The Misfits are an American punk rock band often recognized as the progenitors of the horror punk subgenre, blending punk rock and other musical influences with horror film themes and imagery.
Founded in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey by singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, the group had a fluctuating lineup during its first six years with Danzig and bassist Jerry Only as the only consistent members. During this time they released several EPs and singles, and with Only’s brother Doyle as guitarist, the albums Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983), both considered touchstones of the early-1980s hardcore punk movement.
The Misfits disbanded in 1983 and Danzig went on to form Samhain and then the eponymous Danzig. Several albums of reissued and previously unreleased material were issued after the group’s dissolution, and their music became influential to punk rock, heavy metal, and alternative rock music of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
After a series of legal battles with Danzig, Only and Doyle regained the rights to record and perform as the Misfits. They formed a new version of the band in 1995 with singer Michale Graves and drummer Dr. Chud. This incarnation of the Misfits had a sound much more rooted in heavy metal, and released the albums American Psycho (1997) and Famous Monsters (1999) before dissolving in 2000. Jerry Only then took over lead vocals and recruited former Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadena and former Ramones drummer Marky Ramone for a Misfits 25th Anniversary tour.
This lineup released an album of cover songs entitled Project 1950 and toured for several years. In 2005 Ramone was replaced by Robo, who had played with Black Flag in the early 1980s and had also previously been the Misfits’ drummer from 1982 to 1983. This lineup released a single titled “Land of the Dead” in 2009. The Misfits’ current lineup of Only, Cadena, and drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce released a new album titled The Devil’s Rain in October 2011.
The Misfits were formed in January 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey by Glenn Danzig, who had previous experience performing in local bands. Naming the band after actress Marilyn Monroe’s final film The Misfits (1961), Danzig recruited guitarist Jimmy Battle, bassist Diane DiPiazza, and drummer Manny Martínez to fill out the lineup while Danzig himself sang and played the electric piano. Both Battle and DiPiazza left the band after a month of practices. Martínez recommended his friend Jerry Caiafa to Danzig as a replacement, as Caiafa had recently received a bass guitar as a Christmas gift. Caiafa was accepted into the band despite having only been practicing his instrument for two months. He and Danzig would remain the only consistent members of the Misfits until the group disbanded in 1983. The trio of Danzig, Martínez, and Caiafa rehearsed for three months without a guitarist, using Danzig’s electric piano to provide the songs’ rhythm. They recorded the band’s first single, “Cough/Cool”, which they released through their own label Blank Records in August 1977. Caiafa’s surname was misspelled on the record’s sleeve, prompting him to insist that in the future he be credited as “Jerry, only Jerry”. “Jerry Only” quickly became his pseudonym, which he would continue to use for the rest of his career. The band played their first two performances at CBGB in New York City, followed by other local performances over the following two months.
In August 1977, guitarist Frank Licata joined the band under the pseudonym Franché Coma. The addition of a permanent guitar player allowed Danzig to phase out the electric piano and focus on singing, and pushed the band’s sound in a punk rock direction. Danzig and Only ejected Martínez from the band in December, judging him to be unreliable, and replaced him with “Mr. Jim” Catania. The band found themselves with a recording opportunity when Mercury Records wished to use the name Blank Records for one of its subdivisions and offered Danzig thirty hours of free studio time in exchange for the trademark to the name. Danzig accepted, and in January 1978 the Misfits entered a New York recording studio to record their first album. Seventeen songs were recorded, fourteen of which were mixed for the proposed Static Age album. However, the band were unable to find a record label interested in releasing the album. Instead they released four of the songs in June 1978 as the “Bullet” single on their new label Plan 9 Records, named after the 1959 science fiction horror film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Static Age would not be released in its entirety until 1997.
Following the Static Age sessions the Misfits began a shift in songwriting and appearance, with Danzig writing more songs inspired by B horror and science fiction films. He painted skeletal patterns on his performance clothing, while Only began applying dark makeup around his eyes and styling his hair in a long point hanging from his forehead between his eyes and down to his chin, a style that became known as a “devilock” and which both Danzig and Only’s brother Doyle would eventually adopt. This new style and musical direction would later be described as the subgenre “horror punk”.
