Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Shadows of Knight, Pebbles, et al.


Various Artists
Pebbles—Volume 2

I think possibly, my last entry was a bit too contextual and not musically descriptive enough. I focused on a garage aspect of the Rolling Stones, or rather, a strangling of that aspect by their own musical evolution, and then their eventual downfall (which had nothing whatsoever to do with garage).

Now I’d like to focus on some of the other bands from that period that possibly exemplify the genre a little better than the scatter-shot and pop-sensible Rolling Stones. I’d also like to preface the following by noting that there are about a million people who have written eloquently and not so eloquently on the subject of garage. There are also about a million more connoisseurs, collectors and sick, rabid fans whose spend-thriftiness is legend in terms of procuring rare garage records and singles—I am not one of those people. I have a very good working knowledge of the standard bands and if the truth be told, I probably would rather listen to the neo-garage revivalist groups of the late seventies and early eighties (The Barracudas, The Lyres, The Chesterfield Kings) who embraced garage through a seventies punk filter, instead of through the standard Chicago-style blues filter that informed countless sixties garage bands including British monsters like The Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Kinks. So that being said, ladies and gentlemen…The Shadows of Knight.
The Shadows of Knight, probably more than any other American band typify that garage by Chicago blues filter I mentioned earlier. First, they were from Chicago, but were hot for British R&B-style acts like the Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Irish hard-core R&B masters, Them, led by a young and puerile Van Morrison. Secondly, in Brian Hogg’s liner-notes, they said as much themselves, putting it this way: “The Stones, Animals and Yardbirds took the Chicago Blues and gave it an English interpretation. We’ve taken the English version of the blues and re-added a Chicago touch.”

Once you drop the needle on the record and listen to Jim Sohns vocal on the opener, the Morrison-penned Gloria, one can’t help but wonder just why this version has spawned such a mythic quality. Where Morrison’s staccato, over-sexed snarl pulses menacingly throughout the original, Sohns’ thin and high-pitched voice sounds less like a mannish boy and more like a whitish one (which, I know, he is). The truth is though, that Them’s version, which was dripping with sex, was shelved stateside because, well, it was dripping with sex. Sohn and company were urged to record the banned song—sans the provocative line “she comes up to my room” with the line “she calls out my name” in it’s stead—by their manager, a bit Chicago music player named Bill Traut. Even though, it’s been said that the group did not like this “clean” change, they did not protest the relative, perhaps regional fame of having a smash hit in the top ten Billboard national chart.

The flipside of The Shadows’ initial single of Gloria was the originally-penned and brief, Dark Side, which made it on their subsequent album and prefigures a Hendrix-by-way-of-the-Byrds-like languidity without the guitar histrionics. The standout track though, is Bad Little Woman—a cover, written by another Irish band, Belfast’s The Wheels. The Shadows’ version eschews the short, quick, clipped guitar and quick-pulsed freakbeat style of The Wheels’ version, for a more raw and fuzzy punk style. Sohns’ vocal is reduced to a lower more confident and arresting rasp that fits the song’s explicit nature perfectly. Whereas on Gloria, the Shadows had to clean up Van Morrison’s libidinous songwriting, they play it up on Bad Little Woman (the title alone nixes the idea of any Bill Traut-inspired subterfuge), slowly cow belling their way into the sonic lull of the first verse, before launching into a quicker-tempoed chorus and then with a moan, climaxing into a perfectly controlled cacophony before coming back down into the second verse; then repeating the process. Bad Little Woman more than makes up for the PG rating they put on Van Morrison’s masterpiece, Gloria.
There are countless other Garage Bands, from the famous (13th Floor Elevators, The Chocolate Watch Band, The Remains), to the not so famous (The Dovers, The Choir, Randy Alvey and Green Fuz), the latter of which are collected on Volume 2 of the original Pebbles collection, a kind of lesser known cousin of the ubiquitous Nuggets. There is some crossover to be sure: the Dovers’, What Am I Going to Do, and the Choir’s, It’s Cold Outside. These two tracks stand out, but neither of them are what one would call garage punk. Which brings me, rather late in the game, to defining my terms.

There is garage, garage-rock, and garage-punk. I don’t think I need to get embroiled in the etymological beginnings concerning cheap Montgomery Ward guitars and suburban garages, but there are some subtle differences within this stratified genre. Garage and garage-rock are kind of similar umbrella terms that take into account a host of initial sixties bands whose aesthetic is generally marked by a degree of amateurish production, especially when compared with more popular groups. (This conceit is mainly an American one. Simply put, because of the relative smallness of the United Kingdom and it’s cultural fertility, their garage-style bands generally recorded on top of the line equipment and in nice studios. In America though, you hear stories of storefronts and a producer recording on a single microphone, which is pointed at a band as it plays). So within this garage umbrella you have bands that wrote primarily pop songs, like The Choir, The Dovers, and The Knickerbockers, and then there are bands that exemplify the idea of garage-punk—a subgenre that is marked by a certain rawness, which exposes itself both lyrically (sexuality, nihilism) and musically (fuzzy, guitar driven, sometimes quick tempoed, sometimes slow and sexual). The band that is probably most associated with garage-punk, is the Sonics, a band that was recorded about as poorly as anyone this side of Hasil Adkins, but still managed to become supremely influential.

I have went on way too long, but I’d like to highlight some standout tracks on Volume 2 of the Pebbles collection, one of which is The Road’s, frenetic and fuzz guitar-driven, You Rub Me The Wrong Way—which is built on a shameless rip-off of The Contours Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance). Another song of note is the strange and creepy Green Fuz by Randy Alvey and Green Fuz, which sounds eerily like Kurt Cobain, a hopelessly out of tune guitar and maybe a percussionist working on the bottom of a trash can, where, as it were, it sounds like the song was recorded. But if you, like me have an affinity for terrible and rotten amateur home recording, it will surely satisfy.
Go to this link to get a look at the Shadows of Knight ca. sometime in the recent past:


Garage (proto and otherwise)-side
1. The Shadows of Knight-Bad Little Woman
2. Them-Gloria
3. Charlie Feathers-Rain
4. Eddie Cochrane-She’s Something Else
5. The Flamin’ Groovies-Jumpin’ in the Night
6. The Rumors-Hold Me Now
7. The Sonics-Have Love Will Travel
8. The Gants-Wonder
9. The Remains-But I Ain’t Got You
10. The Road-You Rub Me the Wrong Way
11. The Barracudas-I Can’t Pretend
12. The Lyres-She Pays the Rent
13. The Chesterfield Kings-Stop
14. The Droogs-Ahead of My Time
15. The Gories-Thunderbird ESQ
16. Alex Chilton-She’s the One That’s Got it
17. The Monarchs-Hit That Bitch
18. Holly Golightly-For All This
19. Thee Headcoats-Darling Let’s Have Another Baby
20. Spacemen 3-Hey Man

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