The Untold Truth Of The Misfits

Although they never received the accolades of The Clash, the reputation of The Ramones, or the notoriety of The Sex Pistols, The Misfits nonetheless made an indelible mark on punk rock.

Founded by Glenn Danzig in 1976, The Misfits ignored the political posturing and art-school pretense of their contemporaries to focus on themes of horror and violence. With the "Crimson Ghost," the skull-faced villain of a 1946 film serial, as their mascot, the band was rooted in stripped-down, 1950s style rock 'n' roll infused with aggression and attitude. By 1983, the band, having moved to a faster, hardcore style, collapsed under the weight of lineup changes and infighting.

Despite growing post-breakup popularity, The Misfits were mired in lawsuits and bad blood for decades. In 1995, bassist Jerry Only and his brother, final classic-era Misfits guitarist Doyle Only, recruited unknown vocalist Michale Graves for an all new incarnation of the band. The reformed Misfits, with their cartoonish focus on monster movie imagery, split their fanbase. Meanwhile, Danzig was content to put The Misfits behind him — seemingly forever.

For decades, Misfits fans held out hope for an eventual reunion of Danzig and Only. In what can only be described as a punk rock miracle, the feuding musicians at last settled their long standing legal differences in 2016 for a series of sold-out reunion concerts. From their early days as pop culture obsessed, DIY punks to their incredible third act as unlikely arena rockers, this is the untold truth of The Misfits.

The Misfits' humble beginnings

Born Glenn Anzalone on June 23, 1955, in Lodi, N.J., Glenn Danzig, like many disaffected suburban kids in the 60s, grew up hooked on comics and horror movies. A self-described outsider, Danzig had little patience for his peers or their tastes. "Growing up, while everyone else was reading stupid s***, I was reading Edgar Allan Poe and Baudelaire," Danzig told The Stranger's Trent Moorman in 2013. "I loved horror movies, and I really liked underground comics."

After graduating from Lodi High School in 1973, Danzig developed an interest in music. As the Danzig frontman told The Stranger, his "hatred of everything" spurred his entry into music. With a taste for heavy music like Black Sabbath, the singer joined his first band, Talus, in 1975. By 1976, he was ready to realize a new musical vision, one that would incorporate his offbeat interests and obsessions. New York's rising punk rock movement seemed the perfect vehicle.

Naming his new band The Misfits after Marilyn Monroe's final film, Danzig recruited bassist Diane DiPiazza and drummer Manny Martinez. Failing to show up for rehearsals, Piazza was soon replaced by Jerry Caiafa.

With Caiafa, a 17-year-old high school jock turned punk, on bass (an instrument he had only been playing for a month), a guitarless Misfits featuring Danzig on vocals and electric piano, released their first single, "Cough/Cool," backed with "She," a paean to heiress turned SLA bank robber Patty Hearst, in August of 1977. 

A lucky break got The Misfits free studio time

Released on Glenn Danzig's label, Blank Records, "Cough/Cool" was limited to a modest pressing of 500 copies. Still, the short run was enough to attract the attention of a major label, but not in the way that Danzig and The Misfits might have hoped. According to American Hardcore: A Tribal History, Mercury Records wanted Blank as an indie imprint and were willing to make a deal to get it. In exchange for 30 hours of studio time, The Misfits gave up Blank Records and rechristened their label Plan 9 in a nod to Ed Wood's infamous movie.

In early 1978, The Misfits consisting of Danzig, Jerry Caiafa (now known as Jerry Only upon his insistence on being credited as "Jerry. Only Jerry" after his surname was misspelled on "Cough/Cool" ), drummer Jim "Mr. Jim" Catania, and guitarist Frank "Franché Coma" Licata entered the studio to record what they intended to be their debut album, Static Age. Over the course of 20 hours, the band recorded 17 songs, including early versions of "Teenagers From Mars," "Hybrid Moments," and "Last Caress." However, the band was unable to generate studio interest in the album. Danzig would wind up releasing many of the recordings as singles and E.P.s. Static Age was at last released in 1996 as part of the Misfits Box Set followed by a 1997 standalone release featuring newly mixed versions of  "She," "Spinal Remains," and the rarity "In The Doorway."

