The Shaggs

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The Shaggs
The Shaggs in 1968.
The Shaggs in 1968.
Background information
OriginFremont, New Hampshire, U.S.
Genres
Years active
  • 1968–1975
  • 1999
  • 2017[6]
Labels
Past members
  • Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin
  • Helen Wiggin
  • Betty Wiggin
  • Rachel Wiggin

The Shaggs were an American all-female rock and outsider music band formed in Fremont, New Hampshire in 1968. The band was composed of sisters Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin (vocals/lead guitar), Betty Wiggin (vocals/rhythm guitar), Helen Wiggin (drums) and, later, Rachel Wiggin (bass). They were occasionally joined on vocals by their brother Austin Jr. and nephew Robert.

Dot, Betty and Helen formed the Shaggs in 1968, on the insistence of their father, Austin Wiggin, who believed that his mother had predicted their rise to stardom. Their only studio album, Philosophy of the World, was released in 1969. It failed to garner attention, though the Shaggs continued to perform locally. They disbanded in 1975 after the death of Austin.

The Shaggs are notable for their perceived ineptitude at playing conventional rock music; they were described in one Rolling Stone article as "sounding like lobotomized Trapp Family singers."[7] Terry Adams of NRBQ compared their melodic lines and structures to the free jazz compositions of Ornette Coleman.[8]

History[edit]

Career[edit]

The conceptual beginning of the Shaggs came from Austin Wiggin's mother who, when her son was young, had predicted during a palmreading that he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, that he would have two daughters after she had died and that his daughters would form a popular music group. The first two predictions proved accurate, so Wiggin set about making the third come true as well.[9] He withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments and arranged for them to receive music and vocal lessons. The Wiggin sisters never planned to become a music group, but as Dot later said, "[Austin] was something of a disciplinarian. He was stubborn and he could be temperamental. He directed. We obeyed. Or did our best."[10] Austin named the Shaggs after the popular shag hairstyle and as a reference to shaggy dogs.[10] In 1968, Austin arranged for the girls to play regular Saturday night gigs at the Fremont, New Hampshire town hall.

Dorothy, Helen and Betty recorded the album Philosophy of the World at Fleetwood Studio in Revere, Massachusetts in 1969.[11] On the topic of the album, Cub Koda wrote, "There's an innocence to these songs and their performances that's both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them ... being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one."[12] A 2017 review of their work in The New Yorker noted that, while Dot and Betty Wiggin had written out their songs and had musical chemistry, Helen, the drummer, was often completely detached from what her sisters were playing.[13]

The man who had promised to press 1,000 copies of Philosophy of the World reportedly absconded with 900 of them, as well as with the money paid to him. The rest were circulated to New England radio stations but attracted little attention, and Austin's dreams of superstardom for his girls were dashed. The band members themselves were appalled at how horrible the record sounded; years later, when it became popular, they were bewildered as to why.[13]

Rediscovery[edit]

The most likely first instance of widespread publicity for the Shaggs was on the Dr. Demento show. In an early-1970s Dr. Demento show, Frank Zappa was a guest and was playing some of his favorite songs. He played a couple of Shaggs songs and professed his love for the album.[14] There is a legend that Zappa called the Shaggs "better than the Beatles," though this quote actually originated with rock critic Lester Bangs, who wrote about Philosophy of the World in a 1981 article for The New Yorker.[15]

In 1980, Terry Adams and Tom Ardolino of the band NRBQ, who owned an original copy of the LP and were fans of the music, convinced their record label, Rounder Records, to reissue Philosophy of the World. Upon the LP's release, Rolling Stone magazine accorded the Shaggs "Comeback of the Year" honors.[16] The album was widely, if derisively, reviewed. Adams and Ardolino curated the 1982 album Shaggs' Own Thing, compiling unreleased recordings made between 1969 and 1975.[17] In 1988, Dorothy Wiggin found the lost masters of Philosophy of the World in a closet; these and the tracks from Shaggs' Own Thing were remastered and released on Rounder as a self-titled compilation later that year.[18]

Original pressings of Philosophy of the World are now quite valuable and highly sought-after by rare-record collectors. RCA Victor reissued the album on CD in 1999. The reissue was co-produced by Terry Adams and Irwin Chusid; the latter also wrote new liner notes.[19] The New Yorker subsequently ran a lengthy profile of the Shaggs by staff writer Susan Orlean.[20] The Shaggs played at the NRBQ 30th-anniversary celebration held at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, November 20-21, 1999.[21] In 2001, the Animal World label released Better Than The Beatles, a Shaggs tribute album. The album featured Ida, Optiganally Yours, R. Stevie Moore, Deerhoof and Danielson Famille and others covering the Shaggs' songs.[22]

