The Ism story

When I checked my email today, I received one from a gentleman named Al Lestell who attmpted to post a comment to the Big Apple Rotten to the Core entry but was denied because of my MT-Blacklist. Some word in his comment must have matched a blacklist regex or something. Anyway he had written up a pretty comprehensive history of the band that simply has to be shared. Having actually interviewed Jism, he never told me his real name back then so now that I know it, maybe I can track him down easier, though it doesn’t sound like it will be a very easy task.

The Ism & Bob Sallese Story
I spent years trying to write a book about the punk rock group Ism but came to a dead end when I was unable to find lead singer Jism and former manager and co-creator Bob Sallese.

This is what I did find out and the following info was gathered over the years after much painstaking research and interviews.

Josef Ismach aka Jism and Bob Sallese were childhood buddies. Both were attending Queens College in the late 70s during the punk explosion. They used to hang out at Max’s Kansas City, CBGBs and A7. Sallese was a huge Dead Boys and Ramones fanatic. Jism was some kind of musical genius who was classicly trained and Sallese was a some kind of marketing genius.

There was a period in the early 80s when punk rock was dying because corporate radio was totally in the dark ages as they still are.
Jism and Sallese wanted to keep the movement alive and began booking local bands like “The Mob” and “Butch Lust and the Hypocrites”. They managed to promote a huge show at a local Queens club with “the Mob”. The club was a mainstream “new wave” club in Bayside Queens where Jism and Sallese resided. It was at this time that Sallese coined the term “Hardcore Punk” during the promotion of “The Mob”. It was a term he released to the press and it stuck and spread like wildfire. Others later would try to take credit but this is how it went down.

At the same time, Jism and Sallese decided to start a record lable. It was just something for them to do in a time when things were getting very boring. The first realease was an Ism single “Queen J.A.P./Attack” on S.I.N. Reocrds.

“Queen J.A.P” was a clever spoof on Steve Martin’s “King Tut” which poked fun of the Jewish American Princesses and Guidos in New York.(“born in Brooklyn NY, moved to Great Neck L.I.” … “she’s a Jew and He’s an Italiano…a marriage made in Leonards”) It became a cult classic with the likes of Dr. Demento whose superiors banned him from playing the song. A DJ from WLIR radio said that when they played it, the phones lit up and was one of the most requested songs ever but management quickly stepped in and banned the song. It was all tongue and cheek and not meant to offend anyone. Afterall, Jism was a Jew and Sallese was Italian. The flip side was “Attack” in which Jism played all the instruments. It went on to become a popular favorite in England and on BBC radio.

Jism quickly put together a band and teamed up with Sallese to write the songs on “The Big Apple Rotten To The Core” The album went on to become a hardcore and punk classic. “John Hinckley Jr., What Has Jodie Done To You” by Ism started getting commercial airplay and was probably the first “hardcore” song to get commercial airplay in NY. It opened the door for groups like “Black Flag” (who were long established on the West Coast) into getting commercial airplay in NY as well. Amy Carter, daughter of former President Carter, became a big Ism fan after the release of “Rotten To The Core”.

WLIR nominated “John Hinckley Jr.” as “screamer of the week” for two weeks straight but then DJ, John Debello, who hosted the show refused to let it officially win despite receiving 3 times the vote of the pop tune “MICKEY”. He was quoted as saying, “I will never let that song win on my show” to other employees.

While the song was getting critical acclaim and much airplay, Jism and Sallese could not get the records to fill the demand by distributors because the record pressing plant was printing them up illegally and selling them themselves and keeping the masters out of the hands of Jism and Sallese. The owner eventually got busted by the FBI for bootlegging Beatles records.

The rest of the “Rotten to the Core” album quickly became a favorite among the punk community. “The Beastie Boys” and Cheetah Chrome of the “Dead Boys” were slated to be on it but couldn’t come up with a tape in time.

Ism was now on a roll but the band from “Rotten To The Core” had moved to Georgia and were playing venues where groups like REM were playing. Sallese told Jism to get his ass back to NYC and get ready to record an album. Sallese gathered up the best local musicians from Queens who they knew from the neighborhood.

They pounded out the “I Think I Love You/A7” single with a wild cover photo of two apes doing it doggy style with David Cassidy’s head on one and Shirley Jones on the other. David Cassidy went nuts and was publicly saying he was going to sue them because of the cover photo so only a limited number were printed but enough to top all the college charts. The song was another cult classic. Once again, WLIR in NY had entered it in their “screamer of the week” contest after being nominated by veteren DJ Ben Manilla and Steve Jones. Once again Ism was a winner which should have landed them a contract with a major lable but once again, DJ John Debello refused to let it win on his show.

