Inventing Punk Rock, part 1 of 5,235

The Imperial Dogs, Don Waller out front.

The Imperial Dogs- inventing punk rock, 1974.

Richard Lloyd of Rocket From The Tombs, plugs their new brand new single.

Nick Kent today, plugging his new book.

For about a month I had been attempting to write a posting about the bands in the years 1972-4 that were the precursors to the punk explosion, the idea was to do a round up of band around the country who were blazing the trail, spreading the lore of the Stooges, Velvets, etc., but I finally have to admit, it’s too big a subject for one posting, and it’s just too hard to figure out who to include and exclude. I mean where to draw the line in the sand? Do I include the Flamin’ Groovies who had been together since 1966? Were the Dictators the first NY punk group to record or do I go back to the Velvet Underground, or Suicide, or the New York Dolls? Where does a group like the Runaways fit in? Or Big Star? Where to put Distorted Levels who probably never even played a gig? Does everything have to be classified and put in its own specimen jar? It’s a subject that really deserves a book. Anyway, after much blathering and trying to sum up entire scenes and/or careers in one or two sentences I gave up. I thought I would just discuss three groups and one book, and leave the rest for possible future blogeration or better yet, let somebody else do it (anyone but Clinton Van Heylin who can’t find CBGB on the map, I stopped reading his book when he put it on “the corner of Bowery and 2nd Ave”, two avenues that run parallel and never meet, although I had a feeling I wasn’t going to finish it when he called Raw Power — mellow, I think was the term). If you want to investigate the subject of the pre-punk underground I suggest you order back issues of Black To Comm fanzine which covered the ground in great detail for over a decade (it’s now a blog, but I think some back issues are still available if you e-mail ’em).
The first group I’d like to mention since they’re never given credit and seemed to be one of the first, is an L.A. group called the Droogs. They were the first (using terms like this make me want to saw my own toes off, but I can’t think of a better one) garage revival band, having released their own debut single– He’s Waitin’ b/w Light Bulb Blues (Plug’n Socket) in 1972, a mere six years after the peak year for the original American garage bands. Of course, the a-side is the Sonics tune, the flip originated with the Shadows Of Night. This was released the same year as Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets (Elektra) compilation and Mark Shipper’s first Sonics re-issue Explosive (Buck Shot) opened people’s eyes that these groups all had something in common (Dave Marsh had dubbed the sound “punk rock” a year or two earlier in his Looney Tunes column in Creem). The Droogs second 45, their first original tune– Set My Love On You b/w the Kinks’ I’m Not Like Everybody Else (Plug n’Socket) is my favorite. They stayed together for decades, led by singer Ric Albin and guitarist Roger Clay, they cut many fine LP’s, I think the final one was in ’97. There is an excellent anthology of all their early singles released in ’98 on the German Music Maniac label called, oddly enough– Droogs Anthology. Of course, they only found a following in Europe, where I believe they toured. While working a one day job helping out the Dream Syndicate, I became friends with their bass player Dave Prevost (who was also in the Dream Syndicate for a time, he’d also been in Al Green’s band), and in 1984 while on their first (only?) visit to New York City, he dragged them into an after hours joint I was helping to run (No Se No on Rivington Street) and they played an incredible 5 AM set. I wish I could find the tape. They were fantastic.
Another trail blazing L.A. band of the era, who had a much shorter life span, were the Imperial Dogs seen in the above clips playing to a mostly bewildered audience in 1974 at a college in Long Beach, California. The clips are from a DVD–The Imperial DogsLive In Long Beach, Oct. 30 1974 which is available from the band’s own website. The Imperial Dogs represent those scattered (chosen) few who were spreading the gospel of the the Stooges (which is what the snazzy swastika flag draped over the amp refers to, not any type of racist/fascist political mentality, it was a much more innocent time, who thought real Nazis would make a comeback?), the Velvet Underground (one of the three covers on the DVD is burning version of Waitin’ For The Man), 60’s garage bands, the best 60’s British groups like the Kinks (Til The End Of The Day is another roar through) and the Yardbirds, and the spirit of real rock’n’roll– hard, mean with attitude to spare, and a sense of humor to boot. The Imperial Dogs had their own very original sound, wrote great songs and were excellent musicians. Of course they totally baffled everyone who saw them at the time except Kim Fowley and Iggy Pop who both gave ’em the thumbs up. The only gigs they could get were at Rodney’s English Disco where they played twice, and a few odd shows they set up themselves like the one seen on the DVD. By the time L.A. had a punk scene (I guess ’77 would be LA’s ground zero), the Imperial Dogs were long gone, but a posthumous 45 was issued on Back Door Man Records –This Ain’t The Summer Of Love (which was re-written by the Blue Oyster Cult and is the opening track on their biggest selling album Agents Of Fortune) b/w Midnight Dog, later followed by an LP– Unchained Maladies- Live 1974-5 issued in ’89 on the Australian Dog Meat label. Both are difficult to find today, so the DVD is the only way to hear ’em, but you also get to see ’em, and the liner notes and booklet alone are worth the twenty bucks the thing cost. Lead singer Don Waller would go on to co-found the great Back Door Man fanzine and become a respected music writer, too bad he never made anymore music, he was certainly on the right track. Had the Imperial Dogs stayed together for another year or two they might have changed the course of L.A. punk for the better. But then again, they might have been totally rejected for not having the right hair cuts. Hard to tell, and who knows? A movie got made about Darby Crash (I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting where that one was pitched), and the real visionaries are nearly forgotten. The only mention they get in Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s We’ve Got The Neutron Bomb (Three Rivers Press, 2001) is in a quote from Waller concerning Back Door Man and Ron Asheton’s band The New Order (the Droogs don’t get mentioned at all). An old story, no?
