The Modelo beer commercial ran for a couple of years beginning in 2013. A guy and his two buddies walk into a new bar, only to be met with glaring faces from the regulars.
Sure, bespectacled, beanie-capped tough guy Tommy “triples” his street cred. And ordering Modelo Especials earns “seven slow nods” from the still-frosty crowd. But it’s ace-in-the hole Dylan with his “encyclopedic knowledge of Garage Rock” who finally gains the interlopers acceptance when he plays a tune on the jukebox to the smiling approval of all gathered.
That tune – with the reverby guitar and screeching vocals – is “Have Love Will Travel” by the Sonics.
“That’s one of the songs I refer to onstage deprecatingly as ‘our hits of the ‘60s!’” laughs Sonics sax/harp player Rob Lind – knowing full well that the Top 40 charts were never bothered by the band. Still, the Sonics’ name and catalog is revered today. Even if the group themselves were among the last to know.
“This is going to make us sound like dummies, but we really didn’t know that until about 2005 when we started getting asked to start playing again,” Lind says, noting that most of the original group rehearsed on and off for nearly two years.
“And we thought we would only do it if we really could pull it off. We didn’t want to go onstage and look like pathetic old fools.”
Two New York gigs went so well in 2007 that not even a week later, the group sold out two more in London. “We also met [Garage Rock revivalists] the Hives. And they told us the kids had discovered us. No record shop in London had anything by the Sonics left!”
The Sonics boomed out of Tacoma, Washington in 1960 as a teenage band under the leadership of guitarist Larry Parypa. By 1964, the classic lineup was in place with Parypa, his brother Andy (bass), Rob Lind (sax/harmonica), Bob Bennett (drums), and Jerry Roslie (lead vocals/keyboards).
It was Roslie’s throat-shredding, pitch-screaming, utterly unhinged vocals that became the Sonics’ sonic calling card. In the liner notes to the compilation Psycho-Sonic, the singer would remember that he sang so hard “chunks of meat” would sometimes come out of his throat after gigs.
The band was scouted by Buck Ormsby, bassist for fellow northwest Garage Rockers the Wailers (“Tall Cool One,” “Dirty Robber”) and signed to their Etiquette Label. In fact, the Pacific Northwest was very fertile ground for the genre, producing not only the Wailers and Sonics but the Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Ventures.
“There were a lot of good bands up there, and a lot of different genres. A lot of musicianship,” Lind recalls. “But it seemed like we were trapped there. Then when it blew up nationally in the ‘90s with [grunge] we were proud of those guys. Eddie Vedder and I talked about that.”
A series of singles and two albums – 1965’s Here Are the Sonics and 1966’s Boom quickly came out. And while commercial success eluded them, a string of forceful originals, often with dark lyrics (“The Witch,” “Strychnine,” “Psycho,” “”Shot Down,” “He’s Waitin’”) and frenetic Little Richard and soul covers (including Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel”) established a unique identity.
The Sonics left Etiquette for Jerden Records, releasing one more album – the oddly titled Introducing the Sonics – before the band fell apart. Not out of disagreement, though: members just drifted into other jobs and professions far outside music. The classic lineup did share the stage one more time at a one-off reunion gig in 1972.
Lind entered the U.S. Navy – which found him spending most of 1973 as a pilot flying missions in South Vietnam and Laos during the war. And then he spent more than 20 years as a commercial pilot for US Airways and Continental. Roslie would briefly revive the band in 1980, releasing the record Sinderella.
But a funny thing happened over the ensuing years: The Sonics became a cult band, their pre-CD compilation albums fetched high prices, there was talk of them as the “original punk rock band,” and their music began popping up in TV and movies. The Cramps and The Flaming Lips covered “Strychnine.” And Kurt Cobain and Jack White sang their praises.
In 2007, the band reformed with Larry Parypa, Roslie, and Lind (Andy Parypa and Bennett choosing not to go back into music). An EP with live and new songs, 8 came out. The lineup was settled with Freddie Dennis on bass and Dusty Watson (who spent 30+ years with Dick Dale) on drums.
This lineup released the critically acclaimed comeback This is the Sonics in 2015. The current set list includes about half ‘60s and half from this album, tracks like “Bad Betty” and covers of “Sugaree” and “Look at Little Sister.”
However, beginning in 2016, Roslie and Parypa chose to leave life on the road behind for either health or travel reasons, leaving Lind as the only original member onstage. Dennis has taken over lead vocals, and Evan Foster of the Boss Martians (guitar) and Jake Lords of the Lords of Altamont (keyboards) have been added.
“We’re thinking about a new album,” Lind says. “I’m doing some writing and Jerry’s doing some writing and then he and Larry could come in and be on the record.”
Part of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.