Peter Laughner was an important, and still overlooked, figure in the birth of American punk and new wave. As a singer, songwriter, and performer in numerous Cleveland bands, he was probably the single biggest catalyst in the birth of Cleveland's alternative rock scene in the mid-'70s. Roughly speaking, Laughner's work melded the street-life aesthetic of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground with folk, roots-rock, art-rock, and even singer-songwriter influences. His legacy is difficult for the masses to appreciate, however, and not just because his premature death meant that very little recorded material emerged during his lifetime. It's all because his talents were too disparate to be easily pigeonholed and, until recently, repackaged for the CD era, despite a wealth of unreleased material.
An accomplished guitarist and moving Reed-meets-Springsteen sort of vocalist, Laughner gigged with numerous bands during the early and mid-'70s, including Cinderella Backstreet, Peter & the Wolves, Friction, and Rocket from the Tombs. The last band, which also included David Thomas and future members of the Dead Boys, has been belatedly recognized as one of the earliest forerunners of punk and new wave with its bridge between Stooges-like hard rock and sounds that were simultaneously more primitive and arty. Rocket broke up, however, before making any recordings (although some have since been released). Laughner was also a founding member of Pere Ubu, although he only appeared on their first two singles before leaving.
Laughner died of acute pancreatitis, brought on by drug and alcohol use, in June 1977, while still in his mid-20s. He's mostly remembered for his pre-punk creations -- "Ain't It Fun," which he performed with (and helped write for) Rocket From the Tombs, was covered by Guns n' Roses in the 1990s. But actually, his most affecting performances were those he performed solo on guitar, on various unreleased recordings, some of which surfaced on a hard-to-find album in the early '80s. Some of these, along with representative work from other facets of his career, were finally made available in the 1990s on the Take the Guitar Player for a Ride compilation.