In the beginning...
There was AMPAGE:
Huntington Beach native Peter Allen (who would later rename himself Peter Wabitt) was the first vocalist for Mark Mason's ongoing musical project called AMPAGE. Formed in 1980 in Huntington Beach, California, AMPAGE was a mainstay on the Southern California club scene for over three years, playing shows with bands like Berlin and Dead Kennedys. Because the band members were so young--either in high school or recently graduated--they became local favorites in clubs where they were not legally allowed to enter until it was their time to play. At right is Mark Mason, Perry Boyer, Peter Allen, and Henry Stone in 1981 (courtesy Punky Peru).
Drummer Perry Boyer (better known as Punky Peru) joined AMPAGE in early 1981. Born and raised in Fountain Valley, Punky started playing with bands in and around the Orange County area in 1976, and some of these bands included CRYSTAL, DREAMER, TRIX and S.W.A.K. But in early 1981 friend Peter Allen introduced Punky to Mark Mason and he joined AMPAGE. Playing a mixture of covers and original material, this lineup included Punky on drums, Peter on vocals, Mark Mason on bass, and Henry Stone on guitar. At the request of a local promoter this new lineup relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii, for most of 1981, and played months of sold-out shows there (which is where the picture above was taken; photo courtesy Mark Mason). The same promoter had lined up shows for the band in Australia, but that tour never happened. By the end of April this version of AMPAGE broke up and Peter and Punky returned to California.
Just a few months later Mark Mason reformed AMPAGE in Huntington Beach without Peter (Mark and Henry shared vocal duties). But almost immediately original drummer Michael Kroeger quit the band. Mark again asked long-time friend Punky Peru to fill in, and this new version of AMPAGE began playing shows throughout Southern California. By Fall this second phase of AMPAGE's career had run its course and the band again broke up. Around this time Punky was the first drummer for LEATHERWOLF, as well as another Orange County metal band named DIRECT DRIVE, but he was only with each of these bands for a few rehearsals before leaving. At right is Punky in 1981 with the original lineup of LEATHERWOLF (left to right: Jerome Sevron a/k/a Jammin' Gyro on bass, Scott Moore on guitar, Carl Detkin on vocals, Punky, and Geoff Gayer on guitar; photo courtesy Punky Peru)
Manhattan Beach native--guitarist Ronn Bennett (later Ronny Too)--auditioned in south Downey for a band James Hetfield was putting together sometime around 1980. Ronn was a year ahead of James at Downey High School and the two had known each other since 1978. Although he was never offered the gig, Ronn thought this band had too much of a punk influence so he and the future METALLICA guitarist simply parted company. In 1981 Ronn formed a band called CIRQUE with bassist Everett (last name withheld to protect the guilty!) This band played at least one show--possibly their only show--at The Woodstock in Anaheim in late 1981. From this band came two songs that would figure prominently in the future history of WITCH: "Nervous Wreck" and "Cinderella (In Black Leather)" (although the latter's lyrics would be re-written by Peter Wabitt). CIRQUE disbanded almost as quickly as they formed, and Ronn was again looking for a band. By early 1982 Ronn went to work in the marketing department at the Allied Records pressing plant in the City Of Commerce. Later that year he rehearsed with KERY DOLL but he did not play any shows with this band.
Upon returning to Huntington Beach following his stint with AMPAGE in Hawaii, Peter began singing with BEOWULF, but by 1982 he started working with guitarist/vocalist Chuck Gauld in a band called SPECIAL FORCES. Based in Orange County, this band included Carl Higgins on drums and John Machado on bass, and they played a few shows at The Woodstock and Radio City. In mid-1982 the band released a 12" E.P. entitled Working Man's Tool on Azra Records (see the RECORDS section for more details on this release). Some advertised concert dates for this band include June 16, 1982 at The Woodstock, and June 20, 1982 & August 1, 1982, both at Jezebel's. When SPECIAL FORCES broke up later that year, Peter began rehearsing with a band called MESSENGER in Huntington Beach, but this band never played live.
By the end of Summer 1982 Punky formed yet another band, a solo project called THE PERU CRUE. The lineup included Punky on drums, Jerome Sevron a/k/a Jammin' Gyro on bass (original bass player for LEATHERWOLF), and former AMPAGE member Henry Stone on guitar and vocals. This band played only a handful of shows, but one of those shows was seen by legendary bass player Don Costa. At this time Don was playing in DANTE FOX--the original version of GREAT WHITE--but he was fired sometime around summer, so Don began looking for a new project. THE PERU CRUE had a song in their set called "Damien," and Costa loved the name. He approached Punky and Henry about forming a band, so they fired Gyro and changed the name of the band to DAMIEN. (at left is Don and Henry in rehearsal in the rear studio of The Woodstock in Anaheim, and at right is an article featuring Costa; courtesy Punky Peru and BAM Magazine). Costa was known at this time as much for his theatrics as he was for his bass playing, which included shredding his knuckles on a cheese grater taped to the back of his guitar, and playing bass with a pick axe. This no doubt influenced and only encouraged Punky's wild stage behavior, and it was with this band that Punky honed not only his drumming skills, but also his leather and chains image. One rehearsal audio tape of DAMIEN does exist, and songs include: "Freeway Accident Mop," "Smelly Hole," "Damien," "Infected Growth," and "Hatred." These songs were culled from old AMPAGE and PERU CRUE riffs, with lyrics by Punky and Don. After thirty days of rehearsals the band booked their first two shows in early 1983: January 15 and February 4, both at The Woodstock. However, contrary to what has been reported here earlier, the band never played live. Just days before the January 15 gig, Costa got a call from Ozzy Osbourne and was asked to join his band. Costa packed up his gear at the rehearsal studio and headed to L.A. to begin rehearsals with Ozzy. His first U.S. show was scheduled to be at the US Festival on May 29, but he was fired by Ozzy just hours before showtime, and didn't resurface again until the following year with the short-lived M80.
