The Bizarros

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
Lady DoubonetteBizarros EP
I, Bizarro Bizarros EP
Without ReasonBizarros EP
It Hurts, Janey Bizarros
The Waves CryBizarros
Young Girls At MarketBizarros
Another Desert StoryBowling Balls From Hell II
UndergroundSordide Sentimental SS45004
67-77 (Live In Studio A)Can't Fight Your Way Up Town From Here
Helicopter PilotCan't Fight Your Way Up Town From Here

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The Bizarros photo

The Bizarros (l to r): Nick Nicholis (vocals), Don Parkins (bass, vocals), Terry Walker (keyboards), Jerry Parkins (guitars, vocals)

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

I should admit to a certain amount of bias here before I get rolling with this piece on the Bizarros. I’m the archivist for the “Akron Sound” Museum and just published a book on the music of Akron during the punk era, of which the Bizarros were and are a big part of. But in my defense they are also a really good band I felt like writing about.

The Bizarros were friends a long time before they became a band. Jerry and Don Parkins are brothers. And Don became friends with Terry Walker in second grade. A few years later they met Nick Nicholis in Junior High School. But while they were friends by the time they entered their teen years, they’d have to wait awhile till they formed a band. But that kind of natural chemistry can’t be created, it either is or it isn’t.

“We were friends who hung out socially, which is actually all we did,” according to Nicholis, but it was at a New Year’s Eve party at Walker’s house that he suggested that he and his friends put a band together. After all, they liked the same kind of music. He already had a few ideas in his head for songs, and the band that became the Bizarros found themselves together just a few days after the New Year’s Eve celebration.

The band wasn’t quite musically accomplished at that point but they did own most of the instruments they needed. Walker owned keyboard and guitars and both of the Parkins brothers owned guitars. Nicholis initially wanted to learn how to play bass and fill that role in the band. He even owned what he described as an old bass that Don Parkins wound up playing at the beginning of the band’s history. Nicholis described himself as too lazy to practice to become the band’s bass player, so Parkins moved into the role that he still handles more than forty years later. They went through a few drummers before settling on Rick Garberson behind the kit for most of the band’s original run,

How lazy Nicholis actually is may be up for debate, as he created, owned and acted as producer for the label Clone Records which released a lot of the music that came out of Akron in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He also did a bit of promoting for his band and Akron on the national level.

The Bizarros opened their initial EP in 1976 with one of the cooler bass lines in the history of punk. But regardless of that, Lady Doubonette is somewhat simple and even a little understated although a bit more musically tight than most punk of the era, and the punk attitude was certainly there. It even had a cool little guitar solo and with an amazing fade at the end. I, Bizarro from the same release was a bit more growling and obviously aggressive in its tone and it’s a song I love to hear live. The song finishes with a prolonged musical ending without any vocals, but by then you are just jamming and know the band has said everything it needs to say lyrically.

Their first EP is an amazing listen, as Without Reason is the third of the four songs on the record to make my list of the best the Bizarros have to offer. It’s one of my favorite openings of a Bizarros tune, funky and punk at the same time. Much like how the last song ended with a long music exit, this one starts with a long music intro. There is this cadence that keeps going through the song, sort of like walking down the stairs, that really works. And of course, another great solo. I know there has long been an unwritten rule that punk songs don’t have guitar solos, but the Bizarros did, and they sounded great.

Lady Doubonette and I, Bizarro also appeared on the From Akron LP Clone Records released with the Bizarros on one side and the Rubber City Rebels on the other. Nicholis sent the album to a lot of people within the industry, including Robert Christgau who gave it a good review in The Village Voice. Christgau went on to play a fairly important role in the area’s music story as well, being the critic who wound up bringing Karen Berg and Jerry Wexler of Warner Brothers to town and getting Tin Huey signed.

The Bizarros though were signed by Blank Records, which was actually a label owned by Mercury Records. The idea behind Blank was to be a rock label with a jazz or perhaps classical label sensibility. Nobody really expected bands on Blank to have Platinum Albums, it was about putting out some good and interesting music with more realistic sales goals. Unfortunately, Mercury had a corporate shake up just as the band was finishing their initial album and by the time it was ready Blank Records was no more. So the record was released on Mercury with little or no support from the label who weren’t interested any more in having ‘cool’ bands on the parent label.

