|Origin||Tacoma, Washington via Bremerton, Washington, U.S.|
|Genres||Garage rock, protopunk|
2007 – present
|Labels||Etiquette, Jerden, Norton|
|Past members||Andy Parypa
Ricky Lynn Johnson
The Sonics are an American garage rock band from Tacoma, Washington, originating in the early 1960s. Among the Sonics' contemporaries were the Kingsmen, the Wailers, the Dynamics, the Regents, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. Their aggressive, hard-edged sound has been a major influence on punk, garage, and hard rock music worldwide, and they've been named as inspirations by Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, the Fall, and other major artists.
They played a mixture of garage rock standards ("Louie, Louie", "Have Love, Will Travel"), early rock and roll ("Jenny, Jenny", "Skinny Minnie") and original compositions such as "Strychnine", "Psycho", and "The Witch", all based upon simple chord sequences, played hard and fast.
The lyrics of The Sonics' original material dealt with early 1960s teenage culture: cars, guitars, surfing, and girls (in songs like "The Hustler", "Boss Hoss" and "Maintaining My Cool") alongside darker subject matter such as drinking strychnine for kicks, witches, psychopaths, and Satan (in the songs "Strychnine", "The Witch", "Psycho", and "He's Waitin'", respectively).
- Gerry Roslie (b. 1944) — organ, piano, lead vocals
- Andy Parypa — bass guitar
- Larry Parypa — lead guitar, vocals
- Rob Lind — saxophone, vocals, harmonica
- Bob Bennett — drums
- Gerry Roslie — organ, piano, lead vocals
- Freddie Dennis — bass guitar, vocals
- Larry Parypa — lead guitar, vocals
- Rob Lind — saxophone, harp, vocals
- Dusty Watson — drums
Bennett and A. Parypa, unable to travel, were replaced by Watson and Dennis.1
The Sonics were formed in 1960 in Tacoma, Washington, by teen-aged guitarist Larry Parypa, with the encouragement of his music-loving parents. The earliest lineup included Parypa, drummer Mitch Jaber, and guitarist Stuart Turner; Parypa's brother Jerry briefly played sax, and their mother occasionally filled in on bass at rehearsals.2 In 1961, Parypa's older brother Andy became the bass player, and Tony Mabin took over as their new saxophone player.
When Turner left for the army, Rich Koch (who had previously played with The Wailers) joined as lead guitarist, and Marilyn Lodge became their first singer, the band having been an instrumental combo up to that point. A new drummer, Bill Dean, replaced Jaber.
Koch and Lodge left the band in 1963. Local star Ray Michelsen became the band's singer after having sung with a handful of other popular bands on the local scene. Larry began looking for a drummer to replace Dean, whom he felt was uncommitted to the band, and found Bob Bennett playing in a band called The Searchers, with keyboardist Gerry Roslie and sax player Rob Lind. Ray Michelsen was looking to leave the band, so the Parypas hired Bennett, Roslie, and Lind, and let their previous saxophonist Mabin go.
The well-known lineup was in place, but the Sonics' career as loved by their continuing cult following did not begin until 1964, when Gerry Roslie started singing lead vocals.
With Roslie as lead singer the band started playing gigs at local venues such as the Red Carpet, Olympia's Skateland, the Evergreen Ballroom, Perl's (Bremerton), the Spanish Castle Ballroom, and St. Mary's Parish Hall.
They were soon scouted by Buck Ormsby, bassist for popular Northwest band the Wailers, and signed to the Wailers' own label, Etiquette Records. The first single they cut was "The Witch" (with Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin'" as the B-side), in November 1964. The record was immensely popular with local kids, and went on to become the biggest selling local single in the history of the Northwest, despite its radio airplay being restricted because of its bizarre subject matter.
Early in 1965 Etiquette released the Sonics' debut LP, Here Are The Sonics, which was produced at Audio Recording in Seattle, Wash., with famed Pacific Northwest recording engineer Kearney Barton. It was recorded on a two-track tape recorder, with only one microphone to pick up the entire drum kit. It was here that they began to pioneer some of their infamously reckless recording techniques. A second album, Boom, followed in February 1966. During the recording, the Sonics ripped the soundproofing off the walls at the country and western-oriented Wiley/Griffith studio in Tacoma to "get a live-er sound." The covers of both albums featured the moody photography of Jini Dellaccio.
