Count Viglione | Interview | Joe Viglione
Joe Viglione is a film director, record producer, TV host, writer, renaissance man and musician better known as Count Viglione.
Viglione is owner of Varulven, a record label which started as a zine in 1969 and was active from the mid-1970’s until the early 1990’s. We dive deep about who Count Viglione is.
“Be careful what you name yourself”
It’s great to have you. Let’s start at the beginning, tell us where you grew up and what it was like growing up for you? When did you first get interested in music?
Joe Viglione: I grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts on the Mystic Lake. Started writing poetry as a teenager, and published the first edition of Varulven Magazine at the age of 15, in 1969. We wrote horror film reviews and such.
What was the scene like in Boston back in the 60s? Were there a lot of bands that you enjoyed?
There were The Prince and the Pauper three doors down from my house, or four doors down. They wore plastic leather. Chris Cunningham was the guitarist and he jammed with us once. With Mouilty and the Barbarians, the Modern Lovers and such causing a stir a few years earlier, it helped us launch the New Wave in Boston.
So called “Bosstown Sound” had its number of bands, did you know any of them or were you even involved with the local scene back then?
The Bosstown Sound happened when I was a teenager, I didn’t know all of them, but I have reviewed many. I know Richard Lee of Eden’s Children and of course I know Willie “Loco” Alexander (I signed him to New Rose Records and Bomp Records, and managed him for awhile) and Walter Powers, both were in the latter-day Velvet Underground. Willie found the Moe Tucker/Jonathan
Richman tape I put on my label that he played on.
Were you in any bands back in the 60s? What was the very first band you were involved in? Tell us if there are any recordings of it.
I was born in 1954 so I was only 7 or 8 in the early 1960’s. We launched in the 1970s. We would have just me and a drummer and relatives at first with songs like ‘Pusher, Pusher, She’s Hooked on Heroin’ or ‘The Girl from Comm Ave’ (about a prostitute) … following The Velvet Underground, and yes, I still have the experimental recordings, ‘Throw Me Into Overdrive’. A lot of experimenting with fuzz box, phase shifter, tape recorder and lots of noise. We called the first band The Wurdulaks (Vampires) and Varulven Magazine was Nordic for Werewolf.
I guess you were very involved with the scene since you began your own zine in 1969. Can you elaborate on the Varulven, which eventually became a label. Tell us about the zine and its concept.
It was self-expression, like blogging today, only on paper. I met some great people and a lifelong friend in Jim Miller (not The Rolling Stones producer, he was my friend too) … it was to write about monster movies and interview people. The idea was to interview people off of the street, but instead God let me meet Alfred Hitchcock, Albert and David Maysles (The Beatles on Ed Sullivan days, Gimme Shelter for the Rolling Stones, et cetera) and eventually decades later Jodie Foster, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, Robbie Krieger and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad.
How was The Count born?
It was a rather teenage kinda thing, my friends would play baseball while I played horror movies, which – of course – they would come over to watch. They called me Drac and it stuck. Be careful what you name yourself, it will stick with you your entire life as I am 69 now.
Tell me about the ‘Water Summers’ EP which was released in 1976.
What’s interesting is that I wrote Salt Water Summers as an answer to David Bowie’s ‘All The Young Dudes,’ though it had a different title, then changed it to be a summer song. We did that with a lot of my riffs.
I was doing a lot of experimental, science-fiction psychedelic stuff that the people playing with me were not into. They, of course, wanted to play covers or traditional sounding stuff. My ‘Galaxy 7’ – which came out on my second EP, reflects that… I like the instrumental of it even better and will release it soon. But the EP ‘Salt Water Summers’ was still more refined pop than the experimental stuff, though “Jodi” is me solo and is more like what I was doing without the band.
What kind of venues did you play early on? What are some bands you shared stages with?
In 1973 our first show out in the clubs, ever, was at the Coral Reef in Everett with the band Still. It is gone now, but I just moved to Everett, go figure. We joined another band, Crystal Sand.
Then there was the ‘Auguste Phenomenon’….
Well, if we became big stars, haha, we wanted to be at the top of the alphabet in the record stores and even named it with two A’s, AAuguste Phenomenon at one point.
How did you get signed to Flaming Records to record ‘I’m a Star’?