From the Mercury album though It Hurts, Janey is a favorite of mine. Nicholis gets a good snarl in his voice while still utilizing the talking-while-singing style Lou Reed popularized.

The Waves Cry, from the same album, starts out with a musical intro much like many of my other favorite Bizarros songs.. There is also a damn good guitar solo in the song, but it has a very different attitude and tone than the others songs with solos on the list. So it’s a tune that reminds me of a lot of their other songs but somehow seems to stand apart from just as many. Which makes little sense I guess. The form is traditional Bizarros but the attitude really isn’t.

My favorite song of the Bizarros may be Young Girls At Market, and it’s another I can’t hear enough of live. Much like the two previous songs there is a repetitiveness to the music, at least a repetitiveness to one part of the music. But not in a bad or boring way, but in the music is really pushing the car to go faster and faster by revving up the same chords over and over again sort of way.

There was a clause in their contract that they would receive a $6,000 buyout if Mercury decided to not release a second album, which of course Mercury without owning a smaller label for ‘cool’ bands didn’t want to do. And so the Bizarros found themselves with $6,000 and no record deal in 1980. Even worse for the band, Garberson passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning not long after the album was released.

Another Desert Story from the second Bowling Balls From Hell compilation of Akron bands jumped out at me not just because it’s a really good track but an indication of where their music might have gone in the early 1980s.

Underground was part of a 7″ single released in France right before the Bizarros hung it up in the early 1980s. Nicholis takes a little different attitude in his voice in this final song from their early period. There is a bit of tongue in cheek in his voice, maybe in the sense he didn’t quite believe the girl who says she is going underground. But it’s also different, a little different from their music leading up to the Mercury release. But after losing their record deal and the death of Garberson, Nicholis decided to step away from being in clubs at 2am and settled down to raising a family. Walker and the Parkins brothers soldiered on with some replacements but gave it up within a year. But they stayed close friends of course; some of them kept working as musicians and it seemed inevitable at some point they would all work together again. And they did, with Jerry Parkins’ sometimes bandmate during their hiatus, Martin Flunoy, joining them on drums

So jump ahead 20+ years til the next Bizarros release Can’t Fight Your Way Up Town From Here and you’ll be blown away by the opener, 1967-1977. It’s a dedication of sorts to the bands that came right before the Bizarros and clearly influenced them. They hadn’t really lost a beat. The thing that really strikes me about the cut, and the album as a whole, is while Nicholis’ voice has changed a bit, not better or worse just a little different tone, the album sounds like it could have been recorded not long after Underground. The energy and spark are still so obvious, and the guitar solo that outs the track is vintage Bizarros. It’s the song that makes me say that while Young Girls At Market may be my favorite song by the Bizarros, there is this other candidate.

From the same album, Helicopter Pilot is another cut that I really get into, for no other reason than describing a helicopter coming down like a Klingon Bird of Prey.

 

The Bizarros have always been a bit more popular in Europe than they are in their own country. They have a German Wikipedia page but not one in English. In 2012 though a label here did release a retrospective with all their releases from 1976 to 1980 called creatively enough Bizarros Complete Collection 1976-1980.

Sometime this year they are releasing another split album with another Akron band, The Bad Dudes, a band that features Kal Mullens who was one of the guys who filled in for Nick Nicholis during the short period after he left the group.

The band is still making new music and it has fans waiting for it. Musicians really can’t ask for more than that 40 plus years after deciding to form a band at a New Year’s Eve party.

 

The Bizarros facebook

The Bizarros on Discogs

The Bizarros biography (iTunes)

 

The Akron Sound cover

Calvin Rydbom’s latest book is “The Akron Sound: The Heyday Of The Midwest’s Punk Capital” published this year by The History Press. He is the vice-president and archivist of the “Akron Sound” Museum and vice-president of freelance archiving firm Pursue Posterity. He has published a number of music-related articles and was elected to the Society of American Archivists steering committee on recorded sound before being promoted to website liaison. Some of Calvin’s other toppermosts are on the Dead Boys, Rubber City Rebels and Tin Huey all from Ohio. He has also written about many non-Ohio acts for this website including Chuck Prophet, Nanci Griffith and Charles Mingus.

TopperPost #710

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