Rocket From The Tombs were Cleveland’s great white light/white heat hope from the era, again they referenced the Velvet Underground and the Stooges at a time both names were virtually unknown or despised by most of the world (even covering Foggy Notion, a tune that wouldn’t see vinyl release until the 1976 Evil Mothers (Skydog) EP. Much has been written about RFTT and their guiding light Peter Laughner, once again I refer you to Black To Comm for the best (and first) things I’ve read about them (except for Lester Bangs’ obituary for Peter Laughner which can be found in the collection Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung). Rocket From The Tombs are best remembered these days as the band that split into two factions– one formed Pere Ubu, the other the Dead Boys (whose best songs were from the RFTT repertoire– Sonic Reducer, Ain’t It Fun, Down In Flames). Some excellent live material has surfaced over the years and a re-recorded version of their 1975 set list also appeared early in this decade. I mention them today because they have newly recorded 45 out– I Sell Soul b/w Romeo & Juliet (Hearthan) and it sounds, well, just like their old stuff. I love it. There’s also a new live set of vintage RFTT material from Ann Arbor’s Second Chance club set for release some time soon on Smog Veil. If in 1976 when I sent away for the first Pere Ubu single from Hearthan, if you’d told me Rocket From The Tombs would have reformed and be releasing discs on the same label in 2010, well, I would not have believed you.
Then again, I wouldn’t believe the Stooges and William Burroughs would be on TV commercials and Andre Williams would be my good friend either.
Anybody who was looking for signs of life in rock’n’roll in the years 1972-5 read the New Musical Express, the best of Britain’s three weekly music rags, and for one reason–Nick Kent. While most Brit papers were worshipping at the alter of prog rock (especially Melody Maker), Kent was writing about the Stooges, uncovering the then forgotten stories of Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson. He was to the 70’s what Nic Cohn was to the 60’s, London’s guy in the know, and his new book– Apathy For The Devil: A 1970s Memoir (Faber, UK, 2010) is a moving, dirt filled, masterpiece. When punk erupted in the UK in ’76, like an exploding white head on a pimple, Malcom McClaren had Sid Vicious attack Kent with a chain at a Sex Pistols show, certainly as a way of covering his own tracks since it was Kent who turned the (pre-Johnny Rotten) Pistols onto the Stooges and the Modern Lovers, and McClaren would like to have the world believe that everything the Pistols did originated in his small mind. McClaren is truly a cretinous excuse for a human being. This set off a wave of attacks on poor Nick Kent. Any moron wanting immediate “punk cred” would attack the poor guy with chains, knives, steel toed boots, etc. as way of attempting to bond with their heroes the Sex Pistols. Kent, who unknown to us fans of his in the states, was living the hard scrabble life of a homeless junkie for much of the period takes it all in stride. In fact, there are parts of this book where he’s harder on himself than Sid was on him. He knew everyone worth knowing at the time and for insider looks at pre-fame Chrissie Hynde, down and out Iggy Pop and James Williamson in L.A. post Raw Power, Lester Bangs in his days at Creem in Michigan, the inner politics of the NME, not to mention setting his withering glare on the Stones, Led Zep, the Faces, Bowie, Bolan, Roxy, Eno, and others, make this book a juicy read. It nearly made me cry, and definitely made me laugh. If you never read The Dark Stuff (Farber, UK, 1996), a collection of many of his best pieces from 1972-1993 including the aforementioned groundbreaking Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson portraits, that might be the place to start (although personally, I think The Dark Stuff should have been twice as long, so many of his best pieces are missing, and I sold my NME collection years ago). To this day, I skim the Guardian and other UK newspapers and mags looking for his byline, I’ll read anything he writes. Even when I disagree, he’s one of the few music writers that I have any respect for, I believe that is because he’s honest even when his subject matter forces the ugliest aspects of rock’n’roll and the idiots who love it right in your face. Let’s face it, rock’n’roll too often brings out the worst in people, and it attracts many of the worst people, and Kent is the only writer I’ve ever read who doesn’t shy away from that white elephant in the room. Still, he comes off as more than fair, doling out the most jaundice critique for himself (for letting himself be duped by the allure of it all). For that reason alone Apathy For The Devil is an important book. Make your kids read it.
Addendum: I just ordered my copy of the first Stooges album, Collector’s Edition from Rhino Handmade. For two cds (with booklet and bonus 45), I do feel $50 + $5 shipping is a bit pricey. Of course I ordered the thing, how can I not? Basically, I feel like I can’t live without owning the two takes of Asthma Attack (which I’ve never heard before), but I feel kinda like a sucker. I only hope the Stooges didn’t give ’em a break on the publishing, but since the “ten song cap” (i.e. a record company will only pay the publishing royalties on ten songs no matter how many tunes are on the record, despite what federal law says about payment of publishing aka “mechanicals”) is usually a non-negotiable part of any record contract (and the Stooges signed theirs in 1969, their original contract actually has the words 78 RPM records in it), it’s rather unlikely the high price is due to a higher royalty/publishing rate for the band. But I’d feel better about shelling out fifty bucks for the thing if it did. WTF, it’s only money. I’m still glad I bought three copies of the Funhouse Sessions box, even if I did give two of them away as presents. Since most of my friends are dead, at least I have twenty eight takes of Loose to keep me company.