Patrick at Flamingo/Carrere got our records from probably a label in England, Bizarre distribution. They got my records and (Bizarre) never paid me! But it worked out as the discs were selling at Patrick’s store in France and I was the first album artist that he signed. From the strength of ‘Salt Water Summers’ selling. He even came over here to see us play Cantones with Jonathan Richman in the audience.
What was the overall vision you had for the album? Tell us about the songs and recording process.
Well, it was supposed to be called ‘Sometimes My Heart Sings Blue,’ but Patrick at Flamingo thought the French would think it a blues album. I wrote ‘I’m a Star’ about the bandmate in Still .. .but when Patrick named the album that, people didn’t know that. ‘I’m a Star’ is actually ‘Girl from Comm. Ave’ rewritten. It was very exciting as Andy Mendelson’s studio was down the street from where I lived, then we recorded there with Bob Benjamin and eventually went to Newton at guitarist Gary Soprano’s studio. We released the first ever ‘Foggy Notion’ written by The Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers taught it to us. Theirs came out years later (The Velvet Underground version) and songs I was writing, I’m really happy with the first album and Lord Manuel’s spacey sounds and Fred Pineau’s guitar work.
It would be fantastic if you would share some commentary about the follow-up albums you did.
We had ‘Run the Night Away’ with Lord Manuel on the first album, and Matthew McKenzie from Reddy Teddy on guitar. Then ‘Love and Flame’ on the next album, which became the band’s name. ‘Intuition Element’ was more hard rock. ‘Mystical Eye III’ was influenced by Blue Cheer’s very psychedelic ‘I’m the Light’ from the ‘Oh! Pleasant Hope’ album. We had Blue Cheer’s Kevin Graves in our band, he’s on ‘Guitarmaster’ and other songs on the first album, ‘I’m A Star’. He came in as Blue Cheer was fading out, before they became cool again as a touring band. There is some great stuff I put on Spotify from the 1980’s with Jay Couper and Scott Couper, the twin brothers from Gold Dust, we did a full album called ‘Secret Things,’ very mystical, I like ‘Stretch My Hands Across the Universe’. “Look Into What Lies Beyond” like the song says… and the ‘Violet Dawn’ inspired by the book by John Rechy which inspired Jim Morrison to write ‘L.A. Woman’. Currently working on a concept album, ‘Elegant Decadence,’ which will run about 75 minutes, going back to my random sounds, and with the song ‘Sometimes My Heart Sings Blue’ finally finished and on the disc.
You had your own label that released quite a lot of interesting stuff including Blowfish, Unnatural Axe, Bruce Bad, Lord Manuel, Phobia, Jared. How did you select the artists? What was the label’s concept?
The label was to both document the Boston scene (and New England music).
In 1980 you collaborated with Moe Tucker. Tell us about the release featuring Lady Carolyn.
Moe Tucker was delighted to meet Phil Milstein of The Velvet Underground Appreciation Society. I actually initiated the Society in the Jonathan Richman issue of Varulven with an article on Lou Reed. Phil got the magazine at a Lou Reed concert I was at – the Paradise Theater – and started our little group. Phil found Moe. She recorded a single, ‘Around and Around,’ then after giving it to me, she decided to put it out on her own. So I put Lady Carolyn – singer in our band- on the flip side with the song ‘Of Yesterday’ to thank her for all the years singing with me. She’s still singing with me about 45 or 50 years later!!!!
When did you originally meet The Velvet Underground and what was your relationship with members of the band?
I met The Velvet Underground, all the members except Nico, at gigs, but I did talk to Nico on the phone. I got all their autographs but don’t know where they are now. Interviewed John Cale in Paradise, met Lou Reed a few times but interviewed him on the phone, Moe Tucker stayed at my house, I taped Doug Yule’s second to last show as the V.U., it is in the Japanese boxed set Final V.U., and Moe introduced me to Sterling at the Middle East nightclub.
We all love them. I was honored to be invited to Lou Reed’s wake Dec 13, 2013, the tenth anniversary of it being tomorrow…wow…ten years…at the Apollo Theater.
How did you meet Willie Loco Alexander?
Willie Loco Alexander played with the band Television at a room two doors down from the Paradise. He really was the first to bring a New York rock band to Boston I think in 1975. I went to ask him how he put out his record, so Willie Loco actually helped launch Varulven. We’ve been friends ever since, forty-eight years now.
