Sunday, March 18, 2018

Remembering the Prime Movers

"We did it in high school. We're doing it now."
The Prime Movers (l-r, Dick Tate, Cam Ackland, Jeff Sugarman, Dennis McCarthy)
Sometimes a band just gets in you and stays there—especially when you're in your hungry early twenties, when music's as vital as oxygen. I came across Boston's Prime Movers when the Claws compilation found its way to WMUC at the University of Maryland, where I had a radio show. I dug "True To Me" and fell in love even harder with "All That Cryin'" from the Mr. Beautiful Presents All Hard comp. Both songs are glorious, spirited, desperate rock and roll—singer Cam Ackland's vocals are soulful, gruff, and timeless—and I played them to death, along with several cuts from the band's earlier Matters Of Time EP. Sadly, I never got to see them live, which is pretty remarkable given the numbers of shows I went to back then and the pipeline of Boston-area bands who made it down to D.C. to play. But I'll always have these killer records.

"True To Me," Claws (1985)

"All That Cryin'," Mr. Beautiful Presents All Hard (1985)

"Something Called Time," Matters Of Time [EP] (1984)

The Prime Movers were short lived, breaking up in the late 80s. They reunited briefly in the early aughts, released an album, and played out a bit; sadly, bass player Jeffrey Sugerman died in 2012.


I've just come across a terrific document from the era, a feature on the band from "30 GO," a music video program spotlighting Boston bands created by Cathy Carter and James Berkowitz, two graduates of Emerson College. The interview was conducted in 1986 in Boston at the band's rehearsal space—a MAACO Auto Body garage! I never really knew at the band looked like, and had I seen them live I might've been put off initially by their 60s-style, fearing only that they were more enamored of capturing a period look and sound than in playing real rock and roll (a self-consciousness that torpedoed many a "revivalist" band back in the day, in my opinion). A song or two in, my anxieties would've faded. In this exchange, guitarist Dick Tate and Cam Ackland discuss those influences and the difficulties that posed for some listeners and critics:
DT: Everything that's been done today was done in the '60s first, in most respects. To just ignore that fact is kinda like cheating yourself. We take a lot of classic '60s chords, put our own lyrics to them....

CA: But it's only 'cause we like that stuff, it's not because we think it's hip, it's the new thing. It's because that's what we like.

DT: We did it in high school. We're doing it now.

CA: We also take, like, classic '80s or '70s stuff, too, that we like. It's not bound by any time or specific genre of music 
This is followed by a bit of a take down of the New York City garage rock scene—specifically those scene purists who'd make a face if the band didn't play a requisite cool '60s cover at a show—and inevitably a territorial proclamation on Boston Versus NYC. Drummer Dennis McCarthy: "There's more sense of fun up here [in Boston]".
The attitude in New York overcomes the fun, definitely. Don't you think? [In Boston] people let go of that a little bit more.

CA: In New York, all those people who are into garage music and stuff were the kind of kids who when you went over to their house in grade school, they were like, "Don't touch my models! Don't touch my Battleship models!"
To much laughter. A bit of snark, thick Boston accents, long hair, and rock and roll.

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