The Sonics


This is interesting.

Forty years. That’s how long it’s been since Gerald “Jerry” Roslie left Tacoma’s most cryptic – and some would argue most influential – garage rock band.

So it was understandable when the 63-year-old rocker – the sole Sonic who still lives in Tacoma – admitted to having butterflies about this weekend’s comeback gigs.

The reunited Sonics will play New York’s Cavestomp festival Friday night and Sunday, with Roslie rekindling the fiery howl that powered “The Witch,” “Boss Hoss” and other oft-imitated garage classics. And during a recent phone interview, the reclusive singer sounded just a tad apprehensive.

“Oh man, you have no idea,” he said, chuckling heartily. “You know, it’s been a long time, and you just don’t know how people are gonna take it. Maybe after we do the first few songs some of the butterflies will leave.”

Roslie will be joined at Brooklyn’s Warsaw music venue by guitarist Larry Parypa, sax player Rob Lind and possibly drummer Bob Bennett from his band’s original lineup. Northwest journeymen Ricky Lynn Johnson and Don Wilhelm will play drums and bass, respectively. But original bassist Andy Parypa – a teacher who lives in Seattle – will not participate because of carpal tunnel problems, according to brother Larry.

And it’s about damn time. I actually used to work with Larry Parypa. It’s not like we were close, or anything. But I did ask him once about a picture at his desk, and he told me it was him with The Sonics, and so the first thing I did when I got home after work that day was dig through my brother’s enormous record collection in search of these albums I’d never heard. And, of course, my first reaction was, “Why have I not heard more of these guys over they years?”

This was around 1999, a couple years after Sam Machkovech‘s scare–

I’m talking about the return of the best thing to happen to Tacoma since glass-blowing—The Sonics, the band whose “Psycho” and “The Witch” rekindled my interest in rock ‘n’ roll right around the time of The Great Electronica Scare Of 1997. Thank you, Nuggets sampler CD at the used music store down the block. You saved me from Decks and Drums and Rock and Roll.

–but I share the sentiment. Listening to The Sonics for the first time, and I mean actually sitting down and listening to the record, instead of ripping a bong at a friend’s with the music turned low and not paying attention to the tunes, really was a strange, and, yes, refreshing experience. Every once in a while, we get these sorts of reminders. Some who followed the post-Nirvana freakout that happened in the early and mid-90s missed the fact that there was at least a decade’s buildup to that point, and if you follow the sounds back far enough, you run into some pretty strange coincidences. One of the first times I sat and listened to a Motorhead album all the way through, I thought I’d discovered the secret influence that nobody ever talks about. I discovered, naturally, that the reason nobody ever talks about the influence is because it’s just that obvious. Nonetheless, listening to a Sonics album eight years ago, two thoughts struck me. First was that I had, indeed, heard these songs before. The other was that I was suddenly confused as to why nobody ever talked about this gem of Northwest musical history. It could not be that, somehow, nobody knew. Because it was like hearing something I didn’t understand about a bunch of the music from before “grunge” broke big.

Or, as Ernest A. Jasmin‘s article notes:

“They really were this kind of proto-punk rock band,” said Experience Music Project curator Jacob McMurray. “I can imagine at the time (their music) came out, parents of kids that were fans of the Sonics being scared of the Sonics.”

McMurray sees an even more blatant connection to grunge.

“You could listen to (Mudhoney’s) ‘Touch Me, I’m Sick,’ and you compare it to ‘The Witch’ and you know – wow – this could be the same band,” he said.

Still, it took years for the Sonics themselves to realize just how much influence they had.

“We just started seeing stuff a long time ago – Patti Smith and then the Sex Pistols and then Nirvana,” he said. “All these major Seattle groups that are millionaires – and we’re not – they all said that one of their primers of rock ‘n’ roll was listening to the Sonics.”

Roslie said he gets a kick out of checking his royalty statements and seeing where Sonics music is being played – increasingly, places like England, Germany, France and Japan.

“The whole thing has just blown our minds,” he said. “When we quit I thought, ‘Well, that’s it, and (we’ll) go do other things.’ It is really mind-blowing because it’s such a rare thing that somebody’s been out of business for 40 years. So needless to say we’re really pleased, and we realize what a lucky break that is.”

Yeah. It really does run that deep. Once you start hearing it … well, it’s kind of scary. You really should check ’em out if you haven’t already. The Sonics rock.

Or, at least they did. As to the rest, we’ll see. Hear. Whatever.

Welcome back, gentlemen, and good luck. Get up there and kick our asses. Please.

One thought on “The Sonics

  1. I started listening to the Sonics in the mid 60’s. Jerry’s family and mine were friends. Jerry dated my sister for a short time and, of course, mom would always send the little kids along to ‘chaperone’.
    I am thrilled that Jerry and the guys are trying it again…perhaps they quit at the start of their careers instead of the height and didn’t even know it.
    I was thrilled to see them inthe EMP in Seattle.
    I wish them well.

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