For 20 years, Norton Records in Brooklyn, N.Y, has been keeping alive the wild side of rock ‘n’ roll, whether it be crazy rockabilly, greasy R&B or garage rock
Norton is home to the frantic sounds of Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, The Pretty Things, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Sonics and The Dictators, among others. Billy Miller and Miriam Linna (also the original drummer for The Cramps) not only own and run the label, they are the core of Norton house band the A-Bones.
Norton revently unveiled Dangerous Game, the comeback album for Mary Weiss (above), leader of the legendary pack of wild gals The Shangri-Las. Weiss had been out of music for nearly 40 years before teaming up with North Carolina garage-rockers the Reigning Sound to record the new album. Weiss and the band play their second show ever together at SXSW, and that follows a March 3 record-release party at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom.
The Reigning Sound will play its own set in Austin before backing up Weiss. Rounding out Norton’s SXSW showcase March 15 at Red 7 are Dexter Romweber (formerly of the Flat Duo Jets), the A-Bones, the Alarm Clocks (newly reunited ’60s Ohio cult legends) and Sam the Sham (yes, the “Wooly Bully” man himself).
Medleyville: Is this Norton’s first foray into SXSW?
Billy Miller: “Yes. We’ve done everything in 20 years of making records except doing what music biz people do. We thought we’d try it for once. We’re bringing in a solid lineup and they all know three chords real well.”
The Mary Weiss album is the most eagerly anticipated release that I can remember in a long time. How did you hook up with Mary? Had she been planning a comeback?
Miller: “Rhino was having a party for the release of their Girl Group box set. Miriam had some passes, but I had no interest in going. She called me a few times to see if I changed my mind. Finally, she called and said that my friend Rob had called and said that Mary Weiss showed up. That did it for me. Miriam knew how crazy I was about the Shangri-Las. I met Mary on her way out, and she was really cool.
“I thought that she really should be making records. I contacted her a few weeks later and talked it over with her. I told her that what I had in mind wouldn’t be oldies oriented and that we could figure out a real cool approach for her. She came over to our place and we listened to records a bunch and planned the whole thing out. It was such fun recording with Mary and hanging out and all.”
How about the idea to have the Reigning Sound back her up? Did that take much convincing?
Miller: “She went for that right away. I told Mary to listen to Time Bomb High School, that it indicated the quality of Greg Cartwright‘s songwriting and I hoped she’d connect with it. Mary called me a few days later. She’d listened to all the Reigning Sound albums and then all the Compulsive Gamblers and Oblivians albums, too. (Cartwright’s previous bands.) She really did her homework. In fact, Mary later told me, ‘I checked you out with a lot of people before I said yes!’ Also, I wanted to add our friend Dave Amels (keyboards) to the Reigning Sound lineup. I was actually standing with Dave all through the Rhino party. Now he’s joined the band, and they sound better than ever. The Reigning Sound are really incredible on the record.”
The Alarm Clocks’ amazing record from last year was another surprise comeback. How did that come about?
Miller: “That came together real quick. We’d put out No Reason To Complain plus all their other ’60s stuff, but nobody could find Mike Pierce, the leader. A few years later we get a call, it’s Mike and he’s put the band back together for a gig opening for Cleveland legends The Choir. Nobody knew what to expect out of them and they just knocked the Choir flat, like David and Goliath. They blew them so far off the stage it was ridiculous. That night they said they were ready to record. They took two days in Freddy Fortune‘s basement and came up with a killer album.
“They’ve written a ton more stuff since then. There’s no other band like them. It really is wild!”
Let’s see — Mary Weiss, Alarm Clocks. Will Norton’s next signing be an artist inactive for the last 40 years? Tonto and the Renegades, maybe?
Miller: “I have no interest in Tonto and the Renegades. The one guy tried to shake Crypt Records down for more than his fair share of the deal they had with Tim [Warren]. That ain’t right. I don’t care how great your records are.”
What is Sam the Sham up to lately? Will the A-Bones or Reigning Sound be backing him up?
Miller: “Sam is a riot! He is still preaching in Memphis. No, we won’t be backing him, though I’ve offered Lars of the A-Bones’ services to play sax on ‘Wooly Bully.’ Sam asked me, ‘Can he stay in tune?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘Then I can’t use him!’ ”
Is he a fan of Norton’s tribute album to him, Turban Renewal?
Miller: “Sam loved Turban Renewal! That’s a cool album. I was with the Great Gaylord, and I think Jeff Conolly and I blurted out the title and we went, ‘Let’s make an EP with four Sam songs.’ Then it just grew! At the time, he made about a half dozen radio spots for The Hound on WFMU that were simply amazing.”
The A-Bones have been playing a lot again the last few years. Any plans for a new record or anything like that?
Miller: “We got back together about 10 years after we split up when we got offered a chance to open for Little Richard in Spain. That took no arm-twisting with anyone. We put out a few compilations of A-Bones tracks in the past few years but we’ve only recorded a few singles. The studio we cut most of our stuff at is going out of biz after 20 years this month, so we are losing our longtime home base.”
I’m sure you’ve made it down to the big record show in Austin, but did the A-Bones ever tour in Texas? Any good stories from trips to the Lone Star State?
Miller: “The A-Bones played in Austin at the Continental Club in 1992. I remember it being a good time. About three years ago, I was in Austin getting gas at about 1 a.m. This girl goes to me, ‘Scuse me, y’all in a band?’ I said no, as I wasn’t at that time. She goes, ‘But you were, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah like 12 years ago.’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, I saw you at the Continental.’ I thought I was on Candid Camera. And yes, I’ve been at the [Austin] record show lots of times.
“I think the most memorable A-Bones event in Texas was our late roadie Joey Psycho getting stopped for speeding outside El Paso and convincing a state trooper that he was chasing a UFO.”
— By Joe Belock