Against the Grain
Central Pa.'s Rock Raconteur
Reilly at age 25, pursuing his music career in NYC.
Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler
Snarky, quick-witted and limitlessly talented, Richard Reilly may be a Midstate resident, but he's also a treasured relic of a time long past. Reilly, a musician, founded first-wave punk band Victims and played with the Misfits (among others) before landing in Mechanicsburg where he plays with the Bo Deadlys for local audiences and sometimes just for fun.
Growing up during the British Invasion, Reilly enjoyed the tunes coming over from across the pond; some more than others.
“... The Beatles made me want to listen to music, the Stones made me want to be in a band,” Reilly says.
At 15, Reilly made his own way, bouncing from the homes of friends and relatives to a treehouse in a friend's backyard. An experience he describes as “short-lived.”
In 1971, the 20-year-old Reilly was working miscellaneous jobs to support himself. The short list of those jobs includes a car wash and bible distributor, jobs Reilly could bail on if the music career he was now pursuing started to take off.
The first of Reilly's bands to play a show, a blues-style cover band, ended up being “too slick” for the young musician's taste. “Every band I've ever been in has been sloppy,” adds Reilly. “I can't do anything but sloppy.”
Yearning for something a little less melodic, Reilly came to a realization, “I wanted to be in a rock n' roll band,” he proclaimed.
Around the same time, Reilly discovered he suffered from a degree of stage fright, singing to the band through most of their performances. When a young woman approached him about his reluctance to face the crowd, he was surprised to find out that she had taken it as a deliberate act of rebellion rather than the truth, which was that Reilly was “terminally shy.”
“She thought it was an on-purpose thing. I didn't try to dissuade that,” laughs Reilly.
Despite his shyness, Reilly soldiered on.
Fast forward to the Victims, a New York-based band that gave Reilly the outlet he was looking for. Here, he could indulge his rock n' roll side and tap into his songwriting skills.
Reilly describes the New York music scene when the Victims arrived there in the mid-seventies, “You had the glam bands, you had the glitter bands, and we weren't really polished enough to be either of those,” jokes Reilly.
Because they didn't fit the mold, and CBGBs or Max's didn't exist yet, the only places that would give them stage time ended up being the city's alternative venues such as gay bars, drag bars and queer spaces like Club 82.
With a festering punk scene and too few venues to give them sanctuary, punk musicians turned to each other for help. “It was like this small little army against the world. Nobody had the energy to be competitive toward the other bands because they were who you were counting on to show up at your shows,” says Reilly. “It was a cool time to be there. You could just show up to Max's or CB's and you knew you'd see somebody you liked.”
During his tenure in the New York music scene, Reilly came to know and work with names that are now synonymous with American punk.
Reilly recalls his first encounter with the Misfits, and more notably, with vocalist Glenn Danzig.
“To me, Glenn is a joke,” Reilly says unapologetically.
“The first time I saw them play live, they were wearing scuba outfits and they had no guitar player. It was a drummer named Manny, a girl bass player named Diane and Glenn on this cheesy Vox organ. They were much more Doors-y then,” he adds.
Regardless of his feelings toward Danzig, the Victims played with the Misfits in various venues like Eddie's Lounge in New Jersey. Where their style and tone became much more aggressive. Reilly even joined the band for a short time, filling in on guitar because he was “the only one who was free.” Reilly says he didn't join the band permanently because “I didn't want to look like Eddie Munster.”
In 1979, the Victims released their album, Real Wild Child. While on tour, some of Reilly's favorite places to play were Max's Kansas City in New Jersey and 4th Street Saloon in Bethlehem. Touring was not without its hiccups. The band beat up the station wagon they had rented for the tour and Reilly drew the shortest straw, having to return the damaged car to the rental company in person.
What sounds like a sitcom plot was Reilly's real-life experience of trying to get Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers), to the airport in one piece and on-time. Thunders' notorious drug use being the catalyst for some humorous and sobering stories. Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys) is still a friend of Reilly's, having shared recording space and a place to crash during their time in NYC together.
Discussing contemporary music's cyclical habits, Reilly offers, “When does revival become a rut?” Reilly says he would rather see “something new” than a punk revival. The best way to combat the recycling of music is “you refuse to accept it as yours,” he explains.
Reilly's onstage shyness has since disappeared. Now, it's where he's “most comfortable.” Despite the hard times and desperate living conditions, Reilly quickly rejects any notion of regret, “Nah, he says, it was too much fun to be desperate.”
Nowadays, Reilly can be found at his Mechanicsburg art gallery, Metropolis Collective where he and Gallery Curator Hannah Dobek provide a platform for budding visual and performance artists to showcase their work.