The Boogie never ends
About 15 years ago, a burn of a CD turned up unsolicited in my mailbox, courtesy of the inimitable Dave Laing, then working at Shock Records. The band was Endless Boogie (named after the John Lee Hooker album) and the album was “Focus Level”.
It was eight songs, about 80 minutes, a heavy psychedelic smorgasbord of riffage, punctuate with Paul Major’s growling vocals. If ever there was a band that could take you to another dimension, it was Endless Boogie.
Having had to abort their most recent planned Australian tour in 2020 due to the plague, Endless Boogie is preparing to hit Australian shores again with Howlin Rain. I spoke to Paul Major from his home town of New York City.
I understand you grew up in Kentucky. Is that correct?
Yeah, the first 18 years of my life were spent there.
What music did you grow up listening to in Kentucky?
Basically I was oblivious to music until the fall of 1966, when I’d just turned 12, and I heard "Psychotic Reaction" by Count Five on the radio. It was one of those lightning bulb, light going off in my head moments. Wow! That convergence of the garage punk energy with the psychedelic thing going on in that really sparked me.
As soon as I heard that I became obsessed, searching for anything that I thought would sound like that. Eventually I branched off into any kind of music that’s interesting, with an eye out more for obscure things that would sound like that, like “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles, anything that looked interesting. I started hitting the used record stores, head shops, thrift shops back in the day and buying anything that looked like it might be far out. I went along that way for quite a few years, 10 years or so, accumulating all sorts of records.
Then in the punk rock days, when I moved to New York City with my band, I had an experience of collectors’ stores, seeing a Moving Sidewalks album on the wall for $50, in that day’s prices, or Chocolate Watch Band, records like that, and I’d think ‘Oh wait, I have that. Other people into that, not just me!’ My friends all hated the stuff I was into in high school, but now it was different. So it went from there. I liked lots of bands when I was a kid, bands that are still my all-time favourites, like The Kinks and so forth.
But as far as my real passion, the further out it looked and seemed, the more I wanted to hear it. That led me onto speculation in Louisville, Kentucky, probably around 1968, ran into a copy of “Easter Everywhere” by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators in a used record store for 29 cents in their junk section. Because back then all the shops would be Frank Zappa or Beatles albums but when I hit the used record stores in New York City, I’d be like ‘Where’s all your garbage?’ because I knew all the private pressings of bands like Chocolate Watch Band, nobody had ever heard of them. I’d had the time to listen to a lot of stuff and work out what was good and what wasn’t.
So what really cut my teeth was coming in the door at the right time, at the end of 1966, as a kid, just when garage rock was merging with psychedelic music.
When you find yourself attracted to a song, an artist, a performance or whatever, is it the music that attracts you or is it something deeper, like the era or social milieu in which it was created or something else?
It’s a mixture mostly. Certainly the music has to interest me. I’m also interested in the cultural context; in particular, I’m even more interested in the people that made the music than the music itself. I need to have the full picture to understand it. Certainly a lot of things that have lasted with me, that I never get tired of, are the ones that put out that bigger perception of the world, that it’s not a throw-away showbiz thing, it’s real people in context with the people.
I made this term way back with private pressings when I started to get into them in the late 7’0s, ‘this could be the person next door who made this record in the basement’ – so I started calling them ‘real people’. I had to know when I heard the music the context of their life. That blew the music up into a much more vivid and reward experience when listening to it. I figure even the famous people are still just people. I looked at bands like the Beatles different after being turned onto real people, it sort of cut down these superstars to size. They’re just regular Joes in extraordinary circumstances.
You know your Australian music pretty well. Is there something different in Australian music to the other music from around the world that you’ve gotten into?
Yeah, there is to me in my perception. When I got heavy into record collecting in the early 80s and started getting a global perspective, I noticed that there was something about the Australian records, particularly the hard rock ones like Lobby Loyde and people like that, there was something about it to me that came across as less uptight and more human than stuff like the progressive rock coming out of Europe. I felt closer to the person making the music, there was more shared experience than somebody trying to present their thing at you and it was all uptight and thought out. There was something more free and open that I was picking up on.
When I got to hear more records, I thought ‘there is some kind of flavour that’s unique to Austraila’. There was a freshness, more human about it. It made some of the European bands seem a little less calculated, they were not really there with you, they were presenting something to you and they wanted the thing they were presenting to get them somewhere else up the ladder. With the Australian bands, they weren’t like that – they do it more than they pursue it.
