THE GARAGE CHRONICLES (Pt. 3): The Sonics

Sonics old

The Northwest garage godfathers resumed touring in 2007 and have now finally gotten around to cutting a new album. Saxophonist Rob Lind looks back on his group’s history and legacy, noting, “The crowds are great. That’s why we’re still doing this.” (Third in our ongoing series on the garage scene. Go HERE to read Pt. 1, about the “Knights of Fuzz” book, and go HERE to read Pt. 2, about the Standells and Shadows of Knight.)

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

Long before the Pacific Northwest became synonymous with grunge, it was home to another wild, untamed brand of music: garage rock. During the early ‘60s, the scene included bands like the Kingsmen, the Wailers and Paul Revere & the Raiders. One of the best and most influential was The Sonics, who blasted out songs like “Strychnine,” “The Witch” and “Have Love, Will Travel.” But like many groups who are ahead of their time, their influence wouldn’t be recognized until the band was long gone.

The Sonics broke up soon after releasing their third album, 1967’s Introducing The Sonics, which was supposed to be their breakthrough. It was done in by poor production that didn’t truly capture the band’s raw sound and never became the hit they had hoped for.

When garage rock came back in the early 2000s, bands like The Hives and The White Stripes began name checking The Sonics. Soon, their music was in commercials and people were begging them to reunite. The Sonics went back on the road in 2007 and have been touring ever since—including a memorable performance during the 2009 SXSW festival in Austin at Emo’s in which the BLURT editor stood slackjawed in a capacity crowd that probably included more musicians, both famous and up-and-comers, than actual attendees.

In March, they released their first new studio album since 1967, This is the Sonics. We talked with saxophonist Rob Lind.

FYI: Original members (top photo) included Bob Bennett, drums; Larry Parypa, duitar; Jerry Roslie, keys and lead vocals; Rob Lind, sax, harp and vocals; Andy Parypa, bass. In 2015 the Sonics (below) are Roslie, keys and lead vocals, Lind, sax, harp and vocals; Larry Parypa, guitar and vocals; Dusty Watson, drums; Freddie Dennis, bass and vocals.

Sonics by Merri L. Sutton

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BLURT: Where did you develop your style?

LIND: We haven’t changed our style much from the time we were 18 until now. That was back in the ‘60s. The way things were in the Pacific Northwest, there were two main towns: Seattle and Tacoma, which is a port town down to the south. When I’m talking to people in Europe, I liken it to London and Liverpool. In Seattle, the bands playing at that point were really good, probably better musicians than we were, but they played swingy, shuffly jazz-type music.

Seattle is a major metropolitan city. Tacoma is a port city. Our dads were all blue collar workers. Down there, the idea was rock and roll. In Seattle, they were swinging it. In Tacoma we wanted to knock you on your butt. We were into Little Richard, anything that rocked.

Are the screams in your music from Little Richard?

That’s from [singer] Jerry [Roslie]. That comes out of his soul and his body. It’s just what he does. It’s what he has always done. It’s the energy and passion he feels. It just comes out of him.

Your subject matter must have been pretty shocking for the time. Was that intentional?

It was [shocking] and not deservedly so. Our first record was “The Witch.” Radio stations wouldn’t play it because they thought it was demonic. What Jerry was singing about was a bad woman who was mean to him. It had nothing to do with the devil or anything like that. We didn’t think that way. We were young guys with a lot of testosterone, always thinking about women.

The big rock jocks from KJR in Seattle used to do record hops at high schools and kids would bombard them: “Do you have The Sonics?” “Do you have ‘The Witch?’” They didn’t. They went back and said, “Maybe we should investigate this song.” They started playing it, but they could only play it after 3:30. They couldn’t play it in the middle of the day because they didn’t want to scare the housewives.

