First off: Despite the billing, King of the Creeps is not a collection made up of Kim Fowley performances (though a few are sprinkled in), but is rather the third volume by Norton Records exploring obscure singles written/produced/hustled by the legendary rock 'n roll maven. More on the record itself shortly, but first ... an important message.
Those who aren't subscribers of the Norton e-mail list may not know the label warehouse in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood was engulfed in October by Hurricane Sandy. Aside from new titles still at the presses (including Fowley's Volume Three), Norton's entire catalog stock of vinyl and CDs went under in the flooding -- as did label owners' Billy Miller and Miriam Linna's extensive, irreplaceable collection of vintage music and pop culture memorabilia. The last update in mid-January reported that, along with countless volunteers, Miller and Linna managed to salvage and clean the vinyl for about 20 percent of their LP stock and an even better percentage of 45s.
Now they need some help to get back on track. Listeners who appreciate "the loud sound" can help out by buying some Norton records, already! LP jackets will need to be re-printed, but singles are available online, for the time being packaged in a series of limited edition art sleeves. The label is also soliciting donations via its website, and those who are so inclined can also keep up-to-the-minute through its Facebook group.
And now ... back to the rock.
Kim Fowley is a household name to fans of old-school rock 'n roll records, thanks to a Zelig-esque career spanning from the late '50s right up to the present day. While he did record fairly often under his own name, the majority of his work was behind the scenes, whether writing songs, producing and plugging records for a myriad of labels or acting as a Svengali figure of sorts for various groups. But considering the huge body of work produced over the years, he is nowhere near the legend with the general public he probably should be.
The most recent impressions of Fowley for many likely are provided by a couple of relatively unflattering portraits in film: One of the man himself in the documentary on L.A. scenester Rodney Bingenheimer, Mayor of the Sunset Strip, and in the more recent biopic The Runaways, via an entertainingly manic Michael Shannon performance. Fowley can also be heard on satellite radio show Little Steven's Underground Garage, broadcasting Saturday afternoons.
Are any of these snippets the real Kim Fowley? It's a question I don't get too concerned about, and maybe don't want to know. Either way, I love his musical sensibility, and it's ably showcased by King of the Creeps.
There have been numerous hit records with Fowley's name on them along the way. But Norton's collections are focusing on a selection from the reasons I think he should be legendary -- the many forgotten or flop releases with his involvement. These LPs careen wildly from tuneful doo-wop and girl group records to goofy teeners and scuzzy instrumentals to greasy dance records and novelty discs ripping off other hit novelty records. As with Fowley's career arc in general, there's something here for everyone but few listeners will dig it all. Well, except for fans of the fringes of rock history, who probably will probably love it all. The trio of collections provides a window into one man's decade of hustling junk rock 45s in Hollywood, and I'm squarely in the "love it all" camp. Even the really homely singles Kim says he hates.
In the liners to the first volume of the series (One Man's Garbage), Fowley makes little pretense to art for that music, saying he was allowed to do what he wanted thanks to the hit records. "I didn't tell them that I knew these things were doomed, stupid records that I was just doing for the sheer joy of stupidity. I never intended for these things to sell, which I should've told these people ..." It's a telling statement on whether you want to hear these LPs or not.
The third volume, King of the Creeps, does include some very legit releases. There's the beautiful doo-wopper "No More" by the Uptones, and the Coasters-styled vocal group sounds of Knights of the Round Table. There's an idea so genius I can't believe I've never heard anyone else try it: An answer record to "Hey Joe" with "Wanted: Dead or Alive" by The Rogues. There's the solid garage pop of "Goin' Away Baby" by the Grains of Sand. Aiming for and squarely knocking down the trash bin is The Renegade Five's tale of a girl who's "Young and Wild," and Fowley's own classic proto-drug disc "The Trip." Then there's the WTFers, like Fowley's first solo single, "Astrology," which turns "Happy Birthday" into the weirdest teener ever via Bobby "Boris" Pickett-styled vocalizing, and the inimitable "Moses" by The Navarros ("Where was Moses when the lights went out/he's in the dark."). Hoo boy. There is also "Got Me Stupid" by E. Zane Wood and the Dominion, which must be heard to be believed. And that's just a part of what's here, along with the stories behind the records penned by Fowley himself.
Get the message. (Norton Records ED-384, 2013)