Sometime during 1971 I was writing songs and had a concept for a different sort of rock group. It was inspired by sixties british invasion bands but would have a more contemporary heavier sound. No long boring solos, just catchy songs – songs with good lyrics that a young person such as myself could relate to. The vocals would be softer like Colin Blunstone of the Zombies – I could not relate to big bluesy rock vocalists.
The group would be exciting to watch. Since age 12 I had been jumping around and posing with my guitar in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom. We would look cool too, though not quite like anyone else. I always said a successful group is a more than music – it encourages belief – it’s a lifestyle. Clothes matter, they should reflect the artists creativity.
But I couldn’t get this concept off the ground. Long Island was home to cover bands. No one did original music. No one wanted to play with me; I had no reputation as any kind of musician.
Meeting Jay Weiss profoundly effected the course of my life. I would have never had a career in music – nor would Justin (he wasn’t in a band before MnC nor was he trying to be in one. He became our singer because I liked his look and I cared less about singing than I did about posing with my guitar). Jay, a real musician, believed in me and my concept – he totally got it. And he loved my songs. Even with Jay’s support we were never able to interest a bass player in joining us. Although technically a much better guitarist, Jay, without prompting, switched to bass . (Important Note: I played guitar on ALL the Captured Tracks recordings not Jay – his style is nothing like mine).
Justin says this history doesn’t matter especially since Jay wasn’t on the album. Really? Does anyone who looks up a bands history want it to start at just the recording of the first album? Or do you want to know how they got there? Does the Beatles history start with “Meet the Beatles” or does it start in Liverpool with Pete Best on drums?
Bottom line: If not for Jay Weiss there would never have been a Milk ‘n’ Cookies.
I was quite surprised and hurt when I received my copy of the Milk ‘n’ Cookies boxed set, lovingly produced by Captured Tracks. The way Justin, Sal, and Mike tell it, in the book, also by Captured Tracks, I did little for the band except ruin things. What they fail to mention is that Milk ‘n’ Cookies was a concept. My concept. That concept was intentional: we were different by design. And little consideration was given to the contributions of Jay Weiss.
I will set the record straight regarding my contributions and my failings.
In 1971, I was fed up with the excesses of so called progressive rock groups. Twenty minute drum , bass, and guitar solos – they all seemed like a musical circle jerk. I wanted to get back to SONGS. Songs, I could relate to, both musically and lyrically. My influences were the British Invasion bands, Alice Cooper (only the “Love It to Death album”) and the MC5 (only the songs “Teenage Lust”, “High School”).
I wanted the band to be visual. I had seen Alice Cooper in New York at the Town Hall Theatre. The band – and they were a real band at that time, did a forty-five minute set. With no opening act. It was thrilling – no headliner did short sets at that time.
I talked up this concept for a new band, but no one would take me seriously. Long Island, where I was living at the time, was home to cover bands. No one did original material. I could not play other peoples songs (only my own) so I was not considered to be much of a guitarist.
I was hanging out at a youth center in Cedarhurst talking about my desire to put together a group. I don’t remember whom I was talking to, but that person said to me, “Maybe Jay Weiss would be interested – he’s a great guitarist.”
Jay was there and we were introduced. The words that came out of my mouth proved to be inspired, “Do you want to be a rock n roll star?” Jay was hooked. Initially though, he said, “he couldn’t, because he was already in a cover band – The Bagel”. Their tag line was, “eat me, I’m a bagel.” Nevertheless, I convinced Jay – I knew what it took to get a record deal.
We became best friends and started hanging out every day, listening to records, defining the concept. The band should be exciting visually and in an original way. I would joke and say, “image before music” and “when we walk down a street together we should look like we’re a band.” (By the time Justin and Mike joined the group, the “glam” look was in fashion; M’n’ C never did that. One of my grand pronouncements, “Whatever everyone else is doing; we’re not doing.” Justin and I shopped in the juniors department for our clothes.)
Musically we were to sound like those Brit bands of the sixties but with a much heavier sound. Like Led Zeppelin playing “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and not a minute longer. And with lyrics we could relate to as sung by Colin Blunstone of the Zombies.
I was working and used my money to buy a four track Teac. (I was aggravated to read in the Captured Tracks book that Justin claimed it belonged to his dad). I had taken a recording engineering class at a school on Long Island – not that I learned that much. Before we ever met Justin – Jay and I made a demo tape on it that we gave to Mary Martin at Warner Brothers. She hated it. When I went to get it back she said, “Come into my office I don’t want to use that kind of language out here (in reception).” I don’t remember what songs were on that tape or even what name we went by then. ( Years later, Mary Martin would get Warner Brothers to pay for studio time for us to record: “Typically Teenage”, “Buy This Record”, and a new version of “Not Enough Girls.”)
