By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon
We finish up our look at WNY’s Audition records label with the Audition release that’s the closest to ‘home’ – the suburbs of Buffalo. And right on time. One of its creators made a special appearance in town last night!
The minds of teenagers in garage bands across the country worked in remarkably similar ways. It seems that every large city had a ‘Rogues.’ As a result, trying to get info on one Rogues could sometimes be confused by the many, many Rogues who released 45s across the USA in the mid-Sixties. The internet has made it a lot easier to get accurate info. But the Rogues story was nailed down long ago. It’s pretty straightforward – three releases only, on two local labels. Nothing more, nothing less.
I won’t tell the Rogues’ whole story here. At least not today. Lots of info is already available on the net. But more important: it’s a great story and deserves a more in-depth telling than I can give here. Someone should write a book.. or at least a very lengthy article. Maybe someone will!
Why you should care? In the glory days of British Invasion-influenced garage rock, the Rogues were at the top of the heap locally. They had a great name; a great look (vaguely British-looking band uniforms); fantastic equipment – Vox Beatle amplifiers and Gretsch guitars – matching that of their idols; and sharp instrumental skills and great vocal harmonies. Eventually they had their own teen nightclub, The Rogues Gallery (on Niagara Falls Blvd). They got to make records. And they had a large fan club – of mostly teenage girls.
In short, they were living the dream.
In terms of the classic years of teenage R&R combos, 1965-66 is the pinnacle. American teens had heard the sounds of early American R&R bounced back to them via the British groups. They varied from the more melodic groups like The Beatles and Seachers to the more raw Kinks and Pretty Things, the bluesy Rolling Stones and Them, the powerful Who, and most important – the guitar heroics of The Yardbirds.
The Rogues combined all of these. On record they tended to the more melodic side, mixing in sounds from the USA via The Byrds and The Monkees. Five of their six sides are just that. Only one side is different, only one side reflects the power the group could summon when playing to their peers: their version of “Train Kept A-Rolling.”
“Train” had a long history, interpreted differently but always with great results. Tiny Bradshaw did it first, in jump/ R&B style. Johnny Burnette & The Rock’N’Roll Trio turned it into a Rockabilly classic. The Yardbirds added cutting-edge flashy guitar courtesy of Jeff Beck. It’s the Yardbirds version which the Rogues used as a starting point for their 1966 recording. Maybe they had
seen the Yardbirds play it when they’d played at The Peppermint Stick (also on Niagara Falls Blvd.) half a year earlier. That’s more than likely for these Anglophile guitar enthusiasts!
The Yardbirds recorded a second version during the short time in which Jimmy Page was in the band at the same time as Beck. They were asked to record it for the film Blow-Up (after The Who turned down the gig) but rewrote the lyrics to avoid copyright problems and titled it “Stroll On.” It was incorporated with a classic scene in which Beck smashes his guitar.
In any case, the Rogues took the Yardbirds’ version into another dimension. Remember that this was 1966… our modern ears, used to the acid rock and psychedelic music that happened later, may not realize how shocking this record must have sounded. More psychotic than psychedelic, this kind of grungey noise and aggression typifies what is now called “garage punk.” The feedback and fuzz and pounding rhythm are typical – but the vocalists’ squeals and strange enunciation are NOT. Maybe he doesn’t know the actual words.. maybe they were trying to incorporate the lyrics from “Stroll On”, dimly-remembered after seeing the film.
The Rogues’ “Train” is considered a classic of garage punk. And the B-side original “You Better Look Now” is perfect folk rock – covered early-on by Rochester’s The Chesterfield Kings – making this record legendary as a perfect two-sider. It’s now much sought-after. But on release in 1966, Audition 6110 went nowhere beyond some local sales, like all Audition releases. Ditto for their two 45s on Buffalo’s Thunderbird label.
The Rogues went on other things but one Rogue reached great success in the music business. Michael Spriggs was originally from England, giving this Buffalo band fantastic authenticity in this British Invasion era. He had come to Buffalo to attend college. After the Rogues break-up he played in various formats around town, concentrating more on acoustic guitar. He moved to Nashville in 1971 and worked as lead guitarist in Eddie Rabbitt’s band for six years, subsequently becoming a session played. As a sessionist he’s attained absolute top of the heap status, having been considered an A-list played for 25 years or more. He’s played on many #1 records, played on over 5.000 live, radio and television shows (!), recorded his own solo albums, been featured on the covers of guitarist’s magazines, and is sought-after by equipment manufacturers for his endorsements.
I had the chance to talk to him once. He told me that new equipment is delivered to his house for him to try out -gratis – on a daily basis; yet it would never beat the thrill he got out of getting that first Gretsch Country Gentleman and Vox Super Beatle amp in 1965 in Buffalo.
Mike Spriggs came back to Buffalo this week to perform with fellow Buffalonian guitar sessionist Ed Supple at Ed’s induction into the Buffalo Music Hall Of Fame (Mike is a previous inductee). A lot of music might come to people’s minds on seeing Mike play here again, but I doubt anyone would expect to hear ANYTHING like this bast from the 1966 past.