The Left-Handed Guitar Players That Changed Music By John Engel
‘Extreme’ is one of the blander adjectives that spring to mind when assessing the performance, music, and gestalt of The Plasmatics, the controversial post-punk band of the late 1970s. But the term ‘extreme’ would not suggest itself when describing Richie Stotts, the gentle and educated 6’7” man who was responsible for the outfit’s musical mayhem.
After The Ramones set New York’s underground music scene on the punk path in 1975, the punk phenomenon developed but remained confined to a fashion/music subculture in the U.S. By 1978, punk had splintered into various offshoots, which would include the hard-edged, distortion-heavy and intensely physical form of The Plasmatics, the first band to mix metal and punk and the precursors of grunge, the 1990s punk wave and shock-acts like Marilyn Manson.
Whereas British punk carried a political message that flung it to the forefront of Britain’s news, American punk bands were not so involved in openly challenging the establishment. The Plasmatics would be an exception in this regard. With lead singer Wendy Orlean Williams up front and center, they waged a raving assault on American moral hypocrisy. The Plasmatics were part deafening punk-speed-metal band, part circus act, part anarchists on a mission, and part porno-art happening.
Though Williams was not the ideal singer for showing off the musicality of Stotts’s songs, many Plasmatics tracks offered a perfect collusion between her injective style and Stott’s riffing and rhythmic approach. Producer Rod Swenson had a vision, but neither he nor Stotts had the musical knowledge, the professional experience or proper perspective to adequately produce the music. The group remains a pivotal landmark for diehards and a definitely intriguing phenomenon in many respects – musical, theatrical, and social. Stotts gave metal an experimental and manically joyous edge that few later groups would manage to emulate.
Richie Stotts has his heart set on continuing his musical journey on his own terms. In 2004, new age pianist/singer/songwriter Carla Lother included four songs penned by Stotts on her new album, 100 Lovers (2004, Chesky) – the first official glimpse of the completely different guises his muse may still take.
© LFV / John Engel all rights reserved.
Read more about Richie Stotts's life and music -- and The Plasmatics' crazy days -- in John Engel's Uncommon Sound book.