They were covered by Bruce; coveted by Little Steven — and for the first time in nearly 50 years, the legendary band of 1960s Northwest stompers THE SONICS hits the East Coast for a tour that takes them to NYC’s Irving Plaza (April 8) and Asbury Park’s Stone Pony (April 9). (photo by Merri Sutton)
“Strychnine.” “Psycho.” “He’s Waiting.” “The Witch.” You won’t find a one of these stomping, screaming Sixties seethers in your directory of Billboard chart-toppers, but if you hail from any of the generations of proto/post-punks and detached-garage revivalists who made them gospel chapter ‘n verse — or if you’re, say, Bruce Springsteen, who made “Have Love Will Travel” a centerpiece of his 1988 tour — The Sonics are pure pantheon.
Blasting their way out of Tacoma’s working-class/ working-band scene in the early half of the 1960s, the fivesome fronted by soul-soaked shouter and organist Jerry Roslie — and fortified by brothers Larry and Andy Parypas on guitar and bass; Bob Bennett on bash, and supersonic secret weapon Rob Lind on honking, gargling, quackety sax — delivered a take-no-prisoners brand of band-battle rock ‘n soul that was born and bred in unglamorous three-sets-a-night reality. It was also preserved for posterity on a pair of sought-after long players, Here Are the Sonics and Boom — albums that encapsulated their raw-power mix of originals and hard-earned bar band essentials like “Louie Louie,” “Money,” “Do You Love Me,” and even “Since I Fell for You,” the slow-dance blockbuster best known from Asbury Park’s Lenny Welch.
The Sonics went their separate ways by 1967, completely skirting that whole Summer of Love/ Woodstock thing — but fast forwarding to the strange new world of 2015, we find the septuagenarian core of the band (Jerry, Larry and Rob) — reinforced by Kingsmen bassist Freddie Dennis and Agent Orange drummer Dusty Watson — back in business with a tour that takes them back east big-time, with dates at NYC’s Irving Plaza (April 8) and Asbury’s Stone Pony (April 9).
It’s an incredible journey that began with a popular-demand reunion gig in 2007; led to a first-ever Euro-tour the next year, and culminated in the self-release of This is the Sonics, a relentlessly rocking self-release (on Revox USA) that mixes originals like advance track “Bad Betty” and the screamer “Livin’ in Chaos” with caterwauling classics from the likes of Hank Ballard, Willie Dixon, Ray Davies and Ray Charles; all “recorded in earth-shaking Mono” by producer Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Dirtbombs). Make no mistake: The Sonics have been summoned back into being to “Save the Planet” (“it’s the only one with beer!”).
Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up Rob Lind on the eve of the album drop marked with a big Seattle show that paired the boys with their spiritual progeny in Mudhoney. Flip that record over for more…
upperWETside: Well, we never thought we’d see such an occurrence, across such a gulf of time and life experience…but even if The Sonics weren’t gigging just a few blocks from our house, we’d make it a sojourn to catch you guys in Asbury Park.
ROB LIND: Yeah, it’ll be my first time there, even though I was a Jersey guy myself for a while…I had an apartment in Woodbridge while I was living in LA, flying into Newark during my days as a pilot. All my friends would tell me what it was like Down the Shore, even if I never did manage to get down that way back then.
The band did one East Coast tour back in the day…a bunch of kids thrown into a car, being driven from town to town by a bunch of scary looking guys with black Cadillacs and guns. We’d pull up up at a club, get out and play, then back in the car, so we didn’t see a lot of anyplace we played. We managed to tape a TV show called Upbeat, and there was a guitar player there from another band, who told us that ‘you know, people from our area would really like you guys.’ He told me his name…a guy by the name of Bob Seger.
So the whole band is excited about coming to Asbury Park; me because of my Jersey roots…I’m familiar with the kind of music that was popular around the Pony, like Southside Johnny, the Houserockers. And of course Bruce Springsteen paid us a tremendous compliment when he covered our song “Have Love Will Travel.” We were blown away when he played it on stage in Seattle. Later on, when I was a corporate pilot I would get the chance to thank him…I picked up Bruce and Patti Scialfa from the Grammys and flew them back home. He was amazed at meeting me after all those years and all those thousands of feet up in the air…and when we landed Patti gave me a hug and told me how thrilled Bruce was to get to know me. I can honestly say they’re just two of the nicest people; totally unlike what you’d think of celebrities.