You released a book, Feel the Music, a few years back. How did that come about?
The reason it happened was that I made all those catalogues in the pre-Internet days in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Since most of the records that I was trading or selling were very obscure, I would have to write a description. So I’d let my mind go free. Sometimes I wouldn’t even describe the music, I’d make up a scenario like a little film to try to convey the atmosphere of the record. So that writing in catalogues I did for a long time.
One of the people I was dealing with was Johann Koperberg out of Sweden and he had a bunch of my catalogues and came over to New York and started working in the music industry for a while and started his own thing and started publishing books. One day I went down to his office and he dropped this massive pile of paper in front of me and said ‘those are copies of every page of every catalogue I could find’ and it was like a million and a half words! He said they wanted to do a book and could I look through all of this and pick out the best bits. I started trying to do that but found it was undoable, so we had a team of five people trying to do it and we couldn’t do it.
So we decided to grab some catalogues and put them in the book and the rest of it was just stuff like photos. I wrote two bits for the book. But when I was doing it, I realised I couldn’t get outside of myself, I’d be going down a rabbit hole, so we made the decision that they would take all the stuff they had and do the book and load it into the computer and once it was done, brought me in with a computer they’d bring me in with a tape record and just comment. And most of what I say in the book was just my off the cuff comments. So that’s basically how it came together. I was astonished, I hadn’t thought back when I was doing those catalogues that it would become a book.
Did you find that what wrote when you were doing the catalogues originally still resonated with you now?
Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. In the context of first discovering those records, a lot of them seemed much more interesting and wore off over time and ones that I raved about back then, I can’t listen to now. And then there are those that I wasn’t that excited about then, that over time have grown on me. But a lot of the key ones that I discovered like Peter Grudzien, Kenneth Hickey, maybe Fraction and the New Dawn, yeah, I called it right it right out of the gate. Certainly, that initial thing, I couldn’t really tell which records would have staying power and keep resonating and which ones would be like the mystery’s gone.
Can you tell about recording your latest record, “Admonitions”?
That was kind of a strange one because it was recorded before COVID. It’s a little bit surprising to me because I hadn’t listened to it since we recorded it. I like it and remember doing it but this whole two year plus timewarp that we’ve been through, it’s like the rules have changed. So I have to wrap my head around it, whereas the other ones had happened and they were with us and we’d go out on the road straight afterwards, so it was part of the thing. But this is almost like ‘this is a blast from the past’.
Does Endless Boogie rehearse before it hits the road?
Previously we would, though not a lot, especially because a few years ago we started living in different parts of the world. I remember for our previous Australian tour we hadn’t played together for some time, so we got there and some friends gave us a place to rehearse and we did some intensive rehearsals. This time, since our drummer Harry lives in Italy, we’re going to meet in Italy and spend three days in Italy rehearsing then come to Australia.
And since most of it is improvised, we have the basic riffs and words, but there basically launching pads for being in the moment, so we don’t need to sit around and work out three-part harmonies. We just basically need to get the groove in our heads and play it each time differently, depending on how the crowd is, what the venue is like, everything affects is. So we don’t need to rehearse a lot to get up to speed.
You played a show at the Tote about 10 years ago, when you played basically three one hour plus sets. That is still in my top 3 live gigs off all time. It was almost literally endless! Everyone I know who was there at that show still talks about that show.
That’s great, I’m most happy that it had that affect. I do remember that show. We were like ‘we’ll take a break, not to do another number or two but to do a whole other trip!’ That happens sometimes. But that show was probably one of the top 10 longest shows we’ve done in our whole career.
When will you know the boogie is finished?
We won’t know till it happens for whatever reason. We just keep going because it does. We don’t do it enough so that we get tired of it, especially now that we have this pent-up need to play after these two-plus years. I think it will just keep going until for some unforeseen reason it can’t. Not to be morbid, but I think we’ll go to the end [laughs].
ENDLESS BOOGIE & HOWLIN RAIN
14 – The Tote, Melbourne
15-17 – Boogie Festival, Tallarook, VIC
20 – Melbourne Recital Centre
21 – The Zoo, Brisbane
22 – Eltham Hotel, NSW
25 – Crowbar, Sydney