If the recent news of the White Stripes’ break up has left you weeping over your garage rock/blues collection in dismay, take heart. We’re here to remind you that there are plenty of lesser-known grit-rock stompers in line to fill in for your Jack and Meg fix. From the frenetic, punk-inspired garage rock stylings of Billy Childish to the rambunctious Memphis reel of The Reigning Sound, these bands are sure to distract you from your woe for a while. And who knows? They might just fill that Stripes-shaped hole in your record collection/heart.
Wild Billy Childish
Just trying to track what the insanely prolific Billy Childish is doing at any time might leave you slightly out of breath. Not only has the man been a part of over 50 recordings with bands like Thee Headcoats, Thee Milkshakes, The Mighty Caesars, and the Natural Born Lovers — just to name a few — he’s also written 40 books of poetry, edited a fanzine, and had a serious painting career. Childish is one of Jack White’s inspirations (Jack even had Billy’s name written on his arm when he went on Top of the Pops), and his raw, blues-punk sound influenced everyone from Kurt Cobain to Kylie Minogue (seriously). Childish’s latest band is The Vermin Poets, a good group to keep your eye on.
Pierced Arrows/Fred Cole
Garage master Fred Cole has been driving the scene forward since the 1960s, with his Nuggets-approved band The Weeds. Since then he’s been a part of The Lollipop Shoppe, the hard rock band Zipper, and the country number Western Front, among others. Maybe Cole’s most famous recent musical accomplishments have been with Dead Moon, his garage rock-noise punk fusion band beloved by critic Robert Christgau. His most recent group is Pierced Arrows, formed with his wife Toody (who has been in most of Cole’s bands) and a new drummer. When we saw them last, the drummer continued to play even while bleeding profusely, and Fred Cole’s caterwauling was just as jagged as ever.
The Greenhornes began as a high school band in Indiana in 1996, and play a psychedelic-blues-punk mash-up of the sort that led to Jack White befriending the group in the early 2000s. Bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler were both in the Do-Whaters, the band Jack White formed for his collaboration with Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose , and they were both recruited for the Raconteurs. Last year the Greenhornes came back together to record the excellent Four Stars , their first album in eight years.
The Reigning Sound was formed by another garage-punk legend, Memphis’s own Greg Cartwright, previously of the Oblivians, ’68 Comeback, and the Compulsive Gamblers. Their sound is slightly more polished than Cartwright’s previous bands, full of sugary pop hooks and soul-inspired rhythms. The Reigning Sound have also recorded with Mary Weiss, of The Shangri-Las, blending her girl-group sound with psychedelic guitar.
Missisippi native James Johnson — who earned his nickname Super Chikan from his reckless driving as a cab driver in Clarksdale — grew up playing blues guitar with his father, who was himself a renowned musician. His music is creaky and raw, old school blues with a bit of a wink. This year, he’s been nominated for a Blues Music Award.
Part punk rock, part garage band, and part straight-up hooligans, the Black Lips have been breaking guitars all over the States for a little over a decade. Their onstage antic include vomiting on a guitar and continuing to play — a tricky feat, to be sure — and their music veers close to manic at times, careening into psych-rock and blues and then pulling back for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll.
T-Model Ford — née James Ford — was born about 90 years ago, but frankly, he can’t remember when exactly. Ford has only been playing blues for some 20 years, landing on Fat Possum records in 1997. He plays a raucous, Chicago-meets-Memphis kind of blues, and recently caught the ear of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who put him in last year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties. His most recent album, The Ladies Man , is perhaps his best yet. Ford swoops, thumps, and reels through old blues standards, and adds a couple of his own into the mix.
The Detroit-based Dirtbombs are hard to place. Are they punk? Grungey garage? Gritty soul? Whatever they are, it’s really good. They apply their sound –two basses!– to a variety of genres. Most recently they did a set of techno covers, and in the future they’ve promised a Dirtbombs interpretation of a bubblegum pop album. Bring it on, we say!
Boston drum-and-guitar duo Mr. Airplane Man share a couple things with the White Stripes, other than their format. Both bands have an obsession with the blues — Mr. Airplane Man were, in fact, named after a Howlin’ Wolf song — and both were introduced to their first record label by ’68 Comeback veteran Jeffrey Evans. The bands even toured together in the early 2000s. Mr. Airplane skew a little quieter and more blues-heavy than the Stripes, but they’re equally raw and rhythmically intense.
The stripped-down bedroom rock project of New Jersey native Daniel DiMaggio, Home Blitz is a noisy, lo-fi blues-pop project that first got together in 2006. Though the band had some line-up disputes after 2008, they’ve recently reunited (with a few new members) and began playing shows around New York and New Jersey. Catch them if you can –their shows are part Pavement in 1990, part Daniel Johnston.