29 thoughts on “Inventing Punk Rock, part 1 of 5,235”

  1. It's a subject that really deserves a book. This is a good start. Put me down for a copy when it's finished!

  2. ” Put me down for a copy when it's finished!”Speaking of books, keep your eye on this spot for an upcoming special edition book we're planning…

  3. Glad to have a reason to give Nick Kent a second read. I picked up The Dark Stuff awhile back, and thought it was pretty awful. I think the topper was the Johnny Cash piece, which was like a poorly written paraphrase of a much superior piece done by Nicholas Dawidoff in In the Country of Country. Kent's Cash piece, btw, has the (accidentally) immortal sentence: “In 1967, he drove two separate cars off the high cliff at his Tennessee home and crashed them both into the sea.”I can't stop reading that sentence, it's like an entire train wreck in condensed form. I don't really get Lester Bangs either, so maybe it's a stylistic thing. I pick up Kent or Bangs, and after a page or two, I'm scurrying like crazy trying to find any Nick Tosches book, just to see the mojo done with actual style.Maybe he's a writer who is more interesting to read about than to read? That'd be like Bangs for me . . .

  4. Bangs is weather. If you don't like it you gotta leave. It's a taste thing, I guess. He seems a separate beast to Kent and Tosches—Lester's emotional involvement in his subjects was palpable.

  5. “The fellow shown in the “I Sell Soul” video is Richard Lloyd.”I'll make the correction, thanks for pointing it out, jeez but people can physically change over the years….

  6. Precursors to the punk explosion? 60s garage punk bands would be an obvious answer.But who were the precursors to the 60s punk bands? 50s rockabilly singers of course!Try any combination like this: listen to “Save It” by Mel Robbins followed by “Get Out of My Life” by Little Willie and the Adolescents followed by “Cyclotron” by The Electric Eels… I think it works!

  7. “But who were the precursors to the 60s punk bands? 50s rockabilly singers of course!”I always thought the first character in popular culture that we can identify as a punk icon is Pinky in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock (1936), Richard Attenborough played him in the movie….in fact when I met Johnny Rotten (had dinner with him once, thanks Howard), he agreed w/me on that.

