Jeff Kopp's the dude to talk to if you have a question about the area's garage, surf and punk music, the guy whose passion for the primal pound of thud-rock is in evidence each week on his KDHX (88.1 FM) show The Wayback Machine, perfectly soldered into the Saturday midnight slot. Kopp, whom everyone knows as Kopper, one-upped himself recently by releasing Landlocked and Loaded, a compilation of local and regional punk, garage and surf music, the raw stuff by some of the city's raw best, both those still gigging (the Ded Bugs, the Tripdaddys, Thee Lordly Serpents, the Honkeys) and those disbanded (the Geargrinders, Space Age Palmer, Johnny Magnet). Add to this batch some regional faves -- the Cripplers, the Delstars, the Revelators, the Bent Sceptors and so on -- and you've got a decent taste of all things garage.
The background isn't all that exciting; it never is, unless snake-handling's involved, but the result is one of the most solid and professional-looking and -sounding comp discs the city has seen in a long time. Unlike much St. Louis product, were you to discover Landlocked in a record store, the "local" alarm wouldn't immediately ring. It looks like any good garage-rock compilation -- the Pebbles series, the Back from the Grave series, the seminal Nuggets compilation. Says Kopper: "I contacted as many bands as I could around the area that were playing in St. Louis a lot, and some that were from the region -- Iowa, Illinois -- who played in town every once in a while, like the Bent Sceptors, the Bellstars, basically just using the stuff from my radio show as the basic style I was looking at -- the hard underground rock & roll, garage, punk, surf and rockabilly. It was the bands that I really liked, or the bands that I'd heard about that I really liked."
Kopper explains that the impetus for Landlocked and Loaded was simple; the same urge to represent the city is evident in compilations of St. Louis hip-hop, punk, country & western and new age. "The reason I'm doing it," he says, "is because there are so many bands in the area that I think are as good as these bands from California or Chicago or New York or Boston that are getting signed to these indie labels, and I just wanted to try and have them get their music out so people could hear and see just what was going on around here, because a lot of people don't really know. I try and bring as many bands to St. Louis as I can that are touring just so they can have a chance to play with the St. Louis bands, and usually they have a blast and love them."
(At some point, we St. Louisians must face the reality that the gravy-train tracks don't run through St. Louis, and even if they did, it's a bogus train to begin with. We pine and pine for national recognition for our music scene when the truth is, well, who cares whether Kurt Loder ever utters our fair city's name? Who needs Rolling Stone buzzing about St. Louis? It'll just bring a bunch of directionless losers to the city, which will jack up the rent, shrink the selection at Value Village and deplete the availability of parking spots. Who needs the affirmation of a bunch of idiots?)
Landlocked is an ace release, the caveat being "as far as comps go." Compilations are generally hit-and-miss, and as we all know from our attempts to browse through the rock-compilations section at Vintage Vinyl, they're a dime a dozen. It doesn't take much in the way of brains or creativity to pile a bunch of like-minded lugheads' work onto a CD, write a check and then sit on the stoop and wait for the clown in brown to deliver your shipment of 500.
In a perfect world, Landlocked would have felt a bit more inspired. It's not even the music, or the intention, that's lacking; it's the format. We want excitement, wide-eyed enthusiasm. We want some of the vintage drag-racing ads that Kopper and co-host Jaimz drop between cuts on The Wayback Machine. Sandwich one of them between the ace Ded Bugs cut "Summer Blows" and the Cripplers' ferocious cover of "Roadrunner." Or at least invent some sort of theme that ties the music together. How about garage bands covering Steve Reich minimalist pieces? Surf bands tackling Bach sonatas and partitas? Something further removed from the basic "Here's a band. After that, another one. They're from the Midwest." A compilation needs something to set it apart from the infinite others, and that's the problem with Landlocked and Loaded.
The peaches on the compilation are many: some nearly perfect garage-rock by the late, lamented Geargrinders; a searing version of the Troggs' great "I Can't Control Myself" by the equally late, equally lamented Johnny Magnet; a sax-roaring rocker by Space Age Palmer.
But the Ded Bugs' "Summer Blows" shines above the rest; their inspired-by-but-seldom-derivative-of Ramones style has never sounded as refreshing as when king Bug Matt Meyer sings "Summer blows/I got no muscles and no summer clothes/I got broken AC hangin' out my broken window." The song is worth the price of admission alone.
Or you can appreciate the full glory of the Ded Bugs on their third full-length CD, Songs for the Possessed and Insane, which they just released. Meyer's lyrics are clever without being stupid (actually, sometimes they're totally stupid), especially on "Mike Piazza Stole My Girlfriend" ("Somewhere way upstate tonight/he makes a stadium scream/then pulls her close and tight"). The band stumbles on its own cleverness when a simple hook would suffice and offers a few too many clumsy, visible-from-a-mile-away rhymes. But the Bugs know a good handclap song when they hear it and somehow manage to incorporate a cello into their punk without it sticking out. Check out all things Ded at www.dedbugs.com.
Send local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to "Radar Station," c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130; or RadarStation@riverfronttimes.com.