It had been a long time; they shouldn't have left us. But now the Sonics and Soundgarden – two Northwest rock legends known for going A.W.O.L. for decades at a time – are back in high-decibel action.
Tacoma's garage-rock heroes, the Sonics, went missing for four decades. Soundgarden – the band behind “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman” and other grunge era hits – took a mere 14 years off. But in the next few days they'll remind us why we missed them so: the Sonics with a headlining date at Seattle's Showbox at the Market on Feb. 2 and Soundgarden with a two-night stand at Seattle's Paramount Theatre on Feb. 7 and 8.
The Sonics' classic lineup featured Jerry Roslie on lead vocals and keys, Rob Lind on sax, Bob Bennett on drums and twin brothers Larry and Andy Parypa on guitar and bass. They rocked regional venues – Tacoma Armory, the Red Carpet Inn - with “Cinderella,” “The Witch” and other tectonic cuts that influenced generations of garage and punk bands that followed.
Their sound is PG by today's standards. But local radio programmers were slow to play their music, deeming lyrics about witches and sipping strychnine too dark for the airwaves. And they failed to score a national hit before the classic lineup broke up in late 1966 and early 1967.
Andy Parypa sold the rights to the band's name and an unrelated act called Jim Brady & the Sonics kept going until 1980. Meanwhile, the real Sonics spent the next four decades working day jobs, largely oblivious that their sound had gone on to inspire bands worldwide, everyone from proto-grunge band Mudhoney, which will open for them on Saturday, to Swedish rockers the Hives.
Of course, they couldn't remain totally oblivious to the attention their rockin' remake of Richard Berry's doo-wop single “Have Love, Will Travel” was getting. The Sonics recorded it as an afterthought and rarely played it live, according to Lind. But Land Rover recognized its brilliance and dusted it off to push jeeps in a 2005 TV spot.
Ohio blues-rock duo the Black Keys are fans, too, basing their own version of “Have Love,” included on 2003's “Thickfreakness” album, on the Sonics. Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach even gave his idols a shout out when the Keys headlined KeyArena last spring, citing the Sonics' “Shot Down” as source material for “Girl On My Mind.”
So the rock world was primed for a Sonics comeback by the time they came out of hiding at New York's Cavestomp festival in November 2007. They've toured Europe, Australia and Japan since then, but have only played three local dates: at the Paramount Theatre on Halloween 2008, at Olympia's Capitol Theater on New Year's Eve 2010 and at Tacoma's Pantages Theatre last July, their first hometown show since the Johnson Administration.
Roslie, Lind and Larry Parypa remain from the Sonics' heyday. The new rhythm section features drummer Ricky Lynn Johnson and bassist Freddie Dennis. The latter – a veteran of Freddie & the Screamers, the Liverpool 5 and the Kingsmen – also shares lead vocal duties with Roslie.
In 2010, that lineup recorded a new EP, called “8,” with Seattle super-producer Jack Endino. It featured four new cuts – “Vampire's Kiss,” “Cheap Shades,” “Bad Attitude” and “Don't Back Down” – and live versions of four classics.
Meanwhile, many thought they'd heard the last of Soundgarden in the late '90s; that is, until the band roared unexpectedly back to life with a surprise performance as “Nudedragons” at Showbox at the Market in 2010.
The following year, Soundgarden hit the road with fellow hard rockers Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon, a tour that included a July stop at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Grant County. Leading up to the show, frontman Chris Cornell sounded refreshed and optimistic about the band's future.
“Truthfully, if we'd been able to sort of look at the crystal ball, it would have been smarter to just say, yeah, we're taking a hiatus,” he said. “That's what this really feels like to me. It feels like we had a nice, long, break, and it was the right thing to do. Everybody feels refreshed. Everybody is reinvigorated to be in the band. It doesn't feel like the amount of time that it's actually been.”
The current tour is in support of November release “King Animal,” Soundgarden's first studio album in 16 years.