The Tremors still shake it up
Rave on, flat-top cats and dungaree dolls! The Tremors will be playing in the Triad on Nov. 22 at the Flat Iron in Greensboro and on Dec. 6 at Earl’s in Winston-Salem.
Emboldened by the everlasting appeal of early rock’n’roll, the long-running rockabilly group has been combining classic sounds of Sun Records with the reckless abandon of late ‘70s punk rock, since the early 2000s.
“What keeps us going is that it’s such fun music to play,” said ringleader Jimmy Tremor, who takes Dixie-fried sonic cues from Carl Perkins and vocal hops like Gene Vincent. “The restrictions and boundaries of the form really force you to be creative, musically,” he added. ”The simplicity and rhythm is something that most folks just can’t resist.”
Tremor keeps loads of spring in his step for someone who’s been playing in bands for the past 25 years, forming The Tremors following the implosion of his 1990s punk group, Ubangi Stomp. “I’d always been a huge fan of rockabilly,” he explained of the switch, “it’s the purest, and most primitive, style of rock’n’roll.”
Plus, “there’s not much difference in early punk music and rockabilly. It’s short, simplistic songs played with urgency by self-taught musicians,” Tremor explained of the genres, “kind of like two sides of the same coin, 20 years apart.”
The musical currency backing that coin shines from the Sun Records family mashed with the New York Dolls, and Rolling Stones though Tremor’s no cursory fan. “I could go on for days,” he said about rockabilly loves, noting Warren Smith, Billy Riley, Luke McDaniel and Johnny Carroll.
“So much great music and lots of it wasn’t released while Sun was actually in business,” Tremor added. “One of the great things about the CD format was that it became commercially viable for labels to release forgotten singles or unreleased gems from the original era.”
Like a “high-octane Eddie Cochran,” the Tremors have kept up to speed with shifting media. Their discography spans five full-length records (beginning with 2004’s Scourge of the South,) 15 years of playing shows, and roughly a dozen compilation appearances–emblematic of their early ‘00s upbringing, though the age of streaming.
“It was great for us,” Tremor said of the compilation-era. “Free publicity. And as a scene-builder, comps exposed all of these new bands to larger audiences. It really helped to give an identity to the neo-rockabilly movement of the 2000s.”
The Tremors continue to ride that movement, with the biggest shift being the entrance of Cool Hand Luke on upright bass. “We couldn’t have been luckier than to have Luke come into the situation. He’s got great enthusiasm and a youthful exuberance that’s infectious,” Tremor explained of his bandmate.
“Also, I’ve got to give it to [drummer] Stretch Armstrong,” Tremor praised of the rhythm section. “He’s a brilliant conceptual artist, a great friend and bandmate, who’s stuck it out through thick and thin,” he continued, “I couldn’t have found a better collaborator.” The trio has a handful of new songs, ready to record, looking to keep the motor running.
They’ll likely partner with Steve Graham, who’s recorded and engineered their releases since 2005’s Uranium Rock, and put it out through Tremor’s Brain Drain Records, a label created during his days in Ubangi Stomp. His penchant for DIY, a strong carry-over from punkier times and practical matters. “As an independent musician, it’s been a great way of not only maintaining artistic control and retaining all rights to the music and art but also receiving a higher percentage of profit from sales,” he explained.
Artistic control is salient. “One of the unifying elements of the Tremors, from the beginning, was our love for mid-20th century-kitsch,” Tremor said of their flair for novelties and a load of drive-in aesthetics. He recalled spending months developing “3-D Tremorsvision” for the face of 2007’s Invasion of the Saucermen, which featured the 3D-cover art requiring special glasses.
Mid-century kitsch and novelty aside, “The great thing about rockabilly is it’s timelessness,” Tremor asserted. “Although it’s a sound that only flourished in the mainstream of popular consciousness for four-to-five years, there’s always been a rockabilly subculture playing the old songs and making up new ones,” he explained.
Beyond glow-in-the-dark records and shows with major talents and infamous characters, the Tremors are back in the saddle for some local shows in new spaces.
“I feel really lucky to have been able to keep a rock ’n’ roll band rolling along in the 21st century for so long,” Tremor insisted. ”It’s been extremely satisfying artistically, and a lot of fun as well.”
Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who hosts the Tuesday Tour Report on WUAG 103.1 FM.
Rock it, rip it, and shake it up with the Tremors on Nov. 22 at the Flat Iron in Greensboro; and in Winston-Salem on Dec. 6 at Earl’s.