The band performed more frequently and went on short tours in support of the “Bullet” single. While in Canada in October 1978 Franché Coma quit the band because he did not enjoy touring, and guitarist Rick Riley filled in temporarily to finish the tour. Jim Catania also quit following the tour, citing a distaste for the horror direction in which the band was heading. Within two months the pair were replaced by drummer Joey Poole, under the pseudonym Joey Image, and guitarist Bobby Steele. The new lineup of Danzig, Only, Image, and Steele began performing in December 1978 and continued to evolve the horror elements of the band. They released the “Horror Business” single in June 1979, the cover of which featured a skeletal figure inspired by a poster for the 1946 film serial The Crimson Ghost.
The figure became a mascot for the band, and its skull image would serve as the Misfits’ logo for the rest of their career. The band also launched a fan club named the “Fiend Club” which Danzig operated in a do-it-yourself fashion from his mother’s basement in Lodi, silkscreening T-shirts, assembling records, mailing merchandise catalogs, booking shows for the band, and answering fan mail.
In June 1979, the Misfits performed as openers for The Damned in New York City. Only spoke with singer Dave Vanian about the possibility of the Misfits touring the United Kingdom with The Damned. That November the band released the “Night of the Living Dead” single and flew to England to tour with The Damned. Upon arriving there, however, they learned that Vanian had not taken his conversation with Only seriously and had not planned on having the Misfits on the tour. Vanian attempted to arrange for the Misfits to take part in the tour, but the band members were unhappy with the situation and left the tour after only two shows. Image then quit the band and flew back to the United States. With their return flight not scheduled until late December, the remaining band members stayed in London. Only spent time with Sid Vicious’ mother Anne Ritchie, whom he had befriended after Vicious’ death in February 1979. Danzig and Steele got into a fight with skinheads while waiting to see The Jam, were arrested, and spent two nights in jail in Brixton; this experience inspired the later song “London Dungeon”.
Upon their return to the United States the Misfits released the Beware EP in January 1980, then took a four-month break before adding Joseph McGuckin as their new drummer under the pseudonym Arthur Googy. During this time Only’s younger brother Paul Caiafa, a longtime fan of the band who went by the nickname Doyle, began learning to play guitar with help from Danzig and Only. The Misfits began working on an album which they planned to release through their Plan 9 label, recording twelve songs in a studio in August 1980. Doyle practiced with the band and recorded his own guitar tracks for the songs, and Only began persuading Danzig that Doyle would fit into the band better than Steele. That October Steele was ejected from the band in favor of the sixteen-year-old Doyle. Steele went on to form The Undead, while Doyle made his debut with the Misfits at their annual Halloween performance at Irving Plaza in New York City. After several more performances the band took another hiatus for six months.
After reconvening, the band selected three of the twelve songs from their August 1980 album sessions and released them as 3 Hits from Hell in April 1981. Throughout the rest of 1981 they continued to record tracks for a full-length album, to be titled Walk Among Us. They had planned to release it through Plan 9 but instead accepted an offer from Slash Records, deciding to rework the album before its release. In October 1981 they released two more tracks from the August 1980 sessions as the “Halloween” single. On November 20 they recorded a performance at On Broadway in San Francisco.
Black Flag were also performing that night at the Mabuhay Gardens downstairs from On Broadway, and Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, a longtime fan of the band, came up to watch the Misfits’ soundcheck. He stayed to watch the band’s set and sang guest vocals on “We Are 138”. The two bands crossed paths again on Christmas in Lodi, where Black Flag wound up playing as the opening band for the Necros and the Misfits.
BULLET by THE MISFITS
Walk Among Us was released in March 1982 through Ruby and Slash Records. It was the first full-length Misfits album to be properly released, and the only album to be released while the early incarnation of the band was still active. A national tour in support of the album followed, and the band’s performances began to grow more intense and violent. Danzig and Googy clashed frequently during the tour, and after a heated argument at a McDonald’s restaurant Danzig kicked Googy out of the band, delaying their plans to record their next EP. They offered the vacant drummer position to their friend Eerie Von, who had served as their occasional roadie and photographer, but he had already committed to drumming for Rosemary’s Babies. Henry Rollins recommended former Black Flag drummer Robo, who flew to New Jersey to join the Misfits in July 1982. Doyle graduated from high school and he and Only began working full-time at their father’s machine shop, earning money to purchase new instruments, fund the band’s tours, and press records, while Danzig ran the Fiend Club and continued writing new songs.
