Blondie: Where are they now?

The Blondie reunion is a whopping success, but not everyone's happy; Johnny Angel talks to ex-Blondie members

Published March 3, 1999 9:24AM (EST)

A visit to the Blondie Web site or a cursory look at recent magazine articles on the band and its new album, "No Exit," would lead one to assume that the band's reunion after 17 years is a veritable love-fest. Not all is hunky dory, however. Two members of the group's most successful incarnation, former lead guitarist Frank "The Freak" Infante and bassist Nigel Harrison, have been left out of the reunion and are suing the remaining four members.

Infante and Harrison assert that the Blondie that recorded
"Plastic Letters," "Parallel Lines," "Eat to the Beat," "Autoamerican"
and "The Hunter" was the only incarnation that can represent itself as Blondie, and thus they are entitled to concert and merchandise royalties from the current lineup, as per the band's internal incorporation agreement signed in May 1979. The reconstituted Blondie assert that none of the reunion spoils are covered under the agreement. (The band is incorporated as Blondie Music Inc.; Harrison and Infante hold a 20 percent stake.) The four working members of the group assert (according to Infante) that Harrison and Infante have no claim to the new monies because they weren't part of the "original Blondie" that debuted in New York in 1974. (Harrison joined in late 1978; Infante, earlier that year.) And so the litigation wars begin.

Pissed off former band members are as much a part of rock 'n' roll as broken guitar strings and cold sores, but the two benighted rockers would appear to have gotten a rather hefty shafting. "It's more than the money," says Infante from his home in Los Angeles. "The high point of my career as a musician was in that band at that time. I've done tours and records with Iggy Pop and the Divinyls, but my identity, what I'm known for, is that I was the guitarist in Blondie. And now they want to rewrite history and say that Nigel and I were nothing. Shit, it almost reads like we weren't even there!" Infante's claims aren't entirely the ravings of a jilted former bandsman. On VH1's "Behind the Music" Blondie segment, he was named as the band's second bassist, and on "Pop-Up Video's" version of the "Rapture" video, he's mocked for only appearing for two seconds in the whole thing and having the audacity to sue. When referred to as "the angriest man in rock," he only responds, "I'm not, but maybe I oughtta be!"

Infante believes that his ouster from the band was initiated by rhythm guitarist and group founder Chris Stein over how much credit was due the "lead" guitar in the band. "That's what I believe also," says Harrison. "Frank did all those parts -- the lick in 'Heart of Glass,' the solo in 'Rapture.' Chris may have been jealous, and, being Debbie's boyfriend, it might have meant Frank had to go." (In fact, seeing Stein stumble ham-handedly through a brief solo during a recent performance of the hit "Maria" on "The Tonight Show" lent immediate credence to this claim.) None of the Blondies was reachable for comment at press time.

Infante was fired by the group in 1982 and never got an explanation for his dismissal, according to the lawsuit he filed later that year against the band. "We went before a judge and when he found that I'd been terminated for nothing they could cite, he ruled that they had to pay me and let me play on 'The Hunter,'" says Infante. "I had no idea that they were unhappy, just that they stopped talking to me, and one day I was out. Well, we had an agreement and I stuck them to it." According to Infante, even in court, Blondie couldn't come up with a plausible excuse for his sacking. "The only thing Debbie ever said to me that might have told me where their heads were at was one time when she said, 'We wanna be a nice rock pop group, Frank -- you
oughtta be in the Stones!'"

Infante and Harrison both said that they were willing and excited to be part of a Blondie reunion when the subject was first broached three years ago. Harrison even played on one of the disc's tracks, "Under the Gun" (he suspects his parts were replaced, however). "We sent them letters, we called them, we made it clear that we were eager to do this," says Harrison. "Then, when we were obviously going to be left out of the reunion, we heard from their attorneys that we had no claim to the Blondie name or legacy -- that meant war!"

Both Harrison and Infante remain fans of the band. "Debbie Harry is a great singer and those records are amazing," says Harrison. "But both of us feel like we're in a crazy dream where we've never even been in the band at all, this horrible surreal nightmare that becomes real every time someone stops you on the street and asks, 'They're back, why aren't you there?' They admit that they're cashing in on their legacy -- well, it's our legacy, too."

By Johnny Angel

Johnny Angel is a freelance music writer in Los Angeles.

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