1. Roller, Roller, Rollerland!
2. Sweet Potato Red Sez (Polly Don’t Ride)
3. (I Be) Rockin’ With Mrs. Benoit
5. She Wolf
6. Once I Was A Dancing Bear
7. Who Will Love You (Junior’s Subs & The Phantom Beat)
9. Two Keys
10. Unlucky In Love
11. I Wanna See You Dance
12. Noisy Boys
(Too Stupid For The Radio)
Mike & The Ravens are
Mike Brassard: lead vocals and rhythm guitar
Bo Blodgett: lead guitar
Stephen Blodgett: rhythm guitar, bass and vocals
Brian Lyford: bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and vocals
Peter Young: drums and vocals
Above personnel were the definitive 1962 configuration.
Additional musicians on the album:
Marc Chapman of The Thunderbolts: percussion, violin and vocals
Billy Pajonas of The Stratatones: organ
John Kains of The Persuaders: vocals
Salla Kiehelä of Them Bird Things: percussion and vocals
Produced by Will Shade
Engineered by Marc Chapman for M. Brassard Productions
A tiny ember can smolder unseen for years before bursting into flames. And so it was that this album came to be made—more than forty years after Mike & the Ravens had broken up. This is potent, homebrewed rock ‘n’ roll, drawn up from a wellspring of hopes unfulfilled and dreams deferred. This stuff has deep roots. This stuff has heft and history. This ain’t no grandma grandpa rock: this is the real shit, friends.
The Mike & the Ravens story began back in 1960 in Northfield, Vermont, when Mike Brassard, Stephen Blodgett, Brian Lyford and Peter Young met and formed Mike & the Throbs. Stephen’s brother, John “Bo” Blodgett joined a year later on lead guitar, and in 1962 they changed their name to the Ravens. Almost from the get-go it was clear there was something different and special about this group. While most of the other bands in the area were slick and sparkly, the Ravens were dark and gritty. Their somber charcoal gray stage suits made them look more like bank robbers than entertainers, and while other bands practiced choreographed dance steps, the Ravens’ stage show was wild and, at times, almost uncontrollable. The music, though, was always tight and rocking. Most significantly of all, the Ravens played original material, a real rarity for a local act in the pre-Beatles era. Stephen Blodgett was the band’s main writer and even as a teenager he had a real gift for carefully crafted, highly contagious rock ‘n’ roll songs.
Rollerland, a cavernous roller-skating rink in Plattsburgh, New York, became the band’s main stomping ground and the scene for some of the wildest rock ‘n’ roll shows of the day. “Rollerland was like a Quonset hut,” Mike Brassard recalls. “A huge steam room basically. Packed with kids screaming their asses off. The steam would be rising off them. I would be sweating like a stuck pig and smell like a garbage heap at the end of our first set. I was dizzy most of the time because I would be very active up on stage and my suit would cling to me and we all smelled like sweaty socks and wet sneakers. Ah, now that’s rock ‘n’ roll!”
Stephen Blodgett immortalized the venue in a song he wrote in 1962, “(Roller, Roller) Rollerland.” A fast rollin’ rocker, it inevitably brought the house down every time they played it. The Ravens didn’t record the song at the time, but it was picked up a year or so later by another local band, Wild Bill Kennedy & the Twiliters, who recorded it for a 45 release on Empire Records. (In the early 1990s the song was rediscovered by Deke Dickerson, who recorded a version with his band at the time, the Untamed Youth.)
The Ravens themselves made a handful of 45s for the local Empire label, and although they didn’t capture the energy of their live performances, they stand as evidence of their solid vocal, instrumental and songwriting prowess. By the end of 1962, though, the original, classic Ravens lineup had broken up. Mike Brassard and Stephen Blodgett would continue to write and record music—together and separately—through the end of the decade, but Mike & the Ravens were, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried.
The Ravens secret history would remain interred for the next four decades until writer and rock historian Will Shade began tracking down the members as part of his research into the area’s early rock ‘n’ roll and garage scene. Encouraged by this new interest
in their music, the original Mike & the Ravens decided to get together and make some noise. As fingers fumbled for and found forgotten chords, and rusty vocal cords strained to shake off years of corrosion, the embers stirred, glowed, then flared to life. With Will Shade—the bellows of the project—in the producer’s chair the Ravens began work on their first album.
“I think the band wanted to prove something to ourselves,” says Brassard. “We wanted this to be the album we never had the
chance to make. But most importantly, we wanted those young guys we used to be to dig it.”
To stir up a few old ghosts, or at least help conjure the right vibe, the album was recorded at the Saxony in Rouses Point, New York, the venue where the band made their New York state debut more than 40 years earlier. Stephen Blodgett came armed with a pile of high quality new songs, and the hungry band quickly sank their teeth into the new material. “Steve is an artist,” says Mike admiringly, “a craftsman. It is such a kick and honor to sing songs of that caliber. Steve’s songs and Will’s belief in us as a group—no matter our age or how rusty—was the great motivator for me. Peter hadn’t played drums for over 36 years. Bo hadn’t played either. Brian had done some guitar playing with his son’s band, and Steve had kept working at his songwriting. I hadn’t written a song or sang anything for about 36 years. So it was with some trepidation that we all jumped in.”