In September 1982 the Misfits embarked on a national tour, with the Necros as their opening act. During the tour they stopped at a studio to record the instrumental tracks for their next EP. They were arrested in New Orleans on charges of grave robbing while attempting to locate the grave of voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, but bailed themselves out of jail and skipped their court date in order to drive to their next performance in Florida. Following the tour they released seven songs from the November 1981 performance in San Francisco in limited numbers only to members of the Fiend Club as the Evilive EP.
By this time Danzig was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the Misfits and had begun writings songs for a new band project. In June 1983 he confided to Henry Rollins that he planned to quit the group. In July 1983 the Misfits finished recording their EP, and Danzig decided to record two more songs that he had intended for his new project, turning it into a full album. Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood demonstrated the increased influence of hardcore punk and heavy metal on the band, though they would break up just two months before it was released. After a series of arguments with Danzig, Robo left the band in August and Danzig became further disenchanted, beginning to audition musicians for his next project.
On October 29, 1983, the Misfits played their annual Halloween performance at Greystone Hall in Detroit with the Necros. Danzig had selected Brian Damage, formerly of Genocide and Verbal Abuse, as the band’s new drummer. However, Damage became drunk before the show and could not play properly. After several songs Doyle escorted him off the stage and Todd Swalla of the Necros filled in for the remainder of the performance. Tensions came to a head and Danzig announced to the audience that it would be the band’s final show. Upon returning to Lodi the band members went their separate ways.
Following the breakup of the Misfits, Danzig launched his new band Samhain, moving away from punk rock and towards more experimental heavy metal with a grim atmosphere. Several Misfits songs were rerecorded for Samhain albums, including “Horror Business” (as “Horror Biz”), “All Hell Breaks Loose” (as “All Hell”), “Halloween II”, “Death Comes Ripping”, and “London Dungeon”. In 1987 the band signed to a major record label and Danzig replaced most of the rhythm section, renaming the group Danzig. He continues to front Danzig, who have released nine albums ranging in style from blues rock-influenced heavy metal to industrial rock, and has also released two solo albums.
Jerry Only and Doyle, meanwhile, moved to Vernon, New Jersey to work at their father’s machine parts factory full-time. Jerry Only had married and had a daughter and became more serious about his Christian faith, regretting some of the things he had done with the Misfits. In 1987 he and Doyle formed the short-lived Kryst the Conqueror, a Christian heavy metal band with barbarian imagery.
Though the Misfits’ popularity did not extend beyond the underground punk scene during their seven years of activity, public interest in the band increased in the years following their breakup. The success of Danzig’s post-Misfits’ work led to interest in his past work, and several high-profile rock bands professed fondness for the Misfits. Most notably, Metallica covered the Misfits songs “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” on The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987), and Guns N’ Roses covered “Attitude” on “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993). Several albums of reissued and previously unreleased Misfits material were issued between 1985 and 1987, the first being the compilation album Legacy of Brutality (1985) which included many of the songs from the unreleased Static Age album. Danzig overdubbed many of the album’s instrument tracks in order to avoid having to pay royalties to the other former band members. Misfits, more commonly referred to as Collection I, followed in 1986. The Evilive EP was reissued as a full album in 1987 with five additional tracks.
HORROR BUSINESS by THE MISFITS
Only contacted Danzig about receiving a portion of the royalties from these albums’ sales, beginning a legal battle that lasted several years and involved other past members of the band. All of the Misfits material had been credited to Danzig, and though Only later conceded that Danzig had written nearly all of the lyrics and most of the music, he contended that he and Doyle “wrote 25% or maybe 30% of the music” and deserved compensation. Danzig, however, insisted that he had written all of the songs in their entirety and that the other members’ creative input had been minimal. Eventually Only ceased his pursuit of songwriting credits and sought the rights to use the Misfits name and imagery, including the now-famous “Crimson Ghost” skull face logo.
