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The Fuzztones

One of the first and most popular of the garage rock revival bands of the 1980s, the Fuzztones made music that sounded like it came from a time machine, brought back from a moment in the mid-'60s when guitars either buzzed or jangled, Farfisa organs cried out in sympathy, and wailing vocalists were wrapped in paisley shirts and Nehru jackets. Led by singer and guitarist Rudi Protrudi, the Fuzztones were sticklers for sonic authenticity, playing rare period-appropriate covers and like-minded original compositions using vintage gear, and they launched a musical movement that hundreds of bands would follow. Making their debut with a lo-fi but high-energy live EP, 1984's Leave Your Mind at Home, the Fuzztones would become one of the only garage revival acts to land a major-label deal for 1989's In Heat, and while they were soon back to the indies, Protrudi kept the band alive through decades of lineup changes and frequent touring. The 2009 compilation Lysergic Legacy is a fine, career-spanning introduction to their catalog, while the 2022 EP Encore and a collaborative single with Hollywood legend Ann-Margret covering Born to be Wild issued that same year confirmed the band were still on point after more than 40 years. The Fuzztones emerged from the creative vision of Rudi Protrudi, born Glen Dalphis in Washington, D.C. on December 15, 1952. He grew up in Camp Hill, PA, and developed a passion for rock & roll after seeing the Beatles' epochal appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He soon took up the guitar, and formed his first group, King Arthur's Quart, when he was 14. Another early band, Rigor Mortis, made a local television appearance in Hershey, PA in 1970, and he released his first record in 1972, a single with the glam/psych project Springhead Motorshark. In 1976, with the first stirrings of punk, he became a regular customer at a club in New York City called CBGB, and briefly played bass with the Dead Boys. In 1976, he and his girlfriend Deb O'Nair formed a new wave band called Tina Peel, whose sound was rooted in mid-1960s pop in the manner of the Dave Clark 5, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and the Monkees. While Tina Peel developed a following on the club circuit in New York, where Protrudi had settled, he and Deb O'Nair developed a taste for tougher and more obscure 1960s records, and they broke up Tina Peel to launch a new band. They named the new group the Fuzztones, named in tribute to the Fuzz Tone, a guitar effects pedal that became a staple of garage bands of the 1960s after being used by the Rolling Stones on "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The Fuzztones debuted in 1980, with Protrudi on lead vocals and guitar, O'Nair on keyboards, Elan Portnoy on lead guitar, Michael Jay on bass, and Ira Elliot on drums. They soon became a presence on the East Coast club circuit, and while touring the Midwest as openers for the Lords of the New Church, they recorded a show that would become their debut EP, 1984's Leave Your Mind at Home. Released by Midnight Records, a label that was an offshoot of a hip NYC record shop, the album made an impression in the nascent garage revival scene, and after playing a show backing up one of their heroes, early R&B wildman Screamin' Jay Hawkins, they released another live EP featuring four songs from the gig. The Fuzztones' first studio album, 1985's Lysergic Emanations, was released in the U.K. by the British ABC label, while Enigma's Pink Dust imprint brought it out in North America. The band toured the U.K. for the first time that year in support, and discovered a large and receptive audience for their retro-rock sounds. More overseas touring followed, and highlights of shows in Germany and Holland were featured in 1987's Live in Europe. However, by the time the concert album appeared in stores, the Fuzztones had broken up. Protrudi left New York City and relocated to California, where he put together a new edition of the Fuzztones, with Jordan Tarlow on guitar, John Carlucci on bass, Jason Savall on keyboards, and "Mad" Mike Czekaj on drums. The new Fuzztones hit the road, and as their audience and reputation grew, they were approached by Situation Two Records, a sibling of the successful British label Beggars Banquet. The band struck a deal with Situation Two, and through the label's connections in the United States, they were signed to RCA for North America, a very rare occurrence for garage revival bands. The band hired Shel Talmy (who had cut classic sides with the Who, the Kinks, and the Creation in the 1960s) to produce, and In Heat came out in 1989, their first LP of all original songs. While it sold very well by the standards of similar bands like the Lyres or the Chesterfield Kings, In Heat didn't live up to the expectations of RCA or Situation Two, and the band was dropped. The Fuzztones' lineup went through a shakeup, and for their next album, 1991's Braindrops (released by Germany's Music Maniac Records), Protrudi and Czekaj were joined by guitarist Phil Arriagada, bassist Chris Harlock, and keyboard player Jake Cavaliere. The same lineup was on hand for 1992's Halloween-themed set Monster A-Go-Go. The Halloween album was issued shortly after the band split again; Lysergic Ejaculations (Live in Europe 1991), recorded during a show in Germany, appeared in 1994. In 2000, Protrudi and Deb O'Nair reformed the Fuzztones for live work, and after several rounds of European touring, the group cut a fresh studio album. 2004's Salt for Zombies featured Protrudi and O'Nair as well as new members Batlord on guitar, Gabe Hammond on bass, and Andrea Kusten on drums; the album also featured guest vocals from James Lowe of the Electric Prunes and Sky Saxon of the Seeds. The same year, the band released Raw Heat: The In Heat Demos, a collection of rough recordings of the In Heat material that Protrudi felt better reflected the sound he intended. 2005's LSD 25: 25 Years of Fuzz and Fury was a twenty-five track compilation that summed up the group's career to date, and also came with a bonus DVD of music videos and TV appearances. For 2008's Horny as Hell, yet another new Fuzztones lineup – Protrudi and Lenny Silver on guitars, Lana Loveland on keyboards, bassist Screamin' Bo Pille, and returning drummer "Mad" Mike Czekaj – were joined by a horn section to give the songs an R&B accent. The group took a second stab at a career-spanning anthology with 2009's Lysergic Legacy, issued by Cleopatra Records. By the time the group cut their next studio album, 2011's Preaching to the Perverted, Protrudi had relocated himself and the Fuzztones to Germany, and the group changed rhythm sections, introducing bassist Fez Wrecker and drummer Keko Sauro. It was also the rare Fuzztones album to include no cover songs. 2013's Snake Oil was a two-disc collection devoted to rare and collectable tracks from the Fuzztones' archives. 2015's Gonn Primitive! was a live release that documented the Fuzztones sharing the stage with Craig Moore of Iowa cult heroes Gonn, whose 1966 tune "Blackout Of Gretely" had long been part of their repertoire. While still based in Germany, Protrudi paid tribute to his old home town with 2020's NYC, with the latest version of the Fuzztones – Protrudi, Loveland, Eric Geevers on bass, and Marco Rivagli on drums – interpreting fifteen tunes associated with artists from New York City. In 2022, the indefatigable Protrudi and his latest group of collaborators emerged from the studio with a six-track EP, Encore, that featured appearances from Stooges sax player Steve Mackay and Pretty Things bassist Wally Waller. The Fuzztones also issued a single that featured an unusual collaboration -- they backed show biz legend Ann-Margret for a spirited cover of the Steppenwolf oldie "Born to be Wild."
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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