No band in Rock history has a more coincidental origin story than The Fleshtones. The Garage Rock icons began in 1976 when roommates Keith Streng and Jan Marek Pakulski found abandoned instruments in their rented basement, with Streng on guitar, Pakulski on bass and friends Peter Zaremba and Lenny Calderon joining on keyboards and drums, respectively. After three years of local/regional gigging, The Fleshtones released their debut single, the highly influential “American Beat,” in 1979.
The Fleshtones have had only a handful of lineup changes in the past 42 years — founders Streng and Zaremba have been constants, drummer Bill Milhizer joined in 1980 and bassist Ken Fox arrived in 1990 — making them among the longest continually operating American bands.
The Fleshtones have notched some amazing accomplishments along the way, not the least of which is the release of nearly three dozen studio and live full-length albums, EPs and compilations. Their latest album was the cheekily titled The Band Drinks for Free in 2016, and their next album, The Face of the Screaming Werewolf, is slated for next year.
Early on, the band shared a rehearsal space with the legendary Cramps, and they’ve counted Clem Burke (Blondie), Fred Smith (Blondie/Television/Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers) and Andy Shernoff (The Dictators) as interim touring/studio members. Zaremba was even an MTV VJ, hosting IRS Records’ The Cutting Edge for a three-year run in the ‘80s; the show was the precursor to the “Alternative” video program 120 Minutes.
Although The Fleshtones’ highest-charting album was 1982’s Roman Gods, which just nudges its way onto the Billboard 200 at No. 172, the band has amassed a loyal cult following, particularly among their musical peer group. The band has been produced by Peter Buck, Steve Albini and Lenny Kaye, among many others. They’ve inspired one of the great Rock biographies, 2007’s Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band, as well a film documentary, 2009’s Pardon Us For Living, But the Graveyard is Full.
With no significant hiatus in four-plus decades and only slight tinkering in the lineup, The Fleshtones really are America’s greatest garage band.
Catch the ’Tones live on Monday, Oct. 7 at Newport's Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info: southgatehouse.com.