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Bazooka Jones takes an ear-bending approach to the classic Detroit sound, merging delicious-but-raw garage rock with jangly and melodic power pop. The Allen Park-based quartet impressed with their musical proficiency and chops at Detroit's first International Pop Overthrow (IPO) festival three years ago, leading to the belief that there are lot of terrific bands in Detroit that somehow never get the attention they deserve, perhaps because they've never been part of one specific scene. The originals on the band's two self-released CDs all deal with the subject of kinky, sticky sex; they even transform their various cover tunes — including the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" and Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" — into sexy romps, finding the inherent perversion that potentially exists in most every song.
Suffice it to say with titles like "Dance Naked, "Pussywhipped Girl" and the subtle "Masturbate Me," Bazooka Jones ain't your average power-pop band. Unlike the early Beatles — an influence on so many bands of the genre — these folks would rather get laid than hold your hand. The influences on their sound range from T. Rex and Slade to the Bay City Rollers and the Stooges ... if all those groups had a chick singer, that is.
The group will once again play the IPO fest's return to Michigan, which kicks off Thursday at Paycheck's Lounge in Hamtramck. We caught up with guitarist Chris Jones (aka Bullethead) — who co-writes the band's material with his wife, lead singer Viagra Jones — for a quick chat.
1. Metro Times: You've played every Detroit IPO festival thus far. So what's Bazooka Jones' definition of "pop?"
Chris Jones: The Bazooka Jones definition of "pop" is simply "infectious fun" — a bareback ride atop three chords that leave you with a guilty smile and feeling the need to do penance by listening to Tom Waits.
2. MT: Your lyrics are mostly sex, not including your covers, although even those almost always come sounding like they're about kinky sex as well. Were you influenced by the Cramps? Or was it other influences? What's with all the sex?
Jones: Again, "infectious fun." It's the sex-drive thing. People are not born with a natural urge to commit murder or to rob a bank. But they sure do have the urge to scratch the urge. Yes, the Cramps are cool and have left a bit of bodily fluid on Bazooka Jones, but also more subtle sexual rock 'n' roll stains are evident in our sound as well — things like the Knack's ridiculously brilliant first album Get the Knack. Pants off to the late great Doug Fieger for his "hands on" approach to sticky pop. We just feel that short, catchy songs about sex have more chance of standing out in the crowd. In the words of Keith Richards: "Rock 'n' roll — music for the neck downwards!"
3. MT: The members of Bazooka Jones can create that classic raw and real rock 'n' roll sound of yore. Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones said on his radio show a few years ago that one almost has to be in their 40s these days to make that sound. What are your thoughts on that ... and do you sometimes think that sound is a dying art form?
Jones: Great question and great Steve Jones quote. I think he may be onto something there. Kind of sad, actually. But, yes. You may need to be near the Modern Maturity subscription age to understand that classic, raw rock 'n' roll thing properly, I think. It's probably a matter of influences and what you grew up hearing. Many young bands, I believe, think that they are doing it. And it's cute to watch. You can tell that they have gotten into their parents' record collection and hats off to them for it! But many seem to fall short of that old-school groove. They want to "rock" but are afraid to "roll." Perhaps it's a fear of looking dated. Again, just listen to Keith Richards, kids: "Everyone talks about rock these days; the problem is they forgot about the roll."
4. MT: Lead singer Viagra (aka Michelle) Jones cuts hair for a living during her day hours. Has she learned anything about rock 'n' roll from doing that?
Jones: Yes! "Wear a tight shirt, sing songs about getting trim, rinse and repeat." Honestly, though, she does wax poetic on the job about rock 'n' roll with anybody who will listen. She knows her roots rock and can sing harmonies to any of that old soul. Her salon is one of the few barbershops in town where you can get your haircut, listen to the New York Dolls and talk about them with a barber/stylist who's actually witnessed the train wreck that was Johnny Thunders.
5. MT: A lot of the classic Detroit rock bands can be heard in your sound — especially the MC5 if they'd admired the Archies and the girl groups as much as Chuck Berry and Sun Ra. OK. So what is it about Detroit and its music?
Jones: Detroit music, at its best — at least for Bazooka Jones — is a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup hybrid of raw, garage rock, a la the MC5 and the Rationals and slick, hook-laden Motown. We grew up with one dashboard speaker AM radios blasting out hits on CKLW and WKNR as well as the awesome underground rock of early WABX. Also WCHB from Inkster kickin' the blues and soul with Martha Jean the Queen. Gentlemen Jay was an influence as well. You couldn't grow up during Detroit's musical heyday and not have some of it stick to your psyche. It's all about groove and swagger because the best Detroit rock 'n' roll has had groove and swagger to spare. As an interesting side note — in middle school, a social studies teacher of mine was Russ Gibb, the famous WKNR "Paul is dead" DJ, Grande Ballroom owner and one-time MC5 manager. And then in high school, one of our English teachers was actually Iggy Pop's dad! James Osterberg Sr. We lovingly referred to him as "Iggy's Pop." I suppose, in a sense, you could say that Viagra and myself attended Detroit's own version of Rock 'n' Roll High School.
At 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 16, with Old Empire, the Secrets and more, at Paycheck's, 2932 Caniff, Hamtramck; 313-874-0909. The International Pop Overthrow festival runs Thursday through Saturday, April 15-17. See internationalpopoverthrow.com for a full schedule and info.
Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.