It's Fools Gold! An Exclusive Interview With The Front-Man Of The Fools, Mike Girard

EXETER, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Mike Girard is the long time front-man for the classic parody-rock band The Fools. Widely known for their tongue-in-cheek songs and outlandish, often vignette-style, costume-changing live performances, the Ipswich, Massachusetts-based rockers (Ipswich is also birthplace of the fried clam) always seemed to this writer, to be the East coast version of San Francisco rockers The Tubes.

Before forming The Fools in the early 70s, Girard and guitarist, Rich Bartlett, were in a band called The Rhythm A’s (Assholes) along with future members of the Boston punk-rock band Nervous Eaters (Steve Cataldo, Robb Skeen, Jeff Wilkenson), before teaming up with Stacey Pedrick (guitar), Doug Ferman (bass), and Chris Pedrick (drums) to form The Fools. Standing Room Only recently caught up with the singer to find out more about his background as a performer and how he came about forming and fronting the fabulous Fools anyway!

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Mike Girard

Standing Room Only - When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician... or perform? In your book, Psycho Chicken and Other Foolish Tales, you mentioned an early J Geils Band show as sort of, a life-changing event?

Mike Girard - I still don't consider myself a musician; to spend years learning to play an me that's much harder than what I do. I just get up and sing. I was a kid singing in a cover band when I saw Geils in a small club in Ipswich. They were so good that I almost thought about quitting. Instead, I guess I just started to get more focused on what I wanted to play.

SRO - You also mention being in a cover band at that time. Can you tell me the names/circumstances of your first couple bands leading up to The Fools?

MG - There were a few cover bands. The Cold Water Army was a band in high school, playing all covers and we worked a lot. Then came The Magic Twangers (not a great band, but I still like that name)...we played Stones, Kinks, and Animals, with some blues tunes thrown in...we worked quite a bit. After that was a band called Damp Stance. We played more obscure tunes by the Stones, Kinks, and Animals, along with some blues. By now we wanted to be called anything but a cover band, but we still weren't writing originals. We didn't work that much.

SRO - I didn't know of your early band The Rhythms A's, which included members of what would become Boston punk legends Nervous Eaters. Now that's an interesting lineup... what stands out to you about that band?

MG - Rich Bartlett and I had by now, been in a couple of bands together and we'd also been in Damp Stance with Jeff Wilkinson and Rob Skeene, who would later be the drummer and bass player for the Eaters. I think it was Jeff who said he knew a guy named Steve Cataldo, so when he joined we changed the name to The Rhythm Assholes...But that was not a marque-friendly name so we shortened it. At that point it was the best band I'd been in, we played Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, other obscure stuff, and a few originals. We got hardly any gigs at all, but we were all starting to find our places.

SRO - After The Fools formed, you gelled quickly and nearly won a "battle of the bands" contest in Boston. You must have realized pretty quickly that you had chemistry and that it was going to work?

MG - Actually, the battle of the bands was in an earlier high school band. We Fools got together when I returned from a year in California. I got a call from a club owner who had a band cancel an upcoming gig, and he asked if I had a band. I lied and said "yes" and then called the remnants of The Magic Twangers...drummer Chris Pedrick, bass player Doug Forman, and of course, Rich. Then, we added Stacey Pedrick on guitar. We only had a couple of rehearsals and did maybe 20 songs... we showed up to play the four-set gig. It was a disaster but we had a blast. The chemistry was great! That band became The Fools.

SRO - Reading in your book that seeing The Tubes (one of my favorite bands) early on, and their theatrics having an effect on you is no surprise and makes perfect sense to me. What do you remember about that Boarding House show?

MG - I was living in Sonoma, mowing lawns and watering grapes in a winery and trying to somehow start a band. But everyone I met wanted to sound either like the Dead or the Eagles. I was driving in my car when I heard a San Francisco station play “White Punks on Dope,” and I almost drove off the road! A friend and I went to see them that night. They still didn't have a record deal, but they were as funny, musical, and polished as any band I'd ever seen. In my Magic Twanger band I'd done some shtick and some costume changes, but The Tubes were like watching a Broadway rock show with great comic book characters! I've seen them maybe 10 times over the years. They're still amazing.

