Ask any pop-music historian to expound on the origins of punk rock—especially the version that came out of mid-1970s England—and they’re likely to talk about the ways in which the sound was a reaction to what its practitioners saw as the overblown, self-important arena-rock of groups as varied as Emerson, Lake and Palmer (a favorite target) and the soft pop of Fleetwood Mac. The stripped-down aesthetic of punk—along with its anyone-can-play ethos—was an antidote to prevailing trends in pop music.
There’s merit to that argument, but it unfairly diminishes an important reality: many of the acts heralded as punk heroes drew from the best of what had come before, and they did so unashamedly. Yes, the Sex Pistols covered the Stooges’ “No Fun.” But they covered “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone,” a classic from a decade earlier done by both Paul Revere & the Raiders and the Monkees. The Clash are lauded for their authenticity, but while they were famous for the rallying cry “No Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977!” guitarist Joe Strummer’s previous band, the 101ers, sounded like Hamburg-era Beatles.
The Vibrators came out of the same milieu as those formative punk acts. And while their commercial fortunes were limited (their 1977 and 1978 LPs charted in the U.K., and they landed one record on the U.K. singles charts), their influence extended beyond limited record sales. The original group only lasted a few years, but reunited versions of the band—more than twenty musicians have passed through their ranks—have made albums that capture the spirit of punk’s early days.
“On the Guest List” (2013) employed a sometimes-effective approach: the Vibrators—Nigel Bennett, drummer and founding member John “Eddie” Edwards and Pete Honkamaki—enlisted musical friends to round out the group. Ty Segall, the Damned’s Brian James, Chris Spedding, Wayne Kramer (MC5) and others were part of an exciting album.
In 2015, the Vibrators (the same trio without the guests) released “Punk Mania: Back to the Roots.” And while nostalgia was never an original punk ideal, the record does a good job of capturing the fire and fury of 1977-era punk. The current trio teamed up in 2017 with early members of the band to make the well-received “Past, Present and Into the Future.” And now in 2019, Nigel, Eddie and Pete find themselves in that future. Into their seventies and playing music that stretches back more than forty years. The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten may have sung “no future,” but the Vibrators put the lie to that sentiment as well.
Reggies Music Joint, 2015 South State, (312)949-0120; $13, August 30, 8pm.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. His more than 2,500 interviews, essays, and reviews reflect Bill’s keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill’s work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues, and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s final album. His first book, “Reinventing Pink Floyd,” is due from Rowman & Littlefield in February 2018.