|Fullerton's answer to the Dictators: the Mechanics|
As I mentioned in my most recent post, I was a child of the punk/post-punk/new wave era. My connection to music prior to about 1979 or 1980 was mostly indirect through my parents or others, and its only been as an adult that I’ve gone back and explored in more detail the music from that era.
In my junior high and high school, there was an extremely sharp divide between the punk/post-punk/new wave era and what came before it. Literally everything that came before punk was considered “lame” and “uncool”, and anyone professing to like anything from that “B.C.” (before cool) era was considered lame. There was no worse appellation than to be labeled as “70’s”. And hard rock and heavy metal? Forget it! Only a tiny handful of non-new wave acts were considered acceptable (though for the life of me I can’t think of a single one right now; maybe Pat Benetar although she has always leaned toward a new wavish sound to me anyway).
But its always made me wonder, what came before punk? I obviously know what was POPULAR before punk, what was signed and recorded and played on the radio, and I know the big acts that toured arenas. But what was being played in the regular local clubs? I’ve always wanted to know.
Well, a year or two ago I stumbled upon a magnificent web site that addresses this question. I was reading up on the Fullerton, CA punk band Social Distortion and I ran across a quote by Mike Ness about a band that preceded Social D on the Fullerton scene:
“There was this band called The Mechanics from Fullerton who never (recorded) anything cause they were so far ahead of their time.”
I then found a link to an outstanding web page (http://www.the-mechanics.net/) maintained by former Mechanics lead guitarist Dennis Catron that gave me more insight into this band and the music scene in Southern California on the eve of punk. The Mechanics formed in 1977 from the ashes of two other Fullerton bands, Head Over Heels and the Brats. They weren’t particularly influenced at this early date by punk (which was in its nascent form at this time in Los Angeles and pretty much non-existent in Orange County) but instead played a mélange of protopunk, hard rock, and bar band rock. Guitarist Dennis Catron was apparently a big fan of 70’s hard rock maniac Ted Nugent, while singer Scott Hoogland was influenced by Iggy, the Dolls, and the Velvets. The Mechanics therefore played a wild, high energy hard bar band rock with elements of protopunk. They also had a crazy gimmick: they dressed in actual mechanic’s blue shirts, drank booze out of oil cans, and performed in front of a “Penzoil” banner. Talk about your blue collar rock!!!!!!!
Dennis Catron has uploaded several MP3s by the Mechanics, including their one and only song committed to vinyl, “No Brakes”. This is a nice slab of fast, crisp 70’s hard rock. Unsurpisingly it sounds a lot like Ted Nugent; it’s far too slick and accomplished to be punk but has a wildness to it that makes one see how they could play at places like the Mab and with acts like Crime or Fear. What it reminds me the most of is the late 90’s output of Scandinavian bands like the Hellacopters, who's sound is based on the big guitars and wild frontman aspects of Iggy, Kiss, the Dolls, Motorhead, Slade, Nugent, AC/DC, etc. “Carburation Generation” is a little wilder and rougher, straddling the line between punk and metal; it sounds a little like the early 80’s work of Hanoi Rocks, particularly the vocals. “Love Will Keep Us Together” (NOT the Captain & Tennille version!) has a terrific bass rumble and an almost Deep Purple feel to it but again Scott’s vocals keep it rooted in the Iggy/Germs vibe. Overall the band that they most remind me of are the Dictators, whom I love, and who also were always considered "too punk for metal and too metal for punk". Anyone who loves 70’s worshipping guitar rock by bands like the Dictators, Kiss, Nazareth, the Stooges, Foghat, Nuge, as well as contemporary acts like Gluecifer, the Hellacopters, Riverboat Gamblers, and the Flaming Sideburns should definitely check them out. Dennis has several more Mechanics MP3s (of varying sound quality) and over a dozen entire shows on his site.
Dennis has also extensively documented his band and the various shows they played in their 4 year existence. What’s particularly interesting to me is how widely varied the different bands are that they played with: one night they might play with legendary SF punk band Crime, the next with a heavy metal band like Snow; the next still with new wavers Missing Persons. They also opened for the Runaways, F-Word, the Plugz, the early (pre-Terri Nunn) version of Berlin, Pearl Harbor & the Explosions, Blackie Lawless’ pre-W.A.S.P. band Sister, Social Distortion, the Real Kids, Rubber City Rebels, the Plimsouls, Fear, Suburban Lawns, and the George Lynch (future Dokken member) band Xciter. Catron’s log of their various shows—at venues as widely varied as punk meccas such as the Masque, the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Mabuhay Gardens; new wave clubs like the Hong Kong Café; general rock clubs like Club 88, the Rock Corporation, and the Starwood; metal venues like Gazzarri’s and Jezebel’s; the folkie mecca the Troubabour; local bar band dives like the Handlebar Saloon; and various frat houses, birthday parties, parties, and high school gigs--also shows how eclectic this band was.
