“I miss him,” says Johnny Kelly. “But in a lot of ways, it feels like he never left. He’s still part of the conversation. His name always comes up. I’m glad that I’m still connected to him in that way, but 10 years ago, I never would have thought that people would remember Type O Negative.”
Back home near Dallas, where he moved several years ago, Kelly is remembering Peter Steele — his friend and bandmate in Brooklyn-bred goth metal quartet Type O Negative — who died April 14, 2010, from an aortic aneurysm at the age of 48.
“It’s odd to try to articulate because he passed away,” continues Kelly. “It’s like the lasting impression, and still being in a band, still playing and constantly running into people that are [Type O] fans.”
Born Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn on Jan. 4, 1962, and raised in Bensonhurst, Steele was in bands with childhood friend and future Type O keyboardist-producer Josh Silver since their teens. By the early 1980s, Steele had pieced together the politically incorrect Carnivore, which ran its thrash metal course through 1987. After Carnivore ended, Steele reconnected with Silver and longtime compadres Kenny Hickey (guitars) and Sal Abruscato (drums), forming Type O Negative in 1989. (Kelly replaced Abruscato in 1993.)
Steele’s gloomy baritone, towering stature (standing at nearly 6’8”), and vampiric good looks — which landed him a 1995 centerfold in Playgirl magazine — led Type O through the New York circuit, from regular local shows at the now defunct L’Amour nightclub in Brooklyn and the East Village’s the Ritz to worldwide tours. The act debuted with Slow, Deep, and Hard in 1991, then followed up with 1992’s The Origin of the Feces. Despite only peaking at No. 166 on the Billboard 200, 1993’s Bloody Kisses was a game-changer, earning platinum status and a deep cult following with the doom-y enthralls of the 11-plus-minute “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” and “Christian Woman.”
A pinnacle for the band, Bloody Kisses introduced a more melodious and cinematic Type O, bursting through the new wave of ’90s goth culture and swerving into lanes of thrash (“Kill All the White People”), hardcore and industrial. Crafted like the perfect soundtrack to a more sexualized Nosferatu-inspired flick, from orgasmic opener “Machine Screw” through to the hallucinatory instrumentation of “Can’t Lose You,” Bloody Kisses left its indelible mark on metal.
The group maintained an international presence with 1996’s October Rust, 1999’sWorld Coming Down, 2003’s Life Is Killing Me and its seventh and final album, 2007’s Dead Again. According to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, Type O Negative has sold 2.5 million albums and accumulated 98.4 million streams in the United States. However, the vocalist-bassist kept his day job — driving steamrollers, snow plows, garbage and dump trucks for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation — until 1994, when the band was asked to join Motley Crue and King’s X on tour.
Throughout the years, Steele’s addictive personality left the band wondering what would come next. There was a point, says Kelly, where Steele had done so much damage to himself that the band couldn’t plan too far ahead. When he was at his worst with drugs and alcoholism, no one knew if he would still be around.
“There were points when we were like, ‘We don’t know if he’s going to live,’” recalls Kelly. “You get to that kind of perspective of ‘Is he going to make it?’ that you can’t plan anything a year from now.” Then Steele found sobriety and was clean for nearly a year until his death. “He got through all of that. He was at that place. We thought, ‘This guy’s going to be around forever.’ “