When it came out on the station, it sold 20,000 copies in a week. It got up to 2 on the big rock countdown. Number one was “Downtown” by Petula Clark. We thought, “She’s an international star. Being 2 to her is cool. That’s pretty good.” Forty years later the program director told us, “You were 1 by a long way, but we couldn’t put your song up there because it was so controversial.”

You were very big in the Northwest. Were you surprised you didn’t catch on more nationally?

It was a strange thing. There were some good bands up there, but none of us got out of there. It’s like we were trapped. Years later, the Northwest exploded with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden. As older guys, we were totally proud of the young guys.

When garage rock broke, did you immediately see your influence in that?

Not initially. The world kind of worked its way on us. I was a senior at university. I got drafted. I went to OCS [Officer Candidate School] and became a Navy carrier pilot. I was off to the Far East. [Guitarist] Larry [Parypa] was working for an insurance company. Jerry had a little asphalt paving company. That was the end of it. I didn’t look back until 2005 when we started to get approached to play some shows

Were you surprised in the 1990s and early 2000s when bands like The White Stripes and Nirvana started citing you as an influence?

I was an airline pilot flying people across the country. I had no idea. I didn’t start getting my head into that until 2005 when we started getting pressure to come out of the hermit cave and do some shows. Jon Weiss, who does Cavestomp in Brooklyn, was after us for a couple years, and it took us a couple years to be ready. We started rehearsing with the idea that if we could be good we’d do it. Our legacy was real strong. We didn’t want to be old guys who went onstage and looked pathetic.

How did that [2004] Land Rover commercial with “Have Love, Will Travel” come about?

We still can’t figure it out. I had a rock writer from London tell me, “I think ‘Have Love, Will Travel’ is your guys’ ‘Satisfaction.’” When we did our first album, we needed songs. … “The Witch” was doing well. They said, “You’re going to do an album.” We were young guys. We thought, “Great. We’re going into the studio to do an album. When?” “The day after tomorrow.” We didn’t have songs worked out. What we did have was that every night we were playing three sets. That’s how “Have Love” came about. We were playing it every night. We were standing there at 3 a.m. The producer said, “What do you want to do now?” “How about ‘Have Love?’” “OK.”

Now it did Land Rover. It did two different BMW commercials. It did a beer commercial. It did a French perfume commercial, a Swedish motorcycle commercial. It keeps getting picked up for commercials for one reason or another. Maybe that British rock writer was right. It’s a weird thing because it was almost a throwaway.

Why did you wait until now to make an album?

We got comfortable touring, getting our act together. We’re the best now we’ve ever been, so we were out touring with songs that were popular. The more we toured in Europe, we started going back to the same places. We started feeling uncomfortable. We never wanted to be perceived as a retro band. We never wanted to be an oldies but goodies band. We have great fans in Europe. We started feeling like maybe we owe them. We gradually came to the idea that maybe we need to put out new stuff to let people know we’re here, still vibrant and will come at you like we always did.

What’s it like recording together again after all this time?

It’s great. Producer Jim Diamond was wonderful because his whole idea was “I don’t want you guys to evolve. I don’t want you playing tricky stuff. I want to get the energy and power of your first two albums.” Jim was totally successful. Now when we play live we alternate songs. We do a song or two from the early albums, then some new ones. I’ve had comments that the new ones dovetail right in there. That’s nice to hear. That was Jim. We did what he said.

What’s the difference between the crowds now and the crowds then?

When we were 18 or 19 we’re looking at the crowd out there rockin’. Now it’s the same crowd – enthusiastic young people jumping up and down waving beer bottles. In Brazil, we kept security busy. People were diving on stage, then trying to jump off. … They know the words to all the songs, even in countries where they don’t speak much English. We played a festival in Helsinki, Finland. There’s not much English going on there. We’re playing “Strychnine” and the crowd was singing the English words. We realized they memorized them.

The crowds are great. That’s why we’re still doing this.

Sonics

2014 live photo “Sonics” by Donutte – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; current promotional photo by Merri L. Sutton.

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