Leif Garrett. He really was quite the shit back in the day, wasn’t he?
In the late ’70s every girl in America had his poster on her wall. Even the Amish chicks. Before that, he was in on just about every TV show there was in the ’70s. He played Felix Unger’s kid on The Odd Couple, and Buford Pusser’s son in the Walking Tall trilogy that ruled the drive-ins 40 years ago. It was during his time on a short-lived show, Three For The Road, that teen girls began to lose their shit over Garrett, so he was put in a studio and for a brief time at the end of the decade, he was king.
Since then he’s pretty much provided the script for just about every Behind The Music special there ever was, appeared in the Coppola flick The Outsiders, and sang on The Melvins’ definitive cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – which, if we’re lucky, he’ll perform when he comes to Indy to play The Vogue this Saturday, July 25.
Regardless of what he plays, it promises to be a unique show for a cause that might break your heart a little.
Shawn Robare Lee was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in January. She was just beginning a new journey with her husband Tim: they bought a farm. Then came her her diagnosis. Then the bills.
To help out, her brother-in-law, Indy native Billy Lee, asked his buddy Leif to play a show to try and raise some money. Garrett not only agreed to play a show, but invited his friends in the Chicago band Emperors and Elephants to perform as well. Family friend Jeff Willock will open the show, with all proceeds going to Shawn.
Garrett is not bringing his band, but is instead using a Indy metal supergroup of sorts that all know the Robares.
Billy says: “I started [the band] with my old Devil To Pay bandmate Matt Stokes, who has been close friends with my family all of my life. He’s my favorite bass player next to Geezer Butler in the world! Scott Bronner from Iron Diamond and Radiation Sickness are also very close friends. Dustin Boltjes, presently with Skeletonwitch and Iron Diamond, has been one of my really good friends for last couple of years. We also have Kelley Milligan whom I went to high school with. She’s a very accomplished musician, and has done work with Mellencamp and one of my favorite Indy bands Wonderdrug, among countless other acts.”
So how are these brutal metal warriors gonna tone it down for the quasi-disco of Leif’s early hits?
“This is no disco band!” Lee says, laughing. “You’ll recognize the hits, but with this band there’s an unavoidable heavy edge. Leif does the hits with his full time band members not in a disco style and the fans still seem to love it and sing right along. The structure and progressions of the songs were tricky at first. I even took some guitar lessons to get the parts super tight.”
“There was a time when I wouldn’t even consider doing ‘I Was Made For Dancing’ or ‘Surfin’ USA,’ ‘Runaround Sue’ or any of that stuff,” Garrett says when I reach him via phone. He pauses, then continues: “But now, I am proud that people still have a connection to those songs, I mean I’m not going to tell you what songs I will and will not be doing, I’ll leave that to surprise. I’m not doing a set of my old stuff, but a mixture of some of the old songs, some of the songs from various bands I’ve put together like Godspeed and F8, some new stuff and some covers.”
“I really am looking forward to this because my family has been affected by cancer,” Garrett says. “I really don’t know anybody who hasn’t been affected by cancer. It’s a horrible, widespread epidemic, if you will, that takes many different forms. I just want to help out however I can.”
It’ll help that all those girls that had his poster up on their walls as teens will be in attendance, I say.
“Oh, man! That is still one of the best things about what I do!” Garrett says, laughing. “So many girls had my poster up in their room and all the guys wanted to beat me up. Now when I meet those women, their husbands are behind them telling me, ‘Dude, you’re cool!’
“I grew up with people, people grew up with me. It makes me proud that so many people still love and cherish that period. I mean, it was a period of our lives that was the most influential time of our lives.”
I have one more question. Who’d win in a street fight, Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garrett?
Garrett chuckles. “Oh my God, I’d kick his ass!”