It might seem surprising to folks who only learned of the Detroit garage rock revival when the White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Girl" hit mainstream radio in 2002, but the local guitar band scene has lasted long enough that there are now second- and even third-generation Detroit garage bands, of which the Fondas are a front-tier example that has leapfrogged over many of the original Detroit garage bands both in name recognition and musical sophistication. Though much of the press attention surrounding the Fondas focuses on lead singer Julie Benjamin's movie star looks and magnetic stage presence, the real leader of the Fondas is guitarist Steve Shaw. Shaw, a protégé of Alex Chilton with a similar obsession for vintage R&B and obscure early rock singles, founded the Detroit Cobras in the mid-'90s, but left that band after only a few releases. The Fondas are stylistically in the same ballpark as the Detroit Cobras, mixing punky aggression, garage rock primitivism, and a sultry R&B vibe, but with a greater emphasis on band originals over reworkings of rare B-sides known only to hardcore record collectors.
Shaw founded the Fondas (named, of course, after the dynastic family of actors, specifically because of the sense of artistic traditions being passed from generation to generation) in 2003, installing Benjamin, former drummer for the psych-influenced Slumber Party, as his lead singer in much the same way that Rachel Nagy was the on-stage focal point of the Detroit Cobras. Adding rhythm guitarist Mark Niemenski and drummer Chip Sercombe from the semi-legendary '80s paisley underground band the Hysteric Narcotics alongside bassist Nick Sokolowski, the Fondas debuted in 2004 with Coming Now! on the ever-hip Sympathy for the Record Industry label. Through extensive touring and the patronage of garage revival kingmaker Little Steven, who endorsed their first single, "Wanna Be," on his radio show and placed the group on his never-ending package tour, the Fondas became one of the garage rock buzz bands of the moment through 2005. The Fondas' even better second album, Runaway Bombshell, featuring far expanded songwriting input from "Wanna Be" writer Niemenski, was released in the summer of 2006. ~ Stewart Mason