I would define garage music as hand-crafted music; talented (we hope) amateurs creating original music at home, with the dream of making it a profession.
In the late ’70s, my wife and I were with an outfit known as the Shivers. We rehearsed constantly, fought incessantly, played too loud and too long, yet somehow managed to make some good music. It was loose, scary, hairy and shot full of holes, but it was good! This was of course in NYC, and we played at CBGB, Trax, Heat, Hell, Stickball (the old Club 82, later Woody’s) and some other forgotten hellholes, but we found a real home at Max’s Kansas City. Under the guidance of promoter Peter Crowley, Max’s had become the Carnegie Hall of the punk and hard rock scene in NYC. You went to CBGB to stand, drink and sweat. You went to Max’s to sit, drink and dig the words you had been sweating to.
The Shivers lasted several years, but in the end, personalities, drugs, economics and just the general naiveté of youth broke up the band. The Usual Story. Yet we’ve stayed in touch over the years, and strangely enough, we all still think of ourselves as Shivers. The dark videos and noisy tapes give witness to something truly original and exciting. Not just the Shivers, but a time and place, a whole way of life. It was a Tribe, our Tribe. We hung with the Clash and Ian Dury, bought Iggy a Mateus at the Palladium, jammed with Neon Leon. Wendy O. Williams used to say hello when we’d both be at Con Ed, paying late bills. Joe Jackson was at our first show, stayed for two sets! I saw Prince blow the roof off Max’s with a three-piece punk band years before anyone ever heard of him; there were a dozen people in the house.
These days, I play guitar with the Five Points Band. We rehearse constantly, discuss things politely; they usually have to tell me to turn up, and we make some great music. It’s tight and clean, we harmonize on-key, but it’s still Scary and Hairy! We’ve been to Norway, Holland, Los Angeles, New Orleans and points south, several times. I guess we’re not amateurs any more. But we all have day gigs, we have to fight with promoters as we book our own shows, puzzle out the airlines when we travel, do it ourselves all by hand. We’re still in the Garage. But the rewards are many. You know you deserve all the credit you get. We get to hang with the great and famous, who give us respect for our trials as well as our music. We get huge support from other artists and musicians, because we’re all doin’ it the hard way. Even though the scene is very different, the spiritual element is the same. It’s the Tribe of Makers, not Takers, and that Tribe never dies.
So next time you’re going out to hear your favorite band, try to show up early and catch the opening act. Or go to some little club and see someone just on the way up. They are still hungry, still in the Garage, and ready to blow the roof off with something good, something new that no one has ever heard before. And it’ll be all for you, because you showed up for them.
—Robin the Hammer