When it comes to discussing the Mod scene in NY/NJ, during the 80s a couple of choice names always seem to come up—Mod Fun and The Secret Service. While those two ensembles certainly lived up to the intense buzz they created, no one back then would have guessed that three of their fans from across the Hudson would form their own group and end up surpassing their idols.
The Insomniacs originally consisted of the brothers Robert and David Wojciechowski who, along with their pal Mike Sinnochi, formed the core of the group for many years. As long time denizens of the Dive, all three were all well aware of and active participants in the mod and garage scenes. Soon after the demise of the brothers’ previous band, The Tea Party, Dave, Bob and Mike began performing newly written material under the name The Insomniacs.
Almost immediately they built up a strong following in the NY/NJ area. That, coupled with the bands incendiary live performances were enough to catch the attention of Estrus records honcho Dave Crider, who signed them to his label in 1994. This 45 produced in 1991 however, is the first single they put out. It showcases the bands strong, hard-edged, 60s flavored pop songs that would garner them acclaim not just here, but overseas as well. Sharp fans will notice that this 45 version is markedly different from the version that wound up on 1994’s CD collection Wake Up! As Dave said “The Estrus version was a totally new recording for the “ghoul” ten inch. It’s much faster as by then we were playing all the time and that’s how we did it live.”
Advance apologies for the snap, crackle, and pop. My copy somehow amazingly managed to survive not only being stepped on, but also having cheap beer spilled on it! A testament to the raucous record release atmosphere at McCarthys Bar that night.
The band still performs occasionally, with new drummer Joel replacing Mike Sinnochi who retired from performing.
I hate to say it, but there are few people I really look up to in terms of graphic design. And, it’s definitely not because of the lack of talent out there. While I was able to carve out a career in publishing in spite of myself, what truly makes my wheels spin is an entirely different beast. One that is entirely at odds to what is generally perceived to be the typical design aesthetic.
Looking back, I guess coming of age during the 60s and 70s nailed directly in front of a B&W television didn’t help. As Joey Ramone said “It’s TV’s fault I am this way”. The tube shaped not just my design appreciation but also my cultural tastes. One that fit perfectly into what was to soon become the 80s punk side of me. From that point on there was no looking back.
It was during these years of discovery that I started running across designer Art Chantry’s work. I couldn’t believe that not only did someone actually think the same way I did, but was able to make a career celebrating lo-fi vernacular art. Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so out if place digging for discarded 50s clipart in my publishing companies trash pile.
As the years went on and Art’s work started becoming more and more well-known outside punk circles, I began to feel like the guy who saw the Stones when they played at the Crawdaddy. Imitators started piling on and pretty soon you couldn’t sneeze without running into some company milking the “nostalgia” bandwagon. Nevertheless, Art kept on doing what he did—like no one else.
Interviews and exhibitions furthered my admiration and respect for the man. It also emboldened me to know that yes, you could do what you are passionate about and be successful. Its a simple thing that pretty often we all lose sight of. Especially in a culture that values self-promotion and loudness over substance.
Being NYC, many smaller bands from outside the area always made it a point to make the city a stopover. One of those bands, The Mockers, came all the way from Virginia Beach, VA. Details of how I found out about their NYC gig is still a bit hazy…but with a name like The Mockers, any 60s music fan worth his salt would be curious. There was no question where I would be that sunny weekend afternoon in 1987—NYU’s old Loeb student union.
At this point the group was only a few years old and, like most bands at that point in their career, they were hungry to win over the audience. True to form they delivered a perfect 60s-flavored pop set that even made converts of people who just happened to wander into the performance area by accident. After the show ended I went over to head Mocker Seth Gordon and complimented him on a wonderful set. Seth sincerely thanked me and did something that used to be a lot more common among bands and fans. He handed me a demo tape in appreciation.
The 1987 demo version of Outdoor Cafe (which was to eventually make its way to 1995s Somewhere Between Mocksville and Harmony LP) is minimally produced and shows the band as close to live as you can get. Truly a gem of a song, and performance.
Nowadays The Mockers are in the midst of an extended hiatus. However, over the years they did go on to have a long and fruitful career overseas. Big in Japan indeed.
If this site had a patron saint, it would have to be The Vipers. For the short period that they existed, they not only laid the ground work for the scene but also inspired innumerable others to take up the cause. To this day, even garage music fans in Japan know about them. So, to know that the first LP was never properly reissued was truly a crime. One that ex-Viper Paul Martin was happy to take on.
Now the fruits of his labor of love are available for anyone to purchase. How good is this album? To quote Mike Stax in Ugly Things fanzine “The Vipers set themselves apart with superior songwriting chops and a melodic, harmony-based sound that was closer to the Knickerbockers and the Turtles than the Seeds or the Music Machine. While other bands got by on attitude and bluster, the Vipers used finesse, a quality that served them particularly well on Outta the Nest!”
While the disc does not have any extra tracks, the sound was remastered from a pristine original pressing and pressed on heavy vinyl. To say the sound jumps out at you is putting it mildly. Its an amazing job considering the material. A 24″ x 36″ poster rounds out the package.
Garage music die-hards can do themselves a favor and pick up the vinyl straight from the source. Rocka-Rola Records 101A Clay Street, San Francisco, CA 94111. $25 (US & Canada). Paypal devotees & inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org!
