Junior TVTimes No. 26 week ending 24th June 1978
In Touch With Our Presence
It looks like we've found the number one power pop specialists of 1978. They can mix a Phil Spector-type sixties tingle with the brash drive of seventies New Wave. They're Blondie - Debbie Harry and her five-piece, who've hit the top of the tree with their second album, Plastic Letters, and their second single, I'm Always Touched By Your Presence Dear.
In touch with Look-in's Richard Tippett recently was the band's keyboard man Jimmy Destri, but the presence wasn't too clear - it was a pretty faint line from America, where Blondie are in action right now. Nevertheless, Jimmy sounded wide-awake as he spoke early morning from New York about the latest developments with this year's top headline-making band.
"We're kind of detached from the success of Presence over here in the States," said Jimmy. "All we hear is the news in the trade, but we're excited. I'd love to be in Britain to see it happen. At the moment, we really love the way things are going. The album's doing alright, and the singles are working from it; I'd like to get as many singles as I can off the album. I know for a fact that there's at least one more solid track to come off it.
"I think it would be a good thing to give people some material that wasn't on the album at all. I mean, like something really weird, especially on a 'B'side."
The latest Blondie hit was penned by the band's former bass player, Gary Valentine. Was it written with anyone particular in mind? "Yeah, it was written for his girl-friend." Debbie Harry? "Oh, no, not Debbie. She put her own interpretation on it, of course."
New guitarist - new sound
The Blondie sound, according to Jimmy, is very different, and fuller, now, due not least to the recent inclusion of a second guitarist, Frank Infante. "Not only has he made a big difference to our sound, he's made a big difference to our lifestyle, too. Because Frank's introduced us to the real America, and the real Americana. You see, the rest of us are all New Yorkers, and being New Yorkers we've never been in touch with the real Americana, because New York is very much a European city, where you can get a taste of everything. Frank comes from the Jersey shore, along with street people like Bruce Springsteen, who has become a friend of ours."
Frank joined Blondie originally as a session musician for Plastic Letters. At first, he was used as a bassist, but when Nigel Harrison arrived as permanent bass player, then Frank stayed on to play second guitar. Says Jimmy: "Now we have the strongest line-up we've ever had."
Does that mean Jimmy is personally content with the number of musicians now in the group? "Oh, everybody's satisfied, although I had an idea this week - I want to get some blonde dancers, and put them in go-go cages on top of the amplifiers when we tour. The rest of the band thinks I'm crazy, but I don't mind." Is the idea likely to come off? "I hope so," laughed Jimmy. "I'm pushing hard enough." So expect some exotic additions when Blondie are next seen in Britain around September.
They're really eager to get back here, too - far more eager than returning to Australia, where they didn't have such an enjoyable time. "We liked playing in Australia," Jimmy explained, "but we just hated doing nothing, because there are so many empty miles in between gigs. And there's really nothing to do until you get into the big cities like Sydney, and we were playing all the small cities and towns as well. I really don't think our promoter booked the tour right. I think what we should have done is three or four major cities, and then left. But he had us playing everywhere."
Mind you, there was an ace in the pack for the band, as Jimmy explained: "The only good thing is that we had Christmas on a Tropical island off the Barrier Reef, and that was a lot of fun.
"The best thing about the whole tour was the success we had in England, and the good time we had in Bangkok. I can recommend to anyone, at least once in their life, to go to Bangkok. During our shows there we attracted everybody; I mean, there were two thousand people per show, and they were from all walks of life. In the first couple of rows there were Arabs, with all their headgear, nodding to the music.
"It was like nothing I've ever played to before."
Musically, Jimmy reckons that Blondie's influences come through continuously on record. "It was the radio that influenced the group when we were young. I think that my favourite things were from the late sixties, the electronic stuff done by bands like King Crimson. And that has managed to come through in Blondie's music recently. I mean, a little while ago we did a gig with Bob Fripp, who used to be a big part of King Crimson. It was during a benefit concert for a New York roadie who was hurt in an accident. Bob came up on stage and played a set with us, and it was fantastic. Like a dream for me."
You might think, when you consider the sound of Denis and Presence, that Blondie's super heroes were all sixties names. You'd be quite right. In the case of Jimmy Destri, particularly: "When I was a kid my heroes were The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. And I liked any records by The Who. As I said earlier, I really went for a lot of the English progressive stuff when I was older, but only for a short while. My mainstay groups over the years were The Doors and The Who."
Up to date again, Blondie are stringing out a few one-off gigs to end their U.S. tour. "What we're doing mostly now is rehearsing before going into the studio to do the third album. We'll be in the studio in a couple of weeks' time recording that, and then we'll be back on the road again in England."
It's not all hard work, though, for our intrepid band on the road. "Although we were only supposed to have a three-day holiday between last October and now, we finally won out and had some real time off." Which added up to a healthy three weeks off - "and that was really welcome," added Jimmy.
For the new album, Blondie have about twenty songs in mind for use at the moment. "We can probably get rid of ten, and that'll leave us with an album. But, because of the type of band we are, we'll probably go right up to the day of recording with a song and then come up with something better. A lot of the songs on Plastic Letters were written in the studio."
On the subject of touring, Jimmy had a few more words to add. "It's more exotic for an American band to play outside of America. But then again, we haven't played extensively within the States for so long that it would be nice to do that now. I mean, we've just played LA and the bigger cities, but I really want to go through America, like small places in Ohio, for instance."
When Jimmy looks ahead, he has a clear view of how he wants the future to go. "As far as Blondie is concerned, I just want the group to get successful to the point where every member can do their own private, artistic thing. For instance, Debbie would like to go and make a movie, and I hope that it gets to the stage where she can go ahead and do it.
"Basically, I think she just wants to go and have fun. I think that's what we all want to do. We're all dreamers in Blondie; we stand still looking at all the actors and actresses in limousines going by, and think 'wow'!"
No doubt those very same stars are thinking the same about Blondie..."