At that point in time did you have any notion as to ever getting together with the band again? And what was the clincher for you; the factor that convinced you guys that for civilization to survive, The Sonics must live once more?
Somewhere along the line we got discovered by European kids, who were way ahead of everyone else…and who knew every word to all of our songs. We played there in December of 2007. And Little Steven’s been good to us too; he played our records on his Underground Garage show, and he flew out to Seattle and came onstage to join us, for close to a half hour.
So we enjoyed getting back together and playing after all those years, but suddenly we found ourselves getting all sorts of offers, scheduling dates in places like Sao Paolo, and we had to come to some sort of a decision as to how we wanted to go forward. The three of us — Jerry, Larry and myself — made a deal: if we can do it, let’s do it…but if we can’t, let’s not go on stage and have people feel sorry for us. We don’t want to look like fools — and you know, I just turned 71, so for this I had to give up Bingo night at the home!
Our first exposure to The Sonics was those true musicologists The Cramps and their cover of “Strychnine” on their debut album in 1979…another one of our favorites, The Fall, would do their own take on it, during one of their many John Peel shows. But when it came time to match the supply to the newfound demand, how prepared were you guys to just pick it up where you left off? Had any of you even made any serious go at continuing a music career after the initial breakup?
Larry hadn’t touched his guitar in about 30 years, after spending 25 years in the corporate insurance business…and Gerry owned an asphalt paving company by then, although he had been in a bar band for a while. I hadn’t played in a band since I got drafted into the Army, back during Vietnam. I didn’t serve in the Army though; I saw that the Navy had a program where I could finish getting my college degree, then train as a pilot, so I went and signed up for that. I served on a carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the only time I picked up a sax was one night when I was drinking with my squadron friends, and they talked me into getting up on stage with a Filipino band. I didn’t play again until 2005, after I became a US Air captain.
For us, one of the things that set you guys off against the run of American garage bands from the mid-Sixties was the presence of your sax…it played the part of a second guitar, really, and set up a squalling force field between your neo-primitive stomp, and the more precious affectations of the first wave of psychedelics…
It wasn’t anything unusual back when we started. Every band had a sax player, and it was a real hotbed of bands between Seattle and Tacoma. There were differences between the scenes, and the two cities…Seattle was a big metro area; very polished, almost jazzy…and Tacoma was much more blue collar. We just wanted to rock; play some Little Richard, Jerry Lee. We played every Friday and Saturday, doing three sets a night; a whole lot of covers of old rockers and soul tunes, and some of our own songs.
When it came time to do our first album we just set up in the studio and let it rip. Those first two albums were us sounding just the way we played on stage, and the new material — “Bad Betty,” and our current album — is so much like that.
It sounds great, and reassuring, in that it’s like just getting back with an old friend after decades have passed, and just picking up the conversation where you left off. Still, you’ve unleashed the new album into a landscape and an industry that’s worlds apart from the one you worked in long ago. It’s an environment that would have seemed like some kind of sci-fi to your Sixties selves…but has it also to some extent deserved credit for the rebirth of The Sonics?
It’s a different world in some ways…now you can discover something like a band that you’re hearing for the first time; latch onto it and just learn everything you need to know. The flow of information is so much better and faster; there’s so much at your fingertips. But on the other hand, we still win new fans simply by playing…we don’t change our approach based on who we’re playing to, or how many.
The most common question we get these days is along the lines of, how are guys your age still rocking? The stock answer is, come out to our show and ask us again after you see us play…we guarantee you’ll experience a ‘Holy Crap’ moment!
Joining The Sonics for the April 9 show at The Stone Pony are indie-rock soul shouter Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, plus TV Tramps and Asbury Park’s own The Battery Electric. Tickets are $29.50 in advance ($35 at the door), and can be reserved through TicketMaster or by visiting stoneponyonline.com.