EVERYONE KNOWS about The Stooges and MC5, the twin protagonists of proto-punk. Now let me tell you about a bunch of brothers – a band now almost completely and cruelly forgotten – that was initially a vanguard of the emerging garage punk scene. This mob was The UP, and they were particularly close to MC5, so much so that members of both bands were intrinsically linked to the White Panther Party and its charismatic founder John Sinclair. The UP became the party’s musical outlet when the MC5 broke ranks with the far-left, anti-racist organisation.
But despite supporting the MC5 on stage, The UP never made the breakthrough of their peers. Their body of work was limited to two singles, 1970’s Just Like An Aborigine, and a split single released the following year, comprising Free John Now! and Allen Ginsberg’s Prayer for John Sinclair. Neither made much of an impact and they split up in 1973.
At some expense I bought, from a seller on the other side of the world, a 10″ compilation of everything the band did, Killer UP!. Their material is barely available on the internet so this was virtually a coup. The quartet were led by singer Frank Bach, with Bob and Gary Rasmussen (guitar and bass respectively) and drummer Scott Bailey.
The cover of this compilation features the four walking in formation with three of them carrying weapons and Bob Rasmussen his guitar. It’s a sepia-splattered artwork that hints at a banned horror movie. On the reverse, Bailey, who looks no older than a secondary school kid, is holding a cannabis plant astride the other three in among a dope plantation. These boys were way cool.
Killer UP! contains the four tracks from those two singles on one side and unreleased material on the other. It was one of these hitherto unknown tracks, Sisters, Sisters (Sisters Rising) that piqued my interest in the quartet, by being included in the Dirty Water compilation of proto-punk records. As I’ve said before in a previous blog (click here) much of this supposed listening material of the prospective punks wasn’t actually released at the time, or was heard by about 100 people.
The UP wouldn’t have been known by many, even in their native Detroit. Which certainly doesn’t dissolve their potency. The debut single, and its B-side Hassan I Sabbah are scratchy and edgy; the master tape for Hassan couldn’t be found so the track was digitally transferred from the original 45. The two A sides are mixes, which may be an improvement on the quality of the original.
Just Like An Aborigine is full of fuzzed up guitars and bass, the verse is hypnotically inane; it isn’t as delirious as their aforementioned peers but you can’t fault it’s incessant drive and liberal message. Free John Now is equally two parts punk mob chant, one part garage rock. It’s an excellent example of the simplicity of an effective much repeated line, a demand for the release of a political prisoner.
The MC5 influence is clear, but they lacked the incessantly inane power their pals had.
Of the three unreleased tracks, Together is the most striking, a gloriously unproduced bombastic take on revolutionary politics. It’s the punkiest of all the tracks they ever recorded, and puts some of the others in the shade.