Then one day Jay and I had an enormous falling out. We didn’t talk to each other for two months. I don’t even remember what it was about. Fortunately Abby Schiffrin, Justin’s girlfriend, brokered a peace agreement and got us back together. In those two months, Jay found a better place for us to rehearse: the basement of Justin Strauss’s parents house. Also, very briefly, there was a bass player whose name I can’t recall.
I remember that first night Jay saying to me, “from now on, I’m the leader of the group. And the name of the band is Spike.”
“Spike – that’s terrible,” I said.
Jay, “well I had a list of names.” He started reciting them. And when he came to Milk ’n’ Cookies, I said, “that’s a fucking awesome name for a band. That’s the best name I’ve ever heard.”
Jay: “Yeah, but Mike doesn’t like it.”
“Who cares what Mike likes? What does he know? Milk ’n’ Cookies is phenomenal name.”
The rest is history. I’ve read various stories about where Jay got the idea for the name but it was at my insistence that we became Milk ’n’ Cookies.
Justin at this point wasn’t in the band. It was my impression he just wanted to be around the music. It took awhile to get to know him, he was kind of shy. We bonded over music with the exception of the Rolling Stones who he adored (as did the New York Dolls). I liked their early sixties stuff but in the seventies their blues based sound bored me.
I am bothered that the Captured Tracks book doesn’t make more mention of Jay. When we failed to find a guitarist, Jay switched to bass. The Captured Tracks book says that on the “practice tapes” Jay played guitar and I played bass. Not true. Justin wrote those credits based on pictures he saw from sweet sixteen gig where Jay played cover songs and I tried to play bass – it was the only time. I had no idea how to play those songs – it was an embarrassing experience. The parents said to us, “why don’t you boys take a break – have something to eat.”
Shortly after that, I read about the New York Dolls playing at the Mercer in the Sunday paper. It was just a short blurb but somehow I sensed that they were doing something similar to what Jay and I had been trying to do. I remember calling Jay and telling him, “we better get our asses in gear and stop dragging our feet.”
Not being able to find a bass player, Jay said without any prompting from me, “look you wrote the songs on guitar and know how to play them – I’ll play bass.”
That was so selfless. Jay was a much better guitarist than I was. Justin credited him as being the guitarist on what he referred to as the “practice tapes” but Jay was much better than that. And I recognize my own guitar playing when I hear it. Jay, being the musician that he was, managed to be a decent bass player. Later on, in my second band NEO, I briefly played bass but not as well as Jay did on those tapes.
Jay’s belief in me as a songwriter was truly a gift. I would ask him to teach me to be a better guitarist and he would say. “No, it would ruin your ability to write the songs”. Without Jay, I would never have been able to put together a band to play my songs. (Though once the Milk n” Cookies album was recorded, I had no problem finding people who believed in me.)
At our very first gig at the Coventry, I played guitar and sang lead. Justin shook a tambourine and sang backup vocals. After the show a few people said to me it didn’t look right. “Either he should be the lead singer or get him off the stage.”
So at the next band practice, I said to Justin, “from now on you’re the lead singer.” At first he was shy about it – standing too far away from the mic. One night, I kicked him in the ass to get him closer to the mic. Justin immediately turned around ready to fight me. He actually scared me. I didn’t know he could be so tough and I apologized.
What Justin calls “practice tapes” were actually demos I recorded of the band. In the book Justin is asked how he mixed down from the four track Teac, he says, “It went into a box.” No, it didn’t. He doesn’t know because he wasn’t there when I mixed it down. Now this gets technical:
I ran the output of the four tracks into mono using several stereo to mono rca adapters and then ran that into one channel of a two track Sony I had. The Teac ran at 15 ips and the Sony’s fastest speed was 7 1/2 ips. So clever boy that I was – I slowed the Teac down to half speed 7 1/2ips and bounced the tracks to one channel on the Sony. Then the tape from the Sony was put back on the Teac at 15 ips!
Justin would then come over and we would both sing in my bedroom. I ran the vocals through a P.A. head which I had purchased at my part time job at Gracin’s Music. This allowed me to add reverb to them. Later I had that very same Teac sent to me in England. I had it adapted to English electrical current and eventually sold it. All the demos I made for the band were done on that machine. And that’s my handwriting showing the names of the songs in the Captured Tracks book.
But I digress. The only musician in the early days that supported me was Jay Weiss. Mike didn’t think much of me – didn’t really get the Milk ’n’ Cookies concept and definitely hated the name. Thought it was too “faggy”.
