A story about some of the most legendary punks of the Philadelphia punk scene.
By Sophia Varoumas
Sometimes when a band breaks up, its forever. Typically, a musician’s life revolves around music. Some continue and pursue new musical ventures. Sometimes it’s getting into another band, while others may shift their career path completely and follow new dreams. After a while, however, a passionate musician’s mind revisits the past and they look back thinking about the “what ifs”. Some people will tell you, revisiting your past isn’t a good thing. They’ll say it’s better to move on and to leave the past behind where they left it. Those same people say that some things just happen for a reason. For The Ghouls, thinking about the past that they buried for eleven years arose from the dead to haunt their thoughts. The more those memories came to light, the more blood pumped back into the machine that is their band. It became more powerful than any of them could have imagined.
When drummer, Eric (End)Kohlhofer, lead vocalist, Bob Price, guitarist, Johnny Apathy and bassist, Zach Volta began talking about the music they made, it breathed life back into the shows, the tours and the wild memories they shared. It resurrected an urge to get back together. For the four of them, revisiting the past, was the gut feeling they could have had.
When The Ghouls took the voyage of their early memories, it was their youth that inspired most of the adventures they had, into the present day. The things that they experienced became the footprint of who they all became. For this band, it truly has always been about punk music. More specifically, classifying themselves as horror punk, they had to be original. Especially coming from Philly, because scenesters wouldn’t think twice to tell them. They dreaded “being a watered-down version of The Misfits,” said Bob, who was the only band at the time, that called themselves horror punk so being original was super important.
You don’t just wake up one morning and become a punk rocker, however. Something or someone unique triggers those individuals to become attracted to the lifestyle and the punk mantras that punks live by.
Zach Volta decided he wanted to play the trumpet in elementary school because it was the loudest. He became good at it, earning a spot as the first chair in the school orchestra. When he got into high school, his trumpet teacher suggested that the students come out to play open mic nights at the area coffee shops as openers in Abington, PA. Zach’s dad would take him so he and his classmates would perform. This led him to open up for Peter Paul and Mary at age 14. One particular night at open mic night changed Zach’s take on music for life. He remembers “this one night there was a group of 20 punks who played. They brought a drum kit in, cleared the coffee shop’s little stage and started playing a punk show,” says Zach. He knew then, he wanted to be in a punk band. This sprung an interest in playing the bass. “I found other guys who wanted to jam, and soon after I was invited to go to my friends Battle of the Bands.” He remembers being 16 years old at this point, and he and his friends got pretty drunk, so “It didn’t go as well as they had anticipated.” Zach recalls and says laughingly, “The singer was doing backflips. Johnny was even on stage and he was only in front of the band. He wasn’t even performing. (Zach’s friend) Dan was on stage rockin’ out. Mics were getting knocked over, chords were getting all tangled up and the vibe that we were bringing was NOT welcome at the school [auditorium.] We played three songs and the curtains got dropped on us, but we STILL kept playing.”
Eric began playing drums at the age of nine. “My grandfather is a jazz drummer. I’ve only met him a couple of times in my life but he’s definitely where I get my love for music, Eric says. He started playing drums in the school band when he was 8 years old. Soon after, Eric remembers, he “got a cheap drum kit and quickly outgrew it.” At age 11, he got his “first real drum kit and used that kit for years. He practiced every day. When Eric was in the 7th grade he recalls really getting into punk music. “When I got into high school, I met some friends and we started a punk band.” He continues, “One of the members from that [high school] band, named Bill, actually played guitar on The Ghouls tour, and I’m still in a band with him to this day.” Eric said
For Johnny Apathy, the unimaginable places music would take him at an early age inspired his musical life. At the age of 10, Johnny became a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir. Johnny recalls, “going on 13 tours with [the choir] and we went to other countries including, Russia, Cuba, and Germany to sing.” Then as a teen, he began questioning everything his parents taught him. He was opinionated and did what he wanted when he wanted. Zach vividly remembers, “Johnny was the epitome of a bad kid. Drinking, smoking cigarettes, smoking weed and questioning authority.” So at the age of 14, Johnny’s parent’s decided to trick him and enroll him in Boarding school. Johnny said, “Yeah they said we were going to Disney World but instead dropped me off at Wellspring Academy in South Boston, Virginia.” He remained there for a year and a half. “I would have been there longer, but never went back after a home visit, because there was a huge scandal of extortion, neglect, and abuse to its students by the director who took his own life [to avoid penalty,]” said Johnny. He made it work, learned how to get around the system and work for the school as security. “It was called, gatehouse shift, doing window and dorm checks on students.” By doing this, he was able to get to the only working radio to listen to music and smoke cigarettes. “I convinced my parents to bring down my guitar” Johnny explains and when the school allowed it, he got to play. “They’d lock up all the instruments and give us designated times to play, but that definitely got me through it,” Johnny remembers.
Bob liked to sing and write music. “When I was a sophomore in high school my school had a battle of the bands. Being a huge fan of music, I really wanted to be a part of it. Up until my freshman year of high school, my CD collection consisted of everything Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Slayer, and Metallica. Those metal influences led him to The Misfits Collection II. “It was the first punk record I fell in love with and remains one of my favorites to this day,” says Bob.
Then Bob met Turbo, the Ghouls’ first bass player. “We started to put ads in local music stores and message boards online for a drummer and a guitar player. Eventually, we had a semi-stable enough cast of characters to learn some covers and write a few original songs,” recalls Bob.
