States of mind
A Florida label unearths a lost history of Georgia's forgotten garage and psychedelic rock acts of the '60s
Garage rock was, by its nature, destined for obscurity. Handed guitars and suburban practice space by their WWII-era parents, young Beatles and Rolling Stones fans, aspiring Ventures and Animals wannabes dressed in matching uniforms, formed bands across America. Many out to impress girls, others seeking self-expression, hormone-driven teenagers of the 1960s — the original punk rockers — embraced the most brazen, over-driven do-it-yourself form of rock yet invented. Those fortune enough to have a recording budget managed to harness three awkward minutes of rock 'n' roll glory onto a 45 rpm platter.
Many garage bands were abandoned after prom, and their singles — distributed locally if at all — were forgotten almost as quickly as they were pressed. But today, few bands — not even those million-selling modern-rockers touted to voice teen frustration — come close to the honest intensity of '60s garage-rockers like California's Electric Prunes or Seattle's Sonics.
Or, for that matter, Atlanta band The Spontaneous Generation, whose serrated guitar and primal stomp once burned bright locally. For a brief period in the '60s, every region saw their share of psychedelic and garage rock bands (two forms which overlap at the fuzz-toned crux of Brit-Invasion pop, blues-rock and hallucinogen-soaked folk music). The Spontaneous Generation disappeared quickly after high school, suffering the same fate as countless peers nationwide. But with the recent release of Psychedelic States — Georgia in the '60s, Gear Fab Records provides a glance back at the Peach State's long-forgotten garage-rock contenders.
Though a garage and psychedelic rock cult has never completely vanished, in recent years the interest has grown relatively fierce — which is good, because good garage rock is fierce. Groups like Detroit's Kinks-influenced White Stripes and labels like Seattle's Sub Pop have been carrying the revivalist torch of late. And the 1998 expanded reissue of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 — which spurred the initial wave of garage-rock revivalism when it first came out in 1972 — has been a guiding light to the current resurgence.
Though Nuggets is considered the granddaddy of psychedelic/garage compilations, series like Back From the Grave have unearthed countless lesser-known gems. Florida-based label Gear Fab offers a more focused look with Georgia in the '60s, part of its Psychedelic States series that has so far offered collections dedicated to Florida and Alabama.
"I wanted to concentrate on states in particular that haven't been covered though the years," says Rob Maglio, 50, an aerospace professional who started Gear Fab in 1997 as an extension of his record collecting. "Georgia came as a real surprise to us doing the Psychedelic States series — lots of great bands we never thought could have hailed from a state which had such a redneck reputation."
Georgia, it seems, also has earned a reputation as a state whose '60s garage scene is impossibly difficult to research. Aside from the general problem of documenting '60s rock — like the Woodstock saying goes, "If you can remember it, you weren't there" — Georgia bands in particular seem to have left very few traces. Garage fanzines such as Bruce Ceiro's locally produced Bad Trip have featured articles on the Atlanta rock scene of the '60s, but in terms of the entire state, several experts agree that Georgia in the '60s is the most complete compilation they've seen to date.
"There's a ton of great material," says Brookhaven Records owner Bill Wolfe, who says he regularly discovers undocumented local albums and singles coming through his vinyl-packed store, "just nobody's researched it like they have other areas. I can say, however, that all '60s Georgia psyche starts with Little Phil and the Night Shadows."
Wolfe's not the only one to point to the Night Shadows. Local critic David T. Lindsay profiled the group in Bad Trip in the early '90s. Seemingly the only Georgia psychedelic/garage band that anyone has in-depth information on, Little Phil and band can be heard on Georgia in the '60s, which features their track "So Much."
"So Much" — a single put out before the Night Shadows' much more freeform album, The Square Root of Two — reveals a strong R&B-influence, with its uptempo mod beat drawing comparisons to the Young Rascals. And according to the picture painted by Georgia in the '60s, that's somewhat typical of Georgia rock bands circa 1966-67. Though bands like the Younger Brothers and the Fly-Bi-Nites feature haunted organs and seared strings — and The Rogues, Inc., with their British Vox amps, feature vibrato-drenched, "Paint It Black"-like guitar — the impulse to kick into an overdriven tremolo-ravaged psychedelic freakout is rather subdued. Soul, surf and jangly pop rave-ups outnumber swirling Stones-style jams. Tracks often begin with fuzzy guitars but transition into horn-and-organ-fueled party records.
In particular, soul music — which was flourishing in the region while these garage bands were around — seems to have had at least as deep an impact as Brit-Invasion rock had on bands such as the Continentals (whose Farfisa-surfing "Continental Jam" appears on Georgia in the '60s). In fact, the Continentals started performing so much soul in order to get gigs, they changed their name to Soul Inc. (also featured on Georgia in the '60s).
This focus on soul may have given Georgia bands a note of distinction from garage rock acts in other regions, but it also further ensured that most of them would never leave any legacy at all. Because the few regional labels that existed at the time tended to be primarily concerned with putting out straight-ahead R&B records, few garage bands — unless they were willing to pay out of their pocket to press a record — would ever set foot in a studio. What singles did come out were usually released in a run of a few hundred. Today they'd be considered lost classics if anyone knew where to find most of them.
What's more, Wolfe says, Georgia was a very conservative state, even in the "swinging '60s," and bands had limited options when wanting to perform live. They were expected to play teen-friendly pop music at bars and frat parties fueled more by beer than psychedelics. Though Atlanta's Peachtree-14th Street nightlife district was happening at the time, most accounts mention few other hotbeds statewide. "This was pre-college radio. What the bands sounded like had a lot to do with what they heard [on radio], and there was really no place to get play."
Edward Tanner, an Atlanta lawyer and musician who contributed his recollections of the time to the Georgia compilation's liner notes, says, "Where I grew up [Dublin, Ga.], most people hated anything that was the least bit psychedelic. People didn't know what was going on except what they heard on their AM radio, so we'd hear about folks like Jimi Hendrix from a magazine and search them out. [Local] bands had to play dance, Top 40."
And so it was, destined for obscurity. It's worth noting that, while inspired and entertaining performances abound on Georgia in the '60s, most garage bands of the era were imitators, not originators. And by 1969, the Allman Brothers were introducing a new bluesy, Southern-boogie sound that would become far more recognized as Georgia's '60s-rock legacy.
But for a few years there, every kid in the country with a garage and a guitar had the power to recreate the sounds their favorite bands made — some even pushed them a little further. They may not have been able to tour the country, but they could travel psychedelic states without ever leaving home. And Georgia, it turns out, was no exception.