Interview with Peter Greenberg and Billy Rosenthal from The CUSTOMS

the customs
The Customs, 1978

Interview by Scott Preston

“The loudest, drunkest, most Obnoxious Rock & Roll band in the city…fronted by a “singer” with the vocal ability of the local Greyhound bus dispatcher.” That’s how the esteemed Cincinnati press referred to THE KUSTOMS( with the original capitol K), and I guess it was meant as a dig but that sounds like a mighty high praise…if your heroes were The Sonics, and Little Vic.

Formed with the sole understanding that one reverb-drenched note from a nearly inaudible Link Wray 45’ had more Rock & Roll merit than the entire recorded output of Carlos Santana, The Kustoms stormed, and stumbled, through some of Cincinnati’s finer, shittier clubs. (from

The Customs are celebrating their 30th anniversary with a reunion show at The Southgate House in Newport, KY on May 31, 2008 to celebrate the re-issue of their album “Long Gone”.

Cincy Groove: How did the idea for the 30th reunion show come about?

Billy Rosenthal: We did the cd in 1998 and I suggested that a reunion show would be a thing we should consider. Not everybody was into the idea 10 years ago. So Darren put out the cd on Shake It Records and 10 years pass. I just got a call from Peter this past December and he mentioned it again to me, so I thought about it. We all finally came to agreement and decided to just go ahead with the reunion.

Peter Greenberg: Well I cleared my plate of all the crap I was doing for the last 25 years. I was working a corporate job and decided to quit. I was out in Cincinnati back in November playing guitar with Tim Cole and Vince Gray. Brian Kilzarian heard that we were interested in a reunion show and kind of got the ball rolling. I have started playing again and my family and I are moving to New Mexico (from Dallas) where I am going to set up and studio and look for some people to play with before I get too old. I also have a job out in New Mexico developing solar power technology.

Cincy Groove: So was everyone receptive to the idea of a reunion show?

Peter Greenberg: For the most part everybody was into the idea. Billy wanted to do the reunion 10 years ago but it wasn’t the right time for me.

Cincy Groove: I think its great the band still has all those photos on your myspace page from the late 1970’s.

Peter Greenberg: I didn’t know how to use myspace so Brian set up the myspace page. But after he set it up I went out and bought a scanner and scanned a bunch of the old photos.

Cincy Groove: So Billy, are you full time musician?

Billy Rosenthal: I am, I have one band that I play drums with on a regular basis and I freelance with about 3 other groups. I went from being in the building/contractor business and being a part time musician from 1992 until 2002. Since 2002 I now just play music. If you want to play oldies and that kind of stuff there’s plenty of work down here (Florida). Its not as much fun as the old days with The Customs of course but it sure pays better (laughing).

Cincy Groove: What venues did The Customs play at back in the late 1970’s?

Billy Rosenthal: We did Bogarts a lot. We opened for The Ramones, Iggy Pop & The Cramps there. I think there was a place called Dollar Bills we played at, Shipleys, Top Cats, and Chapter 13 up in Mt Adams. We also played some loft parties down in the Over The Rhine area. I used to live above Northside Tavern back in the early 1980’s. Back then it was a real dump but now I have heard it is a really nice place. Northside in the 1970’s wasn’t a pretty place but there were a lot of really nice people and cool junk shops, stuff like that.

Cincy Groove: How long were The CUSTOMS together?

Peter Greenberg: We were together for about 2 years while I was in Cincinnati and then they kept it going for another year or so with another guitar player after I left.

Cincy Groove: How did The CUSTOMS end up meeting back in the 1970’s?

Billy Rosenthal: Tom, the singer, and myself knew each other since our college days at UC in the early 70’s. We were both record collectors and in the record business. In 1978 Peter came back to Cincinnati to goto UC. A mutual friend of ours introduced us to Peter. The three of us decided we liked the same kind of music and decided to start a band. It was kind of rough at first. We didn’t have a lot of money to buy equipment. Whatever we had we used.

At the time The CUSTOMS got together you either played in a cover band playing Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones tunes or you tried something different. So we tried something different and it ended up working for us. I actually still have the stage backdrop we used back then when we had to changed the spelling of the band from The Kustoms with a K to The Customs with a C.

Forrest Bivens (bass)
Jim Cole (guitar, organ)
Peter Greenberg (guitar, vocals)
Thom Heil (“vocals”)
Jess Hirbe (then Shake It Label owner)
Billy Rosenthal (drums)

The CUSTOMS website –
Shake It Records –

Upcoming 30th anniversary reunion show
May 31, 2008 – The Southgate House, Newport, KY – $8 adv /$10 dos | times TBA | 18+