Red Rockers

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Red Rockers
Origin New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Genres Punk rock, new wave, alternative rock, post-punk
Years active 1979–1985
Labels Vinyl Solution, 415, Columbia
Associated acts Cowboy Mouth; The Raindogs
Past members John Thomas Griffith
Patrick Butler Jones
James Singletary
Darren Hill
Jim Reilly
Shawn Paddock

Red Rockers were a musical band from New Orleans, Louisiana, active from 1979 to 1985. They are best known for their 1983 hit single "China".[1]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The band was formed as a trio in 1979 by John Thomas Griffith (rhythm guitar and vocals), James Singletary (lead guitar), and Darren Hill (bass guitar).[2] Under the short-lived pseudonyms of "Stunn", "James Jett", and "Derwood", with various stand-ins as "Drummur", they played punk rock as The Rat Finks.[3] The group members were deeply influenced by the relatively new punk scene, and they were particularly moved by the radical political songs and styles of The Clash and The Dils. After a period of reassessment, they took on a permanent drummer, Patrick Butler Jones, and resumed use of their real names. They changed the name of the band itself, drawing on Darren Hill's favorite song by The Dils – "Red Rockers Rule".[4] (In their live performances, The Dils in fact performed two different songs, "Red Rockers" and "Red Rockers Rule", but neither one was committed to vinyl until well after Red Rockers had released their own first record.)

Guns of Revolution: 1979–1980[edit]

Cover of Guns of Revolution

Red Rockers quickly joined the punk milieu in late 1979 with their first vinyl record, Guns of Revolution. The 45rpm EP, with the title track on the A-side and its B-sides of "Teenage Underground" and "Nothing to Lose", was a cult hit, and the band was heralded in some punk fanzines as "America's Clash"[5]

Guns of Revolution was only the third release by a fledgling New Orleans record label called Vinyl Solution. Sales outstripped the small company's supply of its war-themed cover art, and subsequent pressings were distributed in plain white sleeves. (A third cover, with a photo of the band themselves, exists in extremely limited quantities). On the strength of the EP, Red Rockers became regular concert partners for virtually every punk band that toured through the New Orleans area.[6] The group honed a hardcore punk sound over the next two years.

Condition Red: 1981–1982[edit]

The band assembled its first full-length album, Condition Red, while on tour. Travel through California led them to a new record label, 415 Records of San Francisco, which released the 12-song LP in 1981. The record included a newly redone version of "Guns of Revolution" as well as the live track "Dead Heroes", which had appeared on a local New Orleans punk compilation and quickly became a signature song for the band. Condition Red also included a guest appearance by Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra who lent background vocals to the cover version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues".[7] Performing in support of the album, Red Rockers were added as the opening act for The Clash as they toured Louisiana and Texas in early 1982.[8]

Condition Red yielded scant commercial profit, but its positive critical reception bolstered the confidence of the band's new managers at 415. The San Francisco recordmakers were considered one of the most important independent record labels of the time,[9] and their patronage became decisive for the band's future. They assisted the group members in relocating to their city, and set upon drastically altering their musical style.

Good as Gold: 1982–1983[edit]

Cover of Good as Gold

The band toured heavily with their label colleagues, quickly finding a harmony with their styles: Translator, Wire Train, and Romeo Void were all new wave bands, accomplished and popular, but with evident non-punk character. The band experienced strain and dissension in its new situation with the exacting producer David Kahne. Amid the difficulty, drummer Patrick Butler Jones left the band and by late 1983 he had been replaced by another ex-punk band member, Jim Reilly, who had drummed for the Northern Irish punk rock band Stiff Little Fingers.[10] The "new" Red Rockers were filmed in two different videos in anticipation of the record's release.

When Good as Gold was released by a partnership of 415 and the major label Columbia, the distribution change was indicative of a change in the values of the band. What surprised critics more, however, was the change in music: from the rough, punk sound of the past, Red Rockers had become a polished, almost gentle-sounding band, fitting in easily with the softer new wave styles of the time. By the end of the year, Red Rockers surpassed all their labelmates in commercial success.

Kahne had put the band in the studio for unexpectedly long hours, and the work that received the biggest investment of time was the new song "China".[11] Described by rock critic Ira Robbins as a "startlingly pretty pop song",[12] it was a huge success – the single became a hit on the US music charts and the music video became a long-running staple on nascent MTV. A second single, the title track "Good as Gold", followed as Red Rockers crossed North America opening for major tours including The Cars, The Kinks, The Go-Go's, Joan Jett and Men at Work.

Schizophrenic Circus: 1984–1985[edit]

Cover of Schizophrenic Circus

The success of Good As Gold brought mixed fortune to Red Rockers. They felt the sting of their punk rock audience, who scornfully rejected the band's sudden conversion to commercial rock. Disunity over the band's direction was rampant and eventually led to the exit of guitarist James Singletary. The band's next album showed an even greater fragmentation in their musical approach: Schizophrenic Circus (1984) featured a new guitarist, Shawn Paddock, and new producers Rick Chertoff and WIlliam WIttman but lacked a group cohesion. To its critics, the album drifts among musical forms and relies heavily on a high percentage of cover songs: the quasi-psychedelia of "Good Thing I Know Her" (which bears the album title in its lyrics) conveyed yet another new departure for the band's sound, "bewildering" to some.[13] With some difficulty, Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone described Schizophrenic Circus as "postpunk folk-rock with garage-band propulsion and longhair tunefulness."[14]

Perhaps the most glaring stylistic change of all was the unlikely design of the album cover. Redolent of The Doors' Strange Days, the circus-themed cover art was inevitably compared most unfavorably. John Thomas Griffith has said that the cover was disparaged by the bandmembers themselves, and he cites it as a main factor in the album's lukewarm commercial reception.[15]

Three different singles were released from the album, but the only significant success was on college radio, where a cover of Barry McGuire's 1966 folk rock protest song "Eve of Destruction" was a minor hit.[16] The second single was another cover song, "Blood from a Stone", which had been performed by The Hooters on their album Amoré (1983), and Trouser Press acclaimed the Red Rockers version as a big improvement over the original.[17] In the wake of this notoriety, the Hooters remade the song again the following year, on their album Nervous Night (1985).

