So the rich get richer and the poorer get, er, rawer. Sixties garage bands that didn't strike it rich following the Stones into fuzz-pedal territory are now turning out the best shows of their careers on the other side of 50. There's Sky Saxon pushing too hard with a new set of Seeds, Arthur Lee fresh out of jail with re-re-revisited Love, the reconstituted Electric Prunes, Sean Bonniwell's Music Machine, and the Chocolate Watchband. They're all coming out of retirement and all playing as if their lives -- or a month's rent -- depend on it.
These pioneers of punk have another thing in common: They're all buddies with the Hypno-Twists, Phoenix's premium outlet for Nuggets-style punk, spaghetti Western boleros, Latin mambos, snake-charming ragas and psychedelia.
"We [recently] opened for the Seeds," says a clearly geeked Jelly Roll Joel, the Hypnos' guitarist, who followed Sky Saxon all around the Nita's Hideaway parking lot in Tempe for 45 minutes waiting for the Seeds' singer to relinquish the Sharpie and finish autographing his Seeds album sleeve. "We'd seen Sky back in '89 and he was much more coherent this time around. Not so rambling and insane talking about channeling the ghost of Jim Morrison."
The five-piece Hypno-Twists just celebrated their two-year anniversary as a band, and over that time they've become among the city's only good excuses to get trashed on a Wednesday. The band, whose members are in their late 20s and early 30s, continues the musical voodoo with Wicked Eye, its second album, filled with instrumental covers and vertigo-inspired originals.
"A lot of the retro-'60s bands nowadays are very one-dimensional," complains Joel. "They'll do a song that sounds like Satisfaction' and every other song they play sounds the same way. Or a lot of bands will just do surf instrumentals, or they just do lounge. We want to do all that stuff."
It must be a pain for a band as musically eclectic as the Hypno-Twists to rehearse in a band room facility in southern Phoenix that caters to only one very bad, very loud strand of rock. "I don't know where all these heavy metal bands gig," wonders Joel. "I think many of 'em just play here." It's almost a living museum of what the Arizona music scene was like in the early '90s, when Joel and Hypno-drummer Philthy Phil were toiling in Cruel Daddy Doom and the Hemlocks.
"We actually had a pretty good Phoenix following. All the punk rock kids liked us a lot but very few other people got it all," adds Phil, who switched over from guitar to drums at the Hypnos' inception.
"The music was pretty much what we do now, only much more," recalls Joel. "A bit more vague, more psyche. It was rawer because we weren't as good playing so we ended up sounding more juvenile, I guess. And we never had an organist 'cause we could never find one."
Enter Vox vixen Tula Storm, who had never played in a band before. "I used to teach comp[arative literature] at ASU . . . in another life," she trails off with a laugh. "I'd been in school for so long I finished with my master's degree and felt there was something else out there." Storm soon hooked up with another closet musician, horn player Jimmy Vespa, who confesses, "I'd never really played in bands. I just collected records." One particularly suspect LP was responsible for the group's hyphenated name.
"We took the name from a '60s fitness record," says Vespa, laughing. "When you flipped the cover over, it said Hypno-twist.' It had the whirl pattern and a place for your feet; you stand on it, you put the feet together and you twist." Ironically, that's about as much room as most Hypno fans have to dance on their weekly Wednesday night gigs at the Emerald Lounge, at Seventh Avenue and McDowell.
Eventually, they were joined by bassist El Tato, who played in Joel's snooty side project the Jazz Core Trio, and by Bobby Lava. Although the band hasn't made any announcements, Lava recently left the Hypnos to devote full attention to his other band Killbot (see the story on page 94), as well as a third band, Kongo Shock. The group has had a busy month of gigging to recover from the missing-man syndrome. The loss of Lava's leads has given the band a more primal sound, with Storm's organ cutting through the din most of all. And Vespa's happy because he now has the luxury of taking two steps instead of one when he blows his trumpet on the Emerald's cramped stage!
It's impossible to tell the Hypno-Twists story without touching on the band's home base. The sextet began its Wednesday night Emerald residency when bands were still bunched up in the front room and pool tables still resided in the back. Once classified as a dive bar, the Emerald has been upgraded to a funky cultural mecca, no small thanks to the Hypno-habit of projecting kitschy go-go movies and Mexican wrestling flicks onstage to compete with the clouds of nicotine swirling overhead for airspace. "It's the only bar I know where the smokers complain about the smoke," Joel jokes. "But God I love that place. The regular Wednesday night gig affords the band the advantage of swapping gigs with out-of-town bands who almost never find good Wednesday nights on the road."
"Pipeline" isn't just a cover song in regular rotation (check out the original by the Chantays), it's something the band is striving toward building, an interstate, intercity band network where bands swap gigs and sleeping accommodations. But are there enough like-minded bands out there to network with the Hypno-Twists?
"We don't really wanna play with bands that are like us, necessarily," insists Storm. "We'd rather play with good rock 'n' roll bands. One of our favorite bands is Devotchka from Denver. . . . They're like us in some ways and not like us at all. They have a Middle Eastern vocalist and cello. We had the coolest show we ever had with them in Flagstaff."
Already, the Hypnos have tapped into the aforementioned garage psychedelia set. Some new ardent fans of the Hypno-Twists include Rudi Protrudi of the Fuzztones and James Lowe of the Electric Prunes. Both penned blurbs for Wicked Eye, and Lowe filmed one of the band's echo-bombarding, sensual sets for inclusion in a "history of psychedelia" video he's working on. Plus, Protrudi invited Joel and Storm to play on the next Fuzztones album. When the Prunes and Chocolate Watchband played the Bay Area's Great American Music Hall on November 16, Storm was invited to play organ on the Prunes' second hit "Get Me to the World on Time."
"We saw the Prunes do their first show in 32 years in Riverside, California," says Storm. "They were amazed at how we were so into them. They only played a half-hour but they were mind-boggling. We partied with them all night and then drove back to Phoenix." Then came the dawn and they were gone!
Kicking back and listening to the Hypno-Twists live, it's easy to be of two minds. It's a cultural high in an age of radio apartheid to hear an Ennio Morricone cover like "Aces High" and then have the band launch into "I'm Rowed Out," a punky steal of the Who's "Can't Explain," made even more obnoxious by the fact that the Eyes were the Who's contemporaries. Yet what place is there for the music Wicked Eye celebrates in an era where the commercially viable instrumental music is techno (where individual instruments aren't even discernible)?
"When there's no singer, people don't know what to think," says Phil of the band's 50/50 policy of vocals and instrumentals. "It's just been so beat into them that you gotta listen to this person saying a bunch of words you've heard 100 times anyway. But, hey, you're always gonna get instant gratification with a song like Cold Slaw.'"
Adds Joel, "My favorite part after every show is when people come up to us and say, What's that song called when you guys yell out "hey"?' And I get to tell them it's called Hey'!"