Charles R. Cross at the Dawn of Punk Rock

Original Air Date: 
June 29, 2014
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Music journalist Charles R. Cross shares one of his favorite forgotten bands: The Sonics.

Charles R. Cross: This is Charles R. Cross in Seattle, Washington. I'm the author of nine books on music, including "Heavier than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain," "Here We Are Now: Kurt Cobain's Impact" and "A Room Full of Mirrors: The Biography of Jimi Hendrix.

And here's my unappreciated album: The Sonics.

The Sonics were this band that when I first became a fan of music, everybody I met in Seattle said you got to listen to the song. I was a little too young to see this band. They began in 1964. Out of Tacoma and Seattle and they were what many people now call the first proto-punk band. They kind of combined the garage elements of the band called The Wailers that had been around for a while — The Fabulous Wailers, as opposed to Bob Marley's Wailers — and of course the Kingsmen who did "Louie, Louie.

So the Sonics put out their debut album in 1966 and included songs like "The Witch." They were one of the first bands to scream. The joke about the Sonics for years is that they took studio speakers and poked holes in the speaker cones with pencils to kind of give distortion beyond what they could get with any of the things that were around at the time.

This has always been one of my favorite albums. Almost every musician that I've interviewed in the 1980s punk scene wanted to talk to me about the fact that I had become the first journalist to ever track these guys down and interview them. The Sonics broke up by 1968 or so and unfortunately they sold their name to another band that kind of continued on with their name so they rattled in obscurity for ever.

But then in 2004, a Land Rover TV commercial included their song "Have Love, Will Travel" which had been written by Richard Berry who also did "Louie, Louie" and suddenly the Sonics went worldwide once again.

And they reunited in 2007 and they played occasional festival gigs. Mostly in Europe. I interviewed recently the guys in the Black Keys— they wanted me to hook them up with them so I did and the Sonics came and they met. Jack White called them "the epitome of 1960s punk."

What makes this band special is that it was so unbelievably raw and punk before that term had ever even been applied to rock and roll. Almost no one has heard of this band other than music fans, but they've been more influential than almost any band that ever came out of them were for.

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