SRO - I really enjoyed you mentioning Ben Orr and his early Cleveland days, Cap'n Swing, and of course, The Cars. As you know, I just released a biography about Orr and (to be honest) I wish we had connected prior to my book being published. Do you perhaps, have a little "Ben story" you could share? I have many Ben/Cars followers (of my writing) who would eat it up!

MG - Ben was such a sweet guy. In the early days our bands played a lot of the same clubs and venues. He was always just a regular guy with a great sense of humor. We'd be like "how'd the gig go at whatever place, we're in there next week?"

When The Cars hit it big it was like they were shot out of a cannon! I didn't see him for a year or so, until the Boston Rock awards. I stepped out for a smoke just in time to see him pull up on a Harley, wearing his bike leathers and looking like a GQ biker... Ben was a handsome kid. I tried to congratulate him on the year he'd just had, but he waved it off and wanted to talk about The Fools being up for a 'Best Live Band' award. Ben sure was the real deal!

SRO The story (in your book) of your "biggest show yet," opening for the Doobie Brothers in 1978 is classic. Here you are opening for an iconic band at the Portland (Maine) Civic Center in what should be your proudest moment as a band to date, and instead you start getting pelted with debris from the Doobie fans who wanted to see "their band." You could have bailed, but now it’s a great "war story." What stands out about that night?

MG - I'm still proud that we survived, not that it was life threatening, but it certainly was deflating. I was thinking before the show that we were finally going to play for a big audience and that this was our chance to shine. When we started our set the house lights were still on and people were finding their seats. There was a smattering of applause as we played our first couple of tunes. Though we were an unsigned band, we were getting lots of airplay in southern New England, but none in Maine. Our third song had me jump from behind the speakers in an army helmet, wrapped in an American flag, and using a broom stick for a guitar. By now the house lights were out and we had their full attention, and that was not a good thing.

The boos started raining down on us. They were like, "for chrissake where are the Doobies? Our drugs are wearing off and these assholes are still on stage?!" By the end of our half hour set, the whole place was booing and the stage was covered with the things they'd thrown at us. But what I remember most is looking at my band mates, and like me, they were moving carefully but they were smiling. There was something exhilarating about unifying 11,000 people, even if it was to hate us. Anyhow, six months later, after getting airplay in Portland, we got an encore in the same place opening for Rush. Ah showbiz!

SRO - You must have been as surprised as anyone with the response that "Psycho Chicken" brought to the band after getting radio exposure in Boston. I mean, to receive royalty checks to this day for that song?

MG - Yes, I guess there's no explaining taste. Within six months it had made its way across the country and into Europe, and all from a cassette sent from station to station, and we still weren't signed to a record company. Like so many of our other songs (“She Makes Me Feel Big,” “Life Sucks...Then You Die,” “World Dance Party”) it started as a goof. I think beer was involved.

SRO - After you signed a record deal with EMI, your first major tour was supporting The Knack. What stands out about witnessing the "one album wonder" whirlwind of that band in the summer of 1979?

MG - It was great fun for us. We were still yet to record our first record, and to play all over the country with the hottest band in the world was a total blast! While The Knack acted aloof and didn't do radio or press interviews, behind the scenes they were great guys who treated us well and gave us sound checks. I still call them the band that nobody remembers liking. In truth, they were a great and very tight musical group with a perfect handle on pop music. It turned out to be the only tour they would do. One other thing that was cool about that tour...we played Carnegie Hall. Very few rock bands ever have.

SRO - The Fools played with or opened up for a "who's who" of 80s rock bands such as Van Halen, Rush, Blondie, Cheap Trick, Journey, Jefferson Starship and Kansas. Playing on the same bill with Rush is some serious business!

MG - Rush was a band we couldn't have been more unlike, but what a normal bunch of guys. And their audience always treated us well. There were so many more. We must have done a dozen shows with The Ramones. And opening some shows in Detroit with Geils, where they have a godlike status, was fantastic. In Europe, we got to meet and play with, either on television shows or festivals, some of my personal heroes: Eric Burden of the Animals and Paul Jones of Manfred Mann.

