Sunday, July 22, 2018

Swamp Surfing in Memphis - Various Artists

At the time of this 1986 Frenzi Records release, by far the biggest name on this compilation - at least among my circles in LA - was the Panther Burns. I loved the Memphis madness that was Behind the Magnolia Curtain and I'm pretty sure that by this time I had met Tav Falco's then-girlfriend Lorette Velvette and was interested in finding out and her all-femme band, the Hell Cats. Here, those two bands are combined with several other Memphis acts for a crazed garage/blues/punk/mayhem consortium.

The Hellcats start things off right with their take on the girl-power-biker anthem "Get Off the Road" that the Cramps' Poison Ivy later covered to great effect. This is combined with another wild ride in their original "Wall of Death' - both trashy surf/garage/B-Movie classics with tough, girl-group vocals. Excellent stuff! Panther Burns are represented by their version of Otis Redding's swampy "Tramp?" and their own stompin' "Agitator Blues", both sounding like they easily could have appeared on Magnolia Curtain.

Paradoxical Babel's "Middle Class" is a lot more straight-ahead new wave/pop-punk played with tight precision - a big difference from the loose'n'frantic Hellcats and Panther Burns! "Johnny" is an anti-war song sung by a female ("Middle Class" has a male lead singer) with an added saxophone which gives a kinda cool R'n'B-ish tinge to their new wave. Odd Jobs' "Man Overseas" is much more low-fi with somewhat out-of-tune group vocals, trashy, drivin' rhythm and lots of noise.  "Girl From Frasier" is kinda trashy jazz/garage- go figure - with out-of-tune female vocals. Wacky stuff, but kinda catchy in it's bizarre way.

The big surprise for me on here, just because I did not remember, not that she is out of place, was the inclusion of She Wolf, also known as Jesse Mae Hemphill, who I recently discovered (or, I guess, rediscovered) and have been collecting her music. She is an old-school blues woman, heavily influenced by the likes of John Lee Hooker, and often performed solo, playing tambourine with her foot! When she used other musicians, they were often Junior Kimbrough's rhythm section, with whom she shares a similar sound.The two cuts here ("I'm Glad You Don't Know What's On My Mind" and "Going Back Home") are her usual terrific blues-drone (meant in the best possible way). She has become one of my faves since finding her CD releases and I only wish I had sought her out back at this time, when she was gigging regularly with the Panther BUrns. Memphis must have been wild in the 80's!

Considering how terrible popular music was in the 80's - and probably at least partially because of that - the underground scene had some fantastic bands from coast to coast. This comp shows just how strong Memphis was at this time. My copy is vinyl but this apparently has been reissued on CD so search it out!