The Misfits embrace their horror image

Fueled by Glenn Danzig's creativity and funded by Jerry Only's day job at his father's machine shop, The Misfits developed a loyal following playing shows in New Jersey and New York. Entrenched in a diehard do-it-yourself ethic, Danzig designed the artwork for The Misfits self-released records, folding and gluing the sleeves by hand.

With the 1978 departure of Franché Coma and Mr. Jim, The Misfits again found themselves in need of a guitarist and drummer. The next lineup featured Bobby Steele, a veteran of the New York punk scene, and drummer Joey Image. As recounted in American Hardcore, it was during this era that the band began incorporating horror elements into its image. A typical Misfits gig began with horror movie trailers projected onto a huge roll of seamless paper draped in front of the stage. As the last clip ended, the band would strike their first ear-splitting chord and smash through the screen. The look of the band also became more cohesive. Danzig, clad in a homemade skeleton shirt, and Only in leather and spikes, were now sporting exaggerated, chin length, Dracula-style widows' peaks that would come to be known as devillocks.

According to Misfits Central, the flyer for the band's final show at New York's Max's Kansas City featured The Misfits first use of the iconic Crimson Ghost. Lifted from the 1946 Republic film serial of the same name, the Crimson Ghost would become The Misfits' mascot and the image most associated with the band.

A disastrous tour of England nearly ends The Misfits

As documented by Misfits Central, The Misfits opened for British punk band The Damned at a New York club called Hurrah in June of 1979. Prior to taking the stage, Misfits bassist Jerry Only discussed the possibility of opening for The Damned on a United KIngdom tour with the band's vocalist Dave Vanian. From this point, the details of The Misfits' ill-fated tour of Britain become somewhat murky.

According to American Hardcore, Glenn Danzig and Only booked the tour through England's musician's union and received a contract outlining tour dates and pay from The Damned's manager. On Nov. 21, 1979, The Misfits arrived in England. Only went to Vanian's home to work out some final details. The visit came as a complete surprise to Vanian, who hadn't taken Only's offer seriously. Compounding the confusion, Only had neglected to sign the contracts drawn up by The Damned's management. The Misfits were hurriedly added to The Damned's tour, but frustration over lack of pay, likely stemming from the unsigned contracts, and frustration with rented gear led the band to quit after one show.

Stranded in England and surviving on Only's father's credit cards, The Misfits nearly fractured. Drummer Joey Image booked a flight back to the United States, effectively quitting the band. While Only went sightseeing with the late Sid Vicious' mother, Bobby Steele and Danzig landed in jail after a violent confrontation, allegedly with local skinheads. Their two-night stay in London's Brixton jail was immortalized by Danzig in The Misfits song, "London Dungeon."

Exit Bobby Steele, enter Doyle

In 1980, The Misfits replaced guitarist Bobby Steele with Jerry Only's towering 16-year-old brother, Paul Caiafa. Rechristened "Doyle," the younger Caiafa's entry into the band was marked with controversy.

According to Only, Bobby Steele was unreliable and often missed practice. "The problem was that Bobby's problems were bigger than the band problems," Only told American Hardcore author Steven Blush. "If Bobby had something to do, then the band came second ... we eventually replaced Bobby with Doyle — and the rest is history. Doyle is a phenomenon as far as guitar players go."

Glenn Danzig remembers Steele's exit differently. "Jerry didn't want Bobby anymore," Danzig said. "... They wanted Bobby out and Doyle in. I said, 'Look, I don't really care, but don't lead Bobby on anymore.' I was teaching Doyle stuff on guitar, and it wasn't working — his hands were just too big. ...They didn't tell Bobby, so I did. They wanted him to come down to the show and not know he was out ... which was not cool."

Steele never received a satisfactory explanation for his firing. "I've heard so many different reasons," Steele told Blush. "At the time, Glenn didn't want to tell me why ... [Jerry] told me it was because I sucked on guitar, that Doyle was better. I told him on the spot, 'You know I'm a far better guitarist.' 'Well, Doyle looks better.' ...I've always suspected that Jerry wanted his brother in the band so Jerry could have more influence."

