The Sonics: We were average guys trying to do an above-average job
Every once in a while in the rock 'n' roll timeline, a band comes along and blows the lid off the conventional definitions of "loud" and "fast." Most folks remember names like the Ramones, the MC5, and the Stooges but the legendary Tacoma, Washington, garage band the Sonics predated all of them. In the early '60s the Sonics were college-aged guys playing a mix of '50s rock 'n' roll standards, but their hardscrabble background gave them a distinct edge. Here, the bones of punk rock are beginning emerge in the slashing guitar of Larry Parypa and the wild-armed drumming of powerhouse Bob Bennett. The soulful screams of frontman Gerry Roslie and Rob Lind's saxophone kept things thoroughly anchored in the blues tradition.
Since 2007, the Sonics have played occasional festival dates and European tours, but now they're back on the attack with a wide ranging world tour to whet appetites for their forthcoming LP. Gimme Noise reached saxophonist Rob Lind before Saturday's show at First Avenue to talk about that new material, as well the band's enduring legacy.
Gimme Noise: One of the things that seems to be forgotten when people talk about bands like yours is that many of you started out by playing a lot of R&B material. How important was R&B and early soul on the Sonics' formation?
Rob Lind: Oh, very important, and we did a lot of it. In those days, we were playing three and sometimes four sets, and we were rocker boys, we wanted to rock we did... I think everything that Little Richard ever thought of. But by the same token, we were still doing Little Willie John, we were doing James Brown, and we were doing all kinds of stuff like that. It was about two-thirds rock to one-third rhythm and blues stuff.
Did performers that you famously covered, like Little Richard, Huey Smith, Rufus Thomas, etc tour up to Seattle and make a big impression when you went to see them, or did you gain that from records?
I never did, but the black groups used to play at a place on the outskirts of town at a place called the Evergreen Ballroom. You could go down there and it'd be all black people and then 15 white rock musicians right in front of the stage. I saw the Bobby Bland Revue two or three times, I saw Ike and Tina Turner twice. I stood three feet away from Tina Turner when she was singing, so we definitely got a chance to see some of that stuff. Not a lot, James Brown came through and played one of the big venues in town, in the Armory there and we went to see him.
What about your own personal sax playing? Who were some of your biggest influences? King Curtis comes to mind.
Well, I love King Curtis. There was a band called Johnny & the Hurricanes, they were a national band, had two or three national records, and their sax player was outta sight! He played dirty, and that's the way I wanted to play.
In the Pacific Northwest there was two main centers of music, back then. Seattle was very urbane, our contemporaries that were up there playing were all very good, sax players were wonderful and still are, really wonderful jazz players. We were down in Tacoma, so we used to say, "If Seattle is like London, than Tacoma is like Liverpool." It's a blue collar harbor town, our dads were all blue-collar guys and we just wanted to rock. We weren't trying to be jazz musicians. So our guitar player Larry [Parypa], he played as dirty as he knew how, and I was trying to do the same on the sax. Gerry [Roslie]'s pounding on the piano and screaming, our drummer at the time, Bob Bennett was just pounding on them. So that was the difference, we didn't swing, we were more four-four, straight ahead and right in your face.
Did you have any idea at the time that your group was more hard-edged than some of your garage contemporaries?
Yeah, we did, one of the terms that I use today to describe the Sonics is that we were average guys trying to do an above-average job. We were average musicians, each in our own right, nobody was a jazz guy, but when you put the five of us together, something happens and all of a sudden it's an earthquake. It's always been that way, and it's that way right now. We work every night to do the best job we can, and it always comes out pretty well, but it's like the whole is better than the sum of the parts.