When it came down to record labels that catered to the NY garage punk world during the mid 80s, only two could really claim to being in touch with the scene. Billy Miller and Miriam Linna’s Norton Records and J.D. Martignon’s Midnight Records. These three larger than life folks not only formed the backbone of the small music scene, but in many cases employed many of the die-hard fans and musicians who reveled in it’s world.
It was therefore bittersweet to hear of J.D.’s passing a few days ago. While the man was certainly no saint, he did have his hand (wanted or not) in many of the major events of NYC 60’s garage punk scene. For a full recap please go to DJ Shimmy’s excellent article on J.D. and his label a few years back in Bananas fanzine. Part one talks about J.D.’s life before Midnight and Part 2 goes into his label’s garage glory years. Its well researched and an interesting window into the life of the man many knew as only an irritable, hustling record store owner.
I’ve written previously on the Japanese garage band scene and it’s amazing ability to take the basics and put their own indelible spin on it. Another area that is just as important but often neglected is the art angle. Shows need advertising. And while the Japanese scene boasts its own lineup of stellar illustrators, the one most often pointed to as the Grandaddy of them all is Rockin’Jelly Bean.
Starting as a way to advertise his surf-garage band (the amazing Jackie and the Cedrics) his style of art evolved into a combination of 50/60s pinup girls, and 70s exploitation movies with a smattering of eroticism. Success and accolades soon followed allowing RJB to open up a store, Erostika, in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, followed by another one in Nagoya.
Personally, I am indebted to RJB for being kind enough to encourage me to bring many of the images on this site to Japan for a gallery show in Shimokitazawa as well as an additional show at his store in 2009. At that point I had only begun exploring what to do with the images I had collected. It was mainly through his encouragement that much of what you see here became a reality. Which brings me to the point of this post!
While I do not find myself out and about nowadays, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of the groups that are to this day flying the 60s garage punk banner in NYC. First up is these fab Brooklynites. The Above have been around for quite a while and probably take the award for stick-to-it-iveness. Much like the great bands of days gone by they blend a unique, yet familiar, mix of R&B, Soul, Freakbeat, Garage and Beat. I recommend checking out their live shows as they rock like you wouldn’t believe.
My first exposure to The Raunch Hands came at club directly across Roseland Ballroom on 52nd St called 240 West. As the show was sparsely-attended, it was not a surprise to find out that the club closed soon afterwards (eventually finding a new life—albeit briefly—as the Lone Star Cafe Roadhouse.)
However on that night, the main attraction was a brash punk-y roots-y band that truly exemplified the term Rhythm and Booze. While the “cowpunk” genre was already on its way out, what made this band stand out was the howling, skinny, lead singer. The band was rough, and sloppy with an intense energy that burned. Upon inquiring, I found out that this was actually the bands first performance and that singer, Michael Chandler, was formerly a member of the famed Outta Place. That night began what was to become many a night spent catching this amazing group.
Through the years as Chandler went through different projects, he always remained humble, charming and a great person. The guy seemed invincible. Well, unfortunately that was not to be the case. Last year Mike was diagnosed with a rare form of neck cancer that necessitated aggressive treatment. Needless to say expenses mounted up. Which brings me to the point of this post.
If the music of Michael Chandler and the Raunch Hands, or Outta Place ever meant anything to you. Then, its your time to give back. Please visit Mike’s GoFundMe page and say thank you. Thank you for the smiles, the fun and the great times that his performances always accompanied.
In the course of accumulating this material it became obvious early on how quickly the musical climate changed during an incredibly short period of time. In a city thats known for change, that says a lot. Nevertheless many of the locations mentioned in this site are still around, although often with drastically different makeovers. While BuzzFeed covered some of the more iconic ones a few years back, below are my garage-centric picks: Continue reading “The More Things Change”
Yes, garage music is everywhere. Even in South America. While visiting my mom’s family a few years back in Lima, Peru. I made a point to pick up Demoler, a book by Peruvian Carlos Torres Rotundo on the history of the rock scene in Peru from ’57-’75. Although fluent in Spanish, I put it down shortly after buying it from just the sheer effort required to read it. A few weeks ago, after finishing Richard Hell’s bio of his punk years, I decided to start working my way through it again. Boy, did it pay off. The book gives a wonderfully colorful and detailed picture of the era. Here are some choice nuggets.
The section on Los Saicos explains how they recorded most of their genre-defining output with folkloric-recording engineers who decided it was best to just plug them straight into the tape machine directly, lest their howling amps fry their equipment. Or, how for their first performance, Los Saicos were invited to the illustrious Cacodispe music festival, only to perform “Come On” and have the capacity crowd respond in dead silence after they finished. After they started gaining some notoriety, the gigs started increasing at a furious pace. Using an old truck with Los Saicos hand painted on one of the doors, the band did five to ten performances every Sunday in local theaters. Every promoter wanted a piece of them.
Another more tragic tale relates how the popular Golden Boys’ drummer, “Chacal” Allison became destitute and homeless in later years and survived only through the good graces of other former beat group members. Aware of his fragile existence, the older rockeros often gathered together and did benefits for their lost musical brother.
Yet another anecdote described what happened when Los Shains first performed “El Monstruo” (aka The Crusher) to a matinee audience. As the singer growled “I’m a monster, I will destroy you…” a heckler yelled out “Hey fucker, blame your mom for that!” Which naturally led the singer and guitarist to promptly jump off the stage and pummel the offending audience member. The song was never performed live again—just in case any similar incidents were to occur.