Joe Bompczyk, guitarist, songwriter - Performer
BMHOF Class of 2014
The stories about Joe Bompczyk are as big as the man himself – and he was a giant.
A giant who would sling down his guitar, wade into a melee on the dance floor, crack heads of a few offenders and then return to the stage to pick up the song. One who wore six-inch platform sneakers to add to his already considerable height and bulk. Whose band filled McVan’s with a truckload of sand for a beach party night – and then had to get it all back out.
But those stories aren’t what has earned Bompczyk entry into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. It’s his music.
Bompczyk was founder, guitarist and songwriter in the Enemies – one of Buffalo’s first true punk bands – before later recording an album on Mercury Records as part of the Restless, an aggregation of the city’s punk/new wave stars that also included Hall of Famers Terry Sullivan and Bob James, plus Guy Pelino and Frank Luciano.
Bompczyk started his trip toward punk rock the same way many of Buffalo’s future punks did – by attending the New York Dolls/Mott the Hoople/Aerosmith show on Oct. 17, 1973, at Kleinhan’s Music Hall.
“The New York Dolls blew (Aerosmith) off the stage,” Bompczyk said in a 2002 interview. “I never was into drag but they came more out with that concept of them actually looking like living dolls … Johnny Thunder's sound – they just were amazing.”
He said he started following the English rock magazines, and when punk erupted in 1976, he was ready. After following local punk cover bands like Lip Service, he put an ad in the newspaper. He came up with drummer Peter Secrist and bassist Bob Guariglia, but didn’t have a singer. Then childhood friend Fred Mann came onto the scene and the band was complete.
With the members taking on pseudonyms such as Billy Pirahna (Bompczyk), Rock Mann (Mann) and Sinister (Guariglia), the band soon made its debut at McVan’s, the Prohibition-era nightclub that was proving to be the first place to open its door to punk in Buffalo.
“Of course, the high energy started a fight as usual,” Bompczyk said. “What we wrote were love songs, (but) it was just that energy. We got to give ourselves a little credit. You can ask my wife, people would dance and dance and dance and dance.”
The band released a 45 with the original song “No Reason” backed by a cover of “Secret Agent Man.” Later it put out another single, “Capital Idea”/”Political Sod,” plus the 12-inch, six-song “Products of the Street” EP with a cover done by Marvel Comics artist Gene Colon. That EP would provide the most commercial song the Enemies ever recorded, but not in their own hands.
After the Enemies, Bompczyk wound up in ill-fated local supergroup the Restless. The Restless landed a major label record deal, but little else went right for the band. Singer Terry Sullivan suffered two major knee injuries (including one as the band was preparing to tour with Bryan Adams), their A&R man and champion with the label was fired and they didn't mesh with initial producer Al Kooper. Still the group finished with an LP, “The Restless,” produced by Eddie Kramer, who had engineered music for the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
Bompczyk wrote or co-wrote four of the album’s 10 tracks, including “I Wanna Know,” which was turned into the album’s video and aired on MTV.
Kramer had Bompczyk stay after the recording part of the project was done to consult on the mixing while the rest of the band returned to Buffalo.
“Eddie Kramer could have had any of the band stay to represent the band in mixing the Restless album, and he chose Joe,” said Restless member Bob James, “and I've learned that it was because Joe was the soul of the band – he held the standard for keeping it true and pure. … When I hear it now – it’s him.”
After the Restless collapsed under the weight of frustration and record company indifference, Bompczyk spent most of the next couple of decades as a family man, occasionally playing in bands such as Fat, Bald & Toothless, aka FBT, with John Dickerson on drums and Roger Zimmerman on bass in the mid 90’s. In the new millennium he formed the Dead Cowboys, with his wife Nancy. They were joined by Fritz VanLeaven on bass and Roger Nicol on drums.
Meanwhile, one of the Enemies’ songs from “Products of the Street” was a last-minute addition to the Goo Goo Dolls’ “A Boy Named Goo” album. That was the album with which the Goos broke out nationally, hitting the big time with the single “Name.” Suddenly Bompczyk and the Enemies’ song “Disconnected” was being heard by millions who bought the CD.
Bompczyk said he didn’t actually meet the band until sometime later, but had heard the Goos were huge Enemies fans.
“We had heard that they were going to be at Blockbuster signing autographs. This was about a year after the album was out,” he said. “ (Nancy) talked me into going. I didn't want to go. I had my kid with me. My daughter was just born. My son is running around. She gets in line because she wants to get the music song book signed on the ‘Disconnected’ page by them.”
“And when they saw me, Johnny (Rzeznick) starts crying. He comes out through all the young girls. I'm the big lug standing there and he comes out to me. I went up to them and shook their hand, and when Robby realized it was me, he starts crying and comes across. He's hugging me. He’s telling me, ‘you changed my life. It's because of you I am where I am.’”
“I guess my favorite record from that era is probably the Enemies’ ‘Product of the Street’ record,” Takac said in one interview. “It really felt like there was some kind of real connection between the band like that and the kinds of things I felt maybe capable of doing. It made me feel that was something I could do”
Bompczyk performed sparingly since then, with a couple of rare reunions with the Enemies and occasional shows with the Dead Cowboys. Bompczyk continued his day job with a trucking company.
He did, however, continue composing until he physically could no longer do so. His final project was a five-song CD entitled “Dead Cowboys” on which premiered the song “Anywhere,” which he wrote for his daughter.
He died of pancreatic cancer on Sept. 6, 2010, at age 56.
Back to 2014