The Sunset Strip, 1966. Epicenter for a drastic burst of rock ‘n’ roll evolution, a feverish outbreak of creativity that produced Love, the Seeds, the Doors, the Standells, the Electric Prunes. For most of that year, the Sloths, a high school age combo who specialized in a raunchy, playful brand of British influenced maximum R&B, were favorites at the fabled Pandora’s Box. They burned hot and fast, breaking up in ’67, re-emerging, equally briefly, as the May Wines and then evaporating completely.
Fifty years later, the Sloths, who appear Saturday afternoon at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, are enjoying one of the most unlikely rediscoveries in rock history.
“The Strip in those days was our playground,” recalled singer Tommy McLoughlin. “We are all 14, 15, 16 years old and our group of choice was Love, who were so original next to what we were doing, all the British and R&B stuff. We literally came out of the garages and started playing all those clubs, Pandora’s Box, Bido Lito’s, the Sea Witch. No one ever asked our age, they never carded us — we were in the band and we just did it. And you never knew who was going to show up: You’d look out and there’d be three members of the Byrds, one night Frank Zappa got up with us and did ‘Smokestack Lightnin” for 20 minutes. There was just so much happening, it was amazing. People ask did you realize that it was a special time? Yes we did.”
Nonetheless, not long after recording their one and only 45 rpm single, the Sloths split. “It was just the way it was. [Guitarist] Jeff Briskin left because his parents wanted him to concentrate on his studies,” McLoughlin said. “Some of the guys got offers to join other bands that paid more money, which they did, then Jeff came back against his parents wishes and we formed the May Wines.”
“There was always something. You could never keep a bass player for too long, and then the music changed. We were all into the R&B garage stuff and everyone else went psychedelic, so we all sort of went off to follow our destinies. I wanted to be a more visual front man than Mick Jagger or James Brown so I started studying mime, which in turn led me into film.”
After their one recording, “Makin Love,” a masterpiece of overstimulated teenage arousal, was reissued on the 1993 on the “Back From Grave Vol. 2” garage rarities compilation, interest in the group reignited. By 2011, the Sloths were a highly desirable commodity — after an original pressing of “Makin’ Love” auctioned for over $6,000, founder Briskin was tracked down by an interviewer working on a Sloths story. Briskin, in turn, hired a private detective to seek out his rock ‘n’ roll colleagues, and a fateful, apparently inevitable reunion brought the survivors (two of the original members had passed away) back together.
Briskin was a successful attorney, bassist Michael Rummans had remained a professional musician and McLoughlin (originally the May Wines singer) had long worked both in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood. “There wasn’t a day that I didn’t regret leaving rock ‘n’ roll,” McLoughlin said. “I didn’t give up listening to it, I didn’t give up the look, I still have the same haircut, the one that got me kicked out of seven high schools! And all my films have a lot of rock ‘n’ roll in them and on the soundtracks. I hired Alice Cooper to do the music for “Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives” — we had done shows with him, back when he was still Vince, in the Nazz.”
“No one expected it to come back — certainly not 50 years later! When Jeff contacted us all at first, it was to do interviews, get together and just talk about it all. Then one of the guys said ‘Hey I’ve got a drum kit set up in my garage, why don’t we get together?’ So everyone says, ‘Well, yeah, let’s just jam.’ And we sounded terrible! We all played way too loud, and of course the cops came: ‘Hey, we can hear you three blocks away.’ That really brought us back to our childhood!”
They began playing shows in 2012 and were so enthusiastically received by local garage rock fanatics that they essentially had no choice but to officially reform. Almost four years and several personnel shifts later (history repeated itself when Briskin opted out to re-form the May Wines), the Sloths are back in top form, giving passionate, high-energy shows. They also have just released a full-length album, “Back From the Grave,” on Lolipop Records, and are playing everywhere they can.
“You’re never too old to live your dreams and it just keeps building. We did the album last year, we just did our first video, some great students from Chapman College where I teach filmmaking, they did a great job, it’s really cool,” McLoughlin said. “We’re going back to South by Southwest for the second time, we did the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, they flew us over to Leon, Spain for the Purple Weekend, a rock festival which has been going on for decades. It’s been amazing.”
“We play what we know, what was part of us, what it was that got us fired up,” McLoughlin added. “It’s in our bones, and when we write today, we still have all of those feelings. The lyrics are always rebellious: You can always change things, make them better. And you never find the right girl, you’re always getting dumped — it hasn’t changed. We keep that rockin’ spirit, and people want to hear that. We want to connect, emotionally, and find that rock ‘n’ roll emotion that gets you at 14 and still gets to you at 64.”
“You can’t kill the Sloths. We moved slow to get where we are and we’re going to move slow until they make us leave!”