“Undone” from the album Horseplay Leads to Tragedy
“We did our first local show at Cumberland’s in 1994 and all our Charleston friends were there,” remembers Johnny Puke, local booking guy and singer of ’90s punk band Cletus. “It was really funny because, just by coincidence, Bruce Willis was in town … he actually got up and sang three songs in the encore with us. We always played Cumberland’s. It was the club that we always called our home for the eight years we were in town. More often than not we played there.”
Puke formed Cletus with guitarist Kevin Lewey in 1994, playing mostly in West Virginia and Tennessee before officially relocating to Charleston in ’96. Their high-octane mix of West Coast and Midwest punk leaned more toward the fast-paced, melodic side of the realm, rather than the hardcore, negative vibe side. The buzzsaw guitar sound and anthemic songs were peppered with Puke’s nasally singin’ style.
Their debut full-length, Grease, Grits & Gravy, released in ’96 on Chicago punk label Johann’s Face Records, was considered to be a “power-punk” masterpiece. Protein Packed and Horseplay Leads to Tragedy followed to much acclaim.
“Between the three of those records, we sold 40,000,” laughs Puke. “Cletus’s hallmark was that we were gone nine months out of the year, for seven years. We toured the entire U.S. — West Coast and back — eight times, one full tour of Canada, and two short trips to Europe.”
The Cletus lineup for this Friday features Puke, drummer Scott Price, bassist Chris Lewey (Kevin’s brother), and guitarist Murf (ex-The Queers).
The band lost Kevin Lewey to suicide in 1997. A portion of the proceeds from this show and the sale of Cletus discs will go to support The Kristin Brooks Hope Center (1-800-SUICIDE, www.hopeline.com). —T. Ballard Lesemann
Cletus share the stage with Bitchdigger on Fri. Dec. 21 at Cumberland’s (301 King St., (843) 577-9469). Cover is $7 ($10 under 21). Doors open at 9 p.m. Visit www.myspace.com/cletustheband and www.cumberlands.net for more.