Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Russ Iglay - Underdog

Richie and Danny bring it with Underdog at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

We've been planning to cook up an Underdog interview with Russ for quite awhile now, so when DCXX contributor/NJHC vet/skater, Derek Rinaldi offered to do one for us, we eagerly accepted. This here is part one of what is sure to be an excellent multi part interview with Russ. Dig in and get surly and be sure to Check out a 3 song takeover from Russ at ShoreAlternative's Punkyard Wednesday, July 28th @ 1pm. -Tim DCXX

The Phone Call

The year was 1985 and Richie Birkenhead, lead singer of The Numbskuls, is about to get a phone call that will change his life - at least his music life anyway. Murphy’s Law bassist Russ Iglay is on the phone and he is inquiring as to the status of Richie’s search for a bass player. Once Russ knew that position was still available and learning that the two lived only blocks apart in Manhattan, the phone call was inevitable.

After a 5 minute skate to Richie’s house, the Numbskuls had a new bassist...or did they? Richie explained to Russ that he wanted to change the dynamic of the Numbskuls from party band to a more diverse sounding mix of hard rocking tunes. Richie wants to change the dynamic of the band so much so that he doesn’t even want to keep the name. UNDERDOG is officially born.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Richie: “OK, so we agree on the type of music we want to play, now let’s plan this out. Let’s make this simple. Here’s what we’re gonna do. Instead of us bustin’ our balls year after year making new music, touring, and repeating that until we’re blue in the face and irrelevant, let’s just make one killer e.p. I mean a badass mutha fuckin e.p. that makes so much noise that a major label will want us to re-release it with some new songs...”

“...Then, we can tour for it and break up. You know, call it a career. No sophomore jinx or none of that shit. I mean, hell, our drummer will probably have to move and your kid brother will join and then will certainly want to start having kids, I’ll most likely form another band, and you got that restaurant down the shore. Let’s just do that and keep it simple.”

Russ - “Sounds good.”

Russ Iglay with Underdog at City Gardens, Womp'm style, Photo: Ken Salerno

Now, that conversation obviously never happened. Nor could anyone have foreseen that that was EXACTLY how it would happened, give or take a few details.

Fast forward to the year 2010 and it’s Fourth of July weekend in Belmar, New Jersey. All the tourists and business owners are busy making last minute preparations like a gulf town prepares for a hurricane. The roads choke with traffic and you could wait up to 30 minutes to buy milk and eggs at the local food market. It’s as rhythmic as the tides, the big surge before the weekend and the recession immediately following. Year after year.

From his recessed yard, about 50 feet from the road, UNDERDOG’s Russ Iglay can hardly see or hear the madness patrolling the streets. Back here it’s shady trees, a small patch of grass and a 2 foot high mini ramp for his son, Marlo.

The weekend won’t be all quiet for Russ. His family has owned the local pizza place in town (Don’s Pizza King) for 43 years, and while weekend’s like this aren’t make it or break it, a busy holiday takes off some pressure.

The band’s history is deep and the stories are long and I thought the best way to tackle this may be to use the discography as a timeline. It’s fair to say that even though the band has been around since 1985 that after a long break and even with pop up shows that there may be some new jacks that don’t have the whole UNDERDOG story. So let’s take the time to give it to them. Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. - Derek Rinaldi

Richie, Arthur, Russ and Dean with Underdog at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

Let's rewind. Who were the skaters you were looking up to in the early days?

Al Smoke, Dale Curtis, Doug Hanulak, Sponge, Mooney. Those guys were it in the 70`s when I first started...Soul skaters. Years later I was skating everyday with Steve Herring...he really pushed me alot...he was a big influence on my skating.

What was the music climate back then?

Well, since we were hanging with older guys it was a lot of Grateful Dead back then. Some of the guys started getting into punk in the late 70s and we started to follow it. Bands like Devo, X, Black Flag, Circle Jerks.

Were you getting to shows yet?

We saw Circle Jerks at the Fastlane in Asbury Park on the Group Sex tour. We got drunk in the yard and rode our bikes there...hammered. One of the first shows I remember going to in NYC was Gang Of Four with the Bad Brains opening up. Also Black Flag at The Mudd Club...Peppermint Lounge shows...

So now, you guys are getting more into the punk scene, how long before you start your first band?

I guess it was about '81 or '82. Myself, Dean, Sponge, and Pete formed a band called Child Abuse. At first, we thought that ‘Battered Kids’ was a better name but Sponge was kinda the boss and wanted to go with Child Abuse.


Do you remember where your first show was?

Our first show was at the Fastlane. It was a benefit for Mark ‘The Mutha’ Chesney who owned Mutha Records.

How long before you left?

I was in the band for about a year and quit before the EP ‘Bring It’ was released.

How did you come to meet Jimmy Gestapo and ultimately join Murphy’s Law?

I became friends with Jimmy from going to shows around the city. I was introduced to him outside Irving Plaza. The bass player for Murphy’s Law was also playing in Reagan Youth and Agnostic Front so it was only a matter of time before something had to give. When Jimmy first asked me to play bass for the band, I had told him that I didn’t play bass. He insisted that if I could play guitar in Child Abuse that I could handle bass for ML. So I agreed, and then I was in the band. The next week, Uncle Al taught me the songs and before I knew it we were playing the Rock Against Racism show with Reagan Youth in 1983.

Danny with Underdog at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

So your stint with ML gets you until about 1985. Describe the transition from ML to UNDERDOG?

I had met Richie from going to shows and his band, The Numbskuls, played with Murphy’s Law about three or four times. I really liked their sound. At the time, I really liked the Cro-Mags because they had a hard sound, but it was a different sound. It didn’t fit in with the ‘model’ NYHC sound. It wasn’t quite metal yet either. I remember watching the Numbskuls and they had all these great riffs and, I guess you’d call them, breakdowns or mosh parts now...

They had a girl filling in on bass and were looking for a permanent replacement. Once I knew I was out of Murphy’s Law, the first call I made was to Richie to ask about playing for The Numbskuls.

The odd thing was, once he told me to come over his place and get a tape to learn the songs, we realized that we were living only about a 2 minute skate away from each other.

How did the Numbskuls morph into UNDERDOG?

Well, the Numbskuls were playing songs in a party, nonchalant vein. Once I joined the band, Richie had an idea to change the name and move the band into a more serious direction....

Dean rocks the kit, the shirt and the banner with Underdog at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno


Bryn said...

Awesome! I can't wait to read more of this!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Awesome. I knew this was coming at some point. I liked the journalistic intro as well.

Angryaholic said...

This is shaping up to be one hell of a writeup! Good Job!

Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I walked into Don's Pizza. Saw all this Underdog stuff for sale and was WTF?!!!!!! Then, I asked and found out the connection.

Mike P. said...

I'm really digging this. I can't wait for the rest.

Anonymous said...

i hope richie chimes in. havent seen that dude interviewed in a LONG time

thefleX said...

Good interview, can't wait for the rest. I never knew Russ was in Child Abuse.

Paul said...

Stoked for this, can't wait to see the rest. Hoping to hear some good Belmar stories.