Heralded garage-rock trio from Detroit reunites for Sick Weekend 2
The story of singer/guitarist Danny Kroha's involvement in Detroit garage three-piece the Gories goes back to 1970, when Kroha was just 5 years old.
“There used to be this drugstore called Cunningham's. It was kind of like a CVS,” Kroha said recently by phone from his Detroit home. “They had cheap Japanese electric guitars for sale. I remember seeing the guitars in there and thinking, man, I want one of those.”
FM radio introduced Kroha to bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon, but rock 'n' roll didn't make a deeper impression until Kroha found songs like “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds and “It's All Over Now” by the Rolling Stones. Through a Saturday morning radio show, he dug deeper into vintage garage-rock — “Mystic Eyes” by Them, “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” by the Electric Prunes, “Pushing Too Hard” by the Seeds and on and on.
“There weren't many people who were into the '60s stuff as much as I was around town,” Kroha said. “It was hard to find people who were really into that.”
By January of 1986, after singing in local band the Onset, Kroha found a reason to become the guitarist he'd always wanted to be when he found like-minded singer/guitarist Mick Collins and drummer Peg O'Neill, whom Kroha was dating at the time. In punk-rock fashion, the three friends didn't let a lack of musical chops stop them from throwing themselves entirely into a raw, bass-less and utterly primitive version of garage-rock.
“It was kind of a whim and a joke and a mission all in one,” Kroha said.
If the band's first album, 1989's Houserockin', was a mission statement, the main takeaway seemed to be, “keep it simple.” O'Neill stoically pounded on a drumset devoid of cymbals while Collins played one-note runs and Kroha attempted barre chords, shout-singing and talk-singing as they went. It was as if old, British R&B and American blues stayed out too late drinking at a Detroit bar but decided to get up onstage anyway.
Over time, the Gories developed a following, albeit a moderate one. By 1990, Memphis musician Alex Chilton of Big Star and the Box Tops was a fan and wanted to record the band's second album. “I called Chilton, and I knew nothing about him,” Kroha said. “He's like, ‘I really like your band. ... You guys are doing for R&B what the Cramps did for rockabilly. I really wanna get you guys down to Memphis and record an album.' So we set up in the studio and played, and he slept on the couch the whole time we recorded.”
In the early '90s, the Gories were running on fumes. “We had been banging our heads against the wall in Detroit for six years with not much success. By the time people started paying attention to us, it was a little too late. We were burnt out, getting on each other's nerves,” Kroha said. “It was only at the very end of that almost seven-year run that people we didn't know started to come see us. For like six years it was just 20 of our friends that would show up. Right around 1991 or '92, we might get 75 people at the show.”
It only took a few years for other bands to start name-checking the Gories in interviews. “I had picked up a fanzine, and [Atlanta band Subsonics] mentioned the Gories as an influence,” Kroha said. “Then the Oblivians, those guys were obviously influenced by the Gories, and then Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.”
Collins went on to lead the Dirtbombs, which garnered its own cult following, but the Gories' posthumous fame rose to a new level when Detroit native Jack White, then of the White Stripes, repeatedly mentioned the Gories in interviews as he ascended from local luminary to real-deal rock star.
The resurgence in interest eventually led Kroha, Collins and O'Neill to reunite in 2009, and the trio has played occasional reunion shows ever since, including an upcoming performance at Sick Weekend 2, held at Ace of Cups from Thursday, March 23 through Saturday, March 25 (the Gories will play the headlining slot on Saturday night).
The biggest difference, Kroha said, between a vintage Gories show and a 2017 performance is the crowd size. More people show up these days. And while the three friends, who all live in different states, don't rehearse before going onstage, the set doesn't suffer.
“We can play better. The set's tighter. It used to be pretty loose. It's still not too slick, but it's a little slicker than it used to be,” said Kroha, who admitted it can be difficult to play in the primitive style of the Gories after becoming more of a proficient guitarist and developing a different style over the years. “But we're really conscious of keeping it faithful to the Gories' sound. Nobody's showing off all the licks they've learned over the years.”