Their heyday began coming to a close when the band transferred to Jerden Records in late 1966, and headed to Hollywood to record the poorly selling album Introducing The Sonics with Larry Levine at Gold Star studios. Although it has been rumoured that Jerden executives pushed the Sonics into a more polished sound, the band itself had decided to follow new influences in modern music, resulting in songs that were quite different from their raucous early recordings. The band, however, wasn't satisfied with the material on Introducing The Sonics, calling the cleaner, slicker recordings "the worst garbage."
The original band fell apart between 1966 and 1968, with members leaving to attend university or join other bands; saxophonist Rob Lind became a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War. Eventually, all of the original members left, with new members continuing on with the name Sonics (later 'Jim Brady and the Sonics') until 1980,3 although it was a completely different band, at times even incorporating string and horn sections.
The original Sonics reunited briefly in 1972 for a live show at Seattle's Paramount Theater, with the recording of this show released as Live Fanz Only by Etiquette. In 1980, a new Sonics fronted by Gerry Roslie recorded the album Sinderella, which featured versions of the original band's material.
The emergence of punk rock in the late 70's and grunge in the 90's led to new interest in the Sonics, and much of their material was re-released by labels in the US and Europe. Larry and Andy Parypa continued performing with various bands in the Northwest, while Roslie, Lind, and Bennett pursued careers outside of music.
In 2007, the Sonics reunited again, this time for the Cavestomp garage rock festival in Brooklyn (November 2–4, 2007). The line up featured original members Gerry Roslie on vocals/keyboards, Larry Parypa on guitar, and Rob Lind on tenor sax, with Ricky Lynn Johnson (of the Wailers) on drums and Don Wilhelm (of the Daily Flash) on bass and vocals.
In 2008, the Sonics recorded a live session for Mark Lamarr's BBC Radio 2 show God's Jukebox on March 22. They played their first ever shows in London on Friday March 21 and Sunday March 23; later that year, "Have Love, Will Travel" was prominently featured on the soundtrack of Guy Ritchie's hit film RocknRolla.5
Since then, they have played the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, followed by Bilbao, then the Sjock Festival in Belgium, Norway, and the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria in the Basque Country.
Their first show in their home region since their last Seattle reunion in 1972 was on Halloween 31 October 2008 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, where they were introduced and joined onstage for a couple numbers by Steven Van Zandt. Kent Morrill (front man of the Wailers) made a surprise appearance to help sing his signature song "Dirty Robber". Bob Bennett was also present to sit in on drums albeit only for a few songs and only while Ricky Lynn Johnson played in unison.
In 2009 Freddie Dennis, formerly of Freddie and the Screamers, the Kingsmen, and the Liverpool 5, took Wilhelm's place as bassist and vocalist. The following year they released '8', an EP featuring both live cuts and four new songs produced by Larry Parypa and Jack Endino at Sound House Recording in Seattle.6
In 2012 Johnson was replaced by drummer Dusty Watson, who has played with Slacktone, Agent Orange, Dick Dale, the Surfaris, Davie Allan and the Arrows, Lita Ford, the Supersuckers, and others.
The Sonics are often-cited contenders for the title of "the first punk/grunge band", due to their wild and unconventional style. The band also have a clearly marked influence on American punk bands such as the Cramps and the Dead Boys in their brash, menacing style and attitude, and on 1980s grunge bands (who originated in the same area), especially Mudhoney, who adopted some of the darker themes from Sonics music, and a lot of their techniques on over-driving and distorting electric guitars. Their reach stretched beyond the U.S.; influential Manchester post-punk group The Fall covered "Strychnine" during a session for the late John Peel's programme in 1993 and they repeatedly performed the song live around this time. As well as all these, there have been whole generations of garage rock revival bands (such as The Thingz) who make no bones of plagiarizing The Sonics and their ilk. The early 21st century saw the arrival of another garage rock band that lists the Sonics as a major influence, Eagles of Death Metal. New Zealand power-punk band Cut Off Your Hands have covered "The Witch" several times in concert.
Japandroids have repeatedly cited The Sonics, one of the few acts that both members could agree on, as a basis for their way of recording and performing.
The White Stripes named The Sonics as one of the bands that influenced them the most, calling them "the epitome of '60s punk" and claiming they were "harder than the Kinks, and punk long before punk".7
Nicholaus Arson of The Hives cites The Sonics' version of "Have Love, Will Travel" as a favorite;8 his band's song "Main Offender" is essentially a rewrite. In addition, members of The Hives played with the reunited Sonics on one occasion.9
The Cramps covered "Strychnine" on their debut album Songs The Lord Taught Us (& played it live since their first sets late '76/ early '77).