The Misfits go hardcore with Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood

The Misfits finally recorded a full length debut album in 1981. Released in 1982, Walk Among Us featured the lineup of Glenn Danzig, Doyle, Jerry Only, and new drummer Arthur Googy. Considered by many as the definitive Misfits album, Walk Among Us represents the pinnacle of the band's melodic, horror punk style. Their next album would mark a near total change in direction.

Featuring a hardcore sound in the vein of Black Flag and Bad Brains, Earth A.D. was initially met with a tepid response from critics and fans. Although it has since come to be considered a classic, many originally felt that the band was merely jumping on the hardcore bandwagon. As documented in This Music Leaves Stains: The Complete Story of The Misfits, longtime fans disliked the new sound. "You know, I believed them before that," said Ian MacKaye of the pioneering hardcore band Minor Threat. "The music was something coming out of deep expression. Earth A.D ... I felt was just too fast."

According to American Hardcore, Danzig is no fan of The Misfits' final album. "I didn't like Earth A.D. at all, " Danzig said. "The songs were played too fast. ...and the album ended up sounding like one long song. That's because the guys in the band couldn't play." Still, Danzig acknowledges Earth A.D.'s influence. "... A lot of people swear by that album," Danzig said. "It's like their bible, but I prefer our other material."

The end of The Misfits' classic era

The last incarnation of the original Misfits played their last show on Oct. 29, 1983, at Detroit's Graystone Hall. In the months before, the band had lost two more drummers. Arthur Googy quit over an alleged altercation after ordering two cheeseburgers on a tour stop — an offense that angered budget conscious Glenn Danzig. Ex-Black Flag drummer Robo took over in time to record Earth A.D. Robo, who had been booted from the Caiafa's home, moved in with Danzig. Unable to get along with the temperamental singer, Robo soon quit.

With a Halloween show and a tour of Germany looming, The Misfits were once again in search of a drummer. As recounted in This Music Leaves Stains, Jerry Only contacted Googy about returning to the band. When Danzig discovered Only's overtures to their ex-drummer, he vetoed the idea. Instead, he recruited Brian "Damage" Keats of the band Genocide.

Damage's performance at the Detroit Halloween show was a disaster. The drummer, suffering from a case of frayed nerves, began drinking before the show. By the time the band hit the stage, Damage was too inebriated to play and was tossed offstage by an incensed Doyle. Todd Swalla of The Necros filled in for the remainder of the night. At the show's end, Danzig announced that The Misfits were over. Demoralized, the band shared a tense van ride back to New Jersey. Danzig wouldn't speak with Doyle and Only again for decades.

Samhain, Kryst the Conqueror, and endless lawsuits

With The Misfits behind him, Glenn Danzig was free to pursue a long-planned project to create a punk supergroup with Minor Threat's guitarist Lyle Preslar and drummer Brian Baker. Named Samhain after the ancient Celtic harvest festival, the band's initial lineup was short-lived. Although Preslar would play on the band's 1984 debut Initium, he and Baker didn't fit well with Danzig's vision. Featuring former Misfits photographer Eerie Von on bass, Pete "Damien" Marshall on guitar, and Steve Zing on drums, Samhain explored darker themes with less reliance on B-movie camp.

Meanwhile, Jerry Only and Doyle returned to work at Pro-Edge, their father's successful knife factory. As recounted in American Hardcore, the Caiafas returned to music in 1987 as Kryst the Conqueror, a Christian-themed metal band intended as an antidote to Danzig's Samhain. Ostensibly an album recorded to test Only's and Doyle's self-constructed instruments, the band's album Deliver Us From Evil flopped.