“A7” became a favorite on the NYC punk scene. A7 was a dingy illegal after hours club that was trying to keep the punk scene alive. Jism and Sallese used to hang out there into the “wee hours of the morning”.

Faulty records approached Sallese and wanted to sign Ism but before a deal was cut, Faulty filed for bankruptcy and screwed over Jism and Sallese for a chunk of distribution money.

Jism and Sallese brainstormed and swiftly followed up the “I Think I Love You” single with the now very rare album “A Diet For The Worms” LP which many consider to be the best hardcore/punk record to come out of NYC in the early 80s.

Ism was on a roll. They were doing gigs with groups like the Ramones, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Smithereens. Sylvester Stallone even popped in to see them one night at CBGBs.

“A Diet For the Worms” became an instant hit on college radio and topped the CMJ radio charts. Everything was going great but Jism and Sallese had different opinions about the direction of the band. Sallese was also upset that the records came back from the plant without crediting him with the majority of the songs which he co-wrote the lyrics or penned the theme. From what I understand, Jism’s girlfriend at the time and Sallese had different ideas about the band’s next move so Jism and Sallese parted ways.

Jism then released the “Constantinople” EP on Broken Records which did well on the CMJ radio charts. In 1987, Bob Sallese started a new record label. Jism had already recorded some punk/psychedelic tunes in the studio and Sallese released some of these tunes on a “Nightmare At Noon” EP on yellow vinyl on “Raw Power Records”. Sallese began managing the band again and they started doing more shows. Raw Power Records then released “The Big Apple Rotten To The Core Vol 2” which featured many of the bands from the first album plus Omer Travers known for breaking into Yoko Ono’s apartment and leaving love notes. Jism and Sallese got him in the studio and co-produced the now infamous “New York Cat” by the UFOmer Band which Howard Stern would eventually play on his show. Jism and Travers appeared on the Stern show to promote the album. It turned out that Stern was an Ism fan from their earlier releases.

The “Big Apple Rotten To The Core Vol 2” became another rare punk rock cult classic sort by record collectors. While the music industry was becoming more and more corporate again and there was becoming less and less independent record outlets, clubs and radio, Sallese became disgruntled with the industry. Then in 1989 Scott Eisner, who was a close friend of Sallese and Jism, jumped off the Throgs Neck Bridge which links Queens to the Bronx. Eisner had done the cover photos for “Rotten To The Core” and also did some publicity work for Ism. Sallese needed to get the hell out of New York City and out of the music industry. He took off for the West Coast a few months later and joined the Screen Actors Guild. This time Jism and Sallese parted on friendly terms.

Jism went on to independently release “The Hits That Missed” CD which featured many of the band’s songs from the Jism/Sallese era and thereafter. After that he released a limited edition album called “Journey Down Your Drain” CD which included a controversial song called “Love Yer President” and a fantastic punk remake of “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” which Tiny Tim did with Jism shortly before Tiny Tim’s death. Tiny Tim and Jism also made a music video together. “The Hits That Missed”, “Journey Down Your Drain” and “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” video were released in limited editions mostly for promotional use.

Jism was keeping the band together in 2000 while also playing drums with Dee Dee Ramone on and off. In 2000, Bob Sallese, became worth multi-millions of dollars in other investments and was planning the launch of an all new record lable. However, after stumbling upon certain truths that he shouldn’t have stumbled upon, he lost every penny and was having his life threatened from some very powerful forces. He has since been impossible to track down. Jism shortly thereafter was sentenced to 5-10 years in prison for unknown reasons. He now resides in an upstate NY prison and it is believed that he was set up because of the release of “Love Yer President”.

The rest is history. Ism records are very rare and a must have for any true collector of rare punk rock.
“A Diet For The Worms” LP recently went for $240 on an internet auction. “I Think I Love You/A7” & the two “Rotten To The Core” Albums run up to $100 and the “Queen J.A.P./Attack” single is almost impossible to find and very sought after (especially in Europe). Every now and then, you can find an Ism release at a great price on the net. Some people come across these releases and do not realize what they are worth.

Good luck in your record hunt for Ism recordings.

Al Lestell
President
Rare Record Investor Club