"It's rock & roll before it was an art form," says Steven Van Zandt about what, exactly, he means when he's talking about "garage rock." Though there are nearly as many preconceptions about the sound as there are practitioners, the host of Little Steven's Underground Garage (both a two-hour syndicated radio show and a 24/7 channel on Sirius satellite radio) has a ridiculously simple notion about what should and shouldn't make the cut.
"I tell people that we base our format on the Ramones," Van Zandt laughs. "We play the Ramones, we play everybody who influenced the Ramones and we play everybody the Ramones influenced. You get the surf rock, you get the girl groups, you get the Eddie Cochran … you get all of it."
Though Van Zandt has other abilities (his work with a singer-songwriter from New Jersey has garnered minor critical acclaim, and he's also acted in a made-for-cable drama), it's clear that he's most passionate when acting as a disciple for garage rock. This was the genesis of the Underground Garage radio phenomenon, as well as a recent series of garage-rock revues at various venues that bring together classic talent and new bands, lost legends and keepers of the flame.
A recent roll through Hard Rock Live Orlando with the Romantics, the 45s, the Fleshtones and some other bands (complete with go-go girls) didn't get the turnout one would expect from such a lineup, but that hasn't deterred Van Zandt from bringing the show back to Florida with a fresh lineup. For two nights over Memorial Day weekend at the Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, the Garage will set up shop poolside for a "bikini party" featuring the Romantics (a partially reunited MC5 was the headliner but had to cancel after bassist Michael Davis was injured in a motorcycle accident), the Beatles-esque garage pop of Mississippi's Gants, the full-throttle punk of the Supersuckers, the all-girl Holograms and, most notably, a reunion of Orlando garage-punk legends the Hate Bombs.
"I met them all through our favorite record store in the world, Rock & Roll Heaven," says Van Zandt of the Hate Bombs. "Every time I'm down there, I go and hang out with Ray `Ehmen, the store's owner`. About a year ago, I went to see a couple of the bands that the Hate Bombs had splintered into, and I think there will be some interesting bands that come out of that. But I asked 'em if they would consider a reunion, and they said yes."
"Many good things come from Ray. He's been a huge supporter of the Bombs for years," says Hate Bombs bassist Scott Sugiuchi by e-mail from his home in Baltimore. "As for working with Little Steven, he put on a show in NYC about five years ago, and he introduced us and begged us not to break up."
This reunion — featuring Sugiuchi, drummer/vocalist Ken Chiodini (currently in the Four Shames), guitarist Fred Mullins (ex-Fantasie, currently in Sunshine Artillery) and guitarist/vocalist Dave Ewing (also in the Four Shames) — isn't the first (nor is it likely to be the last) for the Bombs, but their inclusion on a Little Steven—curated lineup is definitely a point of pride for the band.
"I think `Underground Garage` is the best thing to happen to garage since Estrus Records in the '90s," says Sugiuchi. "Of course that's not saying much, considering at best garage rock has maybe 10,000 fans worldwide."
"Little Steven is dying on the cross for all of the sins being committed in the music industry," Chiodini concurs. "Praise him."
LITTLE STEVEN'S UNDERGROUND GARAGE
with the Hate Bombs, the Supersuckers, the Romantics, the Gants, the Holograms
noon - 6 P.M. Monday
Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Tampa