New Haven Register archives: ’60s garage rock sees daylight again with new box set

Barry Tashian (foreground), who has gone on to a successful folk/country career, fronted The Remains, a Boston band that had a regional hit with “Don’t Look Back” in the mid-’60s. The drummer, Waterbury native Chip Damiani, lives in New Haven these days. The keyboardist was Bill Briggs; Vern Miller played bass.

(This story appeared on Page G1, the Arts section cover, of the New Haven Register Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998.)

By Fran Fried, Register Entertainment Editor

Chip Damiani of New Haven is a little bewildered. He’s wondering why a rock band he quit 32 years ago is popular enough to be playing a reunion show in Spain next week.

“I don’t have a clue. I have no idea,” he said. “(Our music) wasn’t popular in the first place. I just accepted that our recorded stuff was not good. I find it remarkable we sold any records at all.”

Kurt Robinson of Torrington is likewise amazed that total strangers bring up his teen-age band.

“You’re kidding me,” was his reaction four years ago when “some guy called me from Utah, Nebraska, somewhere, and asked for some memorabilia. I said, ‘Why do you want to talk to me?'”

Damiani was the original drummer for The Remains, a Boston band that achieved fame in mid-1966 — shortly after he quit and just before they broke up — with the regional hit, “Don’t Look Back,” and the opening slot on The Beatles’ final tour.

Robinson played keyboards for The Squires, a Bristol-based band originally called The Rogues, which released two singles that got local airplay.

These days, “Don’t Look Back” and The Squires’ “Going All the Way” are regarded by aficionados as two of the best rock songs of all time.

Those tunes are among the 119 to be found on Rhino’s new four-CD box set, “Nuggets,” which comes out Tuesday. Until now, “Nuggets,” which was also re-released on Sire in 1976, was the only album in Rolling Stone’s top 200 of all time that hadn’t been released on CD.

*****

“Don’t Look Back” was on the original “Nuggets,” a two-LP, 28-song collection of teen/garage bands compiled for Elektra Records in 1972 by rock journalist Lenny Kaye, the year before he became Patti Smith’s guitarist.

Kaye was the person who coined the term “punk rock” to describe this music — today he prefers “garage” — before he and Smith and others created another definition for “punk” in the mid-’70s.

“Going All the Way” is among the many songs on the new collection that came to light in a teen/garage band revival spawned in the late ’70s and early ’80s by the original “Nuggets.”

The Squires, out of Bristol, from 1966. Their “Going All the Way” only got local airplay but is considered one of the best garage rock tunes of all time and is on Rhino’s new “Nuggets” box set. Clockwise from bottom right: Mike Bouyea, Kurt Robinson, Tom Flanigan, John Folcik and Jim Lynch.

“It’s an album that’s essentially an oldies anthology,” Kaye said. “(The variety of songs) is pretty eclectic, but it has a core spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. There’s Sagittarius (the Brian Wilsonish psychedelic pop of “My World Fell Down”) on one side, The Seeds (the snarling “Pushin’ Too Hard”) on the other side. That’s a pretty wide gap of music.”

The terms “punk,” “garage” and “teen” are rather nebulous in describing the music heard here.

The box is loaded with raw, primal, wailing (“The Witch” and “Psycho” by The Sonics and “Out of Our Tree” by The Wailers, from Seattle-Tacoma); dripping psychedelia (“I Had Too Much to Dream” by The Electric Prunes and “Incense and Peppermints” by The Strawberry Alarm Clock); electric blues (“Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five and “Diddy Wah Diddy” by Captain Beefheart); sugary pop (“Falling Sugar” by The Palace Guard); frat rock (The Swingin’ Medallions’ “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” and The Kingsmen’s classic “Louie Louie”); Beatles wannabes (“Lies” by The Knickerbockers, actually from New Jersey); and Dylan wannabes (“A Public Execution” by Mouse).

Kaye calls the period from 1964 to 1968, when most of these songs were released, “the cusp of progressive rock, when rock was beginning to take itself seriously. These songs were peppy, hooky. It was a weird little in-between period when incredible things happened.”

“It’s interesting stuff,” said Barry Tashian, singer-guitarist for The Remains; he lives in Nashville these days, having built a successful folk/ bluegrass/country career with his wife, Holly.

Three weeks ago, he and his bandmates, Damiani included, got together for the first time since a 1976 reunion, rehearsing in a Westport studio for a Sept. 24 show at the University of Leon in Spain. Their “Why Do I Cry” is also on the new box.

