When it comes to punk bands, the Damned may be the most influential of them all, and their original drummer Rat Scabies among the most stylishly destructive sticksmen ever.
Formed in 1976 in the U.K., the Damned is credited as the first punk band to release a single (“New Rose”) and an album (Damned Damned Damned), and the first to tour the United States. Rat Scabies’ mix of punk aggression and Keith Moon–style flamboyance make him one of the more entertaining and incendiary drummers in rock history. Listeners need only hear “Love Song,” the opening track from the band’s 1979 masterpiece Machine Gun Etiquette, to understand the roots of Green Day’s Tre Cool and any number of modern punk drumming icons.
Scabies (real name Christopher Millar) met the Damned’s original guitarist Brian Robertson, aka Brian James, after a failed audition for the punk band London SS, a group that spurned future members of the Clash and Generation X. After Scabies and James decided to start their own band, they invited Dave Vanian and a young kid named Sid Vicious to be its singer. Only Vanian showed up to the audition, and with Raymond Burns, aka Captain Sensible, added on bass, the Damned was formed.
Though the Damned’s 1977 U.S. tour would later be credited for inspiring many musicians of the first wave of west coast hardcore punk, the group broke up after their second album, Music For Pleasure, infamously produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, flopped critically and commercially. Resurfacing with ex-Saints bassist Algy Ward and Captain Sensible now on guitar, the band released the remarkable comeback album Machine Gun Etiquette in 1979, the ambitious Black Album in 1980, and the progressively more gothic-sounding Strawberries (1982) and Phantasmagoria (1985). The band’s following release, Anything, though featuring a popular cover of Love’s classic “Alone Again Or,” was a failure, and their record contract with MCA was dissolved in 1987. The Damned released Final Damnation in 1988, and soon after broke up once again.
In the ’90s Guns N’ Roses and the Offspring recorded cover versions of Damned songs “New Rose” and “Smash It Up,” respectively, exposing a new generation of fans to their music. The Damned reformed yet again in 1993, with another new lineup, Scabies included, and recorded Not Of This Earth. By the time the album was released, however, the Damned split once more as a result of legal problems, with Vanian and Sensible accusing Scabies of releasing the album without proper authorization.
Scabies was recently heard from as the main character in the book Rat Scabies And The Holy Grail, written by music journalist Christopher Dawes. While he may not be a member of the Damned any more, he will always be remembered as an innovator and an integral member of a group that countless others modeled themselves after.