Bob Seger (top left) & the Last Heard
Listen – East Side Story – MP3
My apologies for a late arrival this week, and apologies in advance for an early departure as well.
This will be my sole Iron Leg post this week, if only to insert a small amount of breathing room in an already dreadfully overloaded schedule. This will go some small way into preserving my sanity for the week, and allowing me to recharge and gear up for a full blogging schedule next week.
That said, I figure if I’m only making one post this week, it ought to be a good one.
Those of you who blanche – understandably –at the mention of the name Bob Seger should relax, because I’m about to hep you to a time when Dr Jeckyll was still in control and the Chevy-shilling Mr Hyde we’ve all come to fear was still years away from materializing.
Back in the day – the mid-60’s to be exact – Seger had yet to grow a beard and was the very essence of soulful garage punk. He prowled the streets, stages and recording studios of his native Detroit with his band the Last Heard, and laid down some absolutely shit-hot 45s, crossing paths with local giant Del Shannon (who discovered Seger and made his first recordings), as well as future classic rock bigshot Glen Frey (who played in local band the Mushrooms and later sang backup on Seger’s classic ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’).
One of these records – his first big success (in 1966), on a local level anyway, selling tens of thousands of copies in Detroit alone – was the blistering ‘East Side Story’. Issued locally on Hideout Records, and then picked up for national distribution by Cameo, ‘East Side Story’ driven by a deadly fuzz guitar riff and Seger’s injured howl was a garage punk masterpiece.
Though ESS, and ‘Heavy Music Pt1’ were big local hits, and starting to spread into other regional markets like Florida and Pennsylvania, Cameo soon went bust, sucking Seger’s career down the drain, at least temporarily until he signed with Capitol Records in 1968.
Though it didn’t make it as a national hit, ‘East Side Story’ ended up being recorded by at least five other groups, even garnering a cover by UK mods the St. Louis Union.
In the US, ‘East Side Story’ was covered by the Flakes, District Six, HP Movement and the group that recorded today’s selection, San Bernadino, California’s Caretakers.
I first heard the Caretakers version back in the 80’s on (I believe) one of the Boulders comps*. It quickly became a favorite, though it probably took more than ten years before I tracked down a copy of the original 45.
I don’t know much about the Caretakers, other than they recorded four singles for three different labels. Their lead singer Bruce Robertson went on to record a rare psychedelic LP under the name ‘Garrett Lund’.
Their version of ‘East Side Story’ may lack some of the soulful grit of the original by Seger and the Last Heard, but they make up for it with a surplus of garagey power.
How the song made its way around to so many groups is a minor mystery. I say minor, because Cameo was well distributed nationally (even today OG 45s of Seger’s original aren’t too expensive), and because ‘East Side Story’ is an undeniably kick-ass song. As far as I can tell there’s no direct link between any of the groups that covered the song, making the likely scenario no more than a happy coincidence.
How it got to the Caretakers specifically is potentially more interesting. If you take a close look at the label, the producer is listed as Doug Brown. Bob Seger’s first band was Doug Brown and the Omens, with Brown going on to produce Seger’s Last Heard 45s (Brown played guitar on the original ‘East Side Story’). Could this be the same Doug Brown? One discography I’ve seen lists the Caretakers 45 as having been released in 1969, three years after Seger’s original. Is it possible that Brown ended up in California, and literally brought the song to the Caretakers, or was the credit on their 45 a mistake, or was this another Doug Brown? If anyone knows for sure please let me know.
While researching the tune, I came across a quote from a 1972 interview with Seger from Creem magazine, in which he complains about a cover of this very song:
“It seems like the only people who do my stuff are these really off-the-wall cats who are looking for really off-the-wall stuff. I always wanted to see Joe Cocker doing ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,’ and that, but instead I get this horrible version of East Side Story by the St. Louis Union, produced by Tony Clarke [The Moody Blues]. Horns and a big production. It’s really funny. A kitchen sink production thing, it was terrible.”
Having heard the SLU cover, I beg to differ, but it is Bob’s song, so he’s clearly entitled to his opinion.
Either way, I hope you dig the song, and I’ll see you all next week with some Sunshine Pop, some Garage and I don’t know what else.
Have a great weekend.
*The citations I’ve found on Google seem to indicate that the Caretakers version was also on Pebbles Vol 9, but my memory – tattered as it is – says that I had it on one of the old black & white jacketed Boulders volumes, with songs a cover of ‘This Sporting Life’ and a tune by the Cherry Slush.