shifty, smooth-talking label weasels sticking it to unsuspecting musicians in orifices best probed only by proctologists. Sal Canzonieri, guitarist for New Jersey's legendary punk-and-roll forefathers, Electric Frankenstein, has heard them all. As a veteran of the New York music scene for nearly two decades, Canzonieri has seen more than his fair share of rock acts get shafted by corporate suits in what he refers to as the "great anti-rock conspiracy," and he, for one, is tired of it.
"Bands have basically been slaves since the Fifties," he declares, sounding equal parts Jello Biafra and Jimmy Hoffa. "In fact, most labels still use the same contracts that they used back then to rip off the R&B bands. They are no different. Major labels like to control what people buy, and they don't want them to buy rock music. If they had it their way, they would have bands do everything as work-for-hire. They would have them write the songs and get lost. But it doesn't work that way.
"Instead," he continues, "they use these sly little tricks to screw over bands...tricks I've found out about from friends of mine who did A&R for these labels and then quit once they understood what was happening. Like, they'd sign bands--well-known bands that you, me and everybody else has heard of--and then tell them that they weren't allowed to do any press or live shows until they finished their record. Then, a year later, when they were finished with the record, they'd tell them, 'Oh, I'm sorry. We've decided we're not going to put out that kind of music, so we're not going to release your disc. And, oh yeah, you're not allowed to buy it back either.' So basically, they preempt these groups, take them out of the picture for a year and ruin them. This has happened to all sorts of bands that we all know about, and all of them are rock bands. It's a real tricky thing, and it's big labels that everybody knows that are doing this."
The guitarist goes on to describe additional tales of major-label treachery--stories of false number-crunching, payoffs and legal mumbo jumbo--that make the JFK assassination sound like a lame episode of the Twilight Zone. It's the sort of far-fetched yarn you'd expect to hear from a raving kook or, worse yet, a jilted songwriter. But Canzonieri is neither of these. On the contrary, the loquacious forty-year-old is quite level-headed; by day, he is a writer for the telecommunications industry, and in his spare time he practices the martial arts (he holds the equivalent of a black belt in kung fu). And Electric Frankenstein certainly isn't hurting for offers or label help--in the last few years alone, the five-piece (now featuring Canzonieri, vocalist/guitarist Steve Miller, guitarist Jim Foster, bassist Dan Canzonieri and drummer Rob Sefcik) has released nearly twenty singles, three EPs and four LPs, including their latest and greatest, How to Make a Monster, on Chicago's Victory Records.
So why does Canzonieri care what transpires in the world of corporate rock and major labels when his band thrives happily outside of that realm? As corny as it may sound, the members of Electric Frankenstein love rock and roll, and they don't want to see it destroyed by people who don't. As a result, Canzonieri speaks on behalf of the genre whenever he's given the chance--whether it be through interviews, the Internet or the liner notes inside CD jackets. But thus far, the band's best weapon in the war against rock has been its music. For the last eight years, Electric Frankenstein has proved that straight-up, three-chord bump-and-grind is as vital today as it was when Chuck Berry did his first duck walk. Naturally, the combo has updated the sound considerably since then, injecting it with near-lethal doses of metal, punk and glam. But it's still rock with a capital "R": raw, visceral and, above all, fun.
According to Canzonieri, fun has always been a priority for the band. "When we first got together, we were all sick of just about everything," he explains. "We had all been in bands previously--John was with Adrenaline O.D., my brother [Dan] was with Christian Death and some other bands for a while, and I had played with the Thing and toured Europe and everything--and we were just tired of the whole business side of it, who was cheating who and all that. So we just said, 'Fuck it. We're going to play what we were playing when we were seventeen.' AC/DC, KISS, Motorhead, the Sex Pistols, the Misfits. We just took the whole thing and mixed all the sounds together. The first year we were together, we didn't even play out live or anything. In fact, we had no intention of doing anything other than have a good time."
Unfortunately, the record companies felt otherwise. After hearing Frankenstein tapes recorded at studio sessions and radio appearances, the buzz surrounding the group grew damned near deafening. After much coaxing, Canzonieri and company agreed to make an appearance at a nearby club in New York City. To this day, the guitarist still remembers the pressure of the experience. "It was really strange," he recalls. "We started getting all these calls out of the blue from clubs in New York offering us slots on Saturday night, which is a really big deal there. So we were like, 'We better not be stupid. We might as well take it.' Our first show ever turned out to be showcase for, like, twelve label reps."