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August 14th, 2002 Sam Dodge Soule | Music Stories
 

GARAGELANDISTAN

An all-star jam reveals the Northwest as garage rock's ancestral homeland.

     
Tags:
Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers

What was mold is new again. Suddenly, mid-'60s rock and roll, played by teenagers desperate to cop a Jagger sneer and a Kinks riff, has commercial relevance.

With the current success of the White Stripes, the Strokes and the Hives, major record labels and advertising firms are now rushing to sign any marketable-looking bunch of rockers able to forge a marginally credible connection to the brash R&B sound of '60s garage bands. Certainly there are inspired groups out there playing authentic "garage rock," but chances are slim that these bands will be the industry's choice to sell records, cars and movies (cf. the Strokes). The garage rock we will be sold will not be the garage rock that was.

But say you want to experience the real, savage sounds from back in the LBJ days. From when, say, Portland was home to teen clubs like the Chase (house band: the Kingsmen!) and the Headless Horseman (house band: Paul Revere and the Raiders!). When the kids were dancing to bands like Don and the Good Times, Lucky and the Gamblers, the Live Vibes. Saturday's "Rock-'n'-Roll Knockout" provides your best chance.

After Knockout performers Deke Dickerson, the Bellfuries and Nick Curran--big names on the retro-underground scene, all--finish respective sets of top-flight rockabilly, they're going to regroup. The late-night jam session will work out on proto-punk hits laid down by such Northwest garage heroes as the Wailers, the Sonics and Portland's own Kingsmen.

And why not? No region of the country produced garage rock more fierce or exciting than the upper left of the forty-eight. Ask Deke.

"It was just really loud and really primitive, totally unique for that time," explains Dickerson. "They just used really primitive equipment and beat the hell out of it."

The development of Northwest garage's distinctive crunch may well be due to this region's relative cultural isolation at the time. Pop trends like surf music didn't take root as solidly here as in other areas of the country; R&B became the musical currency of budding high-school musicians.

Alec Palao, a San Francisco-based record producer who specializes in Northwest garage-rock compilations for London's Ace Records, thinks the low profile of the area's black population may have, "conversely," only served to heighten these Cascadian teens' fascination with R&B. At the same time, the fact that there weren't many knowledgeable R&B fans around gave kids the liberty to pursue a more savage, simple-minded attack on the form.

"As the '60s progressed," says Palao, "the British influence became stronger, and the kind of tough approach of these groups who had grown up playing R&B sort of translated into the way they approached that stuff."

Of all modern garage bands, the Hives owe the most to the Northwest garage sound. As much as a guy like Dickerson is glad to see a formerly unknown band achieve success, he looks at the current garage trend as a passing fad--swing, redux. "Cause I Wanna" is never going to have the resounding staying power of the track cut in 1963 by an unknown, and not particularly talented, Portland band down in the studios of radio station KISN.

"Shit," scoffs Dickerson, "you can't come up with a better example of the Northwest scene than the Kingsmen's cover of 'Louie, Louie.' That's kinda the thing the blueprint was based on."


The Rock-'n'-Roll Knockout
Conan's
3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-7474
8:30 pm Saturday, Aug. 17
$10
$21+

The lineup:
Deke Dickerson & The Eccofonics,
The Bellfuries,
Nick Curran & The Nitelifes

And then
The Late-Night '60s Northwest Garage R'n'R Frenzy.

 
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