An Introduction to Mountain States Garage Rock

An Introduction To Garage Rock Summer The American Garage Rock Road Trip

The tenth entry in our ongoing survey of American garage rock finds us heading west to the so-called Mountain States. In it, we’ll be covering Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Montana. We would have included Wyoming, but since it doesn’t actually exist, there can’t actually be any bands from there, right? What that left us with was thirty bands from six states: a region far larger than any other that we’ve covered previously, with significantly less population density, but a surprising number of solid garage recordings.

If last week’s double-shot of the Deep South and Florida found us covering a region that was largely overlooked by the classic garage rock compilations, where does that leave the Mountain States? Our list of thirty bands includes exactly zero that were featured on the original Nuggets compilation, and only half-a-dozen that made it onto the ten-volume-apiece Pebbles and Back From the Grave series. Put simply, these are some pretty obscure groups that we’re covering this time around.

That obscurity made this a particularly enjoyable feature to assemble, as too did the fact that it led me to go back to my old stomping grounds of the American Southwest. As a native Arizonan, it’s been fascinating diving into the largely forgotten and untold story of the state’s garage scene. Arizona – and particularly the metropolitan sprawl of Phoenix – looms large over this feature, as do the urban areas of Denver, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The thing is, these dusty old garage nuggets rarely reflect the spacious expanses of the region from which they emerged. As in every region that we’ve covered, the influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones is paramount. Similarly, the sounds of Texas punk, Pacific Northwest garage, and Los Angeles psych found their way into the region in relatively-equal measure. Consequently, there’s no signature style from the Mountain States, but a fascinating mix of input factors from places both adjacent and afar.

As was the case with last week’s features, Spotify comes up very short in covering the groups on this playlist. Only eight songs from this article are presently available on the service – one of which is an inferior live recording. Therefore, the embedded YouTube playlist is essential for digging into the garage scene of this expansive region. Enjoy unearthing some new gems!


The Soul Survivors

“Can’t Stand to Be in Love With You”

single A-side (1965)

As the A-side to a first single, “Can’t Stand to Be in Love With You” is a remarkably assured debut from Denver’s The Soul Survivors. The band would morph into The Poor at some point during 1966 – apparently relocating to Los Angeles before breaking up in 1968 – but this buzzing mid-tempo track remains the high point of their limited discography.

The Beckett Quintet

“No Correspondence”

single A-side (1965)

Located near the Texas border, the small town of Portales, New Mexico wasn’t exactly a hotspot for rock music in the sixties. While some of that Texas punk spirit seeped across the border, Portales’ Beckett Quintet traveled west to Hollywood for their stab at stardom. Releasing just one single on the Gemcor label, the group would disband shortly after their arrival in California, but “No Correspondence” stands as a worthy souvenir of their time together.

The Moon Rakers

“You’ll Come Back”

single B-side (1965)

The Moon Rakers strike a very Beatlesque pose on the B-side to their 1965 debut single. “You’ll Come Back” approximates the moody-with-pace styling that several British Invasion-era acts would ride to stardom, and though it wouldn’t catapult this Denver group to sustained success, it stands as one of the more appealing tracks in their catalog.

The Door Nobs

“I Need Your Lovin, Babe”

single B-side (1965)

In the liner notes to the 2000 compilation Legend City, a previously-unreleased track by Phoenix’s The Door Nobs is referred to as “Merseybeat-via-the-Salt-River.” It’s a description that also fits the B-side to the group’s local hit, “Hi-Fi Baby.” “I Need Your Lovin, Babe” isn’t quite the missing “Desert Beatle Classic” that one might hope for, but it’s a charming track nonetheless.

The Spiders

“Don’t Blow Your Mind”

single A-side (1966)

Easily the biggest name on this list, but only because they’re the same group that would eventually become Alice Cooper in 1968 – after a brief stint as The Nazz. Recorded while they were still students and cross-country team members at Cortez High School – where they apparently brushed shoulders with my dad – The Spiders unleashed a minor garage classic on the A-side to their second single, with the buzzy, punkish “Don’t Blow Your Mind.”

The Trolls

“I Don’t Recall”

single A-side (1966)

Pueblo, Colorado’s The Trolls released just two singles during their brief time together, but the A-side to their last is a spectacularly fuzzy blast of garage pop. Abundant energy, well-deployed vocal harmonies, and yeah, tons of buzzy guitars, bass, and organ make “I Don’t Recall” one of the most effortlessly-appealing songs on this feature.

Jack Bedient and The Chessmen

“Glimmer Sunshine”

single A-side (1966)

Originally from Wenatchee, Washington, Jack Bedient and The Chessmen found a degree of success after relocating to the Reno-Carson City area during the mid-sixties. The band were already seasoned veterans by the time that they cut “Glimmer Sunshine” in 1966, but its frantic bashing and copious fuzz help to distinguish it from the rest of their catalog.

