Reb Kennedy & Wild Records
Courtesy: Michael Hurtt - 11/28/2007
Wild things: West Coast label aims to save rock 'n' roll with a
modern take on the devil's music.
"It frustrates me that people use the term 'indie music' but they
think what we do is some sort of nostalgic '50s bullshit," says Wild
Records founder, producer and president Reb Kennedy. "Indie is short
for independent, obviously. Well, there's nothing more independent
than what we do. We record our records ourselves in our own studio.
We mix and master our records. We hand-make our sleeves. ... I mean,
we are the true modern independent. We are the breath of fresh air.
We are the underground cult.
"Unfortunately, when folks hear the word 'rockabilly,' they envision
bands trying to imitate shit like the Stray Cats. And it's just done
so badly. I think 95 percent of all bands out there playing a
variation of rockabilly or '50s rock 'n' roll are a pile of shit.
They actually do more harm than good by existing."
Kennedy, an Irishman who moved to England as a teenager just in time
to witness the punk explosion of '76, has a great point. Revisionist
history has rarely diluted a genre of music to the extent that it has
rock 'n' roll's first big bang. But if he and his "Wild Records
Family" - as he's come to refer to the stable of artists he manages,
books and produces - have their way, that unfortunate trend will end.
The L.A.-based imprint's latest releases, Luis and the Wildfires'
Brainjail and Omar Romero's Hog Wild, don't so much take the time to
argue the notion as to simply assassinate it in a hail of pounding
piano, trance-inducing maracas and screeching guitars.
Short-circuiting rockabilly, garage and the nastiest John Lee Hooker-
fueled boogie, they're the kind of albums that strike the perfect
balance between pure musicality and pure madness. They don't just
stand up to repeated listening; they demand it. Not because they lack
spontaneity and immediacy but because they're overflowing with it.
A visit to wildpresents.com reveals similarly lethal discs by Dustin
Chance and the Allnighters; Santos; Chuy and the Bobcats; Li'l
Gizelle; the Vargas Brothers and the High Strung Ramblers. Less
prolific - but no less atomic - artists like Pat James and the
Tomahawks and Rockin' Ryan join the crew on Wild Presents: The Young
Breed, a seamless tour de force that runs the gamut from the
Wildfires' brilliantly brakeless "Like A Storm" to Romero's primal
take on the Rio Rockers' "Mexicali Baby." Ryan even salutes the Motor
City by tackling Johnny Buckett's lascivious Fortune Records classic
"Griddle Greasin' Daddy," just as Omar and Chuy did with their
menacing reinventions of Detroit gems like Ray Taylor's "Connie Lou"
and Johnny Powers' "Long Blond Hair" on Wild's previous compilation,
the two-disc strong The Wildest.
It all started six years ago when the Wildfires approached Kennedy
about booking their previous combo, L'il Luis y los Wild Teens. He
went one better and recorded them. The resulting single, "La
Rebeldonna," kick-started the label when it became an underground
Sung in Spanish, with a sleeve that boasted "Wild Mexican Rock 'n'
Roll," the single established Wild as a Latino record label, which
Kennedy stresses was never - and still isn't - his intention. He
records artists he believes in, without regard to race or heritage.
It just so happens that many are Latino.
"There are 12 bands on the label at the moment," Kennedy says. "It's
a very bizarre thing, but all of those guys work together, interact
together, drink together. They trust each other and they support each
other. We're perceived as a traditional record label. But we can only
survive because of that unity. I think what creates the unity, and
makes the guys feel really happy about being together, is that they
know I'm always taking care of business for them. All they have to do
is rehearse their songs and play them live. Nothing else. It means
they can focus on what's important, and that's the music."
The bands pool their talents in the garage behind Kennedy's house,
which is outfitted with ribbon microphones, a Tascam reel-to-reel
tape recorder and that vicious hallmark of the Wild sound - Vox tube
"On most of our stuff, the guitar's not doing anything until it lets
rip," Kennedy says. "I believe the guitar has a job to do and that's
to come in and just murder people. And that's it. Then get the hell
out of there. Do the damage and leave. That's how we approach our
In fact, it's how the Wild Records Family approaches everything.
Their showcase at the Rockin' '50s Fest in Green Bay, Wis., last
summer was one example. A weeklong, around-the-clock event that took
place at the Indian-owned Oneida Casino, Detroit's own Jack Scott
christened the opening night, setting the stage for the bar-walking
tenor sax raunch of Big Jay McNeely, the white-hot Texas soul antics
of Roy Head, the rocking doowop of the Five Keys and the twangy
harmony of the Collins Kids. But as good as the original rockers,
from Little Richard to Wanda Jackson, were - and most were jaw-
dropping - it was somehow fitting that the most riotous show of the
entire week took place at Purcell's Lounge, a tiny bar buried in the
bowels of the Oneida Casino. It was so far away from the rest of the
action that it felt like more a part of the adjoining hotel than the
casino itself. But bottles and glasses of every size and description
littered the stage and floor of the place after the Wild showcase.
Their plane had been late, their schedule scrambled. Nevertheless,
the Wild Family descended upon the casino like a unified atom bomb.
One only had to stumble in and witness a few seconds of L'il
Gizelle's bluesy "Baby Please Don't Go" to be converted. It wasn't
just the music. It was the whole crazy scene. Half of the label's
roster was on the dance floor, simultaneously swilling, smoking and
shaking as a reunited L'il Luis y los Wild Teens backed Gizelle with
A typical Wild recording session is no different: an instant house
party crammed with label mates cheering each other on, lending a hand
and getting happily hammered.
"I think what having a few drinks - or a lot of drinks - captures is
the same intensity that you can capture live. Apart from the Presley
sessions, almost everyone on Sun Records recorded in a haze of
Thunderbird. It gives the musicians that energy, that looseness. So
our sessions start out with a lot of alcohol. We record rock 'n' roll
music so we want the fire. We want the devil there.
"I was in London in '76," Kennedy continues, "so I was fortunate
enough to have seen all of the first-wave punk bands - the Clash, the
Buzzcocks, all that good stuff. Then I worked for Rough Trade Records
in '78, when they had Stiff Little Fingers, a lot of reggae. So I'm
pretty eclectic in what I listen to. What's exciting to me is that I
think we're capturing some of that energy that existed in late '76
and early '77. In a lot of ways, the energy that's created by my guys
will frighten some people. But if you want to listen to bland '50s
rock 'n' roll, there are a lot of bands out there doing that. Our
shows are not safe, though. We're talking about young guys - the
average age is under 25. They want to chase women and get drunk out
of their minds. And that's what their music should sound like."
For more, go to wildpresents.com.
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