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Big Black River

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Album Review

The Pontiac Brothers' debut was originally released in 1985 by the Lolita label, a French imprint which was concentrating on releasing albums by several West Coast groups, including L.A.'s the Plimsouls, the Pandoras, and Gun Club's Sex Beat 81. Pontiac Brother Ward Dotson had been a member of Gun Club, in fact, but he didn't speak too highly of the group's leader, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, after he left, saying, "That guy was singing about having a hellhound on his trail when he still lived with his mom." Dotson was evidently approached by the people at Lolita after he formed a Rolling Stones cover band called the Gallstones. This band wasn't really a serious group at the time, just getting together on a weekly basis to play for fun and free beer at a local Fullerton, CA, pub. The band, in fact, hadn't completely made the transition to writing their own songs, but when offered the prospect of recording an album, they jumped at the chance, booking time at a local recording studio, the Casbah, which was located in an industrial park. The resulting album, Big Black River, as you might expect, sounds like a band who was still figuring out what they were wanted to sound like. Dotson was the only member who had any real experience in a regularly gigging and touring band at that point. Drummer D.A. Valdez had played bass and guitar in various Orange County groups, but he was new to the drums, and singer Matt Simon had played drums but had never sung before (he eventually became more comfortable and accomplished fronting the group, although Dotson was clearly their leader and chief songwriter). Rhythm guitarist Glen Floyd was so inexperienced that he was later kicked out of the band because he couldn't keep up with the rest of the group. Floyd's replacement was Jon Wahl, who appeared on the band's American debut for Frontier Records, 1986's Doll Hut, before leaving to form his own group, Claw Hammer. Three tracks from Big Black River would reappear on Doll Hut — "Straight and Narrow," "Whole Damn World," and "Too Much Been Said" — but the real highlight here is their cover of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now." In 1992, the album appeared on CD for the first time when it was reissued by Sympathy for the Record Industry.

Biography

Formed: 1983 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s

"Our singer was a drummer, our drummer was a bass player, and collectively we had all the drive of a perpetual hangover," wrote Ward Dotson of his band the Pontiac Brothers, and while that statement gives you a clear picture of the band's self-effacing attitude and fondness for beer, it doesn't tell you that they were one of the best and most purely enjoyable American bands of the '80s, embracing the joys of vintage hard rock with a punk's jaundiced eye well before the grunge explosion made such...
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Big Black River, Pontiac Brothers
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