Monday, April 04, 2016

The Hydromatics' "Dangerous (The Sonic's Rendezvous Band Songs)"

[Full disclosure: This record was released by a label for which I have written liner notes (not for this release, however), for which I was compensated fairly, without having to jump through hoops. Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Carlton P. Sandercock, a fine, fine, supafine Englishman to know and be associated with.]

I've written a lot of words about this band, its principals, and its important precursor, but this time it's personal.

I referred to Sonic's Rendezvous Band as "the one that got away" in the title to the oral history of the band I penned for the I-94 Bar back around the turn of the century (which Easy Action Records excerpted to serve as liner notes for their 2006 SRB boxed set). For back in the mid-'70s, while I was intrigued (as a fan of the Stooges, MC5, and Rationals) by the notices I'd read on them in Creem magazine, I lived a little too far (Long Island) from their base of operations (Detroit) to hear 'em in person, and there were no records to buy until '78 -- and then only a single with the same song on both sides, on a tiny local label that wasn't distributed where I was living. In the event, by the time the "City Slang" single was released, I'd moved to Texas and had other things on my mind.

Luckily for me, SRB's shows were well documented (mainly by brothers Joe and Dan Hurley, who roadied for them), and tapes of these shows circulated as far and wide as Europe and Australia, spreading their influence to new generations of musos who could appreciate the grit, soul, sincerity, and authenticity (for as degraded as all these terms might be, they're the ones that apply) of these prophets without honor in their homeland, who have become my favorite band of all ti-i-ime (at least on those days when the Nervebreakers are not).

Among the European musos who caught the virus were Tony Slug (ne Leeuwenburgh), guitarist with Amsterdam's Nitwitz, and Nicke Andersson (aka Nick Royale), frontman for Stockholm's Hellacopters, who'd previously drummed in death metal band the Entombed. The two men had been kicking around the idea of an SRB tribute project when a chance meeting (brokered by my buddy from Philly, Geoff Ginsberg) brought them in contact with Scott Morgan, ex-Rationals singer-guitarist who'd stood in front of SRB alongside ex-MC5er Fred "Sonic" Smith (RIP). With some interest from Swedish label White Jazz, this transcontinental quartet (adding Nitwitz bassist Theo Brouwer to complete the lineup) was off and running.

Last year, Easy Action reissued the first two Hydromatics albums (Parts Unknown and Powerglide) in deluxe editions (liner notes by your humble chronicler o' events), but because Mr. Sandercock is a fella who appreciates The Romance of the Artifact, they've also collected all the SRB covers from those two discs (plus some live wonderment) on a red vinyl LP (with a CD version included so you can hear the ones that didn't fit on the record -- "Power and Glory" and "Mystically Yours").

Heard in a block in this format, these songs sound, to these feedback-scorched ears, a hell of a lot like the purest distillation of high energy, come-out-and-kill-in-20-minutes Detroit ramalama as typified by the first side of Kick Out the Jams, Funhouse in its entahrty, the Rationals' most primal moments like "Guitar Army" (the intro to which was the basis for "Thrill") and "Sunset," and things like the early Mitch Ryder stuff and Frost's Rock and Roll Music. Most of the songs are Morgan compositions, and they make a good case for him as the best songwriter to come out of the whole Detroit development. (Sorry, Mr. Seger.) Where else are you going to find hard rock songs as well constructed as "Dangerous," "Earthy," and "Electrophonic Tonic?" And Fred Smith's two compositions here, "Sweet Nothing" and "City Slang," ain't no slouches either. There are folks who think "Slang" might be the greatest rock single of all ti-i-ime, and I'm inclined to agree with 'em. The live version included hear supports the case.

For Scott Morgan, the Hydromatics recordings represent the full flowering of a career that started 40 years earlier, and continues to this day. After overcoming some health issues, Morgan is using internet crowdfunding to help pay for his medical bills and bankroll new work. He's back on the boards fronting a young band called the Sights, and appears to be in good health and good voice. Long may he run.

I've argued geopolitics over the intarweb with Tony Slug, who wears his Les Paul lower than Jimmy Page, and is taller to boot. While he can't replicate Sonic's staccato scalar lines, he gets a similar tone to the massive one Fred employed with SRB. He also gets big kudos for making the Hydromatics happen. (In retrospect, I think Tony was correct in our political argument, too.)

Andy Frost, the Ann Arbor kid who drummed on Powerglide and also in Morgan's hometown band, Powertrane, died of a heroin overdose in 2010, aged 32. I don't have words to convey how much I hate that shit, or the goddamn lie that rockaroll and self-destruction go together. I prefer to remember Andy gloriously alive and kicking up a storm behind the traps, as he is here. Don Van Vliet said it, and I believe it: "Death be"

ADDENDUM: Easy Action will release Space Age Blues, a recently unearthed SRB show from 1976 with original bassist Ron Cooke, on April 8th. You know what to do.


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