The name of the EP alone -- Party Hits Volume II -- hints at the excellent sense of humor the Zany Guys possess to this day. Though it is no secret there isn't a volume one, I am not sure many people actually remember just how funny the Zany Guys truly were. Clever is probably a better word, really, and the mood of this recording is both fun and ferocious, just like drummer Andhi Spath's iconic artwork adorning the cover. There was always an element to the band where you would just shake your head and say, "Damn, these guys rocked. What happened to them?" But that is another tale . . . a cautionary tale of excess, booze, and too much toast.
(I'm kidding, of course. There has been booze and toast. I seriously doubt, though, there has been much excess.)
The popularity and longstanding adoration of the Zany Guys has been a constant in the Phoenix punk rock scene for the past 30 years, even though they were a band for only a short time. Initially, at least according to Mark Wooten, who happens to be a great bass player and tall drink of water, "We were embraced almost immediately. The reaction from the crowd at our first show (in 1982 at the relatively short-lived venue DecaDance) was so overwhelmingly positive and we knew we were on to something special. Not to say that we didn't have any detractors. At that time, there was an influx of young third-generation punks, and I think our not-so-serious approach was not understood by some."
I'm sure it is odd for younger punks and music fans alike checking this out to consider the idea of there being third-generation punks in 1982, but the scene in Phoenix has deep roots. Wooten had been a member of Soylent Greene prior to forming the Zany Guys with guitar player Brian Kenney when they lived together in the "Nova House" (named for excellent Phoenix rockabilly band the Nova Boys, and both the house and the band are more than deserving of their own blog post) in his late teens.
"That first show we did at DecaDance was probably the best reception we got. I think we surprised a lot of people, like, 'Hey, this isn't punk rock . . . What are they doing?' Somebody threw a beer at us -- like, a full beer -- and I reached out and I grabbed it and then drank it down. It was like it had been scripted or something and we went right into another song," tells Carter Dukarm, the Zany Guys lead singer who at 15 was youngest member of the band.
Wooten remembers, "I moved into the Nova Boys house the day I graduated from high school. Brian Kenney was already living there, and I would hear him playing guitar in his room. I had a couple years of bass playing under my belt so I asked him if he wanted to start a band. We jammed with a few drummers, including a kid so young his mom waited in the car during his tryout. Things weren't really jelling with anyone we played with. One evening during a house party we met and played with Andhi Spath [drums] and Carter Dukarm [vocals]. There was a very natural chemistry almost immediately. Brian and I talked it over and we asked them to join our group. Carter and Andhi went home to mull it over and showed up the next day for our first practice."
Dukarm remembers wondering if he and Spath "should just blow it off, but we ended up going over there and starting the Zany Guys. I was young, probably 15 or 16 years old and needed rides everywhere."
Spath and Dukarm were close friends who hung out together a lot, so they brought a pre-existing relationship to the band to match the budding connection between roommates Kenney and Wooten. It was Dukarm and Spath's friend Al Penzone, from the Nova Boys, who brought them to the party where they met Kenney and Wooten, so if anyone is to blame for the existence of the Zany Guys, it is probably Penzone.
Like many of the early Phoenix punk bands, the Zany Guys were associated with Placebo Records, which was run by Tony Victor and Greg Hynes, who decided to put out Party Hits Volume II in 1983.
"Zany Guys was a fun, pop kind of a band. Their live shows were always high energy and upbeat," Victor says. "They made people laugh. [Party Hits Vol. II] got a good review in Spin magazine that gave it a little jump start. They weren't around long. Too bad, I think an album would have come next."
As for the name of the seven-inch EP, Kenney adds, "I think the name seemed funny at the time, as those things often do, but in retrospect is not really that funny. But, hey, it was our first record, we were all just out of high school and we hadn't even been playing very long so we were excited. I do remember folding all the inserts and placing them inside the cover. We never saw a dime from any of it and we actually did all the work to put them together. An appropriate introduction to the music business."
The four-song EP clocks in at just a tad over 10 minutes. The majority of the songs, according to guitar player Kenney, were spawned from lyrics scribbled on the back of coasters between busing tables at the "punk rock" Black Angus near Metrocenter. The mere idea there was once a "punk rock" Black Angus, where a veritable who's who of the early West Phoenix scene worked, is awesome in and of itself. For those who don't remember the steak house chain, just think of a dark restaurant with lots of wood in the interior, and it was way more Urban Cowboy than Suburbia. It's telling actually, when you think of the lyrics to a song like "Hardcore," which is the second song on side one.
"I don't like the songs about women or them slow movin' trains. Songs about that there whiskey, don't seem to ease my pain. I won't be in any discos, or great big cowboy bars. The only place that you'll find me is listening to that old hardcore."
