UNDER APPRECIATED ROCK BAND OF THE MONTH FOR DECEMBER 2016 – THE IGUANAS
Some months back, I included a story on the Prime Movers, yet another Michigan band, which numbered among its members Michael Erlewine, the man who started All Music Guide (now Allmusic), along with All Movie Guide and All Game Guide; and James Osterberg, better known today as Iggy Pop. He started out as a drummer, as he was for this band; and the other bandmembers started calling him “Iggy” because he had previously been the drummer for a band called THE IGUANAS, this month’s Under Appreciated Rock Band. The band name also gave Greg Shaw the name for his long series of Stooges albums, The Iguana Chronicles.
The Iguanas has taken first place among the least likely UARB or UARA of them all, even beating out the Rip Chords and Wendy Waldman, who was just the second rocker that I wrote about. One would think, with Iggy Pop’s unparalleled punk credentials, that every aspect of his musical life would have been examined in detail in Wikipedia long before now. But not even the band that gave him his name is there. Amazing. To cap it off, the Iguanas band that Iggy Pop was in is listed in Allmusic after another band called the Iguanas, from New Orleans; and they are the third Iguanas band in the Discogs list.
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The Iguanas were formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan (home of the University of Michigan) in 1963 by James Osterberg (drums) and Jim McLaughlin (guitar); they were still in junior high when they first played together at a talent show. In an interview just before the release in early December 2016 of his new book, Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges, Iggy Pop told Rolling Stone: “We practiced playing ‘What’d I Say’ by Ray Charles and something called ‘Let There Be Drums’ by Sandy Nelson, which was my idea because it was a drum solo, right?”
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A saxophonist named Sam Swisher was added next, just in time for their first paying performance, at a school dance. Jim McLaughlin’s father had a home studio, and the Iguanas recorded an instrumental there soon after.
After two more bandmembers joined up by 1964, Nick Kolokithas (guitar) and Don Swickerath (bass), the quintet became a popular local band, playing teen clubs, dances, and frat parties. Quoting from his book, Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges, Iggy Pop again told Rolling Stone: “A typical good weekend for us by the time I was a late junior or senior in high school, during when school was in, would be [the Iguanas would] play Friday afternoon at what they called the TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday). It’d be a keg of beer, a bunch of fraternity guys, four in the afternoon, one of the guys madly pumping the thing to get past the foam ’cause it’s a few sorority girls hanging around like, ‘What? Is this the party?’ Right? And we’d play for two hours and a standard rate was about eighty bucks. We had no living expenses. We lived at home. And no upkeep for anything, you know.”
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In the spring of 1965, the Iguanas put out their first single, a cover of the Bo Diddley song “Mona” on their own Forte Records label. At the same recording session, the first ever James Osterberg original song was recorded, “Again and Again”.
During the summer of 1965, the Iguanas became the house band at the Club Ponytail; it was in a resort area called Harbor Springs, located well to the north of Ann Arbor, almost to the Upper Peninsula. While there, they opened for the Four Tops, the Shangri-Las, and the Kingsmen, often backing the headliner acts.
James Osterberg left the Iguanas in 1966 to join the Prime Movers; the Iguanas then hired a new drummer and played some dates in Boston and New York. When they were unable to land a record deal with Columbia Records, the band broke up in 1967.
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The LP by the Iguanas that I have – at least I hope I still have it; it hasn’t shown up yet among the albums from the Katrina mud – The Iguanas came out in 1996 on Norton Records, showing the band posing in shades with matching hitchhiker thumbs. (I have had about a four-year hiatus from cleaning up those albums, but it is going to end by next month!). Norton has also reissued the Iguanas 45 “Mona” with the original b-side “I Don’t Know Why” and also the Iggy Pop original “Again and Again” that was planned to be on the second pressing of the single before he exited the band.
The copy advertising the album on the Norton Records website says: “Iggy Pop’s first band! Screamin’ eighteen song foot long slab o’ legendary Michigan garage punk bad attitude mayhem rounds up the sole Iguanas 45 ‘Mona’ / ‘I Don’t Know Why’ with Iggy’s first composition (the snarlin’ ‘Again and Again’), his first vocal (‘Louie Louie’) plus over a dozen crude demos 1963-64 in full color cover with liner notes.”
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Another Iguanas album came out the same year, Jumpin’ with the Iguanas on Desirable Discs II. According to Allmusic, with the success of that album, Jim McLaughlin, Nick Kolokithas and Don Swickerath announced their intentions of putting the band back together.
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Items: The Iguanas
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Anyway, here is what and who I talked about last year:
December 2016 – 1960’s garage rock band THE IGUANAS; Story of the Month on the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone”; also, 1970’s music and proto-punk music, Ramones, Nuggets, Pebbles Series, the Sonics, New York Dolls, the Modern Lovers, MC5, the Stooges, Iggy Pop.
(Year 8 Review)