This week is a busy one for Knyghts of Fuzz, Albany’s premier striped-shirt-wearing, vintage-instrument-playing garage-rock trio. On Monday, singer-guitarist Ian Carlton finished up a tour of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states with Nashville’s Los Straitjackets, where he joined the surf-mentalists onstage as “Ritz Carlton,” their singing merch guy. In one tour video posted on YouTube, Carlton brought the house down at the Turner Theater in Milwaukee by crooning the Tom Jones hit “It’s Not Unusual” while the backup Pontani Sisters danced a modish burlesque in polka-dotted bathing suits across the stage.
On Friday, Carlton trades his “Ritz Carlton” alter ego to don a bold striped shirt and play front-and-center with the Knyghts of Fuzz at Valentine’s for one of the group’s mainstay happy-hour gigs. Taking place on the first Friday of every other month (and booked straight through next year), each happy hour show features a different notable from the local music scene—this week it’s Tim Livingston of the Last Conspirators—who joins Carlton, drummer Brian Goodman and bassist Frank Novko onstage as a guest vocalist to play a few garage, punk and rock tunes of the singer’s choosing.
And then on Saturday, the Knyghts head to Rochester to record with David Anderson of Saxon Recording, a studio in an old Beech-Nut factory that has produced its share of garage-rock luminaries, including the Hi-Risers, the Chesterfield Kings, Los Straitjackets and the Seeds’ Sky Saxon. There the band will record two original tunes for release on Carlton’s vinyl-only Carlton Records label: “Genny” and “The Fleshtones Saved My Life,” the latter song one that Carlton and Goodman bashed out at 3 AM in Carlton’s basement, all wired after an especially wild local Fleshtones show.
A native of Rochester, Brian Goodman grew up inspired by that area’s nascent garage-rock scene, with its culture of digging for obscure 45s at stores like the Bop Shop and House of Guitars and the success of local garage-rock heroes the Chesterfield Kings, who managed to perfectly replicate the ’66-’67 look and sound.
In 2007, Goodman—by then an Albany resident and a veteran of numerous area bands, including Susan & the Surftones, 1313 Mockingbird Lane and the Staynz—decided to get back to his garage-rock roots by forming a trio with bassist Frank Novko (of Big Frank and the Bargain Bingers) and guitarist Million Dollar Bill. He took the band’s name, albeit slightly altered, from a now-out-of-print book by Timothy Gassen called The Knights of Fuzz: The Garage and Psychedelic Music Explosion, 1980 to Now, a comprehensive study of ’80s neo-garage bands from the Cynics to the Woggles.
“When I read the book, I thought the term ‘Knights of Fuzz’ fit all those bands so perfectly,” Goodman explains over drinks at the Fountain tavern in Albany. “I thought I wanted to be in a band that sounds like that phrase.”
Million Dollar Bill left to join Slick Fitty not long after the Knyghts of Fuzz played their first gig opening up for the Fleshtones at the now-defunct Positively 4th Street club in Troy. But Carlton, a fellow fan of the long-rocking Queens garage-party band who headlined that night, was the logical choice for a replacement, Goodman says. “We’re really on the same page. We like the same music. I think it’s really cool that Ian came in like he’s been in the band forever.”
A mail-order specialist at Albany’s Last Vestige record store, Goodman knew Carlton from years prior as a young record collector who would come into the store looking for garage music, or who played out as a teen in Rocky Velvet, the rockabilly group that Carlton formed in high school with local guitarist Graham Tichy.
“I just remember Brian hipping me to all the ’60s garage stuff,” Carlton says.
They both loved the primitiveness of the sound and the raw honesty of ’60s garage music. “It’s the sound,” Goodman explains. “These young guys couldn’t play that great but they were making lots of recordings. The more unrefined it sounds, sometimes the better it is.”
“It was the shitty gear and the teenage angst,” adds Carlton.
A brief stint playing together in the garage cover band Thee UMMmm . . . in 2001 with organist Kim of 1313 Mockingbird Lane and onetime Rocky Velvet bassist Jay Gorleski led Goodman and Carlton to perhaps their pinnacle of record geekdom. “We got pretty esoteric,” admits Carlton.
The highlight of Thee UMMmm . . .’s too-short career was a two-show stand (including one performance at Valentine’s) where the band played the entire C.Q. album by Dutch band the Outsiders, a largely unheard masterpiece of obscure psychedelic garage rock filled with classic songs like “Daddy Died on Saturday.”
“People stood in the audience and just stared at us. My mother said we were the darkest thing she’d ever heard,” Goodman laughs.
Although the Knyghts of Fuzz are a bit more accessible today in their choices of cover songs—which is supplemented by the band’s growing collection of originals—they still thrive on an appreciation for the lesser-heard side of garage rock. Their set includes a diverse assortment of tunes, from the Outsiders’ “Do You Feel Alright” and Mose Allison’s “I’m Not Talking” to “Don’t Blow Your Mind” by Alice Cooper’s early band the Spiders.
“Both of us have been playing in garage bands for so long,” explains Carlton. “When we started looking for songs to play, we realized we had both played so many of the same songs in every band we’d been in.”
“Everybody’s playing the same songs,” adds Goodman. “We don’t need to cover the Sonics. There are so many other songs out there.”
The Knyghts of Fuzz happy-hour gigs are a showcase for such carefully curated song selections. Last January, local punk singer Duane Beer joined the band on raucous versions of relatively obscure ’60s garage tunes like the Bluestars’ “Social End Product” and “When the Night Falls” by the Eyes. “We wanted to take him out of his element and do garage songs, and he took us out of our element to do a Misfits song. He picked really cool stuff,” says Goodman.
And in March, Last Vestige owner Jim Furlong came out of musical retirement to perform Dean Martin’s dejected “Houston” and a part-lounge, part-punk version of the 1980 Albany anthem “Living Downtown” by his old band the A.D.s.
“Jim got all fired up. The next week he was playing in the park for Tulip Fest with Blotto,” laughs Carlton.
The Knyghts of Fuzz will play Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 4) from 6 to 8 PM with special guest Tim Livingston.