Authentic Garage Band Music

by Mike McDowell
issued on Blitz #39 March/April 1981

Since the beginning of the new wave movement in the mid-1970s, its musical practitioners have (for better or worse) frequently been compared to earlier artists whose music reflected the same ideals and goals. With the exception of a handful of performers (most notably the Beat, the Tweeds and Joe "King" Carrasco), very few of the newcomers have been able to match the high standards of those artists whose music they claim to emulate.
Los Angeles' Unclaimed is probably the most prolific exception to that rule. Taking their name from a legendary mid-western garage band known as the Uncalled For (whose Do Like Me on the Dollie label remains one of garage band music's definitive classics), the Unclaimed has rapidly proven itself to be the most perceptive of all collector rock bands active today. Individually, their line-up is as follows.
Vocalist Peter Sheldon "Shelley" Ganz hails from Los Angeles and became an avid collector of garage band records in the early 1970s. His musical influences include the Chocolate Watch Band, Seeds, Music Machine, Syndicate Of Sound, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Lovin' Spoonful, Merry-Go-Round and the Cyrkle. Ganz's musical career began with the now-defunct Popes, whose musical approach was not unlike that of the Unclaimed.
Guitarist/harmonicist Sid Griffin surveyed the Los Angeles scene for several years and spent a summer in the Greenwich Village district of New York City before finally moving to California from his native Louisville, Kentucky late in 1977. Before joining the Unclaimed, Griffin was a member of a Kentucky band, the Frosties and also played briefly in a group with Johnny Perez, drummer of the Sir Douglas Quintet ("Although we had little in common outside of our musical interests", adds Griffin). His most recent pre-Unclaimed musical venture was with a short-lived L.A. band, Death Wish, whose repertoire is assessed by Griffin as "stupid new wave music".
Bassist Barry Shank bears the dubious distinction of being a former session musician for the Titan label in his native Kansas City, Missouri, where he also played with J.P. McLain And The Intruders, another Titan label act. Shank migrated to Los Angeles in January, 1979 and was introduced to Shelley Ganz through Bo Clifford of Bomp Records. Though much of his interests lie in contemporary commercial rock, Shank is also a devoted enthusiast of the music of the Beau Brummels, Zombies, Hollies and Remains, and considers Rari by the Standells amongst his favorite records. Shank is also intensely proud of his amazing physical resemblance to the late Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.
Though originally from Orlando, Florida, keyboardsman Thom Hand spent his early years in frequent migration as the son of a career military man. Hand was not initially enthusiastic about the Unclaimed's brand of music (save for his penchant for Love and the Count Five), though his preferences for mainstream rock and roll have expanded into what the group calls "catholic tastes". Hand is generally considered by the group to be their most technically proficient musician.
Rounding out the group is drummer Matt Roberts, from Orange County, California. Roberts' musical experience prior to the Unclaimed included a brief internship with a band called Big Wow, described by guitarist Griffin as "a Sears And Roebuck new wave band". Roberts holds a master's degree in art and is a former lecturer at Cal State University in Fullerton. He is a devoted Rockpile enthusiast and is also the humorist of the band. Roberts' long-range goals include a television series for the Unclaimed.
The Unclaimed began in early 1979 as an outgrowth of Ganz's former band, the Popes. "I was attending UCLA as a philosophy major", recalls Ganz. "I knew something was wrong when I started drawing guitars during lectures. It got to the point where I knew I couldn't do both". Ganz dropped out of UCLA in his junior year (1978) and formed the Popes at the suggestion of Moxie Records' president, Dave Gibson, whom Ganz had met at the now-defunct Bomp Record Store late in 1977. "It took me three years to get the Popes together, based upon an idea I had from my interest in record collecting", muses Ganz. "I advertised in a local paper for musicians to play Chocolate Watch Band-type rock. The irony of it was that ex-members of the Surfaris and the Leaves turned out for the audition. Unfortunately, they had lost their perspective. I told them what I wanted to do and they said, 'That's fine and dandy, but what about some current top 40 rock?' Not only that, but they lost their visual immediacy that made them great in the first place. We feel that image is very important".
The Popes called it quits in May, 1979. Ganz immediately began to discuss the idea of a new band with Griffin, whom he had met that April. "I knew Shelley had great ideas when he suggested 'Unclaimed' as a name", explained Griffin. "I'll never forget our first meeting. Shelley brought a stack of obscure garage band singles over to my house. We sat there listening to them while he played guitar in accompaniment with them. He put Louie Go Home from Paul Revere And The Raiders' Midnight Ride album on the turntable. When it was over, he said, 'Everybody who likes the guitar solo in that record, raise your hand', and he raised both of his hands. It caught me off guard, and I looked around the room to see who else had put their hands up. Of course there was nobody else in the room! I put my hand up anyway. From that point on, I knew we were going to hit it off".
Recruiting drummer Steve Galloway from the Popes, the Unclaimed played their first gig on July 21, 1979 at the Nugget. The group lasted several months, calling it quits in November. After an eight months hiatus, Griffin and Ganz reformed the band with its present line-up, with drummer Galloway going on to work for the Robbs at their Cherokee Studio in Los Angeles and Griffin forsaking his studies towards a master's degree in journalism at USC to devote more attention to the band.
Since their reformation this past July, the Unclaimed have recorded one EP for Gibson's Moxie label, a record that the band is less than pleased with. "It was rushed", complains Griffin. "Dave Gibson pressured us into doing it. Those songs are not at all indicative of the group's potential. In fact, John Gillis, the engineer fought us all the way at the recording session. The record was cut on an eight-track machine. Gillis kept pushing us to try for a clean, sterile sound. He couldn't understand it when we told him we wanted a sound like the production on the Ventures' Walk, Don't Run. I'm not happy with the record at all. I think we have much better original material now".
To be sure, the band's on-stage show by far outshines the comparatively tepid EP. In concert, the band combines such great garage band standards as the Sonics' The Witch, the Syndicate Of Sound's Little Girl and the Chocolate Watch Band's Sweet Young Thing with similarly compelling originals like Cinderella and Time To Time. Griffin's guitar work compares favorably with that of the Standells' Tony Valentino and Ganz proves to be a showman on par with the Chocolate Watch Band's Dave Aguilar. "Dave Gibson has a video tape of the Chocolate Watch Band live", says the enthusiastic Ganz. "I made him show it to me again and again until I had their moves down perfectly".
With such noble aspirations, the Unclaimed are certain to become one of the finest rock and roll bands of the 1980s. Nonetheless, the band is very image-conscious and quick to point out that they have no intention of becoming what Griffin terms "the Sha Na Na of garage band rock". He explains thusly: "I wrote Deposition Central (The Acid Song) on our EP based upon my impression of the movie Riot On Sunset Strip. But a lot of people took it the wrong way. They think we're out to revive the Jefferson Airplane. What are we supposed to say, 'Do you remember your first acid trip?' How ridiculous! We're a contemporary band and we 're just playing what we feel. And what we feel just happens to be garage band rock".
Though the Unclaimed has but nineteen gigs to their credit at the close of 1980, they have already proven themselves to be a major draw on the Los Angeles club scene and one of the area's most proficient and accomplished bands, as well. After countless false starts and letdowns from dozens of other seemingly promising bands during the course of the last several years, the Unclaimed may well be the band ready to help guide rock and roll through its uncertain future.

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