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Cripple Effect

A serendipitous record deal resuscitates one of the Midwest's primo garage acts, the Cripplers

After five years and multiple lineup changes, the Cripplers, dedicated purveyors of what Lester Bangs once called "getdown gutbucket rock & roll," were ready to call it quits. The four members of the raucous Missouri garage band were scattered across the state, they didn't have the money to release the CD they'd been sitting on for close to a year, singer/guitarist Jeff King was about to graduate from Mizzou and, in short, nobody thought the band was ever going anywhere. In March of 2001, the band decided to go on hiatus. "We were all so spread out that we'd get together the night before, practice, play, and that would be it until the next show," drummer Dave Devine recalls. "We couldn't get any new songs. It was the same things over and over -- just stagnant."

Adds singer/bassist Tim Hopmeier: "I think, for a moment there, we had a bad taste in our mouths about what was going on. We couldn't get anything really moving for about five months; even with booking shows, it was really tough. I know we labeled our last show, with the Ded Bugs last March, our 'farewell gig,' but we were really just planning on taking some time off."

The vacation didn't last long. About a month after the "farewell gig," the Cripplers received an offer from Dionysus, a Burbank, Calif.-based label that's well respected in underground garage/psych/punk circles. Unbeknownst to the other band members, rhythm guitarist Tim Sullivan had been mailing their demo to likely labels with help from longtime fan Jeff "Kopper" Kopp, of KDHX-FM's The Wayback Machine, who designed the sleeve and wrote the band bio. "We were sitting on this recording that was collecting dust," Sullivan says. "The band needed a kick in the ass, too. So I sent this stuff off, and I didn't bother telling anyone else."

Lee Joseph, head of Dionysus, was blown away by the demo. "I have not been doing many new bands in the past year," he explains in an e-mail to the RFT. "Due to the economy and market, it's extremely tough to sell a new band. I've been doing mostly reissues and rare/unreleased material by bands from the '60s and late '70s, along with less than a handful of releases by bands I've worked with before. We do listen to most demos that come in. When I heard one of my employees playing the Cripplers, I did a double take. The music grabbed me. I love the elements of '60s garage and '70s punk wrapped up in their rootsy sound. They excited me more so than any new band I've heard in a very long time!"

Late last October, Dionysus released the Cripplers' debut album, One More for the Bad Guys, on both CD and vinyl. "I tell people, 'If you have a turntable, buy the vinyl,'" Hopmeier says enthusiastically. "If I can find something on vinyl, I'm going to buy the vinyl. I like the pops and static -- it gives it that raw sound. The sound of vinyl is the best sound ever. The CD sounds polished and professional, but the vinyl captures us, makes us sound the way we sound when we play."

Whatever the format, the 16 tracks, which were recorded live in about six hours, sizzle with all the requisite ingredients of classic garage: mean and greasy teenage hard-on chords; dirty tube-amp distortion and feedback; primal yelping and glottal grunting and largely unintelligible raving about little bitches and heartbreakers and trash cans and rock & roll snakes. In the grand tradition of the Troggs, the Count Five, the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunders', not Tom Petty's), the Cripplers refuse to get all intellectual on your ass, assuming they're capable of it in the first place. They won't subject you to poignant ballads about the plight of Afghani women, nor will they hector you about the forces of globalization. They cover Bob Dylan's "Joey," from Desire, but somehow, in the process of shaving an 11-minute song down to four minutes, they replace all the mystery, empathy and tragic force of the original with blood, beer and B.O. It's no longer an existential rumination about a murdered mobster. Reduced to its elements, stripped of its higher purpose (not to mention its violin), it's suddenly only rock & roll: fuck-fueled, stinky, sordid, incorruptible. The Cripplers no doubt based their version of "Joey" on Johnny Thunders' smack-addled cover, but who cares how many degrees of separation exist? Who cares whether they've even heard Desire? By simultaneously paying homage to and flipping off the original, the Cripplers' "Joey" does what all great cover songs should do. "We just bring in everything that we like," Hopmeier says, "We don't want to be pigeonholed."

Adds Devine: "At shows we do, there are all kinds of different people. Metalheads like us because we're loud and crazy; the punk rockers like us because some of our songs are real fast and snotty; and some of the regular college kids like us because there are some pop elements. I think we're just real rock & roll. 'Rock' is such a general, loose term -- I mean, some people call Michael Jackson rock. I like to think in all our songs you can hear a Chuck Berry influence: We play loud, we play sloppy, we play a lot of the basic, raw kind of stuff."

"We just plug in and play," Sullivan states adamantly. "No fancy pedals or anything."

"I still think the amp distortion is the best distortion ever made," Hopmeier remarks. "I'm not against pedals or anything; I just think the amp distortion gives you the rawest sound. Like in the old days, they'd just take a comb or something and poke a hole in the head of the amp to get that vibration. We try to keep ourselves as primitive as possible."

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