In 1995 the parties reached an out-of-court settlement that allowed Only and Doyle to record and perform as the Misfits, sharing merchandising rights with Danzig. Collection II, a third compilation of Misfits songs, was released later that year.
Only and Doyle immediately set about reforming the Misfits, bringing in drummer David Calabrese, aka “Dr. Chud”, who had worked with them in Kryst the Conqueror. Glenn Danzig rejected their offer to return as the band’s lead singer. Dave Vanian of The Damned was also approached but declined. The band then held open auditions for a new vocalist. Nineteen-year-old singer Michael Emanuel had recently recorded a demo tape in hopes of starting a music career, and the owner of the recording studio suggested that he audition for the Misfits. Being unfamiliar with the band, Emanuel listened to Collection I on a walkman to learn the lyrics and melodies while working his job as a greenskeeper. He impressed the band with his audition and was accepted as the new lead singer under the pseudonym Michale Graves, while Doyle adopted the new stage name “Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein”. The new lineup made an appearance in the 1995 film Animal Room.
In 1996, the Misfits Box Set was released, containing nearly all of the band’s Danzig-era material recorded from 1977 to 1983 (with the exception of Walk Among Us). The set included the complete fourteen-song Static Age album, released for the first time in its entirety, as well as the overdubbed and alternate versions of songs that had previously been released on Legacy of Brutality, Collection I, and Collection II. Static Age was also released as a separate album the following year, including all seventeen tracks that had been recorded during the January 1978 sessions. The release of the box set and Static Age made the Misfits’ complete early catalog widely available for the first time.
A tribute album was also released in 1997 entitled Violent World, featuring numerous punk rock and hardcore bands covering songs from the Glenn Danzig era. Another tribute album, Hell on Earth, was released in 2000 featuring death metal, hard rock, and gothic rock acts.
The new incarnation of the Misfits released their debut album American Psycho in 1997 and filmed music videos for the songs “American Psycho” and “Dig Up Her Bones”. The band toured Europe and North America in support of the album and appeared as characters in World Championship Wrestling. Graves took a hiatus from the band during 1998, during which Myke Hideous of The Empire Hideous filled in as singer during tours of South America and Europe. After Graves’ return the band signed to Roadrunner Records, releasing Famous Monsters in October 1999 and filming a music video for the single “Scream!” They made additional film appearances in Big Money Hustlas (2000), Bruiser (2000), and Campfire Stories (2001) and continued to tour, but tensions between the band members began to grow. During a performance at the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida on October 25, 2000, Graves and Chud both quit the band and walked offstage. The two later released an album under the name Graves before splitting up; Graves went on to sing for Gotham Road and then launched a solo career, while Chud formed Dr. Chud’s X-Ward. Meanwhile, Doyle took an indefinite hiatus from performing as he divorced, remarried, had a fourth child, and dealt with tendinitis in his elbow.
As the sole remaining founding member of the Misfits, Jerry Only took over lead vocal duties in addition to playing bass guitar and recruited veteran musicians Dez Cadena, former guitarist of Black Flag, an idea Doyle was not fond of, leading him to quit.Also Marky Ramone, former drummer of the Ramones, for a Misfits 25th Anniversary Tour which lasted intermittently for nearly three years. Former Black Flag and Misfits drummer Robo filled in for Ramone during some stretches of the tour. Only released Cuts from the Crypt in 2001, a compilation of demos and rarities covering the band’s period with Graves and Chud from 1995 to 2001. This fulfilled the band’s contractual obligations to Roadrunner Records, whom Only had grown dissatisfied with.
Also in 2001 Caroline Records announced that they would release recordings from the Misfits’ August 1980 album sessions as 12 Hits from Hell. However, both Only and Glenn Danzig abruptly called off production of the album, citing concerns with the mixing, mastering, layout, and packaging.
