Thursday, August 6, 2020

Big Fuckin Party


In March of 1993, the Devil Dogs—guitarist and singer Andy "The Fabulous Andy G" Gortler, bassist Steve Baise, and drummer Mighty Joe Vincent—gathered with the Fastbacks' Kurt Bloch at Egg Studios in Seattle to cut Saturday Night Fever, an album that recreates the sonic blast of a crowded house party in all of its beery, humid, ear-ringing glory. The idea feels a little dangerous these days, no matter that it was put over with a half-grin. Folks inside drinking, rocking, and yelling only feet away from the band? Not this year, sadly. On the prowl in the mid 1990s, I needed this album, and return to it when I'm jonesing for a dose of lo-fi, amped-up, three-chord rock and roll, especially now as the memories of sweaty, packed clubs grow dim. The band having plugged in to something eternal back then, the album never disappoints.

The Devil Dogs turned to Bloch following an unhappy experience with their previous record, and their first with Vincent, We Three Kings. "We really had great songs on that LP," Baise told me, "but the mastering got screwed up, and we took the heat for it, so to speak." That record had been the third Dogs album produced by the Raunch Hands' Mike Mariconda, and as the band were already planning out Saturday Night Fever, Mariconda suggested that they consider doing the record with someone else. "That was odd," Baise acknowledges now, "but we love and respect him. He knew we had a great one in us and he knew enough to step aside and allow someone else to take us there." After returning from a tour of Japan during which they'd dug Supersnazz's Superstupid!, produced by Bloch, the Dogs knew who they wanted manning the boards for Saturday Night Fever.

By the time the guys arrived at Egg Studios, they were primed. "We rehearsed the shit out of those songs for months," Baise says, "then did an eight-week tour ripping those songs a new ass for two weeks before Seattle." He adds, "I believe we recorded four ten-hour days straight, and played three nights live." The Devil Dogs had no trouble acclimating themselves to the homespun charms at Egg. Gortler told Eric Davidson in We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001, “They talk about these famous studios—the Hit Factory, the Power Station, Olympic Studios in London. The places that I work in are like in some guy’s house, in the basement, next to the recycling bin. That’s what Egg Studios is, Conrad Uno’s basement. But Kurt really did know his shit. It sounds great!”

Hard at work
"The idea for the Live Party atmosphere was Andy's," Vincent told me. "He wanted it to sound kinda like the Beach Boys' Party! album, like the vibe of 'Barbara Ann'." Bloch concurs: "It was their idea to make it a party scene—We Are The Devil Dogs And You Have Been Invited To A Party!” That was the idea." Says Baise, "We always treated what we did as a special occasion. Andy orchestrated when everyone yelled or screamed." When Capitol Records hyped Beach Boys' Party! in 1965, the label distributed bags of potato chips featuring the album's cover art to record stores and radio stations. One can only imagine what Crypt Records might've sent as a promotional item with Saturday Night Fever: a shot glass? A bottle opener? A barf bag?

Vincent feels that Saturday Night Fever was the Dogs' "most planned and concentrated effort." The majority of the material was written and demoed at a studio in Brooklyn, and then battle tested on that long cross-country trip from New York to Seattle. "We were going to treat the recording just like another gig," Vincent said. "Just set up in the studio with Kurt and rip through our set."
Then we saved an overdub track where we were gonna put backing vocals and tambourines and stuff for the party. So on the last day we invited everyone we knew in Seattle to come to a party at Egg, which was not a very large room, got a bunch of beers, and had everyone making noise and getting drunk in the background. We got them to sing along on some stuff too. So we had the Supersuckers there, but I think it was only Eddie and Dan Bolton. We also had the guys from the Sinister Six who brought a bunch of cool girls with them. Forgive me but many of the names have been lost in the mist of time and drug use. Kim from the Fastbacks was there, as well as Ken Stringfellow from the Posies.
The Dogs cut twenty songs at Egg, fourteen for Saturday Night Fever, the remaining six spread over an EP and a single. Bloch remembers a highly productive week of orchestrated carousing. "The party was probably the last night of the session," he told me. "They’d invited their Seattle friends over for beers and a listening session. We must’ve had a pretty good idea of the album's running order, and they’d done a Seattle gig and a Bellingham gig during that week so we managed to load up the tiny recording room with likeminded revelers." Bloch, and Gortler, had to each don a poor-man's conductor hat, as the party hadn’t heard the record yet, "so it was hard for them to know where to clap along without some corralling, but it worked great!"

