1977 to 1978

by liz worth
In 1976 a simple string of words appeared in the classified ads of the Toronto Star:

“Ramones/Iggy Pop stylist seeking same.”

It was a fragmented reference to what were then considered musical obscurities, and the beginning of what was to become an underground phenomenon.

The ad immediately caught the attention of Mike Anderson, a young drummer who had been playing in various bands, gigging at the Beverly Tavern and Grossman's. He answered the call and quickly found himself face to face with Steven Leckie, a young man who he remembers as someone who “had the look.”

Local folk singer and Philadelphia import Freddy Pompeii also found his interest piqued by what he read in front of him. Having been struggling up against the stagnant Toronto bar circuit that favoured cover bands over Pompeii's jagged folk-fuck-you meanderings, Pompeii quickly joined up with Leckie (who called himself Nazi Dog), Anderson (who was renamed Motor X), and bassist Jackie Death.

Directed by Leckie's vision to kill whatever had come before, the Viletones played their earliest shows at the Colonial Underground on Yonge Street, where they arrived armed with a manifesto that called for a war on the antiquated rock stars that had dominated the culture of the 1970s.

While the Diodes and other bands coming out of the Ontario College of Art scene had kicked started a cultural shift in Toronto, the Viletones heralded an uprising that would bring the Toronto punk scene to the forefront. Their live shows have often been described as mesmerizing frenzies. The music was like nothing that Toronto had ever heard, and Leckie's performances reduced rock n' roll into the depths of tribal danger with his relentless bloodletting.

But already, the band was not without its problems, and soon Death's chronic irresponsibility had him leaving the band. Enter Chris Haight, a seasoned musician who had been working the stage since the late 1960s and had recently left the power pop band Zoom. Haight, a guitar player who was willing to learn bass, eagerly accepted the invitation to join up with the Viletones, who had captured his attention from the onset. This new arrangement became the band that really made the cacophonic impact the Viletones became known for.

The band's career blazed in a frenzied torrent from there on in. They received a massive attention from the mainstream media and in the summer of '77, only after having played a small number of shows, they were booked to play CBGBs in New York and caught the attention of the US media.

Not all changes were going on behind closed doors, though. Deciding that the Viletones needed a bigger sound, Leckie had invited bassist Sam Ferrara of the Ugly to come on board, which saw Haight switch to guitar. The band's existence as a five-piece was short, however, when their record release party at the Hotel Isabella ended up in a riot before the band had barely played at all.

This brought the Viletones to a breaking point and it wasn't much longer until the secret that Anderson, Haight, and Pompeii were keeping was out. With the Secrets now an official band, Leckie was the only original member left to carry on the Viletones name.