Only and longtime collaborator John Cafiero soon launched their own label, Misfits Records, and released a split single featuring the Misfits and Japanese horror punk band Balzac. The Only/Cadena/Ramone lineup of the Misfits released the covers album Project 1950 in 2003, performing renditions of classic rock and roll songs from the 1950s and 1960s. The album featured guest appearances from Ronnie Spector, Jimmy Destri, Ed Manion, and John Cafiero. The band toured intermittently in support of the album until 2005, when Ramone left the band and was replaced by Robo. They booked a full European tour that year, but problems with Robo’s visa led to the cancellation of all dates in the United Kingdom. A rescheduled UK tour followed in September.
Doyle joined Danzig onstage during tours from 2004 to 2006 for half-hour sets of early Misfits songs.
Doyle had meanwhile reunited with Glenn Danzig, joining Danzig onstage during performances in December 2004 to play guitar for 30-minute sets of old Misfits songs midway through the band’s setlist. It was the first time the two had performed together in over twenty years, and the first time Doyle had performed since his hiatus. Danzig called the performances “the closest thing to a Misfits reunion anyone is ever going to see”. These sets featuring Doyle continued through Danzig’s 2005 “Blackest of the Black” tour and 2006 Australian tour. Glenn Danzig had announced his intention to retire from touring following these, though he later contradicted this by announcing a Danzig 20th anniversary tour in 2008. In 2007 he produced Doyle’s new project Gorgeous Frankenstein. Doyle later indicated that plans had been in place for the Misfits to reunite with Glenn Danzig beginning in 2002, but that Jerry Only and his manager had “put a fuckin’ monkey wrench in it.”
TEENAGERS FROM MARS by THE MISFITS
In 2009 and 2010, the Misfits performed an extended 30th anniversary world tour. A new single, “Land of the Dead” was released October 27, 2009, marking the band’s first release of new studio material in six years and the only release by the lineup of Only, Cadena, and Robo. Robo was dismissed from the band in 2010, with Only explaining that ongoing problems with his Colombian passport inhibited the band’s ability to tour consistently. He was replaced by Eric “Chupacabra” Arce of Murphy’s Law, who had previously filled in with the band for tours in 2000 and 2001. The current lineup released a new album, The Devil’s Rain, recorded with producer Ed Stasium and titled after the 1975 film starring William Shatner. The album was released on October 4, 2011. During the latter quarter of 2011, former vocalist Danzig and guitarist Doyle performed Misfits songs on four different occasions as part of the Danzig Legacy tour. The first of the four shows, which took place on October 7 in Chicago, saw a sold-out crowd. In 2013 the band released their third live album, Dead Alive!. In October, they released a 12″ single fronted by a new recording of “Descending Angel” backed by a cover of “Science Fiction/Double Feature”, a song they previously only played live. Danzig and Doyle continue to regularly play Misfits songs, most recently as part of the Danzig 25th Anniversary Tour.
In October 2013 publisher Rowman & Littlefield publishedThis Music Leaves Stains by James Green, a Misfits biography, which tells the story of each incarnation of the band as well as spin off projects such as Samhain and Danzig.
On May 6, 2014, it was announced that Glenn Danzig had filed a lawsuit against Jerry Only claiming Only registered trademarks for everything Misfits-related in 2000 behind Danzig’s back, misappropriating exclusive ownership over the trademarks for himself, including the band’s iconic “Crimson Ghost” logo. Danzig claims that this violated a 1994 contract the two had. Danzig says that after registering the trademarks, Only secretly entered into deals with various merchandisers and cut him out of any potential profits in the process. He said that Only has purposefully led, and continues to lead, merchandisers, including Hot Topic, to believe that they are legally bound not to accept licenses to exploit the Marks from Danzig or his designees. He said that through this, Only has caused merchandisers not to do business with him and has deceived consumers as to the source of the merchandise which bore the trademarks. Danzig said a vast majority of Misfits fans associate the band’s trademarks with the “classic” Misfits era of 1977–1983 and not with Only’s more recent incarnation of the band. Danzig feels that through these misrepresentations to merchandisers and consumers, he has been caused to suffer damages in excess of $75,000.
The case was ultimately dismissed, with Central District of California Judge Gary Klausner ruling that Danzig failed to allege which terms of the 1994 agreement Only actually breached.