John Joseph of Cro-mags

"... Better Watch Out For Me ..."

Cro-mags were one of the most influential, and controversial, bands to come out of the New York hardcore scene. The band's debut, "Age Of Quarrel," was released in 1986 and with that came worldwide recognition. After their record release show at CBGB on July 5, which I was fortunate enough to witness, their Lower East Side stomping grounds could not contain them any longer.

By November 1986, Cro-mags were opening for Motorhead on a European tour, and thousands of Mr. Kilmister's fans found out what a New York-style mosh-pit was like; whether they wanted to or not.

In the three years that followed, the band headlined clubs across the country as well as toured with the likes of Venom, GBH, and Megadeth. It seems Cro-mags were on their way to being one of the biggest hardcore bands ever, but this was not to be. By the time the band were about to record their sophomore album, "Best Wishes," John Joseph had left and Mackie Jayson moved on to drum with Bad Brains.

There are numerous articles and Internet sites that cover the feuds between various members of Cro-mags, but this isn't going to turn into one of those pieces. Fans can read about the history of the band in Joseph's new book, "The Evolution Of A Cro-magnon," which will be available this summer.

John Joseph is a part of Cro-mags' legacy and he is commemorating the release of "Age Of Quarrel" with his band, Fearless Vampire Killers.

I went to one of FVK's warm-up shows in Philadelphia to see John in action and to hear the songs from "Age Of Quarrel" live instead of blasting them in my car.

To this day, Quarrel is one of my favorite recordings that's never far from my CD player. It has the right amount of viciousness, melody, and skilled musicianship that few bands ever figure out the formula for. Not to mention Joseph's hardcore vocal delivery is second only to HR, the on/off screamer for Bad Brains, who John recognizes as the biggest inspiration for Cro-mags in the first place. Joseph also fronted Bad Brains at CBGB for two sold-out shows this past February.

I talked to John before their set and asked him how Fearless Vampire Killers - which is the title of a Bad Brains song - came about.

"I wanted to do something for the 20th anniversary of the first record," said John. "I got a band together and this is what I'm rolling with. We always bring it live. I want to keep doing music and the arts. I feel it's important."

Joining Joseph in FVK are long-time members of the New York hardcore scene, Cro-mags/Urban Blight/Bad Brains drummer Mackie Jayson, Biohazard/Among Thieves guitarist Scott Roberts, and Leeway/Both Worlds bassist AJ Novello.

During the opening intro, music from A Clockwork Orange pulsed through the speakers and the floor was still, as if everyone was waiting for the order to attack.

That order came in the form of the opening riff to "We Gotta Know." Instantly, a pit erupted and the fury continued until the last notes of "Hard Times." FVK bludgeoned the crowd with a rapid-fire volley of Cro-mags classics: "World Peace," "Show You No Mercy," "Malfunction," "Street Justice," and "Survival Of The Streets."

"Is there anybody here over thirty?" Joseph asked the young crowd. "Put up your hands. Be proud."

When I and three other people raised their hands in admission to being over the dreaded number, he decided to change his dedication to everybody and ripped through Bad Brains' classics "Sailin" On" and "Attitude." The pit on the floor squalled again with newfound intensity. It was great to see the young hardcore fans slamming along to songs that came out before some of them were even conceived.

FVK went back into Cro-mags mode and ripped through three more, "Don't Tread On Me," "Face the Facts," and "Sign Of The Times." Joseph's voice is stronger than ever and his delivery is dead-on; as it was when he laid down the vocals in the studio 20 years ago. Being seasoned veterans of the New York hardcore scene, Scott, AJ, and Mackie play the songs with all of the power and sincerity of the original versions.

After three more Bad Brains tunes, FVK finished the night with "Life Of My Own," "It's The Limit," and "Hard Times." The band just finished in Europe, celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Age Of Quarrel" with 17 gigs in 17 days straight. After that, John will delve back into his many projects. Besides FVK, there's the original band he's in called Bloodclot with Roberts, Sick Of It All bassist Craig Setari, and Biohazard drummer Danny Schuler, and the two screenplays he's working on.

He also told me about his self-published book that's coming out, which contains stories about living on the streets of New York, the history of Cro-mags, and his involvement with a Hare Krishna cult, among other experiences.

"It's called "The Evolution Of A Cro-magnon" because it's about a spiritual evolution," said Joseph. "I'm working with the retail marketing director of Simon and Schuster and she was blown away by the book. A lot of people think the shit in the book could not be true, but it is. It's the kind of shit you can't make up. She started meeting motherfuckers like my brothers and my Mom, and they were like 'yeah, that happened.' When people read this shit, they're gonna flip."

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Chris Bade

Chris Bade is a Contributing Writer for Chorus and Verse.