Frankie Venom – Canadian Punk Legend
This week saw the passing of one of Canada’s finest and earliest punk rock front men, Frank Kerr of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, better known as Frankie Venom, lead singer of Teenage Head.
TEENAGE HEAD (Frankie with short hair, striped shirt).
He died from compications of throat cancer, and had been in a coma for a time before succumbing completely. He was 51.
I got the word a few days ago from my friend Blair in Toronto, who rightly sensed that it wouldn’t likely make the mainstream news down here in California, and who rightly knew that I would appreciate Frankie’s passing as a milestone in music history, or at least Canadian music history. But in the nation of Punkdom, which has no man made borders and spans the world — from Brixton to the Bowery, Kings Road to Queen St West (toronto) from New York’s Lower East Side to Vancouver’s West Side, and from the East Bay to Huntington Beach – Frankie Venom was a name. And in a music world which often uses the term too liberally, Frankie was an actual LEGEND. Born in Scotland, it was in his adoptive home of Hamilton, Ontario that Frank Kerr first adopted the name Frankie Venom and became one of a handful of early punk bands performing in the Southern Ontario area, particularly in nearby Toronto, which had also shared a kind of underground railroad link to the New York scene (the Ramones made quite a few early appearances there and Johnny Ramone had been like Johnny Appleseed to the punk rockers of the so-called “Golden Horseshoe” region of Lake Ontario.
Here’s some footage of Frankie and Teenage Head with J.D. Roberts (John Roberts now of CNN) on the New Music TV series.
I never knew Frankie, but when I heard about his death, I immediately thought of a few of my friends who did.
One is Ralph Alfonso, the original manager of the Diodes and their seminal home club, the Crash n Burn in Toronto. When I emailed him, I found him in Paris (he travels a lot for his great indie label Bongo Beat Records) and as luck would have it (as it were) he was with both my friend Dave “Rave” DesRoches, from Hamilton, who had briefly replaced Frankie in Teenage Head for a time, and the Diodes singer Paul Robinson who had shared many a night at the Crash n Burn with Frankie.
“It’s a sad loss,” said Dave Rave, obviously at a loss for words before adding,”it was an honour to be in a band with him.”
The Diodes singer Robinson was kind enough to prepare this e-mail statement, from London:
“Frankie was a great spark in the fire that fueled the Canadian punk scene. He was a great communicator on stage with an uncanny ability to make the audience feel like they were one with the band. All of the other bands on the scene watched him and learned from his cool and original stagecraft. This wasn’t just in the provinces but also in New York City.
I had the honor to play at CBGB’S with Teenage Head and The Viletones in the summer of 1977. Most of the seminal NYC punk bands were in the audience. That night. Frankie was on stage around 3 am; watched by a small audience who included The Ramones, Debbie Harry, The Dead Boys and The Cramps.
If I had to pinpoint his moment of greatness this was definitely the best performance of his career.
Cheers Frankie – may your contribution live on and on.”
Finally, whenever I think of Hamilton, I think of the great Tom Wilson, whose basso profundo voice is the salt of the earthy embodiment of the Hammer. I emailed him for a capsule comment and his reply said it all.
“I’m in a hotel room in Kamloops cryin’,” Tom told me via Facebook, “and if i still drank booze i’d be loaded. There was Frankie and all the rest of us who wished we were as good as him. That includes Gord Downie, Hugh Dillon, myself and every other kid who got close to his fire.”