At first it was hard work as the band labored to fully ignite the fiery spark and spirit of those old Rollerland days. “I gotta tell you, Peter’s stamina was really something,” says Brassard of the Ravens’ drummer. “His hands would blister and he would sweat, but he just did it—we all did—and at some point it stopped being work and fun broke out in the studio. We knew we were on to something real then. We all sensed it. Something was going on here. About halfway through the project we found a used analog 16-track deck and transferred everything to analog. But we didn’t go in and fix, fix, fix everything; we just hit it until it felt good. And that’s what you hear on the CD: us having a ball, just rockin’.”
Mike & The Ravens - at The Saxony sessions.
The band roars back to life with a version of the song they didn’t get to record back in ’62, “(Roller, Roller) Rollerland,” and it rocks with the same passion and fervor that must have possessed them back in their original heyday. Bo Blodgett’s patented ‘growling
guitar’ sound—still spoken of in reverential tones by old Rollerland attendees—makes its first recorded appearance here, a wrenching, room shakin’ grumble that’d make Link Wray proud. It surfaces again in all its string mangling beauty on the frenetic “(I Be) Rockin’ With Mrs. Benoit.”
In “Noisy Boys,” the Ravens claim their music is “too stupid for the radio,” but the opposite is true. Mike Brassard’s lyrics are full of sly humor and clever turns of phrase, and his songs are inhabited by characters that ring true to life like the reluctant hooker Polly in “Sweet Potato Red Sez,” or poor mama’s boy Bobby, who throws like a girl and listens to Marvin Gaye in his room all night.
The songs themselves are full of all kinds of left-field twists and turns as well: Stephen Blodgett’s “Once I Was A Dancing Bear” with its thumpin’ Bo Diddley beat and fevered beat poetry breakdown, “She Wolf,” which twitches and howls like a lost track from Beefheart’s Clear Spot, or Brassard and Lyford’s cacophonous “Noisy Boys” which careens in headlong hysteria smack into the side of Wolverton Mountain.
Reunion albums by bands of sixty-somethings are usually dicey propositions at best. This album is a different animal altogether.
“There’s too much Baby Boomer pabulum out there,” snarls Brassard. “You know, careful albums by careful guys. I’m still taking my cues from Jerry Lee Lewis and Link Wray like I did when I was a kid along with some bands who got by me in the ‘60s... people like the Sonics, the Velvet Underground and the Monks.”
“We all hate the term Grandpa Rock,” he adds. “If we ever do anything that sounds that way, shoot us—we would rather go fishing.”
Mike Stax, Ugly Things Magazine, April 2008
All songs arranged by Mike & The Ravens and Will Shade. Instrumental beds recorded live between April 2006 and October 2006 except the intro to “Noisy Boys,” which is from September 1960 during the very first rehearsal of what would become Mike & The Ravens. Vocal performances recorded from April to June 2007. All tracking was done at Saxony Studios, Rouses Point, New York. Mixed by Will Shade, Michael Brassard and Marc Chapman at the Saxony during autumn 2007 from 1” 16-track analog tape. Mastered by Jürgen Hendlmeier at Kick Out The Jams in Helsinki, Finland during January 2008.
Instruments and gear used by Mike & The Ravens include a 1966 Gibson SG, two dirt cheap Oscar Schmidt hollow-body electric guitars, three late model Fender Stratocasters, a Fender Telecaster from south o’ the border, one brand spanking new Fender Jazz bass, a Rickenbacker 3001 bass from an undetermined era, but most likely of the late ‘70s, one vintage Hammond B3 organ with Leslie speaker, a tempermental 1966 Shin-ei fuzzbox that worked only when it damn well pleased, thank you very much, a super-dyner-whopper atom smasher that masquerades as a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb amplifier, a 1978 MK II Marshall amplifier, a Fender Bassman amplifier, a goofy little Bose vocal PA that was easy to overdrive for different fuzztones and last, but certainly not least, a mid-’60s Ludwig drum kit.
Enjoy the original 1962 recordings of Mike & The Ravens at www.myspace.com/miketheravens
Read the full story of Mike & The Ravens in Ugly Things at www.ugly-things.com!
Great vocals... whacky guitar... a bit weird and wonderful... unpredictable... It’s great! - Eddie Phillips, guitarist for legendary freakbeat band, The Creation
This is not ‘oldies but goodies’, this is not retro, this is not even what I’d call a reunion disc, this is rockers playing hot shit rock ‘n’ roll, the music idiots used to call the Devil’s music because it scared them... I wish more bands in 2008 were aiming at the same goals: rocking and rolling for the sake of rock ‘n’ roll. Mike & the Ravens are not looking for a career on the cabaret circuit, they’re back to kick more asses and nothing else. Do not miss this one! - Laurent Bigot, Ugly Things magazine
This is amazing... sounds like 21st Century rockabilly... I can’t imagine Mike & the Ravens possibly sounding this good back in the 60s. They’re better than before. Jeez! Hats off to the frigging drummer! - Rick Brown, singer for psychedelic myths, The Misunderstood