A Proto-Punk Revival At Woodward Theater

Cincinnati is one of just 11 stops on the 50th anniversary tour of Pacific Northwest garage-rock legends the Sonics, playing Woodward Theater on April 23. For that, we can probably thank the opening act, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. The Boston R&B band features Cincy locals Peter Greenberg and Andrew Jody and recorded its last three records at Ultrasuede Studio in Camp Washington. We talked to Jody about being both a Sonics fan and tourmate.

Cincinnati Magazine: So, do Sonics fans in Cincinnati have you guys to thank for being on the itinerary?

Andrew Jody:  Yeah, it had a little bit to do with us. We just kind of passed the word along. Our booking agency, Leafy Green, they also book The Sonics, and because we’re kind of loosely based in Cincinnati, and had a relationship with the Woodward, we just suggested playing here as part of the dates. I think there was a little bit of a struggle, but it ended up being one of just Midwest dates, with Chicago and Detroit. A lot of people are blown away that the Sonics are playing here at all. I’m blown away that they’re doing a full tour, and I think it’s great that they’re putting out an album.  It took a couple of weeks for it to sink in, like, cool, we’re going to tour with the Sonics. And then after a couple of weeks I was like wow, this is pretty amazing.

CM: How did you end up in Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, a Boston band?

AJ: The Cincinnati connection. Peter Greenberg lived here and had his band the Customs here in the late ’70s, that Shake It Records put out. The Customs did a reunion show in 2008, that’s how I met Peter, and then the next year they did some more shows and their drummer couldn’t do it, so I did it. Then a few months later, the first Barrence Whitfield and the Savages record was reissued, and he called me up. That was in December of 2010. They got back together, and me and the sax player were the new guys, and it worked.

CM: How many times do you think you personally have played a song by, or made famous by, The Sonics?

AJ: Oh yeah, I mean, that’s the thing, it’s like full circle man. A million times. More than any other rock band. It’s pretty strange. And that goes for all of us in the band, separately or together. We did a tour a couple of years ago in Europe where for an encore we did “Have Love Will Travel.” Peter, being in [Boston punk/garage bands) DMZ and the Lyres, he was covering Sonics songs in 1976, People we know have told him the first time they actually heard the Sonics was because they heard DMZ or the Lyres, just ten years after the fact.

CM: When did you originally get into them?

AJ: The first time I heard I heard the Sonics was 20 years ago. My sister made me a cassette, and it actually took me a couple of listens before. I was like, into punk rock, I remember listening a couple of times and then put it on a couple of months later and it clicked.

CM: Some people like to say they were the first punk band.

AJ: Well, y’know. that’s such a hard nut to crack. I mean, I guess you could say that, but you could also say that about things before them. Now punk rock is more of a specific sound, but I think what it initially meant was being raw, true, gutsy, just, cutting through all the crap rock ‘n roll. You can say Jerry Lee Lewis was punk. There’s all kinds of ‘’50s rock and roll stuff that’s really raw and psychotic. I don’t think they were trying to be psychotic. They were just trying to play Little Richard songs.

You listen to those records, and the thing that hits me is Gerry [Sonics frontman Gerry Roslie], he has a great scream. He can scream his ass off, like Little Richard and James Brown. And just the way everything sounds, it’s definitely a punk lineage. I think they were surprised that their records were being listened to in an underground capacity. It’s good that they get to enjoy it now, because some people don’t.

CM: Think you might end up onstage together?

AJ: I guess anything’s possible. We’re sharing equipment for the most part, and it’s pretty much the same instrumentation. We couldn’t be synced up with a better band. You never know, but I think we’ll do our thing and they’ll do theirs. It’s definitely gonna be a fun tour.

The Sonics and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages play the Woodward Theatre April 23.

Originally published in the April 2015 issue.

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