According to Bob, The Ghouls recorded their first four-song demo in the spring of 2000. At that time, the line-up consisted of Turbo on bass, Nick Vena on drums, and Josh Baum played guitar. (There was a guitarist named Pat A.D. who predated Josh). We played our first live show that summer at a VFW hall in Southern New Jersey. They didn’t have a drummer at that time, but the promoter for the show offered to put us on at the last minute and fill in on drums. He knew a few of our songs and knew the covers we knew how to play. That promoter turned out to be Brian Venom, who became The Ghouls’ permanent drummer for a sizeable amount of time.
In 2001 Josh had left the band and was replaced by Tommy Grim. In 2002, Turbo had left the band to and was replaced by Steve Skilton. According to Bob, by the time they recorded their first album, “We Are the Dead”, the line-up was Steve on bass, Nick Light on guitar, and Brian Venom on drums. Nick left the band some time in 2004 and J.E.B joined on guitar. Steve left the band in the spring of 2004 and Johnny Apathy joined after I met him a show at the Upper Darby ALH. J.E.B. moved to bass and Johnny took over the guitar. In late 2004, Brian Venom left the band and T.K., a friend of Jeb’s joined the on drums. This line-up: Johnny – guitar, J.E.B. on bass, and T.K. on drums. At that point, The Ghouls started to become pretty tight and serious. “We started doing east and west coast tours and traveled out of state as much as we could,” recalls Bob.
In 2005 J.E.B and T.K. left the band and were replaced by Zach Volta on bass and Matt Ricide on drums. This is the lineup that starts touring throughout the US seriously. “At this point, the band was our main job (we, of course, all had side jobs to keep us paying rent),” said Bob.
For a short period during this time we brought on a second guitar player, Dave Assault. “Dave had some real issues he needed to get sorted out and was sent home in the middle of a US tour,” said Bob. Shortly before a two-week east coast tour with Monster Squad and Action, Matt Ricide left the band. Greg, the drummer from Action, filled in on that tour, and while they were on the road, Bob called Eric, who at the time was the drummer for a local band called The War’s End, and he asked him if he wanted the job. He accepted, and the final line-up became Bob Price, Johnny Apathy, Zach Volta, and Eric End. Eric recalls, “I left on my first tour with The Ghouls the day after my high school graduation.” The Ghouls spent a lot of time on the road. They toured 7 months out of the year and most of the band wasn’t even out of high school yet. Zach remembers, “I would have to fill out these packets my high school would give me to finish and send back so that I could graduate high school.”
That lineup remained the same until Bob left the band in 2008. That’s when The Ghouls broke up. Johnny remembers Bob walking in before practice one day and said he was done. “That day sucked,” said Eric. Zach remembers being angry because “[he] just wasn’t ready to stop playing music.” Zach said to the guys, “let’s write a song, right here right now.” After Bob [left the room] Eric remembers, “we went into the basement and started writing a song. The remaining members of the band, wrote, “No Regrets” that day and “that was the beginning of our band Hate and War,” said Eric. “I mean, [Bob] did it in the most respectful way he could, and his reasons were right,” Eric said. At that point in time, Bob wanted to start a family, and according to Bob, it didn’t make sense to continue singing in the band. For Eric, when The Ghouls broke up and Hate and War started, “I just felt scattered and I was young and just ended up having some really difficult times and had an awful relationship.”
All people change though. Some for worse, but mostly for better. Each individual goes on a path of self-discovery. Growing older and gaining perspective helped each of them get to the place they are today. They were young kids when they got together, and toured the country, with a memorable big following in places like Portland, OR, Corona, CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Sometimes it takes a long time for all of those things to make sense. For The Ghouls, it took nine years. Zach, Eric, and Johnny never stopped playing in bands and performing, while Bob left music altogether, the day he broke up with The Ghouls and didn’t return to music until the band’s reunion. Eric’s perspective was to “keep moving forward and to always trust your gut.” Johnny began talking to the other guys in 2017 about the band getting back together, according to Eric. “[About] 6 months ago, Bob asked me if I’d be willing to [get back together] and I said yes, said Eric, and it’s been awesome.
Whether you’re a fan who discovers their music on the web, an avid record collector who discovers one of their vinyl’s at a record store, or a musician, music’s impact brings people together. Anyone that hails from the city of brotherly love (and their neighboring cities) will tell you that Philly has a harsh reputation. In the punk scene, those jagged rough crowds, strong personalities, and unsolicited opinions are abundant. When you work hard at making good music and take no shit, you’ll gain loyal fans for life. Punks across the country are made up of fearless, strong-willed personalities who are loyal to the bands they love. The Ghouls are undoubtedly one of those bands.
A reminder of that powerful bond was validated when The Ghouls reunited for their long-awaited sold-out Halloween reunion show on October 26th at Connie’s Ric Rac in South Philadelphia. Connie’s had to turn away people trying to get in the night of. Their performance was killer, the energy in the room was infectious and the reunion was a huge success. Not only did it restore the faith of the band that anybody even cared about them, but that it validated their gut feeling to unite once more. The Ghouls plan to make another record and are scheduling some upcoming shows in the near future.
For more information, you can go to the band’s Facebook Page until their own site is relaunched.
Main Photo by Sophia Varoumas
Live Photos by Dan Long
Older Photos by Bob Price