We’re not even a month into 2015, and we’ve already been blessed with the year’s first musical surprise. Eighteen years after the eighth volume of Crypt Records ground breaking series of garage rock compilations Back from The Grave was released, the label has issued volumes 9 & 10, the vinyl editions several weeks ago, and the double disc CD set with both volumes out just this past week. Since Lenny Kaye’s legendary Nuggets compilation was issued in 1972, there have been literally hundreds, maybe thousands of collections of garage rock albums and CD’s that have flooded the market. But there isn’t a series that’s more highly regarded than Crypt Records Back From The Grave series. That’s because mastermind Tim Warren always managed to find the very best, and rarest garage rock 45’s for the series, packaged in sleeves with colorful, and appropriately ghoulish artwork, along with detailed liner notes with as much information as could be found about these mostly lost, often forgotten records that made little impact outside of the small communities where they were recorded.
As good as those first eight volumes are, none are better than these latest two sets. It’s clear from reading through the pair of booklets enclosed in the CD set that an enormous amount of time and effort was required to pull these 30 tracks together. It’s virtually an archaeological dig to find these obscure records – most between 45 and 50 years old, recorded by local teenage groups from all over the United States in small studios – most of which closed decades ago. Where do you begin? Who do you talk to? Some of these records were only preserved in acetate form. For others, only a couple of copies remain from the original pressing. The teenagers who recorded these songs are senior citizens today – if they’re still alive at all. So pulling 30 tracks together for two compilations must’ve been something akin to the Egyptians building the pyramids.
These garage rock records have survived because of a loyal, and dedicated network of fans and listeners who understand the importance of these 45’s to the history of rock ‘n’ roll. They’re passed along from one to another, reputations gained by word of mouth. The records turn up in garage sales, and flea markets. Somebody’s father dies, and a box of old 45’s is discovered in the attic, and sold through an ad in the local newspaper to a collector. Maybe in a batch of, say, a hundred records, there’s one garage rock classic that turns up that only a handful of people can remember. The guy or girl who bought the collection hears it, and calls a buddy excited about this great find. And before you know it, word spreads through the collecting underground. That’s where these compilations come from. That’s where the seeds are planted. And in their own way, these records are every bit as important in telling the story of American music in the 20th century as those old blues and jazz 78’s from the 1920’s are.
When the history of rock ‘n’ roll is written, the portion that gets overshadowed and undervalued is the impact rock ‘n’ roll had on teenagers – particularly in the mid 1960’s when The Beatles arrived from England and, overnight, change the course of pop music history. Teenagers all over the world, and certainly all across the United States rushed to musical instrument stores to buy guitars and drums and amplifiers to start their own bands. For many it was the first paying job they ever had. It was their first time working with a group of people, friends usually, toward a common goal. It was the first dream they dreamed that they might be able to make come true. For some the dream did not extend beyond becoming competent enough to play in front of audiences at dances, or clubs for a few dollars a week. For others, they dreamed of making a record that might get played on the radio. For a select few, they dreamed of making a career in the music business, and following in The Beatles footsteps.
The reality for most, of course, was very different. Many did play local gigs for pocket money, and many did get to make at least one record that might even have been played on the local rock radio station. But few made the transition to show business as a career. In reading the liner notes to these sets, bands fell victim to all the changes that adulthood brings. There were graduations, and band members leaving to go off to college. For too many, Uncle Sam came calling. For others, there was a need to secure a steadier kind of employment with a regular paycheck because it was time to fall in love and get married and start a family.
But before the daily 9-5 grind began for these kids as they became adults, they had the opportunity to realize at least one dream, to taste immortality by contributing something to the culture, however primitive and unimportant it might have seemed at the time in the grand scheme of things.
When the era passed, the records those kids made were fading memories for them, and those who witnessed what they’d done. As the years would go by, the time they spent in a rock ‘roll band would seem little more than an aberration. They were soldiers, and plumbers, and doctors, and accountants, and clerks far longer than they were musicians. Maybe they kept a copy of the one record they’d made on the shelf with the rest of their records next to the record player they hadn’t much time for anymore once the baby was born. Every once in awhile somebody might bump into them somewhere and say, “Didn’t you use to be in a band?” And for a moment the memories would come flooding back only to be brushed aside again for the renewal of the daily grind.
But a strange thing happened to these kids on the way to obscurity. One guy put together a collection of some of the records these kids made, and discovered there were hundreds of thousands of people out there just like him who loved and cherished those records and didn’t want to let them fade. And 50 years later, maybe a now retired fireman is sitting home watching TV, and there’s a knock at the door, and it’s some guy from a record label holding a copy of the 45 his group made five decades earlier, and he’s asking if he can get the story behind the group and the record because he wants to immortalize it on a collection so it’s preserved for generations of record collectors and music lovers. And the one dream the retired fireman never dared dream – immortality – is staring him in the face. It’s not the kind of immortality of presidents, or inventors, or sports heroes. It’s immortality on a much smaller scale. It’s the kind that says, “You did something once long ago that touched people. It had value to them. And it’s going to be preserved, and it will outlive you. And you can tell your grandchildren about it. You can tell them you made a small contribution to the history of American popular music. And you did it when you were just a kid.”
That’s what the Back From The Grave series is about. That’s what all of these collections of records are about. They’re part of our collective history as a culture. When I listened to these latest volumes, and read the notes, I realized those stories were coming from people who lived in my neighborhood, and went to my school, and my church. That guy who put the roof on your house has a story to tell you. It’s in the grooves of a 45 rpm record, and it’s a really good story.
Back From The Grave Volumes 9 & 10 are available separately on vinyl wherever vinyl is sold, and together on a double CD set wherever you buy music. You’ll get 30 of the best garage rock records you’ve never heard, and the stories to go with them.