Musical Chairs

Posted on November 22, 2008 – 3:12 PM | by OldManFoster
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Tim FosterTim Foster is the Publisher of Midtown Monthly.   Long before he entered the exciting world of copy editing and ad placement Foster was best known for his performances with a series of throwback garage rock bands including the Trouble Makers, the Shruggs and most recently, th’ Losin Streaks.   Inspired equally by punk rock and 1960s pop, Foster’s bands have several recurrent motifs:  three chord songs; an art school sartorial sense; vintage musical equipment; frequent injury to said equipment, band members and sometimes, the audience.  When he is not delivering magazines or learning the chords to “Happiness Runs” he tends to his small herd of Crosley automobiles (none of which are currently operational). 

I heart rock n roll.  I’m completely biased because I grew up on the stuff—the Beatles, Beach Boys, Creedence and all those other skinny kids with guitars were the soundtrack of my childhood.  Rock and Roll is slowly going the way of the dinosaur, outpaced by hip hop, rap, metal, noise and the like; that’s as it should be… nothing stays fresh forever. For my spin in the Musical Chair I decided to sift through a few of my fave obscure rock n roll ‘A Sides’… the top song on a single… the side that’s s’posed to be the radio hit.  I stuck to stuff that you may not have heard (unless you listen to KDVS a lot).

GolliwogsThe Golliwogs, “Fight Fire”

One of the things that often marks a good A Side is that the song is so solid that it ends up being played by other bands even if the original version never became a hit– the song is just too good not to play.  I first heard this song in about 1991 as covered by (if memory serves) the Nashville Ramblers.  It kicked ass.  Once I figured out that they didn’t write it I spent years figuring out who did, and then searching for a copy.  It wasn’t that hard, all things considered- the Golliwogs may have been an obscure group from El Cerrito when they released this gem in March 1966, but they became a bit better known when they changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival in late ’67.   That said, “Fight Fire” sounds almost nothing like Creedence.  The Golliwogs had a harmony-driven pop orientation, with earlier singles sounding like Brian Wilson fronting a merseybeat band.   “Fight Fire” has many of the hallmarks of the group’s earlier sound, but incorporates a raw edge (and guitar tone) that I’ll bet they lifted from listening to repeated spins of  “Gloria”.   The energetic loping beat that drives the chorus is super catchy and leaves the listener totally unprepared for the shift to the verse- the Fogerty bros. were great songwriters even back then.   I’m sure you can find the original Scorpio single (b/w the phenomenal “Fragile Child”) on ebay, but for half the price you could get the Creedence 6 CD box set that has a full disc of choice Golliwogs gunk.

The Electras, “Action Woman”

Fans of the late lamented Sonic Love Affair may remember this chestnut from that band’s live set.  Dylan Rogers and co. played the song with all the blister and snot that the number demands, laying down a solid wall of fuzz penetrated by a wailing, whining vocal that alternately whispers and snarls.  That pretty much describes the Electras’ 1967 version of the song, too.  The Electras were an Ely, Minnesota garage band that had perfected the punk schtick by about 1965, with filthy hair, filthy mouths and filthy raw recordings courtesy of their own local Woodhouse, producer Warren Kendricks.  Kendricks wrote “Action Woman” along with some of the band’s other material. I first heard the Electras’ version of “Action Woman” on a 1986 comp of garage band 45s and was surprised to later learn that another Kendricks project, The Litter, has the best-known version of the song. Both bands released versions on Kendricks’ Scotty label and you can find multiple reissues floating around the interwebs.  OK, let’s settle this right here and now: The Litter did a fine job, but the Electras just rolled this thing up and smoked it. When people talk about “garage punk” this is what they are talking about.

Duchess and DukeThe Duchess and the Duke, “Reservoir Park”

If the Electras epitomize garage punk, the Duchess and the Duke personify a newish genre we could maybe call “garage folk”. The band hails from Seattle, and although their previous projects (including thee Flying Dutchmen, who played a memorable drunken set at Old I a few years back) channeled the Sonics stomp of that region, this record is way more Bleecker Street than Spanish Castle.  Jesse ‘the Duke’ Lortz has produced two of my favorite singles of the past few years; this, and its exact polar opposite: “Electrofize Me” by the Fe Fi Fo Fums.  Where the Fums’ record is loud, simple, and breathtakingly abrasive, “Reservoir Park” is subtle, sincere and beautiful. Built around acoustic guitars, sloppy harmonies and handclaps, “Reservoir Park” echoes that brief window in the mid sixties when Pop got smart, right before it dropped acid and then OD’d on smack. There’s a vague Donovan thing going on, especially on the full length, which I couldn’t wait to pick up after I’d nearly worn out my copy of the single. DIY legend Billy Childish is said to have formed Thee Mighty Caesars around the inspiration of one Troggs song—mining a half dozen albums’ worth of material from the vein of that single 2.5 minute recording; I wouldn’t be surprised if Lortz and the Duchess (Kim Morrison) applied that same creative strategy to “Congratulations” by the Rolling Stones when envisioning the Duchess and the Duke.  Take the same basic feel of the Stones song, strip out the drums and excess instrumentation, replace Keith Richards’ vocal with the girl singer from… I don’t know, We Five?… anyway, you get the idea.  It also doesn’t hurt that Lortz sounds a lot like Jagger circa ’65.  All of these old timey references may imply that the Duchess and the Duke is some throwback band—and in a sense it is– a throwback to a time when songwriting was still the core of pop, and acoustic guitar + vocal harmonies + bongos did not automatically equal awful open mic night.   D&D are playing SF on the 9th of this month, paired with the equally amazing King Khan and BBQ (who probably would have made my list here if they weren’t such an ‘album’ band).

  1. One Response to “Musical Chairs”

  2. avatar

    By jeff jarvinen on Nov 12, 2010 | Reply

    Yo Tim,
    Greatest piece on the Electras I’ve read. If you want a copy of their new CD ‘Electrified’, send me a mailing address. Much appreciated,
    Jeff Jarvinen producer/Electrified

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