SRO - Out of all the countries you've toured through, what was your favorite place to visit?

MG - I think France comes in first with Germany close behind...great people, great food, and great fun. But maybe the most unlikely place was Oolu, Finland. Rich and I were hired by a software company to travel the world and demonstrate a product that would become Guitar Hero. We were in Finland for the “Air Guitar World Championship.” Who knew there was one?

SRO - Here's a random, in 1985 I saw The Fools play (with Max Creek) at my alma mater, Dean Junior College in Franklin, Massachusetts. Might you remember that gig?

MG - I remember the college and that band...but not that night. At the time we were playing over 200 shows a year, so they do tend to blend together. (Editor’s note: Proof that I saw you play live... fair enough!)

SRO - After a lineup change, you released World Dance Party, the title track arguably being my favorite Fools song. What can you tell me about making that video?!

MG - We were contacted by an advertising company in the Boston area that wanted to branch out into music videos. They needed a band that would be into making some theatrical videos and we fit the bill. Over the course of a few months we worked with some very talented people, and the result was that four-video package. One of the songs, “Doo Waa Diddy,” got heavy airplay on MTV that summer. The best thing about all of it was that it didn't cost us a penny!

SRO - When the band finally decided to call it quits, your last show was at The Sea Note (according to the poster in your book), but you did a tour around New England to say goodbye to the fans. What stands out about that final show, or was there another show on that final jaunt that stands out the most?

MG - I think it was the mid 90's when we stopped, for about a year. What I remember about the last show is that we decided to bring back our x-rated country band (Mel Smith and his Wild In-laws) to open the show for us Fools. Years earlier, we would often open for ourselves, but since it was the last show, we wanted Mel to say goodbye, too. As usual, at the end of the night, someone came up who'd probably had a few too many and said, ‘you guys were great, but that opening band sucked.’ Ha!

SRO - When you were approached by the company MusicPlayground to demonstrate a new product that was the brainchild (if you will) before "Guitar Hero," how did that collaboration come about?

MG - An entertainment lawyer and friend, Frank Cimler, was a co-owner of the company. When they needed someone to demonstrate the product, they hired me. When they started sending me around the world, my guitar player, Rich Bartlett was also hired. We had a total blast! It was like a rock tour, but instead of a stinky old tour bus, they flew us everywhere.

SRO - In 2010, The Fools came back and released 10 on Ouch Records, which contained some songs that were a little more on the serious side. What possessed that comeback album and the more serious approach?

MG - In the Fools we've always given ourselves the freedom to play and/or write whatever stuff interests us. Most of our records have always included at least one love song or a song that's not supposed to be funny. I think that 10 was like a thread that Rich and I were following and that's where it led us. By the way, our slogan at Ouch Records is "listen ‘till it hurts."

SRO - In closing, please tell me a little about your Big Swing Thing band! When and how it came about and where it's going! (I know that's a broad stroke, Mr. Girard, but I know you can handle it!)

MG - The band is called Mike Girard's Big Swinging Thing. I met a guy a few years ago named Steve LeClaire, who’s had a well-known Worcester band for years called The Tornado Alley Horns. We were doing a charity event in 2016 and he asked if I'd be interested in fronting a big band. I said yes, but on two conditions; one, that we'd use the Fools rhythm section, and two, that we played rock-and-roll, not swing.

Within a couple weeks he had found 12 horn players, a keyboard player, and two fantastic background singers. Add in Rich, bassist Joe Holiday, and drummer Jim Taft, and it's now a 20-piece rock band! It's so much fun! We play Stones, AC/DC, ELO, and a few Fools tunes, as well as an eclectic list of other stuff. It's a pretty huge sounding band, and we play about a dozen shows a year. The next show is at The Cabot (in Beverly, Massachusetts) on February 2. File Under: Swinging Fools!

Editor's Note: Also watch for an upcoming SRO review of Mike Girard's book "Psycho Chicken And Other Foolish Tales."