The Fuzztones made a tribute to them The Fuzztones Boom in 2006.
The electronic media artist Blair Spotswood Dowd featured "The Witch" in her video piece with the same title from 2008.10
The Fleshtones, in their "American Beat '84," paid tribute to "The Raiders and the Wailers and the Kingsmen and the Sonics."
L7 covered the song "Strychnine" live and has appeared on various bootlegs.
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana said in an interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette on CITR-FM, discussing drum sounds,"I, I have to admit... The Sonics recorded very, very cheaply on a two track you know, and they just used one microphone over the drums, and they got the most amazing drum sound I've ever heard. Still to this day, it's still my favorite drum sound. It sounds like he's hitting harder than anyone I've ever known."11
A 1993 tribute album entitled Here Ain't The Sonics was released on PopLlama Records, featuring contributions from Mono Men, Screaming Trees, Thee Headcoats, The Cynics, Mojo Nixon and The Original Sins.
In 2011, NC garage rock preservationists Thee Dirtybeats paid tribute to The Sonics' influence on North Carolina garage rock with a recording of "The Witch".12
The Slackers recorded a version of "Strychnine" on their 2011 release, "The Radio". 13
- Introducing The Sonics (Jerden, 1967)
- Explosives (Buckshot, 1973)
- The Sonics (SRT, 1978)
- Live Fanz Only (Etiquette, 1986)
- Busy Body!!! Live in Tacoma 1964 (Live, Norton, 2007)
- "The Witch"/"Keep A-Knockin'" (Etiquette, 1964)
- "The Witch"/"Psycho" (Etiquette, 1965)
- "Psycho"/"Keep A-Knockin'" (Etiquette, 1965)
- "Boss Hoss"/"The Hustler" (Etiquette, 1965)
- "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark"/"Shot Down" (Etiquette, 1965)
- The Sonics' "Don't Believe In Christmas"/The Wailers' "Christmas Spirit" (Etiquette, 1965)
- "Cinderella"/"Louie Louie" (Etiquette, 1965)
- "You Got Your Head On Backwards"/"Love Light" (Jerden, 1966)
- "Like No Other Man"/"Love Light" (Jerden, 1966)
- "The Witch"/"Like No Other Man" (Jerden, 1966)
- "Psycho"/"Maintaining My Cool" (Jerden, 1966)
- "Love-itis"/"You're In Love" (Jerden, 1967)
- "Lost Love"/"Any Way The Wind Blows" (Piccadilly, 1967)
- "Any Way The Wind Blows"/"Lost Love" (UNI, 1967)
- "Dirty Old Man"/"Bama Lama Bama Loo" (Burdette, 1975)
- "The Witch"/"Bama Lama Bama Loo" (Great Northwest, 1979)
- "The Witch"/"Keep A-Knockin'" (Norton, 1998)
- "Psycho"/"Have Love Will Travel" (Norton, 1998)
- "Cinderella"/"He's Waitin'" (Norton, 1998)
- "Boss Hoss"/"The Hustler" (Norton, 1998)
- "Strychnine"/"Shot Down" (Norton, 1998)
- The Sonics' "Louie Louie"/The Wailers' "Louie Louie" (Norton, 1998)
- "Don't Believe In Christmas"/"Santa Claus" (Norton, 1998)
- 8 (The Sonics Record Co., 2010)
- Merry Christmas (Various Artists album, Etiquette, 1966)
- Sinderella (Bomp, 1980)
- Fire and Ice (First American, 1983; re-released as Fire & Ice: Lost Tapes Vols. 1 & 2 in 1996)
- Full Force! (Line, 1984; re-released as Full Force! The Best of The Sonics in 1987)
- The Ultimate Sonics (Etiquette, 1991)
- Maintaining My Cool (Jerden, Munster Records, 1991)
- Psycho-Sonic (Big Beat, 1993)
- This Is... The Savage Young Sonics (Norton, 2001)
- The Jerden Years 1966-69 (Munster, 2004)
- "The Sonics Official Website". Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-sonics-mn0000428717 article by Mark Deming
- "The Hives buzz about their favourite songs". The Guardian (London). 2007-10-01.
- Thee Dirtybeats: The Witch, at Bandcamp
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