The Frogs (band)
The Frogs at the Aragon Ballroom (Chicago), December, 2008
|Origin||Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.|
|Genres||Alternative rock, lo-fi, folk rock, acoustic rock, comedy rock|
|Labels||Homestead Records, Matador Records, Scratchie Records, Four Alarm Records|
John W. Busher
The Frogs were an American rock music band founded in 1980, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by brothers Jimmy and Dennis Flemion. The brothers mainly wrote and performed short, catchy pop songs, but they are also known for their improvised home recordings which are delivered in a comedic style, and often include controversial issues such as race, religion, and sexuality (notably homoeroticism). A history of strife has hindered the band, although a devoted fan base that includes many well-known musicians has supported the group.
- 1 History
- 2 Discography
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Early years: 1980-1989
Brothers Jimmy Flemion and Dennis Flemion began playing as the "Gila Monsters" and "Stupid Frogs" in 1980, frequenting Milwaukee clubs and coffeehouses. In 1983, bassist Jay Tiller joined the group. That same year, Jimmy began wearing what was to become his trademark stage gimmick, a pair of six-foot bat wings, inspired by the band's set list, which at that time featured many glam rock songs about death and gloom. Soon the brothers also began wearing wigs at their performances, and using pyrotechnics. Hence, "wings and wigs" became synonymous with the band.
In 1988, Brian Hill joined The Frogs as bassist and would continue to make appearances with the group. That same year saw two significant events related to the Frogs' recording career. The first event was the release of the Frogs' first, self-titled album, which they began recording in 1986. Sources disagree on whether the album was self-released or released by Drag City Records; it is undisputed, however, that only about 1,000 copies were pressed.
The second event ended up bringing the group to public attention: Jay Tiller gave a tape of the Frogs' improvised home recordings to his friend Steve Albini, and the tape eventually made its way to Gerard Cosloy, then head of Homestead Records. Cosloy approached the band and offered to release an album. The Frogs were hoping that Homestead would re-release their first album, but Cosloy wanted to release an LP of the group's improvised home recordings, originally recorded on 4-track reel-to-reel with two microphones, which dealt with over-the-top homoeroticism. Since the tapes had not been intended to be released, the group hedged at first, but eventually they relented, and mixed a 14 track collection of songs. The result was It's Only Right and Natural, The Frogs' second LP, released in 1989. Songs like "Been a Month Since I Had a Man" and "Gather 'Round for Savior No. 2" gave the album (and the band) a unique theme. Homestead announced that The Frogs were leaders in a "new gay supremacy movement," and the media ran with it.
The album was received with mixed reactions; some listeners were ecstatic, while others, who either disliked the subject matter or misunderstood the concept, were not as enthusiastic. In the gay press, writer Adam Block wrote, "I'd find the record a lot more remarkable if I believed the Frogs were actually gay." It's Only Right and Natural was even denounced by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club and a number of conservative religious organizations as proof of Satan's control over the entertainment industry.
Grunge and success: 1990-2000
In 1991, the Frogs produced a new album titled Racially Yours, which included songs sung from the point of view of both blacks and whites who find themselves in various race-related situations and predicaments. The lyrics are equally serious and satirical. The Frogs' label Homestead was unwilling to release Racially Yours (although the album was distributed freely by fans). It was eventually released in 2000 by the Four Alarm label. The Frogs' further plans for a live album went unfulfilled, as labels they pursued all seemed to be suffering through bankruptcy and management problems. Jay Tiller left the band in 1992, to be replaced by Damian Strigens, although there were several substitutes in the meantime, including such notables as Eddie Roeser from Urge Overkill and Kelley Deal from The Breeders.
The Frogs, through their unique sense of humor, have gained a small but very devoted fan base. Although critics have attacked the Frogs for poor taste, well-known bands and performers have come to their defense. In 1993, The Smashing Pumpkins' frontman Billy Corgan saw The Frogs at a small club in Madison, Wisconsin, and invited them to open for The Pumpkins. The Frogs were soon opening for Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Urge Overkill, and other bands who were fans of the group, to mixed reaction.
