Before punk really took off in the U.S. with the Ramones' debut album, there were a number of bands in the early '70s that combined the energy of '50s rock, the classic songcraft of the British Invasion, and the snarling attitude of bands like the Stooges. In Boston, the Real Kids were that band. Fronted by John Felice, they scuffled through the early '70s, finally recorded an album in 1977, and promptly imploded. Felice never threw in the towel, trying again with the Taxi Boys, then the Real Kids again. Though the band never made much of a commercial splash, their influence continued to stay strong to the point where there were groups in the 2010s that sounded exactly like them.
John Felice started off his career as a rock & roll legend as the teenage bassist in the Modern Lovers, whom he left in 1972 to form his own band, the Kids, with bassist Rick Coraccio, guitarist Steve Davidson, and drummer Norman Bloom. Thanks to their catchy songs, energetic performances, and high-powered covers of vintage rock & roll tunes, the band became a Boston institution. Success in their hometown didn't translate to a record deal and it took until 1977 for the band, now named the Real Kids, to record an album. The lineup of Felice, guitarist Billy Borgioli, bassist Allen "Alpo" Paulino, and drummer Howie Ferguson went into the studio with legendary producer Marty Thau to lay down a mix of Felice originals and ramped-up oldies. The resulting self-titled album was issued by the tiny Red Star label.
Though the record become something of a classic East Coast punk album, at the time it didn't do much and the bandmembers dialed back their ambitions. Felice got a gig as a roadie for the Ramones, and back in Boston he formed a new band called the Taxi Boys with Scott Parmenter on guitar, Billy Cole on bass, and Bobby McNabb on drums. The sound was similar to the Real Kids, as their two releases — an EP and a single — made clear. They transitioned back to the Real Kids name once Alpo rejoined the band on bass. The group returned to the studio, this time in Boston with Andy Paley working the dials as producer. Outta Place recaptured the sound of their debut, while giving it just a bit of studio gloss. The record was released by Red Star again, and soon afterward the Real Kids headed to France, where they had a much bigger audience than they did in the States. Once there, they recorded an album, Hit You Hard, which was released by the French label New Rose in 1983.
Soon after the record hit shelves, Alpo and Billy Borgioli left to start the Primitive Souls and the Real Kids split again. Felice started a new band, John Felice & the Lowdowns, and released an album, Nothing Pretty, for the Boston label Ace of Hearts in 1987. Around this time, the Real Kids reunited and played a series of shows throughout 1988-1989, including a memorable New York City New Year's gig. The band stopped playing gigs, but their profile took a huge leap with the reissue of their 1978 album by Norton Records in 1991, which was the start of a years-long campaign to get all the Real Kids' music out to a new generation of fans.
In the mid-'90s, Felice started a new band called the Devotions, who recorded an album in 1996 with Steve Wynn in the producer's chair. The record was shelved at the time and wasn't released until 2010. However, the group did manage to release an EP, Make It Go Away, in 1999. That band's existence was cut short by yet another Real Kids reunion. The group — minus bassist Alpo, who had passed away in 2006 — got back together to record new Felice compositions and updates of old songs that were never officially released. The album, Shake...Outta Control, was released in 2014 on Ace of Hearts. It was a typically tough and tender slice of rock & roll that proved the Real Kids hadn't lost much traction since their early days. They played shows after the album's release and reportedly started talking about recording again. The death of guitarist Borgioli in 2015 put those plans on hold, and the next time the band surfaced was in 2018 when Crypt Records released a collection of early demos and live recordings helpfully titled The Kids November 1974 Demos/The Real Kids 1977 Demos/Live at the Rat. ~ Tim Sendra & Chris True