Chris Ahrens noon, Jan. 29
1st Sloths Show Since 1966 @ Eleven Oct. 1
"Only a few hundred singles were pressed, some of them with a picture sleeve they designed and printed themselves on an old mimeograph machine," says local Loons bandleader Mike Stax of the long-lost Beverly Hills garage band the Sloths. The high school teens recorded their only single in 1965, “Makin’ Love” and the flipside “You Mean Everything.”
Though the band split around a year later, Stax notes that the single has taken on mythic status among fans of vintage garage rock.
“'Makin’ Love' has been covered by scores of bands, including the seminal Detroit rockers the Gories, who recorded it for their album I Know You Fine, But How You Doin’. Original copies of the Sloths single with picture sleeve are now selling for astronomical sums. The most recent copy to surface on eBay fetched $6,500.00."
Stax, who also publishes the Ugly Things 'zine, was researching the band for a story when he decided to track them down. "Now," he says, "inspired by the interest in their work, the surviving Sloths have reformed. Most of the band members had not played music in decades so they were able to pick up exactly where they left off, playing tough, primitive, high energy garage rock ’n’ roll, just as they did in 1965 and 1966."
(Above: The Sloths play a backyard party in 1965 - Bottom: live at Pandora's Box on the Sunset Strip, 1966 - courtesy http://www.ugly-things.com )
Stax’s UT Records is reissuing the Sloths single on 7" vinyl. It's out in about three weeks, available via http://store03.prostores.com/servlet/uglythings/the-124/THE-SLOTHS--dsh--Makin%27/Detail
The Ugly Things label has been mining quite a bit of gold from vintage recordings. In 2009, Stax and producer Mike Kamoo produced an album of 12 vintage unreleased songs from British R&B legends the Pretty Things.
The label also recently resurrected a long-lost single by the renowned local garage band the Nashville Ramblers.
Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for the E Street Band, has described the Nashville Ramblers’ song “The Trains” as “one of the most gorgeous instances of romantic yearning disguised as a pop song.” The local group’s tune is considered a garage-rock classic.
“In 1986, ‘Trains’ and one other Ramblers song appeared on an obscure U.K.-only compilation, but few people noticed,” says Stax. “Many discovered the song for the first time in 2005, when it was included on Rhino’s Children of Nuggets box set, but it’s never had a proper release before. The [Ugly Things] release is an attempt to rectify that.”
Part of the song’s appeal stems from the ’60s-style recording. “Everyone that hears it seems to fall in love with it,” says Stax. “It’s that good.”
The Nashville Ramblers -- Carl Rusk (vocals/guitar), Tom Ward (bass/vocals), and Ron Silva (drums/vocals) -- included members from local garage bands such as the Crawdaddys, the Gravedigger Five, and Mystery Machine. Rusk moved to New York City in 1986, though the band later reunited for some overseas dates and then a February 2010 reunion at the Tower Bar in San Diego. They regrouped again on January 21, 2011, for the Ugly Things reissue party at the Til-Two Club on El Cajon Boulevard.
Label honcho Mike Stax moved from the U.K. to San Diego in 1981 to join his favorite band, the Crawdaddys. Two years later Stax launched Ugly Things magazine. "We cover underground garage bands, many of them obscure and most from the '60s," he says.
Stax specializes in searching for long-lost recording artists, unreleased tracks, and untold tales -- sometimes he just wants to know if one of his unheralded heroes is still alive. "The way I usually track these guys down is by going through [Internet] phone directories from all over the country -- just finding people with the same last name and making phone calls to everyone in hopes of finding my guy directly or maybe a family member who can put me on the right path....
"Not all of these guys have pleasant memories to share. A lot of them went through some real painful stuff, some serious tragedies. For the second issue I tracked down Sean Bonniwell from the Music Machine. They had a top-ten hit in 1966, but nobody had ever talked to him about those days...I tracked him down through a contact I had at Rhino Records as they were considering [releasing] some reissues [of Music Machine recordings]."
Two decades past his band's glory days, Bonniwell ended up living in a garage with no running water on a horse ranch in Porterville, California, north of Bakersfield. At the time, he was waging war in court against the Music Machine's former label, Original Sound, to recoup songwriting royalties.
Bonniwell's memories of the '60s aren't rosy. "We'd play almost anywhere, anytime, but our resources were never coordinated at all," he told Stax. "That and the fact that we rarely got paid. You couldn't take a check from a promoter back then because it would bounce. So I'd have a big brown shopping bag and take the cash from the door."
