Thursday, October 22, 2009

Garage Bands in New Jersey and Chicago

Originally posted on November 14, 2007

OK, when I was a young lad, the Rock scene was exploding. I would certainly be pretty close to correct if I said that the period 1965-1970 was one of the most important eras for the music. I was playing music and in various rock bands then, as were many kids around me. There was the high school dance network, Knights of Columbus Halls, outdoor parties (when the cops sometimes came and busted things up; teens were considered dangerous then, I guess), no shortage of places to play and show off what you were doing. Around 1966 I was a young squirt and there began to be a plethora of local bands that played what we now call Garage Band Music.

In my Northern New Jersey town the best band by far was called It’s Us. They sounded something like the Beau Brummels at times, but they wrote some memorable originals and even had a single out on Arab Records. Everybody in town who was cool bought a copy and it even was installed on the jukeboxes at the local teen hangouts. Well I managed to find a copy of that single again—courtesy of a friend whose brother was in the band (Thanks, Jeff)—and I must say it still sounds good to me. Why? There was something about those old, semi-low watt tube amps about to blow up, the jangling somewhat treble-heavy guitars, that speaker-blowing bass booming, something about all that which freshens the air around you, even today. Every town it seemed in those days had plenty of bands and Beatle boots sold by the truckload. But It’s Us were the coolest. We were all transfixed with them. Especially since we were in 7th grade or so at the time. But they had a big following of older kids, too.

That brings me to a CD I have on my player. It’s The Quill Records Story: The Best of Chicago Garage Bands (Collectables CD). The Quill label seemed to be active from 1965 through 1967 and the anthology covers singles they put out during that time. Some of it is awful in a funny nostalgic way, but the rest is vintage garage. Since the tracks follow a more or less chronological order, it is fascinating to listen to the gradual evolution of the Garage style, from jangling surf guitars to fuzzy psychedelia, from teen angst lyrics to cosmic blathering. It’s fun to listen to these non-hits because you realize how pervasive the styles were over the country and beyond. Our town had It’s Us. Chicagotown had these bands.

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