The early Swags landed in London in the mid-60’s. Inspired by the combination of raw R&B and Mersey-beat scenes, they rocked The Crawdaddy Club, The Marquee Club and Fishmonger’s Arms with their explosive mix of R&B and American R&R. Introduced to Brian Jones by Jimmy Page, they took over the club scene, prior to becoming a key (if obscure) component of the British Invasion. Little known fact: singer Pete Garguilo originally auditioned to sing for the Faces. ‘The chemistry with Pete was great’, recalls a young Ronnie Wood, ‘Pete was a great mate, and we’d go down the pub after rehearsals, but really he scared us a little bit with his wild drinking, and we wound up going with Rod instead.’
Marianne Faithful remembers, Curt ‘The Professor’ who played bass for the Swags was just so intellectual, with his pipe and all, I had a huge crush on him – of course, this is before I moved in with Mick. I think Mick felt a little threatened – especially when Curt said, ‘hey, you guys are never going to get any satisfaction if you can’t write your own songs’.
Of those heady times, guitarist Mike Terry recalls, ‘the birds in swinging London were outrageous, mate’.
In the late 60’s The Swags split for the coast to get their heads together. Suitably mellowed out in the thick of the counter-culture, The Swags became a fixture at key events in the burgeoning underground in and around the vaunted late 60’s San Frisco Scene, often opening for the Airplane, Sons Of Champlin and Grateful Dead. Recalls Country Joe, ‘before The Swags, it was all Top-40 bar gigs, The Dead showing up in suits and ties, real straight stuff, I guess The Swags really made it OK for the whole scene to losen up.
Following an epic 3-hour set at The Fillmore West, which consisted of a single song (an incredible extended take on ‘Wild Thing’, featuring a 20 minute Gong solo by drummer Steve Pierce), Jerry Garcia remarked at the time, ‘I’m all about freedom and space, but man, doesn’t there have to be a limit?’, before going back to his nitrous tank.
Grace Slick recalls, ‘I loved the Swags, they really changed the scene out here, they were so far out. Of course every time I turned around, their singer, Pete, was in my stash’.
Sonny Barger, Leader of the Bay Area Chapter of The Hells Angels recalls those days: ‘You know we never took nothing off of nobody – never’, but those guys, you just had to watch yourself around them – especially the drummer – guy had a hair trigger. I mean if you saw him with a pool cue, best just back on out and ride off.’
One other interesting if more sinister connection was made at that time as well, with a certain Charles Manson, who was later to become infamous. From court transcripts, Charles is quoted, ‘The Swags crashed out the commune for a couple of weeks, and that’s where Warren introduced me to The Beatles White Album, … changed my life. Warren was really the only cat who really ‘got’ where I was trying to go – we had a real bond. He and I would spend hours at a time just listening to that White Album and trying to decipher the messages. Those Swag dudes, whoa, they were way out there, in fact, kinda scary. Especially Warren, he’d get this look in his eyes, sort of intense, …, ya know, looking right through you, I mean, almost unhinged, … kind of weirded me out, if you know what I mean.’
In his unpublished auto-bio, Jimi Hendrix recalls, ‘So I woke up after what seemed like a three day trip, and crashed next to me was Warren Cook from the Swags, the farthest out cats on the planet at that time. I said, man what was that?, and he said two words, ‘Purple Haze’. Then I just picked up my axe and started to play. Never forget that.’
As guitarist Terry sums those years up, ‘the hippie chicks in Frisco were totally outrageous man’.
It was a decidedly different Swags that landed in NYC in 1977. Broke and destitute after being ripped off by sleazy managers, they landed in a cold, spartan loft in the Bowery. Without all of the trappings of stardom, a new mood of lean and mean raw austerity took over the band, and influenced their music. According to Swags bass player, Curt ‘The Professor’ Rode, ‘It just felt like un-needed bloat to use all four chords in every song. So we started going for one chord per song – just right in your face, 1 minute and out. Bang Bang Bang!’
Debby Harry remembers, ‘ The Swags were so hot, so exotic. I think it was Mike that first called me ‘Blondie’, I have to admit I really had a thing for him, he had this thing he used to do that just … umm, are you recording this?’
Recalls a young Iggy Pop, ‘The Swags were my greatest influence, but I gotta be honest, I was a little intimidated by their intensity. When I saw their singer, Pete, crawl across the stage, totally naked, on shards of broken glass, I knew this was the real thing. It changed my life’.
As guitarist Terry recalls, ‘Those New York Riot Girls were just crazy’.
Back on top, in the land of excess, The Swags set new levels of rock ‘n roll outrage. But the cracks were beginning to show. The already intense drummer Steve Pierce took to ordering $30,000 of Crystal Champagne every night to bathe in at the Chateau Marmot down on Sunset. The Professor took to lighting his Trinidad cigars with $100 bills.
Tommy Lee, ‘Everyone was playing double bass-drum sets back then, but Steve starts to play a set with triplebass drums, just floored us. Totally over the top. Never did figure out how he played that third one …’
Nikki Six recalls, ‘We loved to party with the Swags, but you look up and all of a sudden the booze is gone and the chicks are all leaving with them.’
As Charlie Sheen remembers, ‘These were the shows where Pete would insist on coming on stage in a Sedan Chair carried by six chicks wearing only a thin coat of gold paint, were they hot!,man what I would give – sorry, where was I? – Oh yeah, in fact, it was after a two-week bender with Terry that I first entered rehab – of course he finished the last bottle and went right on stage, no clue how he managed that’.
Slash put things in perspective, ‘First thing I learned was, never let The Swags open for you. One time I was hammerin’ Jack and Cokes with Pete and just bragging about the pyro show we were going to unleash as soon as The Swags set was over, and Pete was just, like, ‘yeah, whatever man’. So while we’re waiting to go onstage, The Swags just tore the place up. For their encore, Warren pores a full quart of Ron Rico 151 over his head, which he always did in those days – and as Pete walked by he tosses a match over. Let me tell you, Warren went off like a Molotov Cocktail, dude looked like a human Roman Candle, (breaks up into a fit of laughter and wheezing), dude, if I could see that one again. Anyway, Pete walks past Axl, looks him up and down and says, ‘Follow that, bitch!’
(Note: Warren did have a nearly full recovery, although his hair is still curly to this day.)
Terry remembers, ‘Those Hollywood chicks, … dude, they really play for keeps’.
Finally, it had to come to an end. One night after a smokin’ gig at the Roxy, … in a haze of blue smoke, blown speakers and smashed guitars it all came down. Fists flew, thousands of dollars of equipment went up in smoke, and … it was over.
They all landed in rehab (Pete and The Professor for substance abuse, Mike for sex addiction, Steve for increasingly violent behavior, and Warren for a succession of psychotic episodes). Over the next few years they scattered and descended into obscurity, only to be sighted on occasion in the ‘Where are they now’ sections of small-town newspapers, and as obscure footnotes in trade magazines.
Terry recalls, ‘Whoa, Those rehab chicks were just out there.’