Published on September 21st, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
The Woggles Deliver Soulful ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll for the Ages’
Powered by the soulful wail of Manfred Jones, the clever riffs and power chords and of guitarist Jeff Walls, and the energetic, big-beat bomp of Dan “Electro” Hall (drums) and Patrick “Buzz” Hagstrom (bass), the Woggles explore the most explosive side of rock ‘n’ roll.
Local cats can catch the rock action this week when Metronome Charleston presents the quartet in concert at the Royal American.
The Woggles started out as an Athens, Georgia-based act, but these days, they’re scattered all over the country. “The Woggles really belong to world,” says Jones, a.k.a. “The Professor.” “There are barflies all over the world that need to be entertained.”
The band’s story began nearly 27 years ago when a team of like-minded college kids — all of whom worked as DJs at the college radio station 90.5 FM WUOG — started gigging around Athens at keg parties and small clubs as “The WUOGgles” (in reference to the station’s call letters).
Jones’ vast and enthusiastic knowledge of vintage rock, ’60s guitar pop, mod, psychedelia, soul, surf, rockabilly, and garage styles guided the sound and personality of the early versions of the band, which featured drummer Kurt Wood, organist Donna Bowman, guitarists Jeff Matthews and Eric Agnew, and various guests.
After releasing various EPs, singles, and mini-albums on the hip Zontar, Estrus, and Lance Rock labels, the Woggles issued their first bona fide full-length, Teen Dance Party, on Estrus in 1993. There was a consistent Southern vibration throughout most of the recordings.
“Unlike someone like Stephen Colbert, who seems to have expurgated his Southern accent, we realized that our Southern perspective and roots are things to carry forward,” Jones says. “They helped keep us unique. Now, when we’re lumped in with other contemporary garage-rock bands, I think we certainly have a heavier R&B and Southern influence than some of them.”
The rhythm section of Hall and Hagstrom (a native of south England) has been in the band since 1995.
Walls, a veteran of Atlanta pop-rock band Guadalcanal Diary and Athens’ raucous rockabilly/retro outfit Hillbilly Frankenstein, regularly worked with the Woggles as a studio producer and fill-in guitarist before officially joining in 2003, replacing the late guitarist George “Mighty” Montague.
Walls well understood the rock ‘n’ roll lingo and stylings the Woggles expressed.
“When I first started producing records for the Woggles, it was like the Holy Grail to achieve that studio sound that the Sonics got or whatever,” Walls says. “For a long time, you were kind of chasing technology and using million-dollar boards to try to make something that sounded like it was blasting through a transistor radio. Now, we hook up with a good sonic team and try to make good-sounding rock records that are comparable sonically with something like the Who’s ‘My Generation’ or a Shel Talmy production, you know?”
The group signed with longtime E Street Band guitarist, actor, and syndicated radio show host Little Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records in 2006. Their latest slab, a rowdy 12-song collection titled The Big Beat, is the group’s third album on the label. It fits nicely alongside much of the garage-styled rock that Little Steven champions on his weekly radio show “Underground Garage.”
“The wellspring for everybody in this band is that we have a shared frame of reference for things, from blues and R&B to early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly sounds to instrumental surf-rock and garage stuff,” Jones says. “We don’t tag with the term ‘garage rock.’ It’s fine, but to me it just means rock ‘n’ roll that timeless.”
Musically, The Big Beat lives up to its title, with meaty hooks, clangy drums, and Jones’ shouty delivery. The 12 tracks came together in an unusually start-and-stop way, though.
“There was an interesting process that went into the making of this record — one that I’d never tried before,” Walls says. “We didn’t think it was such a hot idea doing it, but in hindsight, I feel like it was actually a pretty good idea. Little Steven wanted us to cut four songs in three little batches, three times in a row. It’s kind of like how they did it back in the old days.”
Jones was quite happy with the final version of the album as well. “Doing a little bit at a time allowed us a chance to focus on individual songs,” he says. “Everything’s covered by the space and time, but not so much as to be disjointed. If it had, it wouldn’t have mattered, really; in a sense, it would have been just as well.”
“You try to hone in specifically on a sound and a song, trying to get a specific vision for a song nailed down, which will be a tempest from which future generations will recall your antics,” he adds.
While Woggles still claim Athens as one of their deepest roots, the band members rarely perform in town. Jones currently resides in Los Angeles, Hall lives in Tuscaloosa, Hagstrom is based in Atlanta, and Walls is stationed in Athens.
The band has only played in Athens three times in the last 11 years, including a gig at the Green Room in April with Nate and the Nightmares and VG Minus (featuring original Woggles drummer and 90.5 WUOG colleague Kurt Wood).
“Kurt’s an original Woggle, so that made it a fun family affair,” says Walls. “And I’d been playing keys and guitar with Nate from Nate and the Nightmares in a band called the Free Associates. There are like five guys in three bands, and they’ve been keeping me really busy.”
The Woggles regular stay busy with short tours and long cross-country treks, from the West Coast to the Southeast (check a recent clip of theband at this year’s South by Southwest music featical in Texas below).
A lot of typical Woggles antics pop up on The Big Beat, like Jones’ maniacal harmonica and maracas work, Hall’s Keith Moon-esque tom fills, and Walls’ trebly guitar riffery. Some old-school fans might be surprised by the dense production style of the album, with additional horns and organ (“Take it to the People,” “Do the Git Down”) and wall-of-harmonies (“What Kind of Girl”).
“We’re really just a three-piece band with a lead singer, but we’ve developed a more complex and layered sound in the studio,” Walls says.
“It’s about being song-driven and inspired,” Jones adds. “It’s rock ‘n’ roll for the ages. I never put on a Chuck Berry song and go, ‘Oh, that sounds like ’50s rock ‘n’ roll.’ I think, ‘What great songwriting, what clever lyrics, and what a great groove.’ I don’t think of it existing within that time period. For us on stage, it’s often about getting how close you get to meeting that inspiration within the songs that you’re crafting. Sometimes, it’s necessary to be simple, and other times you ask for something to evolve a bit more.”
Presented by Metronome Charleston, the Woggles share the stage with local garage/rock duo the Frizz and Nashville act Matt Butcher and the Schoolyard Band at the Royal American at 9 p.m. on Sat. Sept. 26. Admission is $8. Visit thewoggles.com and theroyalamerican.com for more.
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