Wednesday, December 13, 2006

From The Fanboy Archives: White Animals redux

Wally digs through the rock and roll debris. As always; click on the images to make them bigger.

This installment is all about one of Nashville’s original New Wave rock and roll bands: White Animals. Some of this material has been posted here previously and some of it has been posted over at the White Animals website, but this will be the first time on the internet for most of the archival material.

The classic line-up:

Kevin Gray - vocals, guitar
Steve Boyd - vocals, bass
Rich Parks - guitar, vocals
Ray Crabtree - drums, vocals
Tim Coats - dreadmaster

The White Animals were one of the biggest bands in Nashville until they called it quits in 1987. Along with Jason And The Scorchers they landed music videos on MTV and for awhile it looked as if the White Animals might grab a major label record deal. They toured the college rock circuit with their mixture of Sixties flavored rock, Seventies punk, and splashes of dub reggae and won praise from coast to coast. They were sometimes faintly damned for being a frat band, but their genius won most of the critics over. The White Animals would play frat parties and they could play whole sets of cover songs if they wanted, but it was never their focus. It ended up creating a rock and roll multi-subcultural fan base. Frat boy accountants to be would stand shoulder to shoulder with future alternative rockers while punk rockers slam danced in the background. Through it all the White Animals exhibited a casual cool with a total love for playing music. A White Animals show was always an event and after the song "Ecstasy" dropped their shows became patchouli soaked events because of the line, "that patchouli that you wear." You’d wake up the next day bleary eyed and spent from all of the dancing and your clothes would just reek of patchouli.

I was first exposed to their animalistic fever via a local Murfreesboro television show called Saturday Night At The Video. They interviewed the boys between clips of “Don’t Care” and “This Girl Of Mine” and I was hooked. The next time I visited the local Port ‘o Call Records shop, instead of just culling the discount import records, I made a beeline to their local section. The White Animals shared most of the space with Jason and The Nashville Scorchers. Soon I became a local music fanboy with the White Animals at the top of my pops.

I started attending as many of their all-ages shows as I could. Their recorded material just couldn’t do them justice like their live gigs did. It was loud, raucous, and transcendent. Tight; yet loose with Kevin at the center of it able to make hippie tie die, bandannas, and party beads seem immensely hip to my punk rock sensibilities. Kevin would smack his fist against his face while the dub rolled over us as sweet as the clove cigarette smell which always seemed present. The show would end and instead of splitting the White Animals would hang out and talk to us. I felt like one of the chosen in 1985 while Kevin talked smack, “Our next record is going to kick Huey Lewis and Billy Idol’s asses.”

How about a quick snapshot of their early days from Kevin Gray himself:

--- in our embryonic days, when WA was just me and Rob Jackson, esq., [note - Rob already had a background in “club-opening” with Mississippi Whiskers – named after a Phil Doss poem. Doss – who was our 1st bassist – was the mgr, while Rob put together the Full Circle Band as the house band to get the club going, the band signed, fame and fortune for all in the best Nashville tradition] WE went down to Herr Harry’s Franks n Steins – a dark and dingy little pub for music row nooner trysts 2 blocks from my apt – and persuaded Harry to try music. WE got “discovered” by the Vandy Law school, and before long the place was packed every weekend, Harry moved out the old Volkswagen-sized big screen TV, and was having bands play on weekdays. Along the way Rob and I added Doss and Joe Loftis, OFA, and the WA “Frankensteins” crowd got so packed and out of hand that WE began casting about for alternative places to play, and after the Olde Tyme Pickin’ Parlour proved too seedy, WE lucked upon the Burger Boy “expansion” 1 block from my apt. Apparently noting Harry’s success, the long-time mgr had put up a cinder block side bldg lined with sawmill log trash that he was gonna call Kickers or some such – they had picnic tables with red-checked tablecloths and some nasty fake-hurricane drinks served in boot-shaped glasses. WE opened the place on NYE to a devoted if bewildered and semi-sparse crowd – and that was the nite Rob quit the band, citing “creative differences” – I believe this was now 1/1/81 dawning --- we added Nashville superpicker Willie Drew Collins, were contacted by Dave Cannon asking to manage us and getting us into the Bluebird on a trial basis as the Monday “ROCK NITE” house band for 2 months to hone our “new” lineup – Despite the regular presence of Don Shlitz [fresh off “The Gambler” acclaim] and other West-side celebs, the powers that be decided that Animalism was waaaaaaaaaay too strong for the Bluebird and the club returned to the present-day format – meanwhile, Terry Cantrell had bought out Burger Boy and so WE opened Cantrell’s – and remained for months as the regular weekend house band, leaving only when Tony Moon began to get us Campus gigs across the SEC thereby spreading the WA gospel far and wide ---- So… WA broke ground and paved the way for others to follow, and did it all in a DIY spirit of musical joy – there was NO DOUBT in our minds that WE would keep on rising up to that big record contract in the sky and that folks around Music City would all say “Dang – those are some good boys – they made this whole scene so nice for all of us and we’re shore glad to see them have the success they worked so long and hard for…” Except it never happened that way and history is indeed written by the winners – and sadly it seems WE are not actually relevant to the condensed summary evolution of the Nashville Scene. A pity --- folks forget that there was a lot of harmony, and so it would have been nice to at least have a level playing field – with contracts for all, Stones trying to knock pals Beatles or Who off the #1 chart spot. WE learned too late that show biz is not a meritocracy and maybe somewhere my own unwillingness to abandon medicine for a career in music doomed us as much as anything – always looking over my shoulder, waiting for the clock to strike midnite and the fun police to come and take me away. BTW – MY favorite local band of all that time was The Actuals, though they only played about 3 gigs before exploding – leaving me with only my Young Nashvillian records as consolation… xoxoxo

