IMPACT WEEKLY (Dayton, Ohio)
"Music From The Margins - Obscure garage rock records, novelty songs and other unappreciated gems" by Don Thrasher
There's no accounting for taste. I personally can't stand Nelly, but that hasn't stopped millions of consumers in the United States and abroad from dropping their cash for the upstart rapper's album. Obviously, there is something about this guy's material that people connect with, whether it be the beat, his subject matter or the ever-present bandage on his cheek that has become his trademark. I must confess, I'm lost on all three of those points, but then again, I have often been accused of having slightly skewed musical tastes.
While some of my favorite groups are mainstream acts such as The Beatles, Public Enemy, REM, and The Who, I also have a soft spot for raw underground rock and pop by artists as diverse as The Modern Lovers, The Shags, The Monks and Half Japanese. These latter acts don't even register on most peoples' cultural radar, but to me they are just as much of an important part of my personal hit parade as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and other legendary groups.
The only problem is, once you begin delving into the world of unappreciated music, you discover it is a treacherous labyrinth that has no end. For every Nelly or Norah Jones that makes it to the top of the charts, there are thousands and thousands of wannabe stars that have some musical talent, a few good ideas, enough follow-through to actually lay their musical creations to tape and enough financial support to release this vanity project on vinyl or CD. Most often these recordings never have any major impact because of hackneyed songwriting, inept performance and/or poor sound quality. You can find plenty of this amateurish material in thrift stores, flea markets and pawn shops, but every once in a while you can stumble across something that is a real gem: an old Esquivel LP or a rare 45 by some now defunct regional garage rock act such as "Hey Conductor" by Sonny Flaherty & Mark V.
The old saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," is never more appropriate than when looking at musical oddities of the past. For many rock fans, this cultural exploration can become a way of life.
"I guess the type of music you like defines you somewhat," said music fanatic Greg Wallace, the mastermind behind the truly twisted music compilation, Andy & Pat's Groovy Cosmic Love Hour Funky 45s Vol. I and II. "I have always liked the weird and odd things in life such as low budget sci-fi and horror movies."
Wallace (aka MC Ferret) knows about the obsession that forces otherwise sane people to seek out musical obscurities. When Wallace was a teenager in the late '70s/early '80s, he and his friend, Scott Badger, were the only students in the small-town Pennsylvania high school who listened to anything outside of the music played on the radio. Even then, he was enamored with songs that fell outside the mainstream.
"I used to wear DEVO T-shirts to gym class and it would enrage the jocks," Wallace said. "One day they broke into my locker and stole my DEVO shirts. So then I wore a yellow DEVO suit to school and I barely escaped being beat up for doing that."
Rather than forcing Wallace to succumb to the mindless music entertaining his peers, it only strengthened his love for underground sounds. In college he was introduced to garage rock compilations such as 'Nuggets' and 'Pebbles.' These seminal albums reintroduced him to songs he loved in his childhood and showed him he wasn't the only person enamored with little-known bands from the past.
"I searched out that 'Pebbles' album and from then on absorbed as much garage rock as I could," Wallace said. "That was how I found out about the wealth of garage 45s available. I began searching for those types of records myself and was lucky enough to find some rare garage 45s and albums in thrift stores."
Wallace, who was born in 1963, started really listening to rock 'n' roll records at the age of 4. His mother would buy bags of 45s, 10 singles for 99 cents in a sealed plastic bag, at the local Kresges department store. At a tender age, he was listening to "Talk Talk" by the Music Machine, "Pushin' Too Hard" by the Seeds and "Question of Temperature" by the Balloon Farm. While none of these songs were huge hits in their day, they are all now regarded as classics. Even pre-K, it seemed Wallace had a nose for should-be hits. By second grade, he began exploring the music of The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
"I bought The Beach Boys' Greatest Hits with some birthday money," Wallace said. "That led to a life-long love of the Beach Boys that then led me to a love of surf instrumental rock of the '60s. Another musical milestone was finding 'Meet the Beatles' in the closet of my uncle's home. The moment I first played that LP, I was a Beatle Fan."
Although he finds joy in older music, Wallace isn't a snob that simply eschews contemporary music on principle. It's just that, like his old favorites, the new bands Wallace likes tend to operate on the fringes of the music industry.
"Popular music is at its lowest point ever," he said. "Stuff that is called alternative or punk is usually nothing more than corporate crap. Great punk bands like Screeching Weasel, The Huntingtons, Riff Randells and many more go unheard of by those who consider themselves punkers. On the pop scene there are bands such as The Glad Hands that aren't as well known as they should be.
"Instead," Wallace continued, "we have so many bands and acts that don't write or play instruments and get heralded as the pop geniuses. Folks like Eminem who spew poison from their mouths receive awards and accolades from the mainstream press and public. I work as a teacher for emotionally disturbed fifth and sixth graders. Come spend a day in my classroom and you will see the negative affect pop music has had on these children."
With "Andy & Pat's Groovy Cosmic Love Hour Funky 45s Vol. I and II", Wallace has gotten an opportunity to share his passion with the world. The second volume of this twisted little series picks up right where the first volume left off, with a pop culture bouillabaisse of garage rock 45s, novelty songs, surf instrumentals, offbeat covers and other esoterica. The entire project is woven together with sci-fi samples from C-grade films from the '50s and '60s, old TV commercials and audio snippets from sitcoms.
"The Hunch" by Mad Mike and the Maniacs is a searing garage nugget that somehow escaped the folks who compiled the 'Nuggets' and 'Pebbles' compilations. The drummer is explosive, like a restrained but still powerful Keith Moon. In the hands of The Exciters, "Hound Dog" becomes a garage rock free-for-all with a driving beat, gritty sax runs and a fuzz bass solo.
Other tracks feature little-known bands doing unusual covers of classic songs. Cold Spring offers up an odd MOR version of The Doors' "Light My Fire" with the vocalist using an odd southern pronunciation of "fire", "mire" and other words. The Dilly Sisters, two young Latina girls from Los Angeles, deliver a truly strange version of the old chestnut, "Love is Blue".
Vocal combo The Satellite Singers delivers a goofy tune called "When I Was A Boy on Mars." Lanai Kai's silly pop tune, "Let's Have A Beach Party," has call-and-response vocals, cheesy sound effects and a decent sax solo. Songs such as "Let's Go To The Beach" by Larry & The Loafers and lo-fi surf instrumental "Black Widow" by The Nobles have been included on other compilations, but they are still a nice addition to this set.
Louis Jordan, known for such classics as "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," "Five Guys Named Moe," "Caldonia" and "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie," is no doubt the most famous act included on Funky 45s. However, his contribution "Sakatumi," is a little-known novelty tune that is amusing but definitely not as magical as Jordan's best work.
"The music that is on both volumes of Funky 45s appeals to me because with all the inept, goofy, way out, whacked out records that are on those two CDs, the people who made those records were sincere," Wallace said. "I think of Roy and Georgia singing 'Devil Get Away from Me' on Volume II. We may get a kick out of listening to Roy's fine rockabilly picking on guitar accompanied by Georgia's Hammond organ, but when they sang "Devil Get Away From Me," they meant it. So I don't laugh at Roy and Georgia, I marvel at what the recorded and I marvel at most of those records. I find those records to be uniquely inspiring and certainly entertaining, and they do provide a good laugh now and then."
When Wallace compiled the first collection of Funky 45s, he imagined the CD would be a limited edition for fans of obscure music. He had no idea Andy Valeri would decide to release the project on his own Dayton-based label.
"My good friend Andy Valeri who is the CEO of Big Beef Records, has a local Dayton talk show that he does periodically on Dayton access television with his good friend Pat Cook," Wallace said. "I have been a frequent guest on the show and Andy has often used music from my personal collection to play in the background. I thought it would be cool to make a promotional give away CD for the show. It's a call in show and Andy and Pat could decide how to give the CD away. So I made 'Andy & Pat's Groovy Cosmic Love Hour: Funky 45s Vol. I' as a chance for some lucky viewer to win this CD full of wonderful quirky records.
