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Bompin! to the Sounds of the Underground

By Benji Knudsen

Bomp! Records is the brainchild of Greg Shaw, an ex Haight-Ashbury hippie turned punk/garage rock industry pioneer. Shaw first got involved with the music industry through his magazine, Mojo Navigator Rock and Roll News, which was a mimeographed music-related paper that pre-dated both Oracle and Rolling Stone as San Francisco’s underground music source. One of Mojo’s finer movements was the publication of a piece protesting Bill Graham’s invitation to Paul Revere and the Raiders to play at the Fillmore West. Being a true underground paper, the staff at Mojo felt that the bad was way too mainstream for the Fillmore’s cult like ways. After his sojourn with Mojo, Shaw landed jobs as a freelance writer for both Creem and Rolling Stone, as an artist relations person for United Artists and ultimately with Sire Records. Once with Sire, Shaw hung out at New York City clubs like CDGBs and Max’s Kansas City and became immersed in the approaching punk movement. To chronicle the new musical revolution, Shaw started his second music magazine endeavor, Who Put The Bomp!. Within a few years, after the San Francisco garage band, the Flamin’ Groovies, were looking for a label to sign with, Shaw formed Bomp! Records. In a 1994 interview with Chart Magazine, Shaw explained his reasoning: "I was getting frustrated writing about all these great bands that nobody knew about, so I decided there must be a better way."

Bomp! Records first came together in 1974 and ever since, the label has been the leading independent label in promoting American underground music. Focussing primarily on the 1970s punk explosion, 1960s Psychedelic revival and the many different forms of garage rock, the A&R of Bomp may not be mainstream, but it is definitely not devoid of high-energy performers. The label came to fruition with the signing of the Flamin Groovies and along the way, bands like Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Johnny Thunder’s Heartbreakers and the Germs have called Bomp home. In 1999, Bomp released Straight Outta Burbank, a two-disc compilation that covers the entire 25 history of the label. In the following pages, we will look at some of the artists that comprise Straight Outta Burbank as well as some individual releases.

Long before bands like the Sex Pistols, Ramones and Heartbreakers were taking the world by storm with their biting punk, Detroit in the 1960s was providing that same punk spirit - but ten years earlier. The two biggest proponents of this sound were Iggy Pop and the Stooges and MC5 (Motor City Five). Straight Out of Burbank features the Stooges’ 1977 performance of "Gimme Some Skin" which is full of frantic rhythms and high paced singing. Iggy Pop and his influence needs little explanation but it seems that MC5 have remained in the shadows. The MC5 first gained attention with their raw, hard rocking distortion filled album Kick out the Jams which was unlike any other album released in 1967 – there were no sitars, no moogs, no three part harmonies, no tambourines, just blaring garage rock. Bomp's latest release, ’66 Breakout, catches MC5 catches the band in their rawest form as many of the cuts are taken from recording sessions recorded in guitarist Wayne Kramer’s basement as well as live cuts taken from high school dances and one Polish wedding. There are covers of the Yardbird’s "I’m a Man", Them’s "Baby Please Don’t Go" and James Brown’s "I Don’t Mind." Imagine the Stooges meet the Pretty Things and you may have had the MC5.

On the jazz and blues side of things, Straight Outta Burbank has three outtakes from the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in 1972 and 1973. The traditional blues are represented by the acoustic unitar playing of One String Sam ("I Need $100") and the grand piano playing of the legendary Roosevelt Sykes. The entire Roosevelt Sykes set can be found on the Bomp! Album, Grind It!, which also features a set by the famous blues singer Victoria Spivey. Both singers allude to a different period of music history (they made most of their recordings in the 1930s-1940s) and their energetic sets were an obvious highlight at the festival. As the disc’s end ,there is a version of "Space is the Place" by Sun Ra and His Solar Myth Orchestra. This particular lineup of the Arkestra featured Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, Pat Patrick and June Tyson.