Their original material was as good if not better than the cover material they did. Kevin Gray and Steve Boyd were Nashville's version of Lennon and McCartney, each with a different style that complemented the other. They were like The Beatles to me. Gray's songs tended to rock more while Boyd tended to play the injured romantic crafting darker more complex material. They were rock and roll classicists doing their own Chubby Checker twist on things creating one of the most original sounds of the Eighties. They evolved over the course of an EP and several LP's which were released on their own Dreadbeat label.

WA’s Dreadbeatology:


It's Not Right/I'll Be Her Fool 1979...A New Blood records release. The flipside was written by Phil Doss.

Be-Bop-A-Lula/You Don't Send Me 1980...also not a Dreadbeat release, This is the single with just White Animals on the label. Original drummer Joe Loftis, who would later form Joe Loftis & The Pinks, sings Be-Bop-A-Lula.

Old Jazzmaster/I Need Somebody To Love Me 1981...the first official Dreadbeat release #DB45-282A,B The General Willie Collins sings “Old Jazzmaster”

These Boots Are Made For Dubbing 1982 12 inch single #Dub5182 one sided, blank side had legs etched onto it

It was while figuring out which side of Nashville Babylon was the first side that I discovered that the White Animals liked to leave cryptic messages in the inner grooves of their records alongside the side numbering that is usually present. I went through all of their thirty three and a third releases and found statements on most.

This one-sided 12 inch single’s inner groove message was an homage to a Stanley Kramer film. "It's a dread, dread, dread, dread world!"

Don't Care/Boots Again and Again 1983 #DB4583 the A side has Video Soundtrack printed on it. It sounds the same to me as the album version.

This Girl Of Mine/Seasons Change 1985 #DBS 6184...I have a yellow label version that was handed out at an all ages show in 85 (autographed by the White Animals too) and I also have a red label version with a picture sleeve. This Girl Of Mine is given a special radio re-mix. Kevin: WE TIGHTENED THE FADE-IN UP FRONT MOSTLY, MASTERED IT AT FRANKFORD-WAYNE IN NYC, OUR BASIC IDOLS WHO CUT ALL THE SOULSONIC FORCE, RUN-DMC, WHODINI, ETC DANCE TRAX - THIS IS ONLY CURRENT LIVING SOURCE FOR "SEASONS CHANGE" STUDIO VERSION - WE'D HAVE PUT IT ON THE X RE-ISSUE IF ONLY WE COULD FIND THE DAMN THING...

Help Yourself/She's So Different 1986 12 inch single #DBRS1185...from the press release I'll share a quote from Kevin Gray about Help Yourself, "Help Yourself is ritual dance music. The them is sort of King Kong meets Molly Ringwald at a dance in Oxford, Mississippi. Tear down the facades, the world is calling." I HAD HER PICTURE PINNED UP FOR DAYS WHILE TRYING TO IMAGINE ROCKING THE PRETTY-IN-PINK CROWD DIZZY There were no secret messages. It was just the names of the songs inscribed in the inner grooves.

EP & LP releases:

Nashville Babylon 1981 #DBLP 91681

The EP Nashville Babylon's messages are:
that side "vulgar, animalistic, nigra, rock & roll, bop..."

this side "I can still use my snout!"

The message on side one, that side, is just a description about what lays in the grooves using the standard putdown response of the rock and roll haters back in the Fifties.

The “snout” reference is to the Zap Comix character Wonder The Wart Hog

Lost Weekend 1982 #DBLP1052 Has the awesome “I Must Have Been Hypnotized” cover and it has these inner groove testaments:
side one "What am onion?!?"

side two "Mimi's favorite band"

I never knew Mimi, but she had good taste. Kevin sez, Mimi was-is a debutante in Dallas who had us play her ball that was written up in Time magazine.I don't know what the onion bit is about. Maybe it was an inside joke, or perhaps some pop culture reference that's too obscure for me. Kevin said it may be in reference to a club owner.