“It’s truly artifacts from a simpler time,” he added. “I think people appreciate listening to the stuff. It’s like early jazz (in that regard). Sampling, drums and synthesized sounds weren’t happening at the time.”

While there are recognizable names here (Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Steppin’ Out” and “Just Like Me,” The Standells’ “Dirty Water” and “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”), many of the bands are obscure, no-hit wonders who released one, maybe two killer singles in their own little local vacuums.

Take Richard & the Young Lions, a New Jersey combo whose soulful first single from 1965, “Open Up Your Door,” full of fuzz guitar, stomps, shouts and screams, is also considered among the best of the original punk records.

Or bands like The Squires, who played mostly dances and battles of the bands, and whose debut 45, “It’s the Same All Over the World”/”Oh No!” (as The Rogues), was only printed in a run of 500 copies and sold locally. “Going All the Way,” their second and last single, was released on a major label (Atco); the flip side, a dead-on Byrds soundalike called “Go Ahead,” is also considered a garage classic.

It was a time when, seemingly, every American band wanted to be The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks or The Animals. In their minds, they were — except that their followings and record sales were much, much smaller.

“The only people who knew the bands were family and friends, till us geeky collectors came along. Unless you lived there, you had no idea who they were,” said Mike Markesich of Branford, a record collector/historian who proofed the liner notes for the “Nuggets” box. He’s also working with Tim Warren of Crypt Records on a Squires anthology CD. “Now they’re just as influential as Hendrix was for his style — the snarly guitar, the screams.”

When The Squires’ tunes are mentioned in lofty terms, “That’s a little hard to swallow,” Robinson said. “We just thought it was average stuff. It was catchy and danceable and repetitious. Would I put it in the category of (The Temptations’) ‘My Girl’? No.”

Tashian knew that The Remains, a group of Boston University students, were good; “We started listening to each other while playing and got really tight,” he said. Within three months, they built a huge Boston following and were signed to Epic Records.
They also had it better than most.

“I wanted the bigtime. My dreams came true,” said Tashian. “I didn’t make a fortune, but I got to do what I wanted. I mean, (playing) Shea Stadium (with The Beatles). What more could you want?”

They decided to break up when they came off the Beatle tour; “We lost our drummer (Damiani, who had had his fill of long nights and sunless days in New York, where the band had moved) and we had seen what had happened to The Beatles. I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

Other bands broke up because of college, Vietnam or egos. The Squires drifted apart after they lost Robinson and their main creative force, singer/drummer Mike Bouyea, to the draft in 1967.

Just as the bands who created the sound had no idea they were creating history, neither did Kaye when he created “Nuggets.”

It wasn’t until 1976, on his first tour of Europe with Smith, that he realized he hit a chord: “We were doing a press conference in Scandinavia and they were asking, “When will you put out the next “Nuggets”?’ I said, ‘How did you find out about it?'”

Kaye’s collection spurred an underground revolution. In Los Angeles, Greg Shaw, who had a record label and a magazine called Bomp!, released over 30 volumes of “Pebbles” compilations.

On the East Coast, Warren, at Crypt, has released eight volumes of “Back From the Grave.” “Going All the Way” and “It’s Cold Outside,” by Cleveland popsters The Choir, are among the songs on the new “Nuggets” box that were made popular by their inclusion in the “Pebbles” series.

More touchstones followed. Crypt released a Squires anthology LP, “Going All the Way With the Squires,” in 1986; consisting of the two singles and unreleased studio tunes, it was another huge must-have album among garageheads in the ’80s. So were The Sonics’ albums, first re-released in 1984 by Etiquette Records owner Buck Ormsby, who was The Wailers’ bassist in the ’60s.

The revival created a second wave of garage bands over the past 20 years. The most enduring band is The Lyres, from Boston, started in 1979 by Jeff “Monoman” Conolly, a Darien native whose repertoire mostly comes from the obscure corners of his vast record collection.

Other notable bands through the years have included The Chesterfield Kings, The Pandoras, The Vipers, The Brood, The Cynics, The Double Naught Spys, The Swingin’ Neckbreakers, The Woggles and even bands from Sweden (The Nomads, The Creeps, The Shoutless).

And now the revival is coming to a sort of full circle. Damiani, 53, who owns Airtite Home Improvement in Bridgeport and is married with two sons, never talked much of his musical career at home.

“Our recorded stuff sucked compared to what we were playing live,” he said. But recently, “I played our CD for a couple of my roofers, and they seemed to like it. Maybe it wasn’t so bad.”

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