The early days of the band consisted of playing at the Coventry in Queens or renting halls with bands like the Fast and handing out fliers. There was no CBGB’s yet and Max’s Kansas City had yet to open up to local groups like ours. We’d record demos which I would drop off at record companies and rehearse. One night I ran into Eno at the Stage Deli in Manhattan and gave him our demo (I never left the house without a cassette in my pocket). He was slightly embarrassed about not responding, when months later we ran into him at the lounge at Island Records.
One day Justin called me to get a tape; he said he had heard that Spark’s manager, John Hewlett, was in town at the Carlyle Hotel. Justin went and dropped off the tape.
Shortly after that John called me and asked for a meeting at the hotel Carlyle. Justin and I sat with him in the cafe. He explained the music business to us and I oversold the band to him. Later he told me, he almost didn’t do the deal because I talked so much. Fortunately Justin kept his mouth shut and looked cute.
Hewlett said he needed to hear us and would come out the next night to do that.
I called Mike to come play.
Mike said, “I can’t tonight.”
“What do you mean you can’t. This is important. This guy can get us a record deal.”
“I’m changing my oil tonight. I’m getting the oil for free.”
“I’ll pay for your oil. Please, I’m begging you.”
Justin drove his Jaguar XKE to pick John up in the city and brought him out to hear us. After we played for him, in the basement of Justin’s house, Justin and I drove him back to the city in my car – Justin’s car couldn’t accommodate three people. On the drive back to the city, John said, “I’ll do it, but not with that bass player, I’ve got someone in mind to play bass with the band.”
Without hesitation, I threw my best friend under the bus. I would have, as Woody Allen once said, “sold my mother to the Arabs” for a record deal. The guilt of that has weighed on my conscience ever since. In retrospect, I realize Justin and Mike were his friends too, and they never said a word in Jay’s defense. Though, under the circumstances, there really wasn’t a choice.
Later that night I called Jay.
“So what did Hewlett say?” Jay asked.
“Well…he won’t do it with you in the band.”
“Then I’ll quit.”
I replied without much sincerity, “Well we could just pass this up and continue looking for a deal.”
“No,” Jay said, “You guys go ahead and take the deal.”
Hewlett had come along at just the right moment. The band was about to give up. There was no CBGB’s at this time – no place to play. Jay who is a good-looking guy showed up that night with a beard, slightly overweight, and wearing glasses. Definitely “not looking” like a member of Milk ’n’ Cookies.
Sal initially had doubts about joining the band. He had just finished an eight month long world tour with Roxy Music and was hoping they would ask him to continue with them. It was only after John Hewlett cheerfully informed him that in the latest issue of Melody Maker magazine, Roxy had announced a new bass player.
Playing with Sal was a huge shot in the arm for us. He was so much better than Jay and the best musician in the band by far. He and Justin bonded immediately.
I always liked Justin but also felt he held back – as far as us being friends.
Once we got to England, I made sure I had no friends in the band. I got drunk one night on gin and pounded on Justin’s door in anger because his room had the only phone in the house. I was totally out of line and I believe that Justin never forgave me for that one night of berserk behavior. I have never drunk gin since. Drunk, sick on gin is something you never forget or want to repeat.
Not that my behavior totally sober was anything to brag about. Island Records came to perceive us as spoiled brats, and I was the worst of the bunch.
But it wasn’t bad behavior that got us booted, or shelved. I remember our producer Muff Winwood taking me aside one day to ask me, “You’re not a rock group and you’re not a pop group. What are you?”
I don’t know why I failed to give him an answer that day. The word “punk” had not yet to come into play, though as a reader of Cream Magazine I was aware of it and thought we were some variety of punk. I firmly believe that our music was very accessible and that we could be a success if given enough exposure to find our audience.
Island Records, had little regard for pop groups, yet they tried to market us as a variation of the Bay City Rollers, which I found offensive. When our first single failed to chart, they shelved the album. Finally in 1976, when the Sex Pistols came along, someone at Island woke up and said, “hey! we have a band like that” and decided to release the album.
In the interim, we played often at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City opening for the Ramones, Talking Heads, and The New York Dolls. Back in those days, a weekend spot at those clubs was three nights, two sets a night. The night we opened for the Runaways at CBGB’s, Hilly asked us to do a third set because the club was so packed and he didn’t want people to leave.
We were trying to get Aerosmith’s management, Leiber & Krebs, to sign us. Aerosmith’s producer, Jack Douglas came out to Long Island and we played for him in the basement of my parent’s house. He said he wanted to do it and seemed to have a better understanding than Muff.
I got a call one day from Shelley Yakus, vice president and head of A&R at Atlantic records. Apparently our name had come up at a party attended by Leiber & Krebs. They said “if Shelley would sign us to Atlantic, they would manage us”.
