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Lehigh Valley punk band The Clap, set for record release, still has DIY spirit after 45 years

The Clap
Johnny Loftus
Lehigh Valley punk band The Clap, who will play an album release show Saturday at Gas House Grill in Catasauqua. Bassist Johnny Loftus is center.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Back in 1978, when bassist Johnny Loftus was starting seminal Lehigh Valley punk band The Clap, the group very much had punk's DIY attitude, seeing a bright future ahead.

More than 45 years later, despite decades of musical struggles — and more recent health problems — Loftus still has that positive outlook for the band.

“I think the peak hasn’t really been reached yet," Loftus said in a recent phone call. "Every facet of The Clap, from the beginning, had it’s great moments.”

Loftus sees another great moment when The Clap releases "Relapse," the group's first album in more than 20 years.

The Clap will play an album-release show at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at The Gas House Dance Hall, 311 Front St., Catasauqua, with supporting acts The Lunch Trucks, Pol Pot, Edgar Gore and The Nevermores and Rotting Fruit. Tickets, at $10, will be available at the door.
The Gas House Dance Hall promotion

The group will play an album-release show at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at The Gas House Dance Hall, 311 Front St., Catasauqua. Tickets, at $10, will be available at the door.

As things in the Do It Yourself world often do, the actual record release has hit a snag: The disc, to be released on Philadelphia label Violated Records, has been pushed back to March 8, Loftus said.

But he said those who come to the show will get coupons to buy the disc at the reduced price it would have been offered at the show.

"Relapse" contains six new songs and five re-recorded songs from The Clap's early years.

'Everybody ... there for a while'

The Clap was started by Loftus and two high school friends when bands such as The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash were just formulating the genre.

The Clap found interested audiences all around the Lehigh Valley, Loftus said.

“We played a lot of shows — and did a lot of good shows."
Johnny Loftus of The Clap

“We played a lot of shows — and did a lot of good shows,” he said.

But while concentrating on live performances, the band's original lineup recorded just two double-sides singles, and by 1992 had broken up.

Loftus blames it on "mismanagement and drugs and alcohol."

"It’s not a proud thing that I say," Loftus said. "But we were young kids. At that time, we were led around by a lot of people. At times, management up and left us and we were left on our own."

Loftus re-formed The Clap in the late 1990s, and even toured Europe around 2000, but over ensuing years stumbled through a revolving door of members.

Loftus shifted his focus to booking bands and promoting, and brought acts such as Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks to the area. He was the first promoter to bring British punk band The Pork Dukes to the United States, he said.

But except for a 2003 disc, The Clap never recorded again.

“I would change the lineup, everybody would be there for a while," Loftus said.

"We were mostly just busy touring a lot of times. And I never got a lineup that I was satisfied with that lasted long enough to get more songs going."

'A hard, hard battle'

He said that changed when he finally found a talented, sustainable lineup when guitarist Art Zawodny joined in 2013.

"Art became a solid member of the band," Loftus said. "We had a very solid lineup. We were starting to write songs in 2017 and 2018 ... and we decided to go in there and get this thing finished.”

He said The Clap recorded six songs, and "things were happening." The band even toured with early English punk rockers 999 "and got such a great reaction.”

Then COVID-19 hit and shut down the music scene.

And worse, Loftus got very sick.

"After the tour with 999 was over, I had a really swollen ankle," Loftus said.

“But basically it went through and it was good, because now I’m walking around again. It was a hard, hard battle.”
The Clap's Johnny Loftus

He said his doctor told him it was Charcot Foot, a disease that weakens the bones in the foot and "eats away the structure of your ankle and stuff like that, and the bones start falling out all over the place. So basically your ankle falls apart.

“So I had my left ankle rebuilt, but the right ankle, there were complications … and my leg wound up getting infected."

He said he “was bedridden for two years almost and [the doctor] told me if you lay there on your back you’ll never walk again. So that scared me enough” to decide to amputate his right leg.

Then, Loftus said, “the infection moved into my spine and ate two of my vertebrae away. So I had to get two vertebrae replaced” last year. It was a risky operation very close to his spinal column, he said.

“But basically it went through and it was good, because now I’m walking around again,” he said.

“It was a hard, hard battle.”

The Clap
Courtesy of Johnny Loftus
The Clap, with Johnny Loftus at right.

'Every year, things get better'

The Clap finished recording "Relapse" and began playing again.

“Everybody’s been waiting for me to get out and get better — to get out and start playing again,” he said.

The Clap's Johnny Loftus, regarding 45 years playing punk rock

He said that after his health problems, listeners might think the title "Relapse" is about him.

“If they want to say it’s about me they can, but it’s not really about me,” he said.

He said The Clap already is working on another album.

“We’re in the studio currently with Punk Rock Records from New York," he said. "We’re currently working on new songs.”

Asked how it feels to be in a punk rock band for 45 years, Loftus responded with a laugh.

"Exhausting," he said.

"I think it’s a true testament of my dedication to punk rock music in the Lehigh Valley music scene. For 45 years I’ve been here playing, promoting and producing.”

And in that DIY spirit, Loftus said, “Every year things happen. Every year things get better."