White Animals New Beat From Nashville 1983 not a Dreadbeat release, four song ep with polar bears throwing snowballs cover issued on West German label Pool

Ecstasy 1984 #DBLP's where the serious WA collector can have some fun, there were two different back sleeves and inside sleeves for this lp. The first one has band photgraphs on the back and inside, the second does away with the band photos for some cheeseball art. In my book the first version is preferable to the second, the photos are awesome especially the inside sleeve ones. Rumour is that the album had to be changed because the WA's weren't ponying up the cash they owed the photgrapher OR they were just using some pictures without permission. Hey, it was the heady days of the 80's. SORRY TO QUASH THE ROMANCE, BUT... WE LOVED THE FIRST PACKAGE TOO, AND WHEN THE 1ST PRESSING COMPLETELY SOLD OUT, WE HAD TO GO WITH A "BIGGER" DISTRIBUTOR, REPRESS, REPRINT, ETC. -- UNFORTUNATELY, WHEN HUNTING AROUND THE OFFICE FOR THE MASTER ARTWORK, THE WHOLE INNER SLEEVE AND BACK COVER WERE "MISSING" [!!!] WE HASTILY TOOK A HANDY EARLY PRELIMINARY COVER IDEA WITH SOME RE-WORKED LYRICS AND THANKS FOR THE INSIDE, ALONG WITH ANOTHER PRELIM COVER IDEA WE HAD FOR THE BACK. THAT "NEW" BACK COVER WAS OUR FIRST BLUSH WITH THE LEGENDARY HUNGRY DOG STUDIO, WHO DID THE "LIVE" COVER AND 3,000 NITES -- PLUS RUN-DMC PAPPA CRAZY, ASSORTED ROLLING STONE MAG STUFF, ETC...

side one "Virginia is for lovers" plus there was a drawing of a heart

side two "pocket full 'o hope in the ninth"

I assume the reference to Virginia was because of the many shows the White Animals performed in that great state. The side two script is about a race horse that Steve Boyd placed a winning bet on at Churchill Downs.

White Animals 1986 #DBLP3186 also known as the purple album,drums in's the album cut in Memphis with Busta Jones producing. Always thought there was a scrapped album between Ecstasy and this one, but Ray put me straight and said no, but I still wonder if there aren't at least some demos of this album laying around, always felt the production was overdone.

Side one "Hossman you're the greatest"
Side two "Bustamup"

Hossman was a reference to Hoss Allen, the legendary WLAC deejay who helped spread R&B and black gospel throughout the eastern US. He's heard at the first of the song "Caught Up In The Dread" saying "so sit back and the let the spirit commence."
The second side inner groove is obviously a reference to the producer Busta Jones.

There were no inscriptions in the inner grooves.

In The Last Days 1987 #DBLP 4157 last Dreadbeat vinyl

The next inscriptions would be on the album In The Last Days.
The A side "The old order changes..."
The B side "...yielding place to new"

In The Last Days was the band's last album, until they released a CD of new material recently, and the messages were quotes from "Idylls Of The King" by Tennyson that fit the mood. Kevin Gray gave a lengthy interview in the Nashville music paper of the time, Metro, about rock and roll being for the young and that it was time for him to step aside and go back to medical school which is just what he did. You can read the article at the end of this post. Just click on the pics to make them readable. The entire In The Last Days album is available on mp3 at the White Animals website. He now practices medicine in Texas. But luckily for us White Animals fans, the lure of playing rock and roll was too much for him and he got back together with his bandmates in 1999 for an incendiary pair of shows at the Exit/In. They've played a handful of shows every year since proving that you don't have to be young to rock. If The Rolling Stones can still do it, the White Animals should be able to also.

many of these albums, if not all came out on cassette also
Other Dreadbeat Releases Young Nashvillians-Metropolitan Summer 1982 #DBLP1252...I love this record!!!!!
also a 45 release by Victor-"Amerikan Dread/Amerikan Dread" (N.Y.C. Dub) produced by Aashid #DBS 1286, probably came out in 1986.

The White Animals were one of my main inspirations for forming a rock and roll band, right up there alongside Johnny Ramone. The first time I saw them at Cantrells was a touchstone event for me. The smell of patchouli and clove cigarettes, the graffiti covered back wall of the club where we begged for autographs, Bruno slam dancing with some bruising dude, teeny bopper girls popping gum on the front row, preppie kids pogoing, my astonishment at how good the WA's were, at how much passion and heat they were generating on that tiny stage. This may sound corny, but it was tender magic - sheer exuberant rock and roll fun with a hint of danger from the punkers in the crowd. Then the most amazing thing was that it was like that everytime I saw the band. They always delivered the goods.

The White Animals Metro article:

A few words and a link from Instapundit.

If you need more Old School Nashville Rock And Roll you can visit these old Soulfish Stew posts:

Fanboy Archive on Lee A. Carr

A post about some old Nashville rocker's Myspace sites

and the one post gateway to the 4 part Nashville Rock series featured here and at Blogcritics.

If you write a comment it may take some time for it to appear since I have to approve them which I usually do unless its SPAM or filled with lewdness.


elliott said...

Great post on one of my favorite bands, Wally. Their on-stage charisma was unbelieveable. The shows would always bubble over in an orgasmic frenzy. I wish a lot of the current bands I like would have had a chance to see the White Animals in their heyday so they could see what a real rock and roll band should be like. Maybe one day some live footage will pop up on YouTube or iFilm.

Monkey Flinging Poo said...

Ooops, I made a big mistake not purchasing the White Animals compilation CD from their website (seems to be gone). Can't find the disc anywhere now. If anyone has any tips where to find their music on disc, do tell!