Garage days re-re-revisited
Starting this Friday, garage-rock enthusiasts will flock to Sacramento for th’ second annual Wasted Weekend. A Dixieland Jubilee for Vox fans, perhaps?
Whenever rock ‘n’ roll gets a little too baroque, someone usually comes to the rescue by dragging the music, kicking and screaming, back to the basics. Typically, it’s a process that involves locating a point early on, when the music was vital and relatively unadorned, and then searching for the wild spirit that animated that particular era.
Rockabilly (with its hillbillies-on-amphetamines ebullience) and the 1950s Chess Records rhythm-section sound (which provided the building blocks for so many blues-tinged rock bands, from the Rolling Stones through Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith to the Loved Ones and beyond) have provided touchstones in the past. Nevertheless, both those styles have been exhumed so many times that few surprises are left.
Go further back, and you’ll hit jump-band blues, recently played out via the dubious 1990s “swing” revival, and doo-wop, a vocal style really not suitable for the purposes of reanimating rock’s moldering corpse.
So, the place to look for a good jumping-off point might be sometime in the 1960s, after the Beatles hit.
And although power pop—or what the late Joe Strummer once called “phony Beatlemania” in the Clash’s 1980 song “London Calling”—may have bitten the proverbial dust, those Beatles did inspire a lot of kids to pick up electric guitars. Some of those kids got musically proficient, forming the somewhat-sophisticated bands of the 1970s and 1980s, but others hooked up in sullen combos that reduced the Kinks’ caveman guitar riffs, à la “You Really Got Me,” to even more demented sonic jeremiads.
The more accomplished of those bands, or at least the ones with nationwide distribution, were cataloged on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, originally a double album compiled for Elektra in 1972 by writer Lenny Kaye, later the longtime guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. When Rhino expanded Nuggets to a four-CD boxed set in 1998, some of the trashier, more obscure stuff got added to help fill it out.
But it was on Pebbles, a 28-LP Australian compilation series, that the real gems turned up—regional bands far too wedded to their own garage-rock aesthetics to worry about competing with anything from Hollywood or Liverpool.
Tim Foster was a self-described long-haired hippie in the 1980s—with appetites for the Beatles, classic rock and punk rock à la the Dead Milkmen and the Circle Jerks—when he acquired his first Pebbles compilation.
“I had occasionally stumbled across bands that were aping that stuff, like the Primates and the Barracudas,” said the now-quite-clean-cut Foster, who fronts two of this town’s better-known garage-revival bands, the Trouble Makers and Th’ Losin Streaks. Foster figured those two bands had emerged from some kind of vacuum, until he figured out they were doing cover versions. The appearance of the Primates and Barracudas in the liner notes of a Pebbles compilation was enough to make the sale. “I bought it, I took it home, and I played it one time,” he recalled. “And I just thought it was the greatest record I’d ever heard. It had Roky Erickson, before the 13th Floor Elevators”—a notorious 1960s psychedelic band from Texas—“on an earlier version of ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me,’ and it sounds like he’s having an embolism when he’s singing, and he’s screaming on the harmonica. It’s just amazing.”
For Foster, it was kind of like one of those Saul-of-Tarsus-on-the-road-to-Damascus moments, except the burst of light was replaced by an explosion of screaming fuzz-guitar noise. “Amazingly lowbrow” is how he described it. “It was the perfect mix between punk rock and ’60s rock.”
Foster quickly sprang for as many of the Pebbles comps as he could find, along with another series called Back to the Grave. “It’s even better,” he said—as in “more backwoods.” Apparently, in garage rock—like with Appalachian string bands—the farther out in the sticks, the better.
The deeper Foster fell into the rabbit hole, the better it got. There was so much to explore: tons of now-obscure bands, some of them tooling around their hometowns in 1952 Cadillac hearses, grinding out 45-r.p.m. singles for tiny regional labels—singles that collected dust until a new crop of fans rediscovered their essential greatness decades later. “You didn’t have to be a genius to make music,” Foster explained. “You just had to want to do it. I just loved that 16-year-old’s aesthetic—they’d listen to a Beatles record, and it didn’t matter if they knew they were never going to be as good; they just had to do it.”
Foster noticed a few bands, like the Mummies, already were dressing up like, well, mummies, while pumping out three-and-a-half-minute songs on vintage equipment, which they schlepped around in a 1965 Pontiac ambulance with their band name painted on the side. “It was so far from anything that you’d see at the Cattle Club or hear on the radio,” he recalled. “And they were the best. But there were other bands, like the Phantom Surfers. Going to one of their shows was like stepping back in time.” Indeed, one of the Phantom Surfers’ passions is the great lost sport of slot-car racing.