At that point, the song just explodes. I think it is fair to say the humor and attitude of a song like "Hardcore" helped a multitude of young Arizona punks find solace in the fact there were others just like them. The other tracks, "Little Tuff Kid," "Paperboy Blues," and "Mr. Ackers" have a similar feel of slightly to very pissed off, but with a sense of humor about the predicament, whether it be disillusioned youth, having a shitty job, or even worse, a shitty neighbor (Mr. Ackers lived across the street from Wooten and Kenney). These songs were born out of real frustration. Kenney "was always writing lyrics on the back of coasters. I still have a drawer full of them somewhere. That's where 'Little Tuff Kid' and 'Mr. Ackers' lyrics were written, in between refilling water glasses [at the punk Black Angus]. Most songs were written out of jamming together. 'Paper Boy Blues' was like that, though the lyrics to that one were the brainchild of Andhi and Carter."
"Little Tuff Kid," which leads off side one, starts with a rolling punk rock bass rumble that is like nectar to the soul. It isn't the first punk song to start that way and definitely not the last, but Wooten's bass line sets the tone for a fun romp through Arizona hardcore history. The combination of Dukarm coming in with his sneering vocals at breakneck speed, Kenney's killer guitar riff, and Andhi Spath's rapid fire one two, one two, one two drum beat, the listener is completely sucked in. It's true they weren't the greatest musicians at this point in their careers, but they were learning their craft and applying what they knew in a hugely entertaining way.
Side two features "Paperboy Blues" and "Mr. Ackers," which both have great hooks. On "Paperboy Blues," which kicks off side two, Wooten's ambling bass line oozes the desolation felt by every paperboy everywhere as they delivered the news. When the song kicks in, Spath tickles his ride cymbal like an Atavan-riddled child with a brand new bell, but it works completely as it takes the swing beat from lonely to frantic. Kenney's guitar work on both of side two's tracks is spot on, and while listening closely to this record, it is refreshing to hear how great his guitar sounds, as well. It sounds like punk rock guitar should sound. The same can also be said for Dukarm's vocals. While the lyrics are never going to rival deep thinkers like Bono or Adam Ant, for a bunch of goofy fuckers just out of high school, the delivery and charm are right where they need to be.
The Zany Guys recorded Party Hits Volume II at Phoenix's Desert Sounds Studio with Sandy Lamont at the helm. "If I recall correctly, it was recorded and mixed in a few hours," remembers Kenney.
Wooten: "We recorded everything live. Usually in one or two takes. We left the studio very excited and sure that we had captured the feel of what the Zany Guys were all about. I still feel that way today. It may not have the best production values, but it is a great snapshot of us and that time in music." The mood of the recording is definitely a mix of fun, and punk fury.
Unfortunately, the Zany Guys were relatively short-lived, even by today's standards. When Dukarm went on summer vacation in 1984, the band started jamming with the late Vince Bocchini and became Los Dirt Clods, which lasted a few summers as well. They seem genuinely surprised at the interest in their story after 30 years, and as Kenney put it, "It would have been impossible for me in 1983 to even comprehend [the idea of] 2014 much less imagine someone listening to the record. Being a guy who now owns a records store and collects records, I couldn't be more thrilled that someone is interested in it. I'm always blown away when someone on Facebook posts old flyers of shows and I see all the bands we shared a bill with."
Although three quarters of the band now call the Pacific Northwest home, the Zany Guys will always be a fixture in the Arizona punk scene and they remain interested in punk music to this day, either as functioning members of current bands or just fans.
I'm not sure if there was a leader, really, to the group, although the most gregarious is bass player Wooten, who's accomplished career in music has spanned four decades now, and he's currently a member of the Seattle band John Lee Spectre which features ex-Nova Boy Chris Kenan and expatriate Arizonan Doug Niman. Drummer Andhi Spath declined comment but sounded pretty darn good when the Zany Guys did a reunion show in Phoenix last month and looks to be in great health. Singer Carter Dukarm went on to play in a band called Groovy Truth after the Zany Guys broke up and remains in Phoenix to this day. He currently plays pedal steel guitar in Psycho Square Dance.
Wooten concluded by saying, "The thing that I always think about when remembering that record was how naive and innocent we were going into the studio for the first time. We had no idea of how to record, so we just kind of fell back on what we did know how to do. The best thing about being in the Zany Guys and being part of the Phoenix music scene was making lifelong friends. I still make music today with guys I met over 30 years ago! Who could ask for more?"
Tom Reardon has been an angry Phoenix punk rocker in four decades now. His highlights include Religious Skid ('80s), Hillbilly Devilspeak ('90s), North Side Kings ('00s), and now The Father Figures. He loves small furry animals, playing soccer with his kids, and skateboarding.
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