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Rock your lizard brain

The Woolly Bushmen evoke Buddy Holly and the rowdy garage rock of the '60s

Florida trio, the Woolly Bushmen, have a knack for propulsive, no-frills rock. Photo credit: Andy Matchett

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Sometime last year, I had the opportunity to see and review a production of The Buddy Holly Story at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. While I have always enjoyed the music of Buddy Holly, and I knew the basic outline of his life -- boy from Texas makes it big in the music business, despite having an odd voice and an even more unconventional look, and then tragically dies in a plane crash -- but something I was surprised to learn was just how little time Holly had to make as big an impression as he did. When Holly's first single ("That'll Be the Day") became a hit in late 1957, it would be only 18 months until his untimely death.

That's a hell of a tight window in which to leave your mark on music history, but that's exactly what happened. In a year-and-a-half, Holly recorded a handful of indelibly classic songs, reportedly had a huge impact on the formation of the Beatles (who chose their name as a nod to Holly's band, the Crickets), and inspired the Rolling Stones to do their own version of "Not Fade Away." Further on in the future, Holly's fingerprints would be found in the work of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Weezer, in nerd chic, and countless indie bands fronted by people who wouldn't have ever been considered star material, otherwise.

Holly's influence is also felt in the music of Florida trio the Woolly Bushmen. Though they tend toward ‘60s-indebted garage rock, they also dip their toes in the waters of rave-up ‘50s rock. "Hangin Blue," the second track on their recent LP, Arduino, even features lead singer Sheldon Herschfeld emulating Holly's trademark hiccuping vocals. On the band's Facebook page, they claim to have been described as Buddy Holly fronting the Troggs, which sounds about right. Balancing the cleaner sound of the ‘50s with the fuzzy distortion of ‘60s rock creates a compelling push-and-pull dynamic: a depiction of the past with shouts of things to come.

Herschfeld leads the band on vocals and organ, and is joined by Clovis Jefferson on bass, and Durvas Lazenby on vocals and drums. As a unit, they cut a tight silhouette, easily finding the groove and pocket of a song, and getting in and out as economically as possible. It's refreshing to hear a band fetishize the music of the ‘60s and actually include a prominent organ sound, which was so essential to many bands of that era. It's that little bit of special attention that lends credibility to a nostalgic venture that so many groups only explore in a very surface-level way. Another prominent touchstone for the Woolly Bushmen seems to be the Sonics, which presents itself in the rough and raw splashes of distorted rockabilly and blues.

Arduino is stacked with tunes that effortlessly access your lizard brain, the part of you that just needs to hear some pounding drums, a dirty guitar, and a wild man leading the frantic march. Buddy Holly would likely agree that rock and roll, as dumb and goofy as it sometimes is, doesn't really need to be about more than having a good time. Cue the Woolly Bushmen.

Woolly Bushmen, w/ the Schizophonics, Tremor Cats, 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 17, donations accepted, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265, thevalleytacoma.com

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