Don’t talk to me about 1974. Unless you lived through this rotten hunk of a year, fully aware of your surroundings and yearning for better things, you just have no idea how dire the very idea of rock music had become. You may think, “Hey, the Dolls were at their highpoint then.” But, truly, the main influence the Dolls had on other bands in the NY vicinity is that it made them dress up like fruits, paint their nails and pout a lot. Many a combo went from overalls to leather pants that year, but most of them still sounded like dire hicks. The few interesting bands that were around – Modern Lovers in Boston, TV Jones in Sydney, Rocket From The Tombs in Cleveland, Kid Galahad in Brisbane, Destroy All Monsters in Ann Arbor, Simply Saucer in Toronto – were impossible to access via recordings or anything else. I mean, yeah, they existed, but only for a very small group of their friends. What passed for a really great band was some hippie shitkicker combo that would throw the Velvet’s “Sweet Jane” into their set as a follow-up to “Friend Of The Devil.” I kid you not. These were the worst of times by ‘most any measure. And many were the nights I wept bitter tears, permanently staining my pillowcase with ill-applied mascara.
Consequently, I was in high druthers when Don Waller, legendary L.A. music writer and bon vivant, got in touch a few years ago to tell me a video had surfaced of his old band, The Imperial Dogs, playing a live show the night before Halloween in 1974. I knew about the band. They’d had a decent posthumous single on the Back Door Man label (an adjunct of the legendary L.A. fanzine), then much later a live LP, Unchained Maladies, on Dave Laing’s Dog Meat Records. The live album was rough and beautiful. It gave a real glimmer of what these guys might’ve been like live, but it was still a bit difficult to imagine how the band fleshed out their attack. This veil of mystery fell away the moment Don slipped the video into the player.
Phast Phreddie introduces the band, they blast off into a very raw version of The Kinks’“’Til The End Of The Day” and go flat-out from there on. There are all kinds of pure aggression at large – from Waller’s call to put all Carole King fans into death camps to the Nazi flag draped on the amps to fake vomiting and song intros that would have made my ears wiggle even if I’d heard them in ’77 at the height of the punk scare. And the music would have passed for first rate pastiche in that era as well. Actually, when you subtract Waller from the equation, all of a sudden you can imagine this as a ’74 band. A good one, but not revolutionary. In the period after Nuggets was originally released, there began to be a few groups who embraced the raw end of the ‘60s garage tradition, which had been destroyed by psychedelia and prog a few years earlier. In The Imperial Dogs’ music, there are traces of all of them – The Standells and Chocolate Watchband, along with The Doors and The Stooges and the Dolls. Without Don, The Imperial Dogs would have been just an outstanding proto-punk garage band (a la the Count Bishops or whatever Metal Mike Saunders happened to be doing that month).
Waller’s presence is a pure PUNK take on Iggy’s gestalt. But where Iggy’s cartoony aspect – at least in retrospect – had an almost sweet, acid-damaged quality, Waller is all negativity and amphetamine. He snarls and curses and stomps around, smacking stuff with his chains. And when his pants start to come off, it reads as a very aggressive act, even though it’s clearly beyond his control. The rest of the band sound very cool, and the fact that they’re playing almost all originals is real unusual for the time, but their vibe is not too different than many of the hipper glitter bands of ’74. They look and act like three guys who decided to dress up weird and “mean” for their band, but it’s clear they don’t all share the same evil vision.
But man, together they really power through this set like no one else could have in those dark days. If I would’ve seen these guys at the time, I’m pretty sure I’d be living a very different life right now. This tape has that sort of quality. Anyone with any interest in the development of the American musical underground in the ‘70s will truly get their goddamn lunch eaten watching this.
So nasty, so dumb, so perfect. Halloween ’74. What the fuck were
you doing? --Byron Coley