What sticks out about both the bands they played with and the venues they played is how fluid the genres and definitions are—the whole “punk vs. new wave vs. metal” thing clearly wasn’t etched in stone at this time and bands from very different backgrounds could and often would play with one another and at different venues. Plus even as punk was becoming the dominant musical paradigm in Los Angeles, there remained a thriving metal, hard rock, and bar band rock sub-culture that continued to play the clubs (particularly in hinterland cities like Brea, Fullerton, La Vida Hot Springs, etc.).
But getting back to the point of this post is that Dennis also has an outstanding page on his site where he extensively catalogues many of the lesser-known bands that were also playing the LA/OC bar band circuit with the Mechanics back then. The sound is similar to that of the Mechanics themselves, ranging between hard rock, protopunk, punk, metal, and bar band sounds. I don’t need to go into excruciating detail here since Dennis has done such a fantastic job of documenting these bands himself, but I have listened to most of the MP3s he has up and here’s my two cents.
A La Carte is a hard rock outfit in the Van Halen mode, but the guitar sound is even crunchier and less fussy and complicated. “Old Number 7” has a hard, repetitive riff but the rhythm occasionally veers toward a lounge-y feel just like classic Van Halen; the vocals are like a gruffer David Lee Roth. “Leave the Backdoor Open” is slower, sleazier, sounding like Black Oak Arkansas.
Naughty Women were a legendary band that often dressed in women’s clothing. “Lines Lines” sounds like early Motley Crue crossed with Raw Power era Iggy and the Stooges, a fast, punchy, sloppy guitar onslaught. I love the rough, wild riff of this song—it reminds me of something guitarist Cheetah Chrome from my favorite punk band ever, the Dead Boys, might have come up with. This must have been terrific live. “Live By the Sword” is more complex but less urgent; it builds eventually (and after an extended recorded spoken word intro) to a series of ominous, almost stoner/gloom metal sounding chords. The vocal isn’t as good; it sounds like it was recorded without a vocal playback monitor. But “Lines Lines” alone is worth the effort, definitely check that one out.
Another Fullerton band, the Strand, play a swaggering cock rock that isn’t too different from Hanoi Rocks, Crue, or even AC/DC, but with better vocal melodies. “All I Ever Want To Do” has a chattering, simple but effective riffing structure that to me sounds a lot like some of the stuff being recorded a few years later in England during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, as well as the band that took the NWOBHM banner up in America, Metallica. The riff here evokes “Sweet Dream Maker” by Gaskin or “Jump In the Fire” by Metallica, but the vocals soar like Wishbone Ash.
Sleeper have a slicker, more anthemic rock sound similar to such 70’s metal acts as Starz and Cain. “Mine Tonight” has a subdued guitar but big vocal harmonies; this reminds me of something else from the 70’s but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. “On The Run” is another pretty, melodic hard rock song that should appeal to fans of arena-friendly 70’s hard rock.
Dennis has one song from another local group, Smile, called “Sailor”: this is a mellow, melodic ballad that reminds me of Styx or Journey. The vocals are high pitched, almost like Leo Sayer (but not quite as cringe-inducing as that sounds). Not bad though clearly not my cup of tea.
According to Dennis Catron, Calico Jack were one of the most popular hard rock bands on the OC club circuit. “Dog Eat Dog” certainly is capable bar band rock, as is their bottom-heavy cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak”. “Cities On Fire” almost reminds me of “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix.
The Mechanics recorded only one 45 before breaking up in the early 80's. Several members have continued to make or produce music. As mentioned, they were a huge influence on Social Distortion as well as other emerging punk acts like the Adolescents and Agent Orange. Though they never achieved widespread success, their high energy punk/hard rock fusion being a little too ahead of its time, they nevertheless live on in the memories of people who saw them back in the day. Dennis' web site is a fascinating look into a barely documented scene that became marginalized when punk rock became dominant. However, many artists who played in bands in this hard rock/metal scene, including Carlos Cavazo (Quiet Riot), George Lynch (Dokken, the Lynch Mob), Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.), Mick Mars (Motley Crue), and Matt Sorum (Guns n' Roses, the Cult), went on to form/join bands that achieved success. I'm sure every town has its own lost 70's rock history; I'm glad Dennis was able to shed some light on this one.