As Egg was set up in the basement of a house, "we’d have to be finished by ten p.m. each night due to the neighbors," Bloch remembers. "No-one really up and running very early in the daytimes. But what a raging session. Once they got warmed up and rolling, there was no stopping them. And so goddam funny they were. Non-stop slapstick. Glad we recorded everything the way we did, 'cause there wouldn’t have been nearly enough time to have done it any other way." The Dogs laid down the scorching tracks, live, with all involved working and hollerin' in the same room, "kinda the modus operandi of all good sessions," Bloch feels. "A few guitar overdubs and some vocals. It was all their raging energy that made it as killer as it is."

~~

Saturday Night Fever starts with idle party noise: some high-spirited chatter, stray handclaps to urge on the band who's taken "the stage" (probably the floor, feet away from the partygoers). Someone remarks that he could seriously use some beer. Just as someone else gets the nerve up to ask the girl next to him, "What did you say your name was?" the plugged-in Dogs count-in, hit a deafeningly loud chord, and Gortler steps to the mike: "It's so good to see all my friends down here tonight, and I know—I know—everybody's ready to have a good time, yeah!" "We are!" someone retorts, and after Gortler compliments everyone for looking good, the set rockets off with the evening's theme song, the stomping "Big Fuckin Party"—part one, that is. The song's reprised at the album's end. "I think that was Kurt's idea," Vincent says. "We recorded it as a whole and I think it clocked in at over four minutes! That is absolutely forbidden in Punk Rock world, and certainly in [Crypt Records honcho] Tim Warren's world! So it got split in two sections which open and close the album. I thought that was a brilliant touch."
l-r, Gortler, Vincent, Baise
Saturday Night Fever detonates one killer cut after another—sounding, as in the best rock and roll, that each song might implode before it finishes, that the band is letting the music play them rather than the other way around, all of it sent to the ceiling by a boisterous gang of partying friends. "I was worried that someone would break something down [in the basement]," Bloch said, "but I think it was all fine. Not the first drunken party in that room, that’s for certain." The band threw in a few covers: the Victims' "Dance With You Baby," Gary Glitter's "Shakey Sue" (left off of the CD version), Gene Pitney's "Backstage," and a quickly-arranged take on the Stones' "It's Not Easy" (Baise: "Andy said it could be done in five minutes, and he was right, as usual.") Each cover slotted in nicely next to snarling yet catchy originals such as "Gonna Be My Girl," "I Don't Believe You" (my personal fave from the record), "Back In The City," "6th Avenue Local," and "Sweet Like Wine." The band's take on "Backstage" is especially great, a desperate, heart-on-sleeve ballad about the loneliness of a rock star's life. No backstage in this joint, maybe a tiny bathroom off of the hall. The guitar's loud and distorted, the drums and bass rumble, yet the songs' considerable hooks are strong enough to withstand the assault. Everything's played at breakneck speed yet as tight as a Swiss watch, sung with half-grins and that intangible urgency that arises when a band knows it's locked in.

Just before the Dogs reprise "Big Fuckin Party," a reveler shouts "Uh oh, somebody's in trouble!" while another asks "Hey, what's in the box?"—a little off-stage narrative mystery and a great touch of drunken verisimilitude, reminding the listener that at every party there are always a few smaller parties working the room, all kinds of fun-and-drama catching fire, blazing, and burning out during the course of the long night. Alas, we'll never know what was in that box....

"All the memories [of the session] are great," Baise says. "We were so ready to record that record," adding, "We were taken care the whole time by really fucking nice, cool folks. I will say we always minded our shit and always kicked ass." Vincent added one more thing, "which sounds kinda name-droppy, because it is. After the album came out, one of the dudes from the Sinister Six was at a party in Seattle and Eddie Vedder was there. The guy put Saturday Night Fever on the stereo and Eddie loved it!" The next day, a note was slipped under his door which read:
Thanks for turning me on to the greatest Rock'n'Roll record EVER! 
Your friend, 
Eddie
Let's hope the cops don't show up....


Back on home turf

6 comments:

Eric Davidson said...

Definitely one of the best r'n'r albums ever -- there's one thing Eddie Vedder and I can agree on. Well, that and gun control. Touring with the Devil Dogs was about the best time of my life. Great, hilarious guys, and super solid EVERY DAMN NIGHT! Thanks for the cool article.

Iknacio said...

Hi Joe .

This record was the cause of my neighbors at the time loss of hearing at least 15% ( and mine too ) .Great fun . Vinyl is long gone , sadly. But the memories still remain . Well, mas o menos . Thanks for bring them back

Iknacio from the sunny Spain.

Renny said...

A great article about a great band. Now I want to read your books.

Joe Bonomo said...

Thanks, Renny!

Joe Bonomo said...

Cheers, Eric, and thanks for your great book!

Joe Bonomo said...

Thanks for reading and rocking out, Iknacio!