Monday, February 15, 2010

A few weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from an unexpected source. "Don Waller here" was the subject heading. Don Waller being a long-time Southern California musician and writer who had a hand in creating one of L.A.'s earliest and most influential fanzines, Back Door Man, and - this part is crucial - co-wrote the original version of the song that I named my recent book after, "This Ain't the Summer of Love."

In the last chapter of the book, I tell the story of how Waller was approached by one of Blue Oyster Cult's managers, Murray Krugman, at the behest of L.A. scene maven and Runaways manager Kim Fowley. Krugman was looking for material for the Cult to record, Waller laid out a bunch of his lyrics on the floor of his apartment, and "This Ain't the Summer of Love" got picked.

I was much relieved when I opened Waller's email to see that he wasn't writing to tell me how badly I fucked up the above story (for which my main source, a piece written by Kim Fowley, was admittedly sketchy). He got my book for Christmas, read it, and liked it well enough to want to get in touch. How cool is that? We've exchanged a few emails since then and he seems like a helluva good guy. Even sent me the original lyrics to "This Ain't the Summer of Love," which are quite different from the version recorded by Blue Oyster Cult.

Don also told me about a new release by his old band, the Imperial Dogs: a DVD release of video footage documenting the band's 1974 performance at Cal State Long Beach, previously unreleased footage by a band who's not well known but is definitely in the vein of early 1970s bands who were building on the influence of '60s garage rock and '70s proto-punk like the Stooges and Mott the Hoople.

I duly bought my copy of said DVD, and urge anyone reading this with an interest in the twisted, intersecting paths of metal and punk to do the same. The footage is predictably shaky: black and white video footage shot from a single camera of a gig that was decidedly high energy and unpolished. But the traces of things to come are all over the material from the moment you realize that's a flag with a swastika draped over one of the guitar amps. I've never been super comfortable with the punk affinity for the trappings of fascism, but there's no doubt that it was a crucial aspect of punk - appropriating the signs of corrupt power as a way to offend those of more delicate sensibilities - and the Imperial Dogs were clearly in on this impulse before it became more widely recognized.

There's a song called "Loud, Hard & Fast" that is indeed all of the above, and that Waller introduces with the amusing assertion, "We fuck the way we play - loud, hard & fast!" And of course there's "This Ain't the Summer of Love," the centerpiece of the band's hour-long set, here played as a 7-minute ballad that could hardly be more different than the sub-three minute polished bit of hard rock it became in the hands of BOC. Waller introduces it with a hilarious monologue accusing the hippies of having given up the rock to move to the country and listen to Carole King, and during the song's instrumental mid-section he apparently "simulates a puking OD by spitting up a fistful of blood and foaming capsules" (this according to the liner notes; because of the less-than-professional camera work you can't actually see this, but you can see Waller momentarily disappear from view and then get up wiping his mouth). No doubt a good time was had by all.

It's amazing this show was recorded, let alone that it's been issued on DVD. The liner notes are great and help to put this lost nugget of hard rock history in the perspective it deserves. You can find out more about the disc and the Imperial Dogs at the band's blog/website (where Waller also posted a nice notice about my book):

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