We went up to the Record Plant and played five songs live. Then it was time for the vocals. While we were laying the instrument tracks, I could hear Justin’s voice singing a guide vocal in my headphones. I told Shelley that we would start with the song that I thought Justin sounded best on. Almost immediately Shelley was put off. He took me aside and told me he had a problem with Justin’s voice. I remember his exact words; but I’m not going to repeat them.
It is not my intention to disparage Justin’s voice. On the contrary, I would like to make the point that it is precisely Justin’s voice plus my songs that made Milk ’n’ Cookies unique.
I had known for some time that there were those in the music industry that were put off by Justin’s voice. I never let that bother me. I thought Justin’s voice was good enough; I never wanted a traditional rock singer and I knew that the magic of Milk ’n’ Cookies live was largely due to that “Mick Jagger/Keith Richards” thing the two of us had going on. Justin looked great on stage and I loved jumping around posing with my guitar.
During this period, we all had to move back in with our parents. We were broke. We hadn’t really been paid. Sal ended up quitting to go play with Sparks. We all understood – he needed the money. Years later I went to see an Island Records accountant. He told me that Island had given Hewlett 10,000 pounds, worth about twenty five grand back then. I told him we only saw a tiny bit of that money. He shrugged and said that he wasn’t the accountant back then and I could sue them for all the good it would do me.
We quickly replaced Sal with session bass player, James Gregory. Had we accepted Sire’s offer, it would have been Gregory on that album, not Sal. In 1976, Sire Records drew up a contract for a measly ten thousand dollar advance – same as the Ramones got. I asked Johnny Ramone what they did with their ten grand, and he said, “ we bought new amps.”
A quarter of ten thousand – twenty five hundred dollars was not going to be enough to move out of my parents house. I was severely depressed living there. There were nightly screaming matches between my sister, the future lawyer, and my parents. The fights had nothing to do with me but it felt like living in a madhouse. I was suicidal.
The day that Sire delivered the contract, John Hewlett, whom we hadn’t heard from in months, called me.
“Island wants Milk ’n” Cookies back, don’t sign that Sire contract.”
“I don’t believe you,” I replied. (John had told us so many stories about us re-signing elsewhere). None of which came true.
“Look, I’ll fly you over and you can talk to them yourself.”
“OK. I’ll do that.” I called Justin and told him about it.
Two days later I was having lunch with the president of Island Records. He did not sound very enthusiastic about the band. I don’t quite remember how it came about but he offered me an advance on my publishing royalties (more money than the Sire deal) so that I would have money to live on while I worked on my new band in Island’s rehearsal studio (Ian’s Radio demos on Youtube – my first time singing lead – not so good-Justin’s voice would have been better). This was not planned. I had not brought my guitar with me. I thought this was just to be a short visit – before I came back to England with the rest of the band.
When Sire heard of my departure their offer was withdrawn.
Once again, I had sacrificed others without any regard. Though in my defense, I quit the band for the same reason as Sal – I needed the money.
I wish we had recorded that second album. We were ready to do it.
Today Milk ’n’ Cookies is Justin’s band, not mine. He made the Captured Tracks thing happen. I deserve not one shred of credit for that. I did however write every Milk ’n’ Cookies song and played guitar on every track in the boxed set (not Jay as it says) and I did record all our demos on my Teac.
And Jay – is the man who made my concept a reality. He influenced the entire course of my life. In 1976 not too long after my parent shipped my guitar over, it was stolen. Upon hearing I was without an instrument, Jay sent me a Guild six string we had chopped up to look like a Vox.
Eight Months after returning to England in 1977, I signed to Jet Records for $250,000. And when my first year was up, they forgot to pick up my option for the second within the proper time frame and so they were legally required for me to sign the contract for the second year with an amended date. They kept trying to get me to re-sign. Dave Arden, the label president, even showed me how they planned on putting out my next single with a full color sleeve and pressed on white vinyl. And I said, “No, I want to renegotiate my contract.” And kept saying “no”, until the day he said to me, “Ian, it seems like you don’t want to be on our label. Well… then you’re not. We’re done.”
I remember a cold shiver going through me. I never imagined pushing them that far. Bohdan Zachary, acting as my manager, tried getting me another deal. He had a label who said they would – until someone told them that I was “difficult to work with.”
So at the end of 1979, I returned to New York. Jay once again came to my rescue; found me a place to live, and bought me my first synth, the Korg MS-20 that I used for my album, “My Girlfriends Dead.” (The title of the song is a song I wished I had written for the Cookies album, it would have made us. My version on that album is not great.)
In retrospect, I regret much of my behavior. I was a very immature 22 year old when we went to record the Milk n’ Cookies album. Justin was only 17! I like to think that since then I have become a better person, though it has taken many years. My wonderful wife, Mooshi wouldn’t have married to young Ian North. She’s even said, “I would not have liked you back then.”