By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
Garage rock was not about taking rock 'n' roll and handing it to creepy label guys with shaky checkbooks. Nor was it about having your parents, teachers, priests and rabbis giving it the thumbs up. It was none of that. It was all about your own, about breathing some kind of passion and art into some artless and raw form and making your soul scream. This during a time when radio actually played local records, when half your friends weren't yet shipped off to Vietnam. A time when rock 'n' roll had life and context and functionality.
Arizona in the 1960s had an untold number of great bands that blew the horns of garage punk. Bands that parents loathed. Bands that fancied themselves as experiments rich in colorful symbolism with many layered meanings, or out just to piss off adults and get the girls. The Dearly Beloved, the Spiders, the Grodes and Sot Weed Factor were a few Arizona bands that were considered great.
Sitting around a table at a dimly lighted midtown bar, downing round after round of Guinness Stout, the five men/boys who make up five-sixths of the Hypno-Twists (glaringly absent from the group is organist Tula Storm) explain how they went from back-up schleps for Marco Polo's Curse of the Pink Hearse to Phoenix's newest garage/kitsch hitmakers.
Heaping helpings of self-deprecation and piss-takes litter the conversation. The occasional rock-band cliché takes flight, hangs in the air momentarily, then is soon wrestled down. The members of Hypno-Twists have their tongues deeply planted in their cheeks.
Guitarist Jelly Roll Joel deconstructs the band's short stint with Curse of the Pink Hearse, which ended two months ago. "He [Marco Polo] pulled some things that we weren't happy about, basically. We went down to meet with him and he had complained to a couple people in the band [about band members] but never really said anything to other people in the band. He basically just decided we weren't gonna book any shows. We were gonna take three months off. And we all said, 'Forget it.'"
"It kind of worked out well for us because we just got bored doing straight rockabilly anyway," explains drummer Philthy Phil, Joel's brother.
Brothers Phil and Joel are droll and self-effacing. They look like Chocolate Watch Band expatriates caught in a vacuum -- Byrdsy mops, thick lips, good cheekbones. Having been bros for nearly 30 years, they often finish one another's sentences, jokes, anecdotes and personal histories.
On a night when the temperature is still hanging in the hundreds, Phil can be seen making the local scene in skintight yellow trousers, Beatle boots and a three-button jacket. Phil and Joel, it would appear, understand that proper rock 'n' roll stars -- past and present -- put vanity first.
Besides Curse of the Pink Hearse, the brothers shared the stage together in the Hemlocks and Cruel Daddy Doom.
When their association with Curse of the Pink Hearse comes up, others in the group just shake their heads. And they are polite, even after countless Guinnesses. None is willing to go on record saying anything disparaging about the long-in-the-tooth local rockabilly hepster Polo. Polo is, after all, the reason the Hypno-Twists exist. The Curse brought them all together. They are grateful for that, but you get the sense a few are biting their tongues.
"We're much happier now," says trumpeter/tambourine-smasher Jimmy Vespa, the group's resident mod. "So we replaced Marco with a television set!"
Onstage, Vespa's the one you'll see using the front mike, though the band claims no actual front man. He's a younger, good-looking Kramer from Seinfeld. Live, Vespa has Krameresque body humor, lithesome and gyratory. Like all retro campaigners, Vespa takes his mod shtick two steps further than would otherwise be expected from a genre-specific music fan. Here's a guy who adheres to a mod scene of yore when by most accounts no local mod scene ever really existed. To hear him talk, Phoenix in the early 1980s could have been Brighton circa 1965, with Camelback Mountain the battleground where the mods and the rockers went at it.
It's true the band does employ a TV set live. Off-putting at first, the set sits facing the crowd at the bow of the stage and loops everything kitschy and sweet -- a hip-swinging Ann-Margret, a Roddy McDowall grimace from Planet of the Apes, hypnotic 1950s tease-arama and band members themselves preening into the camera's lens. There's a junior Pink Floyd psychedelic slide show.
The Hypno-Twists' shtick transcends the retro-vaudevillian splash some might associate with the band upon first inspection. Guitar leads and organ grinds swirl menacingly, sliding purposely in and out of notes for heightened effect. Mewling lead vocals are traded among members (a few even crooned in Spanish). The songs themselves at this point are mostly instrumental, hum and twang along, heavy in Ventures nods, surf riffs that morph into mambos or platefuls of Ennio Morricone spaghetti. Vespa's trumpet furnishes the tunes with a soaring thickness, and lovely melodies.
"We're a variety of rock styles, though," Joel explains. "Sixties go-go to surf-type stuff to exotica to spaghetti Western. We try to mix it up."