Sun Ra, MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Roosevelt Sykes pretty much cover the well-known bands on the Bomp! Label. Straight Outta Burbank also features the classic 1960s inspired fuzz guitar/Farsifa organ rock of Boston’s DMZ on 1983’s "You’re Gonna Miss Me". A much gloomier interpretation of the fuzz guitar can be heard with the Silencer’s "Mr. Fruity Pants." The father of the fuzz guitar is Davie Allan and his "Open Throttle" on Straight Outta Burbank epitomizes the sounds that came out from biker movies in the 1950s-1960s. Although much of Allan’s work belongs in the past, he just released more of his trademark sounds on Bomp!’s The Arrow Dynamic Sounds of Davie Allan and The Arrows. From the fuzz effect to the twang effect, the compilation contains the retro-surf sounds of the Surf Trio’s "Almost Summer."

During the 1970s, the Cleveland punk scene was dominated by the band Rocket from the Tombs. When the band broke up in 1977, Dave Thomas and Peter Laughner went onto form the creative Pere Ubu while members Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz went off to form the Dead Boys. While Pere Ubu mixed punk with avant-garde, the Dead Boys continued with raw, unbridled noisy punk. "Third Generation Nation’ is an outtake from their live album Night of the Living Dead Boys. A similar punk ethic and approach can be heard from the Weirdos and their 1977 tune "Destroy All Music." The U.S. Bombs and their "Monsters" show that your name does not need to be Green Day or Offspring to play punk in the 1990s.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who named themselves after the former Rolling Stones drummer, belongs in the era of psychedelic/garage rock and "Servo" is the proof. Boston’s own Willie Alexander pays tribute to Lowell, Massachusett’s greatest son, Jack Kerouac, with the ballad "Kerouac". The Heartbreakers led by the energetic Johnny Thunders and former Television bassist, Richard Hell show their live spirit on "Pirate Love." Today’s music fans may know Pat Smear as the silent guitarist behind Nirvana unplugged and the Foo Fighters, but what they don’t know is that he used to be in the LA Punk band the Germs. Along with charismatic singer Darby Crash, the Germs performed adrenaline rush shows until Crash’s overdose in 1980. Performed three years prior to his death, 1977’s "Suicide Machine" was somewhat prophetic of Crash’s future (the same can be said for Smear’s other frontman, Kurt Cobain). Another band to share the LA punk scene circuit with the Germs, were the Dils whose "I Hate The Rich" reflects the band’s political views. Another Straight Outta Burbank contributor is the morbid punk poetry of the Flesheaters and their "Pony Dress". Besides being the leader of the Flesheaters, enigmatic frontman, Chris D., also produced "Heartache" for the Lazy Cowgirls who loved to play a high-speed metal/punk. Guitarist/vocalist Deniz Tek can be heard plying his wares on both The Streetwalkin’ Cheetah’s "Do the Pop" and Dodge Main’s "City Slang."

Although the compilation is primarily a celebration of American underground rock, there are some unique foreign recordings. The compilation begins across the Atlantic Ocean with hard rocking spacerock of 1969’s "Do It" from the Pink Fairies. Before forming the Pink Fairies, drummer Russell Hunter and guitarist Duncan Sandersan were in a garage band known as the Deviants whose most popular live song was "Do It". Hailing from London, but playing California style surf-garage rock, the Barracudas came together in 1979 and "Don’t Let Go" was one of their first releases. DM3, who reign from Perth, Australia, brings things to the pop mainstream with 1998’s "1x2x Devastated". DM3 is a trio with a robust sound with plenty of the hooks for the non-demanding listener. Imagine the Monkees backed by Green Day and you may just have DM3. With their garage-punk tune, "Ain’t Got No Dough"; Psychotic Youth shows that Scandinavian rock and roll wasn’t all ABBA. England’s The Jacobites may have one of the most pleasing cuts on the compilation with "God Save Us" which harks to a sound that sound like Iggy Pop/Bowie collaboration. Before forming the Jacobites, vocalist/guitarist Nikki Sudden was in a slightly harder band, Sell Maps, with his brother Epic Soundtracks (drums). "International Rescue" arrives from their 1978 recording of the same name.

All of these bands are just a few that comprise the history of Bomp! Records. Even with their most recent releases by LA’s punk band, the Zeros, the label and Greg Shaw continue to push forward with the promotion of underground music. For the last 25 years, Bomp! has been the beacon of light for non-mainstream music and hopefully, it will continue to do so well into the new millennium. To find out more about this label, surf on over to www.bomp.com.