April 19, 2014

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After playing with more than one local punk band, Tom McHenry decided to become “Happy Tom,” a child-friendly recording artist who performs such ditties as “Cereal” with Detroit’s Family Hootenanny. He’s pictured here on what appears to be a toy tractor, looking every inch a happy punk.

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Here was another band whose story couldn’t be found, but the arrangement was novel, with the members all wearing sunglasses and lying shirtless this way and that, as if under the world’s biggest sunlamp. Extra points for wearing that knit cap extra high.

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“One of these things is not like the others”: Our research suggests that this photo is of a fairly successful art rock band from Ann Arbor. In this photo, we’re not sure if only one person got the memo about makeup, but it looks sorta like the varsity track team is about to fall victim to the Crow.

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We couldn’t figure out what this was, and, boy, would we like to know! A costumed band on the Detroit riverfront, dressed in outrageous costumes, complete with masks and a full-body Vernors can? What in the world was this? Certainly some of our readers must know. Tell us!

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This Flint-based band, perhaps cast in the mold of a wilder, crazier, expanded Grand Funk Railroad, wins props for being the most outrageously outfitted Michigan band in our files. And we have several different photos of them, mostly in living color. We presume the double-pointer is the good reverend.

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The hair up there: From our online research, we conclude that Blasphemous played out in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, including a gig at Blondie’s. But the way they’re throwing those manes in this photo made that clear already, didn’t it? (No, they’re not upside down; check the necklace at right.)

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In this photo from 2000, the band is, clockwise from left, Jay Thomas, Brad Jendza, Derek Jendza and Justin Boss. The glam-influenced group opened for such acts as Alice Cooper, David Lee Roth and Skid Row. Brad and Derek still make music together as Artificial Agent. Although this is the photo we had on file, Derek tells us that there are “better pictures from that era.”

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Head case: We’re not sure which is the odder choice in this photo montage: to show the overexposed, doughy, middle-aged countenances of Mel Schacher, Don Brewer and Mark Farner, or to have the mid-1970s versions of their faces floating eerily over them.

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Field of dreams: Kirk Bleau, Michael Brasic, Matthew Ruffino and Robin Miller made up the grungy psych-rock quartet Bent Lucy. Pictured here in a field of waist-high weeds (not weed), they look as if they’re growing right out of the ground.

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Whatever became of the Goofy Freaks is anybody’s guess. But this photo shows a group of guys looking to get publicity by wearing the most outrageous costumes available. No word on what the music sounded like, but we’re guessing it was funky, if not outright FON-KAY.

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It doesn’t take much to make a good band photo: Competent photography, guys decked out in their usual clothes, and looks of determination to make music on their faces. Given a serious treatment, it all comes through in one good, clear shot. This pic of the Diablos is a perfect example.

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What wacky guys! This electric jazz outfit played around metro Detroit from 1985 to 1991, after which pianist Scott Wilkie (wearing that awesome sweater) moved to California to begin a solo career.

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Naturally, our files contain a classic image of Jack and Meg White, before the film appearances and international fame. Not a bad photo either, showing two musicians who already knew how to present themselves, from Jack’s intense thousand-yard stare and Meg’s Mona Lisa smile.

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No, that’s not an old photo of Tom Berenger with a white top and gold chain, it’s some guy named Michael Quattro. Could this have been Michael Quatro (one T) of the same Detroit musical family that produced Suzi Quatro? The answer is lost to time.

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This photo was taken at the railroad track at the dead end of Heyden, one block off I-96, in the side yard of the band’s house. Frontman Jimmy Doom recalls: “Band photo days: It was a Neanderthal precursor to Project Runway, except instead of Michael Kors, three straight guys in your band would say, ‘Dude, you are not wearing your Sabbath shirt for real, are you?’”

Glossed Over

In these days of Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Facebook, it’s easy to forget that … well, things weren’t always like this.

If you were a hardworking local band a decade or more ago, needless to say, you didn’t generally just hit up your local alt-weekly with an email directing them to your sound files online and some high-res JPGs. No, demos would pour into our offices on CD and cassette, accompanied by handwritten pleas for coverage. Best of all, booking agents and individual bands would send us photos, hoping to get a picture and a blurb among the listings in the back. These pictures were known as 8-by-10 glossies, which was the industry standard — even though some weren’t glossy, and they came in all kinds of dimensions. The quality of photography also varied widely, from professionally done studio portraits to simple snapshots captured on cheap cameras.

Like any medium, glossies had their tropes, although not a lot of the bands were hip to them. It’s likely some local band getting its start wouldn’t realize how overused a setting could be. Some of the clichés were even repeatedly abused by the big record labels, and there is certainly no concept more shopworn than the “band standing by the railroad tracks.” Other photos would show bands looking perhaps unnecessarily tough, in front of vacant buildings or desolate urban landscapes. Heck, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were a brick wall somewhere in town that said, “Take your band photo here.”

Then again, band glossies also had their upbeat, life-affirming clichés. You might see a group of people standing in a field, or hanging out on a guardrail, maybe just lying around an apartment in a “We’re always like this” kind of way. On the zanier ends, some bands would ham and mug, hoping to gain some ink through frozen moments of mirth.

And then there is the styling — the clothes, the hair, the makeup — all the elements that give a band a look. That look could be serious and effective without much effort, as in some glossies featuring hard-touring bands looking ready to climb onstage and make it happen. Or the look could be an over-the-top assemblage of clothes culled from resale shops, a look whose sell-by date was due to expire all too soon. We admit that most of these photos come from the late 1990s, and that some of the looks haven’t aged very well, what with all the Cosby sweaters and mismatched tartans. Certainly some are cause for laughter.

Then again, beware, millennials. It’s likely the band photos of today will be cropping up online long into the future, and you may wish your photo were tucked away safely in our lateral files for years to come.

Michael Jackman  is interim editor of Metro Times. Send comments to mjackman@metrotimes.com.

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