Destiny’s Children

“The Collectors”

single B-side (1966)

Formed in the affluent west valley suburb of Paradise Valley, Destiny’s Children were among the punkiest bands on the Phoenix-area scene in the mid-sixties. The B-side to the group’s lone single, “The Collectors” buzzes through two minutes of rollicking garage rock, giving warning to the girls that “ought to know better than to trust us.”

Burch Ray

“Love Question”

single A-side (1965)

Hailing from Miles City, Montana, Burch Ray and The Walkers are the only Treasure State band to make it onto this feature – Missoula’s The Initial Shock made the initial (no pun intended) list. Ray would record a handful of singles – apparently with and without The Walkers – but 1965’s “Love Question” stands as the best of the bunch, with its warm chords and call-and-response backing vocals.

The Plague

“Go Away”

single A-side (1966)

There were a lot of bands called The Plague – or The Plagues – during the sixties, but this Albuquerque group separated themselves from the pack on this visceral 1966 A-side. As a Kinks-devotee, I could gripe about how “Go Away” is a clear knock-off of “You Really Got Me” – listen to that run-up to the guitar solo, and the solo itself – but A) this is a kick-ass song; and B) it was stuff like this that ultimately pushed Ray Davies to even greater heights as a songwriter.

Phil and The Frantics

“I Must Run”

single A-side (1966)

While RateYourMusic claims that they originated in Dallas, the more-detailed biography on Discogs states that Phil and The Frantics formed in Phoenix in 1963. I really like this moody, vaguely Zombies-ish track, so as a native Arizonan, I’m gonna settle the debate (not really) and claim these guys for the Grand Canyon State. Besides, the Ramco label that issued “I Must Run” in 1966 was based in Phoenix.

The Teardrops

“Sweet, Sweet Sadie”

single A-side (1966)

Another group from Pueblo, Colorado, The Teardrops released a pair of singles on the local 004 Records label in 1966. Of their four tracks, their debut A-side is the best of the bunch. “Sweet, Sweet Sadie” was composed by bassist Ron Myers, but it’s the organ work of Rick Witcowich and spirited group vocals that really make the track click.

Nobody’s Children (NM)

“Baby I Tried”

single A-side (1966)

Two bands on this feature – and a lot of others in the sixties – went by the self-deprecating moniker Nobody’s Children. This one hailed from Gallup, New Mexico – a small highway town near the borders of Arizona and the Navajo Nation. Despite Gallup’s somewhat-isolated surroundings, “Baby I Tried” brims with the jangle of the British Invasion and the undeniable charm of a homespun recording.

The Five of Us

“Need Me Like I Need You”

single B-side (1966)

Though Arizona has the most representation of any state on this list, all but one of the groups featured were from the Phoenix metro area. The lone exception, The Five of Us hailed from Tucson: a town that is far behind Phoenix in terms of population, but – at least today – rivals it as a music scene. The B-side to the band’s lone single, “Need Me Like I Need You” doesn’t outpace the work of contemporary Phoenix groups on its own, but it makes sure that the Old Pueblo isn’t entirely forgotten.

The In Mates

“The Same”

single B-side (1966)

Ensuring that the state of Utah isn’t entirely forgotten, this track from a Holladay-based group keeps the Beehive State on our garage rock map (Provo’s Jerry and The Remnants were a late cut). The In Mates only released one single, and though it was relegated to the B-side, “The Same” was a moody minor-key track that stands as the band’s highlight.

Feebeez

“Season Comes”

single B-side (1966)

All-female garage bands were a rarity, and especially outside of the usual cultural centers of New York and Los Angeles. That alone makes Albuquerque’s Feebeez an unexpected delight, but their 1966 B-side – one of only two tracks released by the group – is a charming, low-key track that digs its heels into the melancholic sound that more pop-oriented girl groups were exploring in the mid-sixties.

The Torques

“She’s With Him”

single A-side (1965)

I really wanted to find a sixties-era band from my hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona for this feature, but the search continues for now. I did manage to turn up a track from my wife’s hometown though. Farmington, New Mexico is one of the last places that I would’ve expected a good garage single to surface from, but this track from The Torques matches its sad-sack lyrics with some truly appealing guitar work to craft a solid entry from the Four Corners region.

The Sect

“Just Can’t Win”

unreleased (recorded 1966)

Hailing from Mesa, Arizona, The Sect recorded a pair of tracks in 1966, but they would ultimately go unreleased for several decades. Finally appearing in 2003, “Just Can’t Win” is the strongest of the band’s two songs. It’s a jangly, Byrds-like track which shows that the folk rock sound had definitively made its way to the Valley of the Sun by 1966.