You also worked as A&R and signed Johnny Thunders to New Rose Records? What was he like?
Johnny Thunders was talented and funny. A college kid from WERS wanted to interview him when my band and the Daughters (Johnny’s band) played Paradise, which I used to book. Johnny said “No. I want Joe to interview me.” So I interviewed him. Would love to have that tape. Now the concert promoter, Don Law, booked the show through me. His secretary had a party at her house, and David Johansen was there. He cornered me and said “You can help save Johnny.” He kept repeating it, but of course, I couldn’t. Even though I don’t drink, do drugs or even smoke cigarettes. I used to have a beer or two a year, haha, but at my age I go to the gym every night. Johnny Thunders was not about to do that.
You pretty much met everyone, from The Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller to Ray Manzarek, Jodie Foster, Mark Farner…
I’ve been very blessed and honored to meet with, and sometimes work with, great talent. I directed Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane’s first solo documentary DVD, managed the band Spirit with Randy California and Ed Cassidy, promoted Spanky and Our Gang, Ian Lloyd and Stories, Nelson Slater from Lou Reed’s college band, and many others. Promoting Alvin Lee with George Harrison and Jon Lord on the record was amazing, and writing the foreword to Herman’s Hermits Peter Noone’s book was especially wonderful. George Harrison would email me and Bobby Hebb of “Sunny” fame. I produced Bobby’s boxed set…. and interviewed Robbie Krieger of The Doors, and opened for his band at the Channel. So many stories, it is hard to remember them all.
As far as the Rolling Stones go I had dinner with Charlie Watts, interviewed Mick Taylor, saw Ron Wood at an art gallery, and worked with Stones’ / Eric Clapton producer Rob Fraboni today. Keith Richards introduced me to Rob when Jimmy Miller took me to a Keith Richards session in 1988. It is less about dropping names
and more about promoting what they were doing at the time.
You released an album of the same name on New Rose in 1982. Can you share some further words about it?
‘Love and Flame’ is the Auguste Phenomenon reborn in 1979 or so. Me and Carolyn are the band with Kenne Highland and whoever will play with us. It is lots of fun.
Are you planning to play some gigs in the near future?
I play a concert just about every Friday for senior citizens here, the piano is three doors down from my apartment, so I write songs on it in the middle of the night. We plan on recording a live album with our engineer Larry Lessard early in 2024 at an undetermined venue. Jeff Hill is my drummer from 1983 (Mr. Lessard, our engineer, dates back to 1983 as well) but Jeff may not be able to play for health issues, so I will ask the original drummer from Salt Water Summers – Sim Lee, and of course Lady Carolyn, Kenne Highland and whomever wants to have fun with us, hopefully Larry Newman on bass and John Keegan on sax.
What else currently occupies your life? What are some future projects?
I’m putting demos and all the recordings up on Spotify/YouTube so they don’t get lost forever. Got about 175 of them up there now. I go to the gym, play with my kitty, and try to control the 50,000 vinyl albums I have… Life is fun and I keep active. Going to see Livingston Taylor and Karla Bonoff this Sunday as I interviewed them both last week. I do my radio show weekly…but I don’t go to concerts, so this will be a diversion and I want to meet Karla and Livingston!
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
Playing the Rat, Cantones, Paradise, they are all memorable. The C Note … we have fun at all of them. We love to play out… I love all my songs, it’s like having hundreds of children. However, ‘Wave Descends,’ ‘Go On,’ ‘There’s Nothing Like a Hit,’ ‘Can’t Wait to See You Smile,’ ‘Mystical Eye III,’ ‘Inside Outside’ are very special to me.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Not new. I love ‘Good Vibrations,’ an instrumental by The Beach Boys, now there’s psychedelia for you. I’ve been playing that recently, and Rob Fraboni engineered The Beach Boys’ ‘Sail on Sailor’. Tracy Bonham’s ‘Second Wind’ and lots of rare Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix I play in my car all the time.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Thank You, Klemen, just keeping it all going, keeping the music preserved, giving artists a platform, I appreciate this opportunity.
Headline photo: Joe Viglione at Marc Thor Benefit at The Rat nightclub 9/11/77 | Photo by Rich Parsons of Unnatural Axe