With Costa out of the band DAMIEN called it quits, and in February Peter left MESSENGER. Knowing each other through Mark Mason and having both been members of AMPAGE, Peter and Punky decided to start their own band. After placing a "Guitar and Bass player wanted" ad in MUSIC CONNECTION magazine, auditions were held in February/March in the rear studio of The Woodstock Rehearsal Studios in Anaheim--and also at a warehouse in Santa Fe Springs--and Punky and Peter began writing new material. Until they found a bass player, Peter would sing and play bass while guitarists auditioned. Founding LEATHERWOLF guitarists Carey Howe and Geoff Gayer auditioned, but Punky did not want a dual-guitar lineup. He also considered future SALTY DOG guitarist Scott Lane, but for some reason he did not make the cut.
In February Ronn was given a copy of Peter's SPECIAL FORCES album and he thought Peter was a fantastic vocalist. Ronn was given the album by Neil, a co-worker at Allied Records who also worked with Dave Richards of Azra Records, the company that had released the SPECIAL FORCES album (Neil would go on to manage WITCH for the first three months of their career). Neil told Ronn that Peter was putting together a new band and they were currently auditioning guitarists. Peter was living in a trailer in Midway City and that's where Ronn first met Peter and Punky. He set up his guitar equipment and played--among other songs--"Nervous Wreck." Peter and Punky offered Ronn the gig on the spot, and all they needed now was a bassist.
One of the first bass players to audition for WITCH was Boston native James Mannion, who would later change his name to Jim Warmon. Jim was currently playing in JEKYL & HYDE, but Peter knew Jim because he was the bassist in MESSENGER, the band Peter rehearsed with following the break up of SPECIAL FORCES. Peter and Punky offered him the job, but Jim refused because he did not want to leave JEKYL & HYDE. This is a decision Jim would soon regret. It should be noted that JEKYL & HYDE also included another future WITCH member: guitarist John Davin (who would later rename himself Davin St. John), as well as future ROXX REGIME bassist John Voorhees. At left is JEKYL & HYDE circa early 1983 (l to r: John Voorhees, Jim Warmon, Michael Kroeger, Mark Marbeto, John Davin). (photo courtesy Yoshiki at Scream Creative, Japan, & The Understudygroup/Laurie Voorhees Facebook)
Then, legendary bass player Rik Fox walked through the Woodstock Studios door. The story of Fox's life and musical career could fill five books. He dated KISS drummer Peter Criss' sister in 1972/73, and watched KISS rehearse in their NYC loft even before Ace Frehley joined the band. He was the original bass player in WASP, and would later play in STEELER with Yngwie Malmsteen. Punky offered Rik the job, but Rik would only accept if his guitar player Howard could join the band, too. Punky declined, and Rik and Howard would go on to form SIN.
At the end of March, twenty-year-old bass player and Southern California native Michael Williams-St. John answered the MUSIC CONNECTION ad (he soon dropped the St. John and shortened his name to Michael Williams). Michael had been in numerous bands, among them JAGGED EDGE, FAZE (featuring Jess Arnell on vocals, who later found fame on MTV), TYGRESS (who opened for SLAYER quite a bit), and ROADWORK, a band that played halls and parties mainly in the South Gate area of Southern California. Most notably, however, was Michael's stint with the original incarnation of ARMORED SAINT. Joey Vera was under contract with THE GREG LEON INVASION when John Bush, Dave Prichard, Phil Sandoval and Gonzo first got together, and having played with John previously in a couple of bands, Michael was asked to join. This lineup played a dozen shows and recorded the band's very first demos, but soon Michael wanted to move on.
Michael called the phone number in the MUSIC CONNECTION ad and Punky answered the phone. Punky told him how over-the-top and extreme the band was, and what a killer stage show they were putting together--clealry the concept of WITCH was developing quickly. Michael thought Punky sounded so sure of himself that he just had to check them out. Michael auditioned at a warehouse in Santa Fe Springs. He arrived while another bass player hopeful was auditioning, and this gave him a chance to observe the band in action. They definitely lived up to Punky's hype! Michael thought their look and attitude were great, and he was also impressed with the quality of their musicianship. When it was Michael's turn, he requested to play the last song they had played with the previous bassist, and that song was "Nervous Wreck." The foursome ended up jamming for a couple of hours. At the end of the jam Punky told Michael he had the job, and the original lineup was now complete.
Although another website currently claims that the band intended to call themselves SAVAGE, this is not true. Punky and Peter separately came up with a list of over 100 possible band names, but each list had only one name in common: WITCH. And that's the name they went with. The band started rehearsing and writing full-time in April, and Peter came up with the design for the WITCH logo printed onto "COMING SOON" flyers that were plastered all around the Orange County/Los Angeles area. With an image reminiscent of MOTLEY CRUE's first album and all the theatrics of early KISS, WITCH began booking shows on the Southern California club circuit.
WITCH in June, 1983: Michael Williams, Ronny Too, Peter Wabitt, Punky Peru (courtesy Punky Peru)