by Fred Mills
If you were a fanzine reader or record collector in the mid-to-late ’70s, you undoubtedly came across Akron’s Tin Huey, a strangely strange outfit of lapsed prog-rock and avant-jazz fans who managed to wriggle their way onto the musical radar, along with fellow Ohioans Devo, Rubber City Rebels, Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, when punk hit. An indie-label release by the band drew the attention of the Village Voice, and soon enough, feeding-frenzied major labels eager to capitalize on punk’s more palatable first cousin, New Wave, came a-sniffin’, with Warner Brothers winning the Huey coin flip.
Strange fruit indeed. The record kicks off the Monkees/Neil Diamond chestnut “I’m A Believer,” rendered in the general style of — speaking of prog rock — former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt’s own cover of the song but which, given the lavish production budget and a general pomp-and-anthemism vibe, came close to landing the tune on mainstream FM radio. There are further commercial nods, such as an R&B/dance ode to working-stiff life, “Hump Day,” and the neuvo wavo rap/jazz of “New York’s Finest Dining Experience” which brings to mind a cross between Talking Heads and Tower of Power. But with a prevailing aura of, well, just plain weirdness that only über-hip punks or Frank Zappa fans could be expected to dig — the fractured jazz-funk of “The Revelations Of Dr. Modesto,” the Devoesque “Coronation” and “Puppet Wipes,” the overcaffeinated-vocal romp-pop of “I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts” — there really wasn’t a chance in hell for any long-term Huey playlisting. Re-read some of those song titles if you’re in doubt.
As related by liner notesman Scott Schinder, the Tin Huey story didn’t end with the short-lived Warners deal. Other indie releases followed, and the members at various times enjoyed fruitful solo careers. Guitarist Chris Butler, for example, briefly hit it big with the Waitresses, while horn player Ralph Carney’s played with everyone from Tom Waits to Elvis Costello. This album, however, is a wonderful, endearingly quirky document of a notable summit of musical talent. Of an era too, one which it should be noted, the Collectors’ Choice label has been diligently archiving of late via remastered looks at such late-’70s/early-’80s artists as The dB’s, Let’s Active, Tom Verlaine and the Three O’Clock. It’s a great time to be a music collector — dontcha just love the world of CD reissues?
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.