  8. I read the letter to Miriam; I guess maybe I “get” Bangs, but am just not that into it. At its best, it reminds me of maybe Charles Olson's Letters to Origin, where he basically maps out how to be a not-dead writer-reader in a hundred or so pages. But Olson opens up in a way that's beyond just his personal stance; it's like Kerouac or Burroughs at their best (like in Visions of Cody), where you realize, 'oh, there's a whole different way of doing things.' I never get that jolt from Lester B. I'm hoping eventually I will.I'm not that young (34), but I came of age after Bangs' time, so the rage is a little more indirect from this distance, the objects more blurred for me. From my point of view, *of course* RS and all those shitty rags are shit, etc. If I lived or was half-way sentient at the points of Bangs' attack and rapture, I'm sure it'd feel closer, more necessary.Maybe I'll get it at some point. I can read Metal Mike Saunders all day and all night, but Bangs just seems smallish. But I mostly come to music writing for the quality of writing, and not for the investment into the music, or such. Well, maybe not, I dig finding out about acts I didn't know about via Unsung Heroes or from theHoundBlog, but it's also the written sensibility that I tap into, and an aesthetic investment that almost feels ethical in its intensity; I know people that I respect (like Joe B) get this from LB.

  9. “Try any combination like this: listen to “Save It” by Mel Robbins followed by “Get Out of My Life” by Little Willie and the Adolescents followed by “Cyclotron” by The Electric Eels… I think it works!”How about this one:Rumble Rock by Kip Tyler & the Flips followed byRitual by the Mods followed byFIre Of Love by the Gun Club?

  10. Yeah but the Gun Club, that's not fair! The reference to the 50s, to rockabilly and blues, is obvious with the Gun Club. You might as well have picked the Cramps.

  11. I gave Nitebob a DVD I made of The Stooges at the Rock and Roll hall of fame to give you. Thanks,ReV RuSSeLL

  12. Don't worry too much about where to draw the line. Kids should have listening to all that stuff (Flamin' Groovies) but somehow didn't. Where it all changed was with the Ramones. Sure, the Dictators and Patti Smith preceeded them, but the Ramones' sound was markedly different.PJL

  13. “I always thought the first character in popular culture that we can identify as a punk icon is Pinky in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock (1936)”Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), French writer, poet, playwright dyed his hair green. At the end of his life, he was living in a shack by a river, drinking absinth all day. As he was about to die, he asked for a toothpick. His all life and works were devoted to being free from respectability.

  14. “Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), French writer, poet, playwright dyed his hair green.”and of course there was Baudelaire and Rimbaud before that, I guess the young Octavius (later Augustus) Caesar was a bit of a punk as a teen. I picked Pinky simply because he's a pop culture figure and not a product of the art world. And he was a teenager. Oddly enough Jarry fits into the posting perfectly since one faction of Rocket From The Tombs morphed into Pere Ubu (David Thomas and Peter Laughner, the later left after their 2nd 45) whose name came from Jarry's Ubu Roi. BTW, Oscar Wilde's final words were “Either that wall paper goes, or I do”, the hotel where he died in Paris, today called L'Hotel (on Rue Des Beaux Artes off Rue Bonaparte) is still in business, we stayed there a few years back (the only nice rooms are #60 and #62 the rest of tiny).

  15. Thanks for the kind and perceptive words re: the Imperial Dogs. One small note: the B-side of the Back Door Man 45 is “I'm Waiting For The Man” not “Midnite Dog.” Legal issues prevented us from putting the former on the website — and the note about how every ballad should have a rockin' B-side, explaining the presence of the “Midnite Dog” clip in relation to the clip of “This Ain't The Summer Of Love” obviously created this confusion.FWIW, I told Ric Albin of the Droogs about your post and he was knocked sideways. He has vivid memories of that show at No Se No and recalls that the gig was taped on a video camera set-up that wasn't running video — just audio Maybe that'll help you locate it.

  16. ” the B-side of the Back Door Man 45 is “I'm Waiting For The Man” not “Midnite Dog”Dough! My bonehead error, I'm gonna go back and correct it now, thanks for pointing it out.” Ric Albin of the Droogs….He has vivid memories of that show at No Se No and recalls that the gig was taped on a video camera set-up that wasn't running video — just audio Maybe that'll help you locate it.”That tells me exactly who taped it! I forgot about that, he figured out you can use a VHS tape and when recording just audio it used the whole tape and sounded great. Oddly enough, that person– “Jack Boy” Smead can be heard on Pebbles Vol. 9, he was inthe Banshees who cut Project Blue for Dunwich in '66 (I wrote the Banshees story in Kicks #3). I hope I can figure out how to transfer it to a format I can listen to now….I don't even have a VHS player anymore.

Spit it out, partner...

%d bloggers like this: