Lenny Kaye - Nuggets - garage bible
Nuggets - Lenny Kaye.

The following article was written some 20 years ago by Lenny Kaye, compiler of the “Nuggets” series & guitarist with The Patti Smith Group. trakMARX archaeologists have exhumed the feature from it’s last known resting place & painstakingly restored it to it’s former glory for the educational benefit & general entertainment of trakMARX readers.

Needless to say, as a non-profit making webzine, there really isn’t a whole bunch Mr Kaye (or anyone else for that matter) can do about copyright theft issues in this case as absolutely no money is changing hands – whatsoever (However, should Mr Kaye feel even remotely pissed that we’re passing on his opinions & insight to a new & excited audience then all he has to do is e-mail us & we’ll remove it from the site).

Brothers & Sisters – raise your hands in the air & give it up one time for, Lenny Kaye:

FLICK THE LIGHT, suddenly illuminating a scene that lies at rock'n'roll's moment of conception. The room reveals an amplifier or two. They are not large; one, in fact, is contained in the top lid of a guitar case with the word 'Silvertone' embossed on its surface. A new drum kit stands off to the side, catching and reflecting the light in a red sparkle myriad of tiny stars. A sax and microphone 'borrowed' from the school marching band lie on the floor.

It might have been a basement, or an empty social hall, a back yard or anywhere. In America in the Sixties it was the garage, the car carefully backed out into the street by a kid too young to have his driver's licence, assorted family antiquities heaped nearby, all to make room for what might just be another adolescent infatuation like collecting street signs. The location implied many things: a culture wealthy enough to supply that which a garage supposedly houses, a restless teenage class with an abundance of leisure and an inspirational music that made the act of counting tempo an affirmation of self, the first tentative steps towards identity and artistry

By the early years of the decade, rock had developed sufficiently so that even the rankest of musical amateurs felt confident they could take a shot at its glittering prizes. The country-based rockabilly explosion had placed a guitar in every hand, while the R&B-centred vocal groups had set voices harmonising on urban street-corners through the land; But most bands of the time relied heavily on instrumentals, while the singers - except for a few multi-talented musicians - were content to croon and pose. It took the Beat1es-led British invasion of 1964 to provide a new model for American bands.

The sound of a typical garage band was rooted more in attitude than any specific musical form. Its practitioners cheerfully pirated and appropriated rock styles at will, blending blues and folk and surf music with their interpretation of the Mersey beat, learning to hold and play their instruments a la the Ventures and dress themselves in the mode of the Rolling Stones, The only thing that tied them together was an unmistakable spark of life; the exhilaration that comes from ascending a stage, realising its power and possibilities as fantasy moves inexorably into reality.

This triumph of substance over style, however, shouldn't obscure certain musical similarities that make the garage bands of the Sixties instantly recognisable, even today. Inventions such as the portable organ pioneered by Vox and Farfisa, guitar distortion boxes such as the fuzz-tone and the widespread acceptance of the electric bass provided the building blocks of the sound. Though these advances would soon become the norm and even obsolete, there was time for a kind of zany experimentation with these new toys. The best garage bands not only surprised their audiences; they also surprised themselves, and perhaps there lies the secret of their music.

As might be expected, the phenomenon was generally confined to local areas; only the most sophisticated combinations would have the drive to look beyond their own state boundaries. One-hit wonders became the rule rather than the exception and, except for occasional package tours, most of these bands seldom travelled. Yet in their particular regions, names like the Rationals (Michigan), the North Atlantic Invasion Force (Connecticut), Kenny and the Kasuals (Texas), the Yellow Payges (Southern California), Richard and the Young Lions (New Jersey) and hundreds of others were forces to be reckoned with, their greatest impact coming not from their own success but from the image they presented to other, even more fledgling musicians. It was rock'n'roll that could be reached out and touched, as exciting as a heated Saturday night dance and as close to home as a driveaway down the street.

Many were called, but few were chosen. If one were to pick one song and one band whose rise and fall typifies the garage sound's transitory, rags-to-riches nature, general consensus would point a finger at '96 Tears' by the aptly-named ? and the Mysterians. With its recurrent rinky-dink organ figure and snarled-sung lyrics, '96 Tears' is rock at its most skeletal.

?'s real name was Rudy Martinez, and along with the other Mysterians - Robert Balderrama on guitar, Frank Lugo on bass, Frank Rodriguez on keyboards and drummer Edward Serrato - he had migrated from Texas to the Saginaw Valley area of Michigan. This cross-cultural blend began to bear fruit in the fall of 1966 when '96 Tears', pressed on the small Pa-Go-Go label in Texas, started being requested at a radio station in Flint, Michigan (also home to Terry Knight and the Pack, later the seeds of Grand Funk Railroad). The song was picked up by a major label; Cameo, and swiftly went to Number 1 in the US charts. Except for a few short lived follow-ups like 'I Need Somebody' and 'Can't Get Enough Of You, Baby', the group was never heard from again.

This was no cause for mourning in the garage band sweepstakes. For every group that had its fleeting moment of glory another was ready to take its place. In the end, the Mysterians success was not so much based on their uniqueness as their universality; their music was so basic that it not only provided a willing invitation to any young hopeful to play it immediately, but it also sent out the message: 'we did it, so can you!'

In the immediate Michigan area, this resulted in one of the best self-contained local scenes of the American Sixties. Mitch Ryder had already come bursting out of Detroit in 1965 with driving R&B styled tunes like 'Jenny Take A Ride' and, boosted by a chain of teen nightclubs such as the Hideout and the Hullabaloo circuits, names like Suzi Quatro (who played in a band called the Pleasure Seekers), Bob Seger (whose System had hits like 'Heavy Music' and 'East Side Story' long before he became a Seventies superstar). Dick Wagner and the Frost. SRC, the Rationals, the Henchmen and the Underdogs soon began to gather acclaim. The Michigan (and Detroit) area was not to peak, however, until the late Sixties' onslaught of the MC5 and the Stooges, two groups whose influence would reach well into another decade

The entire Midwest was a cornucopia of rock Americana. with cities like Cleveland contributing the Choir ('It's Cold Outside') and Cyrus Erie, 88 well as the nationally syndicated television show 'Upbeat'; the Minneapolis/St Paul twins notching up fraternity-rockers-made-good the Castaways ('Liar, Liar) and the Gestures (‘Run Run Run'). Even Canada caught the fever with Toronto's Luke and the Apostles and the Ugly Ducklings both enjoying success.

Chicago's thriving blues scene gained good publicity when the Shadows of Knight found themselves in the national charts with a cover of Van Morrisons 'Gloria', an archetypal Sixties anthem. Jim Sohns (vocals and tambourine), Joseph Kelley (lead guitar), Jerry McGeorge (rhythm guitar), Warren Rogers (bass) and Tom Schiffour (drums) come out of Chicagos northwest suburbs to star at the Cellar in Arlington Heights, Illionois. They brought a surprising veracity to their renditions of blues standards like 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' and ‘Boom Boom', though it's likely they took the long way around by learning as much from the British version by the Stones and the Animals respectively, as from the originals. Other bands like the Mauds (who had their own horn section) or the more pop Buckinghams and Cryan Shames picked up further aspects of Chicago's heritage.

Midwest garage rock had a spontaneous Quality that might have been lost in amore sophisticated business centre like Los Angeles. In fact, the reverse is true, if the Seeds are any indication. Led by theinimitable Sky Saxon, they became a ‘flower power' band by calculated design, though it hardly interfered with the tenacious one-dimensionality of their sound. ’Pushin' Too Hard' was their greatest hit, and they kept playing it through the course of five albums and ultimate flameout for Sky when he changed his name to Sunstar and got a job washing dishes at a Sunset Strip health food restaurant.

Still, with better recording studios and a generally sharper sense of pop structure, many Los Angeles bands could break out of the primitivism that dogged many local groups. A record like the Music Machine's ‘Talk Talk', or the Leaves' ‘Hey Joe', or even the music of the early Byrds, Doors and Love (as they blossomed through local followings), showed conceptual awareness that made their transition to national success easier. The kingpin of the Los Angeles garage sound was producer Ed Cobb, a former member of the Four Preps who guided the careers of the Standells (‘Dirty Water') and San Jose's Chocolate Watch Band ('Riot On Sunset Strip') with a keen eye towards pop trends and rebellions.

In northern California's San Francisco Bay area, the emphasis was either on folkish Beatles-influenced harmony or out-and-out fuzz fantasies. The first was well represented by the Beau Brummels, whose 1965 hits ‘Laugh, Laugh' and ‘Just A Little' are masterfully understated works of songwriting and singing, discovered in their prime by disc jockey Tom Donahue on his Autumn label and Co-produced by Sylvester Stewart (later Sty Stone). At the other extreme, the Syndicate of Sound (‘Hey Little Girl’) and the Count Five (‘Psychotic Reaction' - a true Yardbirds tribute) came up from San Jose to pave the way for the mind-bending sounds of the legendary Summer of Love.

Along with such important forebears as the Kingsmen and the Ventures, it's often forgotten that the Oregon-based Paul Revere and the Raiders (‘Kicks' and 'Just Like Me') helped pave the way for much of the garage sound by presenting daily lessons on Dick Clark’s afternoon television rock show, ‘Where The Action Is'. Also home to such bands as the Sonics (‘The Witch’) and Seattle's Electric Prunes (‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night'), the region held its own on a vibrant West Coast.

The South had more trouble establishing a garage identity, perhaps because other musical magnets were at work there. Texas had a sharply developed scene with bands like Doug Sahm's Sir Douglas Quintet (scoring a big hit in 1965 with ‘She’s About A Mover'), the Moving Sidewalk (their ‘99th Floor' featured a young Billy Gibbons, later to form ZZ Top), Mouse and the Traps (whose ‘A Public Execution' is an uncanny Dylan sound-alike), the Five Americans (‘l See The Light') , and a bizarre collection of bands centred around the International Artists label in Houston. Highlighted by ‘the psychedelic sounds' of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and their 1966 hit 'You're Gonna Miss Me, these acid-punks might be thought of as the secondary stage of garage evolution, beyond English influence into the ozone. A typical example of their mania would be the Red Crayola's Parable Of Arable Land, which interspersed ‘free-form freakouts' with songs.

The East Coast was similarly alive with music. A megalopolis stretched northwards from Washington DC (the Hangmen), Philadelphia (the Nazz with Todd Rundgren, Mandrake Memorial and Woody's Truck Stop), through New Jersey (with the Knickerbockers and the Critters), bypassing New York, crossing Connecticut (the Original Sinners) and Rhode Island (Teddy and the Pandas) and up into the unofficial capital or New England, Boston. There, bands like the Remains galvanised audiences and even toured with the Beatles, while the Hallucinations gathered the blues-based components for what would become the J. Geils Band. The Barbarians, in turn, asked the musical question ‘Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?', setting the political implications of long hair into perspective. Their greatest moment came in a song entitled ‘Moulty’ where the drummer told the true story of how he lost his hand in an explosion by a railroad track, and how playing in a band gave him a reason to go on living: ‘Now all I need is a girl. . .'

And what of the Squires, the Floyd Dakil Combo, the Bedlam Four, the Clefs of Lavender Hill, the Balloon Farm, the Lollipop Shoppe, the E-Types, the Stillroven, the Calico Wall, Thee Sixpence . . . ? Hopes strung like milestones along rock's glory road, a longing and belonging still providing impetus today.

Lenny Kaye
– trakMARX.com – Sept 20 years ago (ish)
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