Spurred by increased visibility thanks to Metallica covering The Misfits' music, Only and Doyle engaged in a lawsuit for use of The Misfits name. They ended up settling with Danzig. Only and Doyle could record and tour with the name but ceded all publishing of The Misfits 1977 to 1983 catalog to Danzig. Only and Danzig would share merchandising rights. In 2001, The Misfits took action against Caroline Records' release of their aborted 1980 album 12 Hits From Hell. Unhappy with many elements of the album, Only and Danzig had the release cancelled, shutting guitarist Bobby Steele out of any potential royalties.

The Metallica connection

By 1986, The Misfits had attained a level of notoriety far beyond anything they had experienced as a functioning band. Their growing cult fame was largely because of the success of Metallica, who championed the underground band in interviews, wore Misfits T-shirts, and covered their songs "Last Caress" and "Green Hell" on the 1987 E.P, Garage Days Re-Revisited. The band's late bassist, Cliff Burton, was a Misfits superfan who turned the rest of the band on to Glenn Danzig's infamous horror band. The bassist, who was killed in a bus accident while on tour in Sweden in 1986, even sported a prominent Crimson Ghost tattoo on his right arm.

In an interview with music journalist Joel Gausten, Misfits guitarist Doyle credited Burton with the band's fame. "I think Cliff Burton turned the whole world on to The Misfits," Doyle said. "If he didn't, we wouldn't be doing these reunions. He enlightened people to it."

The Graves era: The Misfits return minus Danzig

With legal wrangling over rights to the band's name behind them by 1995, Jerry Only and Doyle aimed to resurrect The Misfits for a new generation. Glenn Danzig soundly rejected a perfunctory offer to return, opening the door for a new vocalist.

Just 19 years-old when he joined the band, Michale Graves brought competent vocal chops to the new Misfits while consciously avoiding Danzig's distinctive "Evil Elvis" crooning. Along with drummer Dr. Chud, Graves, Only and Doyle, now known as Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein, released two back-to-back metal-infused albums, American Psycho and Famous Monsters. With a more polished sound and an increased focus on horror movie imagery, the band divided fans into two camps — Danzig loyalists and new fans who enjoyed the band's new, cartoonish approach. Misfits founder Danzig summed up the feelings of many original fans to Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore. "The band you see now as The Misfits is not The Misfits," Danzig declared. "It's one guy trying to relive something and make some money because punk is fashionable again." 

The "original" Misfits lineup returns

The departure of Michale Graves and Dr. Chud after a disastrous 2000 show at Orlando's House of Blues marked the end of The Misfits successful second act. For the Misfits' 25th anniversary, Jerry Only assembled an "all-star" version of the band with The Ramones' Marky Ramone and Black Flag's Dez Cadena.

In 2005, Doyle struck out on his own with a new band called Gorgeous Frankenstein. That year, the guitarist also reunited with Glenn Danzig onstage for a set of Misfits songs. Doyle would continue making appearances with Danzig for the next several years while starting a self-titled solo-project.

As reported by Consequence of Sound, a legal dispute between Danzig and Only over trademarks and profits ended with a settlement that would see the punk rock rivals reuniting the band for a series of at least ten stadium shows. Billing themselves as The Original Misfits, the band recruited ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Acey Slade of Wednesday 13 to back Doyle on guitar.        

The Misfits' undying legacy

After years of rumors and well-documented bad blood, the likelihood of a Glenn Danzig-led Misfits comeback still seemed slim. While some remained cautiously optimistic, many fans feared an implosion before the band set foot on a stage.

The Misfits proved the naysayers wrong on the evening of Sept. 4, 2016, when they took the stage at Denver's Riot Fest. The reunion continued two weeks later in Chicago where, according to, The Misfits played for an estimated 30 to 50,000 fans. Sold-out shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas followed. The Original Misfits played arena shows through 2019. Although Danzig publicly announced that their Oct. 19, 2019, Madison Square Garden show would be The Misfits swan song, the veteran horror punks were back on stage in Philadelphia just two months later.

Reflecting on years of animosity, Jerry Only told Rolling Stone that he and Danzig were "never not friends," likening their relationship to the rivalry between basketball greats Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. "We went in there wanting to cut each other's throats," Only said. "It was turning into another court battle and it turned into a reunion. We walked out the door knowing we were going to play together. It's a very cool thing."