Known as the proud proponents of what local scribe Brett Milano once dubbed “proto-garage-metal,” Johnny and the Jumper Cables were part of the 1980s Boston club scene, direct descendents of bands like the Nervous Eaters, Real Kids, and Neighborhoods.
Started in 1982 as a recording project by guitarist and band roadie Johnny Black and the legendary Kenne Highland of Afrika Korps and Gizmos fame, the band was joined in the Radiobeat studios in Kenmore Square by Swinger’s Resort/Outlets drummer Tom Bull and bassists Lee Harrington (Peytons/Neighborhoods) and Jonathan Paley (Paley Brothers/Nervous Eaters) for sessions that produced “Not Your Kind,” “I Get Nervous,” “Landmine,” and “Death Squad of the Mind.”
An invitation in September of 1984 to play a garage rock show at the now-defunct Jumpin’ Jack Flash club in the Fenway had Johnny, Tom, and Kenne looking for a bass player for live shows. Carl Biancucci of the Classic Ruins signed on, cementing the band’s permanent line-up. The Cables went on to record a series of 45s and compilation album tracks for the Stanton Park, Dionysius, and Modern Method labels in the US and Dog Meat in Australia.
The band garnered a reputation for loud, raucous live shows aided and abetted by the on and offstage consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. Kenne Highland appeared onstage in a kilt that often ended up at his feet, went through a Jackie Gleason phase where he wore vintage suits and opened the show with a hearty “And away we go!,” and once decided to honor headliner Disneyland After Dark by showing up in drag. The band’s AC/DC-inspired “Kielbasa” was usually performed with Highland wielding a real sausage that was then tossed into the crowd, who, in true punk spirit, tore it to pieces, leaving the club floor and stage littered with smashed chunks of meat.
A typical Cables set included original local radio hits such as “Total Depravity,” “Kielbasa,” “Hail Mary,” and “Georgia Skinheads Must Die,” along with an eclectic list of covers by the Dead Boys, Jimmy Reed, New York Dolls, Flamin’ Groovies, John Lee Hooker, Blue Oyster Cult, Iggy and the Stooges, Roky Erickson, Mott the Hoople, and a demented version of “Misty Mountain Hop.”
The band performed as recently as 2004, although Kenne Highland, once a staple of the local rock scene, has now apparently forsaken rock and roll for gospel music and has not appeared onstage since.