In 1998, I moved away to attend college but found my new home as lacking in culture and kicks as the whistle-stop I had just left. I was prepared to spend my nights with like-minded comrades and instead discovered that the thin walls of my College Station apartment were no match for my neighbors and their love for killjoys like the Dave Matthews Band and Rusted Root. I was offered deliverance when a chance meeting with a tipsy downstairs neighbor landed him in my living room. Klon, my visitor, moved toward the stereo, flipped through my records, and asked, “You got anything by The Woggles?”
I had no answer.
With the fervor of a confidence man, Klon made his case for the Athens-based group, and before he could leave, I slipped him ten bucks entrusting him to pick me up a Woggles record from Wuxtry the next time he returned to the Classic City. The following Monday, he returned with a copy of Get Tough, the group’s second full-length.
Klon had promised that The Woggles were a raw return to form, a band mining the teen proto-punk bands of the 1960s. But I was leery. As a kid in Forsyth, I only had the chance to watch a live band when the Swingin’ Medallions played during the town’s spring festival. But they weren’t the Swinging Medallions nursing the double-shot hangover from the Nuggets box set. These modern Medallions played the hits– but in a variety show style that sucked out the gusto, urgency, and sexiness of the original versions, an approach that reduced a cat-call like Maurice Williams’s “Stay” to a family-approved singalong. Since the Medallions was the only act with garage ties that I’d seen, I assumed anyone playing the old rock n’ roll was using the same saccharin formula.
Little did I know, The Woggles had been demolishing dancefloors with their soul-inflected ruckus since 1987. Front and center of the (first? second?) garage rock revival, the band was the antithesis of the state fair circuit ethos. Their love of forerunners like Wayne Cochran and The Sonics proved to be more a springboard for kinetic exuberance than a paint-by-numbers template. A glance at GT’s back cover confirms the band’s live wire tendencies: four wild-eyed gentlemen poised for attack with their guitars, snare drum, and tambourine, waiting to be unleashed, anytime, anywhere.
The music? Instant party. The record opens with the title track, a sonic power stance brandishing guitarist Zorko’s budget-twang, a gang vocal wallop– the monolithic “Get Tough!”– and a barrage of rhythm courtesy of bassist Buzz Hagstrom and drummer Dan Electro, all punctuated by the rolling menace of front lord The Professor (a.k.a. The Mighty Manfred). After that, it’s a sucker punch affair of big beats and breakdowns with little concern for mercy. “Something to Believe In” moves with a holy-roller intensity, a greasy vehicle for The Professor’s pouty proclamations. The stop-start affirmations of “Push” clarifies the band’s dance floor philosophy: You want to dance? “Push your way to the front,” and “use your hips to clear the floor!”
Elsewhere, knuckle dusters like “Don’t Give Me No Sass” and “Do Just What I Say” bully their way around the record, while “Fuse Is Lit” and “Special Friend” bash, crash, and smash, delivering southern-fried takes on The Yardbirds signature rave-up. The b-movie a-go-go “Zombie Stomp” satisfies surf impulses, and “Arthur Lee”, a paean to Love’s embattled lead singer, chimes and jangles. Perhaps “Snap Your Fingers” best encapsulates The Woggles’ intentions, with The Professor’s enjambed exhortation, “Aw, my baby, you don’t understand, the kinda power you got in your hands? Snap your fingers and use the command! A-whooooo!”
With fourteen-songs in just thirty-four minutes, Get Tough bursts with unbridled enthusiasm and cockiness. It’s a frantic amalgamation of rhythm & blues, surf, and rock n’ roll, the product of a band defined by sweat, call & response chants, and tambourine-bruised palms. It was also a sign of things to come. With an arsenal of full-lengths, EPs, 7-inches, and an endless tour itinerary, The Woggles are still essential arbiters of cool. Check out their latest 7-inch, “Nothing More to Say”, on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool label.