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana
After meeting Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain in 1993, The Frogs wrote two songs about him and also made him a videotape, Toy Porno. The VHS featured select live performances and stop-motion animation with painted action figures. Action figures and dolls were used as sexually promiscuous characters in various short sketches. The tape became constant viewing material on Nirvana's tour bus. The videotape has since been made available to fans and has become a cult classic.
Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins
In the summer of 1994, the Frogs played the second stage at Lollapalooza, with Billy Corgan joining them at every stop, shredding away on lead guitar for their encore of "I Only Play 4 Money" and "Lord Grunge." Corgan continued to support and promote The Frogs by producing a short film, "Meet the Frogs," which he included on the Smashing Pumpkins' 1994 Vieuphoria video compilation. The short film brought the group recognition, but it has also confused Smashing Pumpkins fans who don't know if they should take the band seriously or not.
From August 1996 to February 1997, Dennis Flemion replaced Smashing Pumpkins' recently deceased keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin for the Pumpkins' Infinite Sadness Tour. During each night's encore, Jimmy Flemion performed "1979" (which was influenced by an unreleased Frogs song, "Pleasure") with the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as selecting audience members to dance on stage. The Flemion brothers also appeared on The Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" single, and sang backing vocals on 1998's Adore.
Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam
In 1995, Pearl Jam included The Frogs' cover of "Rearviewmirror" (credited to all members of Pearl Jam, but largely written by lead singer Eddie Vedder) as the b-side to their "Immortality" single. The following year, Pearl Jam released a song called "Smile" on their No Code album. According to a story that Vedder told while performing in Milwaukee in 2006, the lyrics of "Smile" were taken directly from a note that Dennis Flemion hid inside Vedder's notebook when Vedder was on stage performing. The words used in the note are taken from the Frogs songs "This Is How I Feel" and "Now I Wanna Be Dead." Vedder told a similar story on Oct. 8, 2000, before performing "Smile" at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wis., although he didn't identify Dennis by name. In the segue between "Daughter" and "Smile," which you can hear on the bootleg from this show, Vedder says, "Someone wrote me a note in my notebook once. He's a good friend of mine. Jeff or Stone wrote this song and they needed words and these words were in this notebook. So every time a copy of 'No Code' is sold, my friend gets like 2/3 of a penny. Which adds up to, well 'No Code,' like $20."  Dennis also gave Vedder a small pair of bat wings from the Frogs' early days, and Vedder has proudly displayed them behind his guitar amplifier. The wings reportedly can be seen on the front cover of Pearl Jam's Touring Band 2000.
Eddie Vedder has sung "I Only Play For Money," "Starboy," and "The Longing Goes Away" with The Frogs on more than one occasion, and Pearl Jam played "I Only Play For Money" twice in 1995, although one of the performances was during the soundcheck.
In 1997, Jimmy Flemion joined Sebastian Bach's touring band. Rather than stripping Jimmy of his trademark bat wings, the whole band adopted costumes as well. Jimmy also recorded a side project called The Last Hard Men with Bach, Kelley Deal and Jimmy Chamberlin. Bach also performed "Lord Grunge" with The Frogs on an infamous MTV appearance on Oddville. The Frogs destroyed their set and broke several rules set forth by the show's producers, so the producers retaliated by only broadcasting the first verse of the song.
Records and record releases
In 1994, The Frogs followed Gerard Cosloy to a new label, Matador Records, releasing two singles. They also recorded the EP Starjob, produced by Billy Corgan (who used the pseudonym Johnny Goat); however, the album was not released at that point.
In 1996, Matador released an album of old home-recorded and improvised Frogs material called My Daughter the Broad. It became another cult classic, with fans shouting out many of the song's titles and lyrics at every show.