"Andy and Pat liked the CD so well that we gave away more on later shows and Andy decided to market it on the Big Beef Web site as an Internet sale only," Wallace added. "Of course, now we're selling them at Gem City in Dayton and a few other select stores. The CD has sold well and recently got some press in 'Cool and Strange Music' magazine, so we decided the time was ripe for Volume II. I have such a great time putting these compilations together that I hope we're able to do a third volume in a year or so."
Wallace was obviously influenced by the original 'Pebbles' and 'Nuggets' collections, but being a connoisseur of music from the margins, he also found inspiration from compilation albums focusing on even more obscure music from the past.
"All of the classic garage compilations of the '80s were an inspiration," Wallace said. "Some of the compilers were very clever, adding movie trailers of old horror movies between the tracks of songs and giving you unlisted bonus tracks. Two of the most inspiring comps were the 'Madness Invasion' records and the 'Scum of the Earth' compilations. In fact, The Dinks, featured on 'Madness Invasion', is also on 'Funky 45s'. At the time of our pressing, the 'Madness Invasion' compilations were not available on CD, so I mastered The Dinks records from my own 45 so folks could enjoy a great lo-fi record at hi-fi.
"I wanted to include records that were different that what had come out on other comps," he continued. "Sure, I have a few songs that have been used elsewhere, but I mastered those from my own collection and hopefully had an upgrade in sound quality. I looked for records, anti-war or pro-war oddities and strange covers of popular '60s hits such as The Specialists, a lounge act from Butler, Pa., doing 'Eleanor Rigby.' What a find that was."
One song on "Funky 45s" has a link to "The American Song-Poem Anthology", a very hot project out now on Bar/None Records. "My Confusion," credited to Rodd Keith & The Raindrops, isn't really by a group but a collection of studio musicians who would record versions of songs created from poems sent in by everyday people. Keith, the king of the Song-Poem movement, recorded literally thousands of these unique songs that were created for people who responded to display advertisements in comic books, magazines and newspapers.
Rodney Keith Eskelin, know to Song-Poem fans as Rodd Keith was primarily a keyboard player, but from the mid-'60s until his death in 1974, he used his innate talent to set strangers' lyrics to music. Legend has it Keith had the ability to play any instrument he picked up, and he could play back a piece of music after hearing it once. These skills helped the frustrated musician write music, create arrangements and record a staggering number of songs-for-hire. In a way, Keith felt he was prostituting himself and often despised the process. Yet, free from the constraints of the commercial music business, he was able to create some unlikely classics.
By nature, the song-poem form was a private vanity project that was never meant for mass distribution. Ironically, thanks to "The American Song-Poem Anthology" and earlier such compilations, the work of Keith and his compatriots are now celebrated by hipsters such as Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo and Jon Pareles of The New York Times.
"In spite of the prostituted orgins of the song-poem recording, a suprising lot of them are quite listenable," Don Bolles wrote in the liner notes to the song-poem compilation, 'I'm Just The Other Woman' (Carnage Press). "Many, in fact, are stupendous! At its best, there is something lousy with possibilities in the anonymous collaboration between an untrained Jan or Joe Lunch-pail who writes the words, and the Makers of Smooth Music, generally quite talented professionals, but forced to work under austere conditions, who are hired to get those song-poems to resemble something like music. It's an unnatural admixture, and a recipe for either disaster or majesty, or both at the same time. The selections on this album represent some of the grandest examples of the song-poem form."
While not every song on "The American Song-Poem Anthology" would be considered a classic, there are enough magical moments to make this collection a must-have item for fans of obscure sounds.
To collectors of offbeat music, discovering songs such as Rodd Keith's "Beat of the Traps" or "Nicotine" by Paul Chaplain and His Emeralds offer the excitement of an archeological dig. However, with CD compilations revisiting the past, the obscure need not be the sole province of obsessive vinyl collectors. Now, any armchair audiophile with a CD player and taste for the strange can entertain his or her friends with a staggering array of unappreciated musical gems.