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 Dogs
– Live 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 (
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.
: 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.