Foster soon fell in with a few like-minded local souls: bassist Stan Tindall, guitarist and surf-rock veteran Rodney Cornelius and drummer Brian Machado, who collectively make up the Trouble Makers.
A more recent spinoff band, Th’ Losin Streaks, also features Foster and Tindall, along with Matt K. Shrugg on drums and Mike Farrell on guitar. It was featured recently in an SN&R story about Farrell (“Rock ’n’ roll survivor,” SN&R Cover, July 8). A side note: Foster, Tindall and Shrugg all are accomplished graphic artists.
Both of Foster’s bands will be on hand for th’ Wasted Weekend, an upcoming three-day bacchanalia of 1960s-inspired garage rock—most of which will take place this weekend at Old Ironsides. (The Trouble Makers and Sonic Love Affair will appear at Sunday’s Crash-A-Rama, the location of which will be announced sometime this weekend.) A number of other bands that most likely got religion from listening to old garage-rock 45s will be on the Friday- and Saturday-night schedule, too.
This will be the second Wasted Weekend but the first official one. Last summer, the Trouble Makers got booked to play one night at The Distillery, and Th’ Losin Streaks were booked to play the following night at the same venue. To promote the shows, Foster promoted it as a garage-rock festival. “So, as a joke,” he said, “I made Wasted Weekend Festival fliers.” The shows didn’t exactly break house attendance records, but Foster got the idea to do it again—but more seriously and better-organized.
Friday’s lineup features the Bug Nasties, a Seattle trio made up of members of Sinister 6 and the Statics; the Barbary Coasters, a San Francisco ensemble that looks like something from the Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee, that plays a style of music called “23-Skidoo-Sound” and that features guitarist Johnny Bartlett from the Phantom Surfers; the Sutters IV, a local Merseybeat combo that includes Dean Seavers, Brent Seavers, Tim White and Chris Harvey; and Public Nuisance, David Houston’s genuine 1960s garage band.
Midday on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., KDVS will hold its record swap inside Old Ironsides. That event is free.
Saturday night’s show kicks off with Thee Flying Dutchmen, a raucous trio from Renton, Wash., where Jimi Hendrix is buried; Harold Ray Live in Concert, which Foster described as a modern iteration of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels; Th’ Losin Streaks; and the Bobbyteens, a three-woman/one-man band that looks like a John Waters wet dream.
To help tout the August 13-15 event, a boffo three-color silk-screened poster for the show was designed by Shrugg, né Kanelos, and Black Cat Press, a West Sacramento shop co-owned by local artist Bruce Gossett, has printed it for the occasion.
For local music fans, the big event this weekend will take place on Friday. Sometime after midnight, a reformed version of Public Nuisance will take the stage for the first time in well over three decades.
The band, fronted by local solo artist, record producer and musical mentor Houston, began life 40 years ago as a South Sacramento teen garage band called the Jaguars. The Jaguars morphed into Moss & the Rocks before evolving into Public Nuisance. That combo—with Houston on vocals, guitar, keyboards and harmonica; Jim Mathews on vocals and rhythm guitar; the late Pat Minter on vocals and bass; and Ron McMaster on drums—recorded an amazing bunch of sides in 1968 and 1969 for producer Terry Melcher’s ABC Records-distributed Equinox label. Unfortunately, Melcher, spooked by the August 1969 Manson murders at the Bel Air house he’d sublet to director Roman Polanski, shuttered the label before Public Nuisance’s debut got released. The Equinox tracks finally were compiled, with some earlier material, in a two-CD set titled Gotta Survive!, which the indie label Frantic issued two years ago.
This version of Public Nuisance will feature Houston and McMaster, who now remasters CD reissues for Capitol-EMI in Los Angeles. Houston isn’t sure how much McMaster will play or sing, so drummer Matt McCord (of Tinfed and the Arlenes) will keep time, with Megan Cawley sitting in on bass. Local musician and record producer Chris Woodhouse will play guitar, because Mathews plans to attend but doesn’t want to play. “He’s been, like, ‘What fuzz did you use on that song?’” Houston said. “He already knew the parts.”
Houston claimed to be more nervous than excited about playing—“It’s way too short a time to get ready,” he said—but he said that one highlight will be “Small Faces,” the Public Nuisance song that found its way into the White Stripes’ set. “Actually, that’s one of the reasons I said yes to doing shows again was, after Jack and Meg [White] started doing it, and I heard it, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s fun,’” Houston said. “So, then, I tried to play it myself, and that sort of like reopened the other songs—like, I can do them again.”
This, of course, doesn’t sound like a weekend wasted at all.