The Bittersweets

“She Treats Me Bad”

single B-side (1966)

Slightly to the north, in the upscale suburb of Scottsdale, The Bittersweets would take jangly guitars in a decidedly moodier direction with “She Treats Me Bad.” Twice released as a B-side – first for “Cry Your Eyes Out” and again for “Road to Rann” – the song more than slightly edges into melodrama, but it’s still a charming track from the Phoenix-area group.

The Soothsayers

“I Don’t Know”

single A-side (1966)

The influence of The Byrds is still alive and well on this jangly winner from The Soothsayers. From Greeley, Colorado, the group showed considerable promise on this debut single, but after just one more release for the Acropolis Record Company in late 1966, they would apparently go their own separate ways.

Solid Ground

“Sad Now”

single A-side (1966)

It’s not a rave-up per se, but more of a freakout that characterizes the stirring middle section of Solid Ground’s lone A-side. The Mesa band surrounded it with an excellently melancholic bit of songwriting, and it’s in the contrast between those two parts that one can see how promising this group was. Regrettably, “Sad Now” failed to make much of an impact upon its 1966 release, and it remains little-known today.

The Hobbit

“Why Don’t You Grow Up”

single B-side (1966)

The mythology of the “wild west” is rarely reflected in these lost garage classics, but this B-side from Tempe, Arizona’s The Hobbit – previously known as The Hearsemen – is something of an exception. The evocative instrumentation of “Why Don’t You Grow Up” is provided by clanking beer bottles, and guitars that alternate between cowpoke-country and garage fuzz. Throw in a vocal that lands somewhere between Johnny Cash and Lee Hazlewood, and you’ve got something both unique and appealing.

The Fantastic Zoo

“Light Show”

single A-side (1967)

Psychedelia begins to creep in on this 1967 A-side from The Fantastic Zoo. Previously known as The Fogcutters, the Denver-based band would rename themselves after moving to Hollywood’s Double Shot Records, but they would remain little more than a blip on the radar of a crowded Los Angeles scene. Still, “Light Show” is an alluring track from a mostly-forgotten group.

The Obvious

“I Don’t Believe”

single A-side (1966)

Durango, Colorado’s The Obvious crafted a simple-but-sinister garage classic with the A-side to their lone single. “I Don’t Believe” has little in the way of variance, but the insistence suggested by its repetition makes for a compelling statement nonetheless. There’s little information about the band to be found online, but this track leaves an intriguing impression on its own.

The Caravelles

“Lovin’ Just My Style”

single A-side (1966)

Not to be confused with the British girl group of “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry” fame, the Phoenix-based Caravelles turned in a great punk raver with this 1967 A-side. Featuring some stirring instrumental sections, “Lovin’ Just My Style” shows an instrumental prowess that was lacking from many of the bands on the local garage rock scene.

The Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2

“I Wanna Come Back (From the World of LSD)”

single A-side (1967)

You come across a lot of dumb band names when studying American garage rock, and this Albuquerque group definitely sports one of the worst offenders. However, this riveting 1967 A-side from The Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2 is no joke. Addressing the “acid casualty” phenomenon that had already worked its way into the rock world by 1967, “I Wanna Come Back (From the World of LSD)” is one of the most electrifying examples of garage-psych from any American scene.

The Chōb

“We’re Pretty Quick”

single B-side (1967)

We remain in Albuquerque for this screamer from The Chōb. Relegated to the B-side of a cover of “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” the original composition “We’re Pretty Quick” is a vastly superior track. The thrashing performance firmly establishes it in the proto-punk realm, but there’s a tunefulness that proves that this band had legitimate potential.

The Wild Flowers

“More Than Me”

single A-side (1967)

Earlier, we heard the Merseybeat styling as channeled by intrepid Phoenicians. Now, here’s a Phoenix band doing their take on the mid-period Beatles. Landing somewhere between “If I Needed Someone” and “Rain,” “More Than Me” is an impressive track. Maybe I love it because I’m an ex-Arizonan – or because it sounds a lot like The Rain Parade twenty years before they existed – or maybe it’s just great.

Nobody’s Children (NV)

“Colours and Shapes”

single A-side (1967)

As promised, here’s another Nobody’s Children. This one is from Nevada – our second and final entrant from the Silver State – and it’s a shape-shifting rager. Tame, psych-influenced verses are contrasted with pummeling garage fuzz choruses, and the cumulative effect is a powerful juxtaposition that makes the song even druggier than either part is on its own.

Lothar and The Hand People

“Machines”

single A-side (1968)

To be completely fair, I’m not even entirely sure that this is garage rock. To be completely skeptical, I’m not even sure that I believe this song came out in 1968. To be completely transparent, I never even heard it – or the Manfred-Mann-by-way-of-Mort-Schuman original – until researching for this project. What I do know is that this song by a Denver band with a weird name is amazing, and at worst, is garage-adjacent. Therefore, just in case you haven’t heard it either, here it is. You’re welcome.

Author

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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