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Flash Metal Suicide: Witch

This week: fights, fire and fishnets, as Witch's debut EP reveals a terrible truth

“We must use all our powers to win/Magic from the wizard” - Fight Dirty

Witch had a few things going for them, all of them entirely superficial. The band members had pleasingly kooky names (Peter Wabbit, Punky Peru), and a flair for over-the-top theatrics that shot well above their income bracket, like the time they arrived at their first gig in a limo. Half of them were living in their cars at that point. Everyone in the band had some minor brush with greatness (the guitar player, Ronny Too, auditioned for Metallica, but thought they were too 'punk'; Don “cheese grater” Costa was in Punky's band prior to Witch; Axl Rose worked briefly as one of their 'security guards'), and they were pretty good at naming things: their sole EP was called The Hex Is On and one of their signature tunes was Cinderella (In Black Leather). They bought their clothes at the same place Motley Crue did. Punky Peru would routinely gouge himself with his spiked wristbands while playing the drums, ending sets drenched with his own blood. And they set fire to basically everything. Which all sounds pretty good, for an 80s metal band from LA. So what happened? Everybody else in town got their chance to shine, why not Witch? I mean, Blackie Lawless drank a cup of fake blood every night, but Punky guzzled his own, man. Doesn't that count for something?

Clearly it does not. Anyway, here's what happened. Witch formed out the ashes of mostly-covers band called Ampage in 1983. The idea was to be as over the top as possible. If Nikki Sixx was gonna light his boots on fire, Witch was gonna light their guitar player's entire body on fire. Which they (accidentally) did one night in early 1984. Stephen Pearcy was gonna wear fishnet on his arms, Punky Peru was gonna wear nothing but a fishnet catsuit and a g-string. Basically their history has less to do with the music and more about whatever antics they were getting into. Band members got fired onstage, mid-gig. Blood and bruises flowed freely. Fires burned. Groupies were groped. Once they even blew up the stage they were playing on. The only thing left to do, really, was a release a record.

And that's kinda where the party ended. The band self-released their sole contribution to the flash metal fracas, the Hex Is On EP, in the summer of 1984. Essentially it was a glorified demo to entice major labels to snap them up. But here was the problem: turns out, Witch was a metal band. Not glam-metal, like the Crue or Ratt, but the real shit. Well, as real as LA in 1984 could get. Denim and leather. Bristles and acne. Power and fury. Which was confusing, since their drummer was in a fucking fishnet catsuit. And it's not even good metal, either, it's plodding proto-power metal, like a really bored Judas Priest. Nobody knew that at the time, though. It was hard to tell what was going on musically at their live shows, since most of the time the kids were worried about getting broiled to death by the flame cannons, or were too distracted by the on-stage inter-band brawls to notice that Witch sounded more like Saxon than Kiss. But then the EP dropped into their laps, and was met with a collective shrug.

Not that Witch even noticed. They were having too much fun to realize they were doomed. At that point they had already appeared in a low-budget film (Radioactive Dreams) and featured in a photo-spread in Hustler magazine. Punky married Tommy Lee's sister, establishing them as minor Sunset Strip royalty. Smartly, they also started playing gigs with heavier bands like Grim Reaper and Megadeth, although they did not tone down their sleazy image or penchant for hijnks. One infamous story contends that somewhere in 1984, Witch literally nailed Canadian speed-metallers Exciter into their own dressing room so they could play a longer set. Goodtimes. But, as Dramarama once sang, the records never sold, and that was bad.

Witch's solution was to fire Punky, which they did in 1985. Seeing as Witch was/is Punky's band, this aggression would not stand. Peter Wabbit quit onstage a couple gigs later, and the rest of the band imploded (also onstage) shortly thereafter when Wabbit and Peru's replacements didn't quite cut the mustard. And that was that. For like six months, at least. Punky and Peter reformed the band with some new dudes, including a guitarist who adorned himself with (plastic) chains. Punky took to burning a cross onstage. He began kanoodling with Lita Ford and very nearly convinced former Runaways manager Kim Fowley to produce Witch's debut album. They picked up a keyboard player, David Ezrin, who happened to be the son of famed metal producer Bob Ezrin. They recorded a new single, but then Punky fired the guitar player, who had all the copies in the trunk of his car. He drove off with them and neither he nor the records were ever seen again. Or so the legend goes. Etc. Etc. Witch was always one step away from success, but never quite got there.

The band played their last gig in 1989, the same year Punky appeared in a porn flick, Rock N' Roll Heaven. They reformed briefly in 1991, but if this shit wasn't gonna work in 1984, it definitely wasn't going to fly in the year of Nevermind. There's been a smattering of reunion gigs over the past couple of decades, too, some with Betsy Bitch on vocals. But the dream died decades ago. Ultimately, Witch had everything except for good songs, and it turns out even flash metal bands need one or two of those.

But honestly, how great would a Witch movie be? Somebody get on that already.

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