I Love This Freakin’ Band!
It’s September of 1999, and I’m finally getting to listening to a garage rock compilation CD that a friend has made for me. Some songs are good, some are catchy, all in all a good lesson. And then song 25, “He’s Waitin’” by the Sonics comes on the stereo, and blows away everything else in sight. It is simply the most intense slab of garage/rock/protopunk I have ever heard in my life, catchy and furious. Singer Gerry Roslie, who also wrote the song, yells and screams at a girl for cheating, telling her that Satan’s knows what she’s done, and he’s waitin’ on her ass. It’s full-on, loud and played for keeps, and then done in just two minutes. The wake of silence after the song’s completion is just breathtaking. “I don’t know what that was,” I thought to myself, “but I want more.”
The Sonics is the sound of throwing all of the doors wide open, and Niagara Falls comes gushing out at full force. There are many that have played at garage-punk, but the Sonics were, and are the real damn thing. Overarmed guitars, a drummer that sounds like he’s destroying his kit in one sitting, and a singer that can outscream Little Richard on the best of days. Throw in a fine songwriter in Roslie, with lyrics about Strychnine, witches, psychos, the devil, hustlers, and whatever else they wanted to talk about.
The roots of the Sonics began in Tacoma, Washington in the early 1960s, as brothers Larry and Andy Parypa formed an instrumental group. Over a couple of years, the additions of saxophonist Rob Lind, drummer Bob Bennett and singer/keyboardist Gerry Roslie forms a powerful lineup. After two records (Here Are The Sonics in 1965, and Boom in 1966), and with a loyal regional following, the band goes to California with a different label, trying to break into the national market. But while Introducing the Sonics features another set of great songs, the breakout doesn’t happen, and the band is done by the middle of 1968.
For years, the band seemed intent on not reforming, despite countless offers. “We want to do this right,” Gerry Roslie would later tell me. “Its got to live up to what we did before.” Finally, late in 2007, the band announces their first ever reunion shows in New York City. I buy tickets, and spend much of my honeymoon on the phone with the promoter, lining up a photo pass. But the week before the show, the promoters get greedy, demanding a $500 fee for photographing the shows. Heartbroken, I beg off, and put the tickets in my desk, wondering if I’ll ever see the band.
Just over a years later, the band announces that they’re playing SXSW. Another magazine I contribute to says that they’ve gotten an interview with the Sonics. Can I get photos? On a whim, I contact the band’s manager, Buck Ormsby, who was their manager the first time around, as well as bassplayer for the legendary Wailers, another legendary Washington garage band. To my surprise, Buck writes me back immediately. “Sure, let’s line up some posed shots while we’re down there.”
We do the photos at the band’s hotel, late in the morning. The band are very nice to me, and we have a great time talking. The photos come out pretty well, although it’s hard to have one’s expectations live up to the idea of a photo shoot with the Sonics. When I tell the band about what was going on with the promoters at the 2007 shows, guitarist Andy Parypa tells me, “You did the right thing. We’re much better now, anyway.” Absolution from the band themselves. How awesome is that?
The band played a forty-minute set that night at Emo’s, an old stage with a very low ceiling. The place was packed, and the band just tore it up. Forget how old they are now, it’s the Sonics! One of the best 40-minute sets I have ever seen, period. The band comes out for autographs afterwards, and we talk for a while, as I’m just enjoying it all. After the band leaves, I head back to where I was staying. Sure, there was another five hours worth of music all over Austin, Texas that night, but I had seen the Sonics. Need I say more?
April 8, 2010