The Woggles: Doing it to death 

A few years back I received an irate letter from a reader taking me to task over what he termed my “arbitary (sic)” use of the English language – specifically when crafting the short, sharp, shocked blurbs that make up our paper’s Music Menu section.

To hear this fellow tell it, just because I was usually writing about popular music was no reason to flat-out make up words that don’t exist, or neologize (my term, not his) existing words to fit the bill.

Specifically, he was incensed by my repeated use of the term “nugget” to describe old, obscure, or otherwise unjustly overlooked tunes from a (presumably) Golden Age. Now, for the record, in rock parlance, nuggets – or Nuggets, as they’re sometimes referred to – are quite an established notion.

Coined by Patti Smith Group guitarist and music aficionado Lenny Kaye for use as the title of his early-’70s anthology of rare American garage band tracks from the pre-psychedelic era, it’s now unfortunately become synonymous with virtually any underappreciated side from a salient artist that never cracked the mainstream.

That’s unfortunate, because it can only serve to dilute the initial intent: namely, to salute those intrepid souls who scraped by in the mid-’60s, playing to half-empty dance halls, school gymns and armories.

Those idealistic and determined groups who saved up their meager gig money to record and press small runs of brittle, fuzzed-out 7-inch singles, all in the hopes of getting a little local airplay and making the jump from being regional kings to national jacks.

I mean, why not? The Kingsmen struck a type of gold with a barely decipherable, low-fi, ode to maritime travel called “Louie, Louie,” so why not anyone else?

Well, if there’s any band in the land that knows the true meaning – and value – of The Nugget, it’s The Woggles.

This Atlanta quartet began in the Classic City of Athens, Georgia in 1987, and immediately established itself as one of the leading exponents of the U.S. garage-rock revival scene. With a look, sound, stage show and attitude that was (admittedly and respectfully) cribbed from a half-dozen other groups – both existing and long-gone – they appealed to both the uninitiated and the well-versed.

To those out of the loop – who had never haunted flea markets and yard sales doing the sort of dusty, polyvinyl spelunking that for years was the prerequisite for earning even a layman’s degree in vintage garage rock – The Woggles’ matching outfits, ruffled bullfighter shirts, pegged slacks, shaggy hairdos and minimalist, pawn shop gear seemed as though it had emerged whole from some miasma of pop culture.

Then again, those of us who found such ephemera as beguiling as the bandmembers themselves, recognized their shtick for what it was: a glorious, carefully honed pastiche of audio/visual highlights from many of the best trashy, liquor-soaked groups of yore.

But that didn’t stop both camps from loving this band like nobody’s business. Fact of the matter is, most of the artists The Woggles emulate (and celebrate) had something that most of their competition could never muster: passion. It’s what sets those rare and mostly-ignored sides apart from the tracks you’ll find ad nauseam on any number of Time-Life or Billboard compilations.

That same passion runs through everything The Woggles do. It’s what defines their sweaty, foot-stomping live sets. It’s what keeps frontman Manfred “The Professor” Jones climbing up on (willing) audience members’ shoulders at nearly each show from here to Japan, or dancing so hard that he injures himself.

It’s what keeps his oversized tambourine shaking much harder than required, and it’s what keeps drummer Dan “Electro” Hall pounding out relentless primal rhythms on his tiny, oystershell trap set – like some dapper cross between Ringo Starr and Moe Tucker from the VU.

And it’s that same passion that no doubt fueled their decision to soldier on after the sudden and tragic death of their longtime guitarist George "Montague" Holton, welcoming former Guadalcanal Diary axeman Jeff “Flash Hammer” Walls into their fold.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that The Fleshtones were milking essentially the same act for a decade before The Woggles made their debut. It doesn’t matter that most of what they do has been done before in one way or another, by everyone from The Music Machine to The Leaves to Link Wray.

What matters is The Woggles are doing it now, and they’re doing it to death.

Now, make this gig, and don’t get me started on the phenomena commonly known in record collecting circles as The Timeless Chestnut... w

The Woggles play the hell out of The Jinx Friday.


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Jim Reed

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