When NYC hit its punk stride in the mid 1970s, the one-of-a-kind ‘Neon’ Leon Matthews was already in the thick of it. Getting his start in music in the late 60s and having incredible luck in his friendships along the way, Neon Leon’s life story could easily be made into a really amazing film. Along with being roommates with Rolling Stones’ guitarist Mick Taylor (and dating his wife!) while living in the UK in the early 70s, he was recording acetates as far back as the mid 1970s with the original members of Pure Hell around Philadelphia, and ended up moving into the Chelsea Hotel in ’73 soon after, upon the insistence of his pal Johnny Thunders. Making fast friends with Elda and the Stillettos, the New York Dolls, and David Peel and Harold Black & the Teenage Lust crew, he soon fell into the maddening world of the Lower East Side zeitgeist right when everything was exploding. He was gigging at Max’s on the regular, seeing the incredible NY punk scene blossom before his eyes, and he even got to appear briefly in the exploitation film classic, Punk Rock (1977) with Elda and the gang.
Leon put together his band with girlfriend/stripper Honi O’Rourke and hit the scene around Max’s, CBGB and the like, and upon entering the studio, caught lightning in a bottle with the recording of the Rock’n Roll Is Alive 7” EP in 1979. The title track is simply irresistible, laying down the filthy scuzz guitar tone dreams are made of, in one of the ‘most potent anthems of NYC punk’ ever caught on tape, right up there with “Max’s Kansas City” by Jayne County, and headed straight into your pleasure receptors. Everyone was reeling and even those mysterious Glimmer Twins, Keef and Mick, locals at the time and looking to sign bands for their label, took note…
Fast forward to Sid Vicious’ implication in Nancy Spungen’s death, and Leon’s alleged involvement with being the last witness of the couple at the Chelsea, and legend starts to build exponentially. But even after being courted by Mick & Keith for a possible signing to the fledgling Rolling Stones Records, Leon said Mick talked him out of the deal. But sure enough, they both got together for an impossibly great recording of “Heart of Stone” included here that surely equals the classic rendition by The Pagans (that’s become the gold standard). Despite the record deal falling through, Neon Leon was still asked to perform for the NYC album launch party for Some Girls, and remained on great terms with the Stones camp. But in the early 80s, as the winds shifted, Leon moved back to Europe and settled in Sweden with some musical cohorts, and started the second phase of his underground rock’n roll career. Releasing three singles over the next few years on Scandinavian labels and touring as support for his old friend Johnny Thunders, Leon entered his next chapter, and continued to enjoy the success that was evading him back home in the States. This archival LP collects all of the Neon Leon 7” releases from his 1979-84 period and makes these overseas-only recordings available in the US for the first time, cementing the Neon Leon legend in the sacred halls of the US punk pantheon.
The Neon Leon debut album was released in 1983 (funded by Mick Jagger) as a Swedish-only LP but featured Blondie’s Clem Burke as well as notorious KBD star Snuky Tate, and showcases a sold late 70’s Stones vibe perfectly ripe for radio consumption, in a better world, that is… fast forward to the 21st century and Leon still holds it down in Germany these days, still performs occasionally, and we’re extremely proud to finally get these 70s-80s era recordings back into circulation, so make sure to check out both of Neon Leon’s books (Fast Track to Hell and New York City Babylon) crank it up, and don’t ever look back!
RIYL: Pure Hell, Heartbreakers, Rolling Stones, Snuky Tate, Pagans, Wayne/Jayne County