In 1997, Starjob was finally released, by Scratchie Records (founded by James Iha, among others). But the EP almost immediately went out of print when it failed to sell enough units to satisfy the label. Starjob contains well-produced studio tracks, including "Lord Grunge" and one of the most well known Frogs songs, "I Only Play 4 Money."
In 1999, the Frogs covered "Vacation" by the Go-Go's for a tribute album. In that same year, the Four Alarm label issued another LP of the Frogs' old home-recorded and improvised material, called Bananimals; the unreleased Racially Yours album followed in 2000. To support these two releases, the Frogs played in Canada for the first time. However, they were stopped at Canadian Customs as officials seized all of their merchandise, declaring it "pornographic." The Frogs had to play their Canadian shows without any merchandise to sell.
The Frogs' studio effort Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise was released by Scratchie in 2001. However, Scratchie wasn't happy with the finished album, and they put it out of print after only a few months, just like they had with the previous Starjob EP. Fans were still enthusiastic about the band's Scratchie releases, regardless.
After Damian Strigens exited the band in 1998, past bassists such as Brian Hill and Jay Tiller returned for some appearances, while some new bassists began performing with the band, including Josh Silverman, David Geschke, and John W. Busher. Australian Ben Lee made a special guest appearance on bass in New York City on September 28, 2001.
In 2004, R.T. Rybak, mayor of Minneapolis, crowd-surfed at a Frogs concert at First Avenue, a popular nightclub in the Twin Cities, fulfilling a promise made earlier in the summer when the club temporarily closed due to financial difficulties.
The group played a 25th anniversary concert at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee in 2005. Jimmy Flemion opened the show by singing "Now You Know You're Black" from Racially Yours. One attendee noted, "[I]t was a successful fiasco once again...Jimmy is really cute when he wears the bear hat as part of his costume."
Some more recent appearances: on November 13, 2007, Jimmy Flemion performed with the Smashing Pumpkins at The Backyard in Austin, TX. The Frogs also opened for the Pumpkins on December 7, 2008, in Chicago.
In 2009, the Frogs were part of the lineup for UK 2009 Weekend Two, curated by The Breeders, of the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival. The band was chosen by Animal Collective to perform the album It's Only Right & Natural in its entirety at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in May 2011.
In December, 2011, two new studio albums were announced via Jimmy's Twitter account. Tentative titles are Count Yer Blessingsz and Squirrel Bunny Jupiter Deluxe, and set to be released in 2012, digitally. The albums were released on iTunes and Spotify on July 5, 2012.
On July 7, 2017, Jimmy played a tribute show to Dennis at the Barracuda in Austin, TX. A final album was announced, and there are talks of a potential documentary.
- The Frogs (1988)
- It's Only Right and Natural (1989)
- My Daughter the Broad (1996)
- Bananimals (1999)
- Racially Yours (2000)
- Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise (2001)
- Squirrel Bunny Jupiter Deluxe (2012)
- Count Yer Blessingsz (2012)
Singles and EPs
- Now You Know You're Black (1994), Matador Records
- Here Comes Santa's Pussy (1995), Matador Records
- Starjob EP (1997)
- with Pearl Jam: Immortality/Rearviewmirror (1995), Epic Records
- with Wesley Willis Fiasco: The Frogs do Wesley Willis/Wesley Willis Does the Frogs (1996), Sympathy for the Record Industry
- Night of the Living Dead (1993) Massacre at Central Hi Records
- Bruce Lee, Heroin, and the Punk Scene (1993) Massacre at Central Hi Records
- Punk Rock X-Mas (1995) Rhino Records
- What's Up Matador? (1997) Matador Records
- Too Much Scratchie Makes You Itch (1997) Scratchie Records
- Live Music From a Dead Campus (1998) WFMU
- Unsealed: A Tribute to The Go-Go's (1999) 4 Alarm Records
- Better than God: Greatest Hits
- ’’Toy Porno’’ (1993)
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