The sisters' mother Annie Wiggin died in 2005,[23] and Helen Wiggin died in 2006.[24] Dot Wiggin released a solo album, Ready! Get! Go!, on Alternative Tentacles Records on October 29, 2013.[25] The album contains new recordings of previously unrecorded Shaggs songs as well as new songs that Wiggin had written with her band.[25] Dot and Betty performed a reunion show in 2017, curated by Wilco.[26]

A stage musical about the Shaggs, Philosophy of the World, opened at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Los Angeles in November 2003. The show received its New York premiere in 2011 in a co-production between Playwrights Horizons and New York Theatre Workshop.[27] A revival was staged in July 2019 at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, New York.[28]

Members[edit]

  • Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin-Semprini – vocals, guitar (1968–1975, 1999, 2017)
  • Betty Wiggin-Porter – guitar, vocals (1968–1975, 1999, 2017)
  • Helen Wiggin-Bickford (deceased) – drums (1968–1975)
  • Rachel Wiggin-Gould – bass guitar (1969–1975)
  • Austin Wiggin, Jr. (deceased) – vocals (1973)
  • Robert Wiggin – vocals (1973)

Timeline[edit]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

  • Philosophy of the World (Original issue: Third World Records, TCLP 3001, 1969) (Reissue: Red Rooster/Rounder 3032, 1979)

Collections[edit]

  • Shaggs' Own Thing (Red Rooster/Rounder 1982)
  • The Shaggs (CD contains both "Philosophy Of The World" & "Shaggs Own Thing") (Rounder Records 1988)

Singles[edit]

  • "My Pal Foot Foot / Things I Wonder" (Fleetwood FL 4584, 1969, credited as the Shags)

Tribute albums[edit]

Various artists compilations[edit]

References[edit]

  • Chusid, Irwin. Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. (Chicago) A Cappella, 2000. ISBN 1-55652-372-6.
  • Guralnick, Peter. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000. (New York) Da Capo Press, 2000. ISBN 0-306-80999-0.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Simon Reynolds; Joy Press (1996). The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll. Harvard University Press. p. 328. ISBN 978-0-674-80273-5.
  2. ^ SPIN Media LLC (September 1993). SPIN. SPIN Media LLC. p. 119. ISSN 0886-3032.
  3. ^ Eric Jones (1 September 2011). New Hampshire Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7627-6845-5.
  4. ^ Vincentelli, Elisabeth (2011-06-08). "A sweetly 'Shaggs'-adelic tribute to '60s girl group". Nypost.com. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  5. ^ Blevins, Joe (November 2, 2015). "Ultra-rare live footage of outsider rockers The Shaggs unearthed". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  6. ^ Sodomsky, Sam (February 17, 2017). "The Shaggs to Play First Show in Over 15 Years". Pitchfork. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "The Shaggs by Mike Walsh". Missioncreep.com. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
  8. ^ Connelly, Chris (December 11, 1980). "Is Rock Ready for the Shaggs?". Rolling Stone. Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (332): 19.
  9. ^ Guralnick, p. 137.
  10. ^ a b Chusid, p. 3
  11. ^ "The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  12. ^ "Philosophy of the World – The Shaggs – Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  13. ^ a b Fishman, Howard (August 30, 2017). "The Shaggs Reunion Concert Was Unsettling, Beautiful, Eerie, and Will Probably Never Happen Again". Retrieved January 8, 2020.
  14. ^ "The Dr. Demento Show (live on KMET) – December 24, 1973 (8p-9p)". Dmdb.org.
  15. ^ ""Better Than the Beatles (and DNA, Too)" by Lester Bangs". www.keyofz.com. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  16. ^ "Rolling Stone's 1980 Rock & Roll Awards". Rolling Stone. Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (338): 31. March 5, 1981.
  17. ^ Shaggs' Own Thing - The Shaggs | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2021-05-13
  18. ^ "The Shaggs: The Shaggs". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  19. ^ Philosophy of the World reissue credits at Discogs.com
  20. ^ Orlean, Susan. "Meet the Shaggs". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  21. ^ "NRBQ – 30th Anniversary Program Book". Nrbq.com.
  22. ^ "Various Artists: Better Than the Beatles: A Tribute to the Shaggs". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  23. ^ "Brewitt Funeral Home – vaults, caskets, cremation, cemeteries, funerals, urns". Brewittfuneralhome.com. Retrieved 2017-09-19.
  24. ^ "Obituaries for Fri. April 21, 2006". SeacoastOnline.com. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
  25. ^ a b "The Shaggs' Dot Wiggin Announces Debut Solo Album Ready! Get! Go!". Pitchfork Media. 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2013-09-05.
  26. ^ Fishman, Howard. "The Shaggs Reunion Concert Was Unsettling, Beautiful, Eerie and Will Probably Never Happen Again". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  27. ^ "Philosophy of the World". Playwrightshorizons.org. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  28. ^ "The 2019 Season – Bridge Street Theatre | Catskill, NY". Retrieved 2018-12-15.

External links[edit]