Stax says many long-lost rockers seem bewildered by his efforts to find them. "Most are completely baffled as to why. They're a bit skeptical or suspicious of what my motives might be. But once we start talking about their music and naming songs and specific details, they realize that I really do appreciate what they did. Then they start remembering things as we talk, and they're getting recognition that perhaps they never got before, even while they were still recording."
"Many of these guys have been out of the music business for 30 years or more, and all the remnants of their careers are packed up in boxes in the attic and just sort of forgotten. They've gone on to so-called 'respectable lives,' and their own children may have no idea about their dad's wild rock and roll life!"
He says one of the most satisfying hunts was tracking down the Monks, five American GIs who formed a band while stationed in Germany in 1966. "Since they couldn't grow their hair long like most rock and rollers, they shaved their heads like monks, dressed in black robes with a rope around their necks, and actually got signed by Polydor Records. They had a minimalist, stripped-down sound, with tribal drumbeats, feedback, an electric banjo they used as kind of a percussion instrument -- very ahead of their time. This was before anyone had ever heard of the Velvet Underground or Jimi Hendrix."
"They all had common names so I was having no luck finding them through phone books. Then, quite by accident, it turned out that a friend of a friend's uncle was Eddie Shaw from the Monks. Once I got a hold of Eddie by phone, I drove all the way out to Carson City, Nevada, to meet with him. We spent a weekend going through all his scrapbooks and photos, his original clothes, even his bass guitar. It was quite amazing, this long-lost time capsule he dusted off for us."
A lot of persistence and detective work went into finding Sid Herring from the Mississippi band the Gants. "Since the '60s, he'd been sort of wandering the country, working in radio sometimes and just becoming kind of a lost soul. He was still writing songs, but he never did find an audience for what he did and was just doing some anonymous jobs like aluminum siding or something. He ended up getting the Gants back together a couple of years ago. They've played New York City a few times and some huge Mississippi State ball game of some sort."
When Stax caught up with pop Svengali Kim Fowley, who in the '70s put together the all-girl band the Runaways (remembered mainly for launching the career of then-teenage Joan Jett), the loquacious producer provided several hours of insider insight. "He made quite a lot of sexual references and offensive remarks about women being dirty bitches, as you would expect from Kim," says Stax.
"He claims to have seen P.J. Proby [1965's "Rockin' Pneumonia"] and actress Diana Dors making it in the back of Diana's Lincoln Continental.
"He also told me about someone called Anna the Potato Girl, who had this gimmick with, um, boiled potatoes. She would do this thing at Proby's parties where she put potatoes up inside her...It was a matter of how many she could get in there, and then she'd leave, with the potatoes still inside her, and go to her job at a department store."
Stax kindly provided this profile of the Sloths:
THE SLOTHS were formed in late 1964 by a bunch of students at Beverly Hills High School. Originally called the Moving Violations, they started out playing surf music, but by the beginning of 1965 had evolved into a tougher, bluesier outfit inspired by English groups like the Rolling Stones and the Animals. The original and most definitive Sloths lineup consisted of Hank Daniels Jr. III (vocals), Jeff Briskin (guitar), Michael Rummans (guitar), Steve Dibner (bass) and Sam Kamrass (drums).
The Sloths debut performance was at a private party in Beverly Glen where Steve McQueen was among the dancing audience members. By the summer of ’65 the Sloths began making in-roads into the Sunset Strip club scene. They were soon playing regularly at teen hotspots like Pandora’s Box, the Sea Witch and the Stratford on Sunset.
After knocking on the doors of record labels and recording studios up and down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, the Sloths were offered an audition by Al and Sonny Jones of Impression Records. The Jones brothers liked what they heard and a session was hastily organized. “Makin’ Love” was more or less improvised on the spot, inspired by the primitive jungle sound of Bo Diddley. A few days later they returned and recorded one of Hank’s songs, “You Mean Everything to Me,” a melodic folk-rock number on which he played his Gibson acoustic 12-string.
The record was issued on Impression in the fall of 1965 in a very limited run, probably less than 500 copies. The band was given a couple of boxes of 45s for themselves, for which they designed and mimeographed a picture sleeve. Perhaps only a hundred or so records came with this picture sleeve, making it one of the rarest and most sought-after garage band records of the era (Sloths 45s with picture sleeve have sold for as much as $6,550.00).
The original Sloths lineup fractured in January 1966 when Briskin and Dibner left the group. The group continued with Don Silverman on guitar and Mick Galper on bass, eventually going their separate ways around the summer of 1966.
The Sloths’ lifespan may have been quite brief, but with just one song, “Makin’ Love,” they achieved not only primitive garage band perfection, but also rock’n’roll immortality. Not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of self-professed teenage Sloths.