The 12-inch single featuring two versions of "Just Like You" was the band's last release. In early 1985, while still relatively well-known and touring with U2 on their Unforgettable Fire tour,[18] Red Rockers disbanded and never reformed.

Post-breakup: 1985–present[edit]

Lead singer John Thomas Griffith continues to play guitar and sing for the band Cowboy Mouth which he co-founded in 1990 with Paul Sanchez and Fred LeBlanc. James Singletary currently plays guitar for the New Orleans-based band Alexander Fly. Jim Reilly and Darren Hill joined the Boston-based Raindogs in 1985.[19] Eventually Reilly moved back to the UK and currently plays with Scottish band The Dead Handsomes. Hill stayed in Boston, forming Klover in the mid-1990s; he now runs a management company, Ten Pin Management, which has represented Paul Westerberg, Roky Erickson, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The New York Dolls, and others.

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Singles and EPs[edit]

  • Guns of Revolution (EP) "Guns of Revolution" b/w "Teenage Underground" and "Nothing to Lose" (1980, Vinyl Solution Records).
  • "China" b/w "Voice of America" (1983, Columbia/415 Records).
  • "China" b/w "China (Dance Mix)", "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" (1983, Columbia/415 Records), 45 RPM EP.
  • "Good As Gold" b/w "Till It All Falls Down" (1983, Columbia/415 Records).
  • "Eve of Destruction" b/w "T.D.F. The Truth" (1984, Columbia/415 Records).
  • "Blood From a Stone" b/w "Burning Bridges" (1984, Columbia/415 Records).
  • "Just Like You" b/w "Just Like You (edit)" (1984, Columbia/415 Records).

Songs on compilations[edit]

  • No Questions, No Answers compilation (1980, Vinyl Solution Records) features "Dead Heroes" and "Red Star".
  • Rodney on the ROQ, Vol. 2 compilation (1980, Posh Boy Records) features "Dead Heroes".
  • D.I.Y. Magazine presents "Han-O-Disc" compilation (1981, D.I.Y. magazine promo) features "Can You Hear Them".
  • King Biscuit Flower Hour (The Best Of The Biscuit) live split LP with Stevie Ray Vaughan (1983).
  • The Best of Rodney on the ROQ compilation (1989, Posh Boy Records) features "Dead Heroes".
  • The Best of 415 Records compilation (1994, 415 Records) features "China", "Guns of Revolution" and "Dead Heroes".
  • Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s (Vol. 10) compilation (1994, Rhino Records) features "China".
  • Into the Anxious '80s compilation (1995, Sony/Risky Business) features "Eve of Destruction".
  • Just Say New Wave compilation (1996, Sony/Risky Business) features "China".

References[edit]

  1. ^ AllMusic.com; AMG "Good As Gold" overview (Retrieved Sept. 30, 2010).
  2. ^ Gimarc, George (2005); Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter's Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982; ISBN 0-87930-848-6. p. 558.
  3. ^ Lien, James (March 1998). "A Brief History of New Orleans Rock". OffBeat (New Orleans, La: OffBeat, Inc.) 3 (99). OCLC 23044878. 
  4. ^ Michaels, Randolph (2005); Flashbacks to Happiness: Eighties Music Revisited; iUniverse, Lincoln NE. ISBN 978-0-595-37007-8. p. 417.
  5. ^ Gimarc, George (1997); Post Punk Diary:1980-1982; ISBN 0-312-16968-X. p. 219.
  6. ^ Blush, Steven & Petros, George (2001); American Hardcore: A Tribal History; ISBN 0-922915-71-7. p. 255.
  7. ^ Gimarc (1997). p. 219.
  8. ^ "Black Market Clash": see "A Punter's View" (Retrieved Sept. 29, 2010).
  9. ^ National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (1984); Grammy Pulse, Volumes 2-3.
  10. ^ Larkin, Colin (1998); The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Vol.7); ISBN 0-333-74134-X. p. 5160.
  11. ^ Michaels (2005). p. 418.
  12. ^ Robbins, Ira ed. (1989); The Trouser Press Record Guide, 3rd Ed.; Macmillan, NY; ISBN 0-02-036370-2. p. 465.
  13. ^ Robbins (1989). p. 465.
  14. ^ Marsh, Dave (1985) The First Rock & Roll Confidential Report; ISBN 0-394-54506-0. p. 276.
  15. ^ Michaels (2005). p. 419.
  16. ^ Robbins, Ira ed. (1985); The Rolling Stone Review; ISBN 0-684-18333-1. p. 198.
  17. ^ Robbins, Ira ed. (1997); Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock, 5th Edition; ISBN 0-684-81437-4. p. 176.
  18. ^ Parra, Pimm Jal de la (1994); U2 Live: A Concert Documentary; Omnibus, NY; ISBN 0-7119-9198-7. p. 63.
  19. ^ Harris, Craig (1994); The New Folk Music; ISBN 0-941677-27-3. p. 116.

External links[edit]