A few years back, Professor Mighty Manfred, the man responsible for the screaming and shouting in the garage rock band the Woggles, met guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt for the first time at a club in Brooklyn. When Van Zandt, a renowned DJ as well as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, met Manfred after the Woggles had played, he gave them a ringing endorsement.
“We played and had a great set,” says Manfred in recent phone interview. He brings the Woggles to the Beachland Ballroom
on Friday, Aug. 31, for a show with Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, another veteran garage rock that's playing as well as ever, and 45 Spider. “When I came down to the backstage area, he was already there. I don’t know how he got there so fast. He had a big grin on his face and said something to the effect that he had seen Sam and Dave, the Beatles at Shea Stadium and the Stones with Brian Jones. He said, ‘You guys got it. You totally got it.’”
Feeling cocky since he just stepped off the stage, Manfred asked him to commit to the statement.
“I set my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘That’s great, but what are you going to do about it?’” he recalls. “That caught him a little off guard. He said, ‘I don’t know. I’m guess I’m going to start a record label.’”
Since then, Van Zandt took his Underground Garage radio program to Sirius XM and hired Manfred to work as a DJ in the afternoons (former Clevelander Kid Leo holds down a slot just after Manfred’s program). And Van Zandt signed the Woggles to his record label. It’s proven to be a great match, especially when you consider that Manfred, like Van Zandt, takes a musicologist approach to the garage rock genre.
“To grow any plants, you have to get down to the roots and fertilize the roots,” says Manfred when asked about the band’s influences. “We’re fertilized with some good shit. That means R&B and early rock ’n’ roll. We’re not trying to re-live 1966. We have our own experiences, but there’s an aesthetic from that era that we like a lot and that colors some of the stuff we do."
For its most recent album, Tally Ho!
, the band recruited Jim Diamond (the White Stripes, the Electric Six), a Detroit guy who now lives in France, to handle production duties. It marks the first time that the group has worked with an outside producer.
“Early on, our guitar player Flesh Hammer was producing our early records and then became the lead guitar player,” explains Manfred. “Over the years, we would play wherever we would play, and Jim Diamond would always be at our shows. He wanted to work with us. We had a record with a bit of a budget. He was living in France. We were recording in January. He was going to Detroit in December, so he stayed a couple of extra weeks. He was great in the studio. He’s wonderfully easy to work with. He gets killer guitar tones and sounds. He brought in an array of fuzz pedals. The man was making an aural stew and spicing it just the right way. Like any chef, he didn’t want to give it all up. I appreciate that. We did the whole album in just a couple of days and went to mix and master with [veteran producer] Rodney Mills.”
The album commences with the rollicking “Luminol Test,” a tune that stops and starts in remarkable fits before careening to a strong finish. Other highlights include the organ-driven “Hard Times,” a track that features a gritty mid-song guitar solo, and "Waiting for the Rain," a song that nicely balances its pop and punk-y elements.
Thirty years into its career, the band sounds as sharp as ever.
And if you're waiting for new music, Manfred says the band will release a new EP next month that'll feature a song written by each of the Woggles.
“As long as there is a life to be lived, there’s a reason to keep making music,” Manfred says when asked the band’s longevity. “I’m the only original member, but the rhythm section has been with me since 1995. We do have a lot of time with one another. I suppose if we had been burdened with excessive financial success, that might have made things problematic. But that never happened, and since we all live in other places, when we get back together, we get to really enjoy one another’s fellowship again.”
The Woggles, Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, 45 Spider, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $15, beachlandballroom.com.