An Appreciation

by Christine Ohlman

It was the mid-sixties, and America was mad for the sounds of the British invasion. Every garage band, it seemed, dreamed of becoming the next Beatles, the new Stones. But for five white kids out of Windsor, Connecticut, the dream lay closer to home. Calling themselves first The Six Packs and later, The Wildweeds, these guys walked the walk and talked the talk of a style, owing as much to jazz as to pure fifties-era R & B, that might have seemed a throwback had their pure musicianship not been so stellar.

Windsor is just north of Hartford, a city possessing, then and now, a lively and racially mixed community of jazz and classical players that gave it an edge in musical sophistication. The members of the Wildweeds grew up around jazz and were already on the road to becoming accomplished members of that scene when they were caught up by the deep sounds of Southern soul music that percolated throughout sixties radio playlists. It seemed the natural thing, and it seasoned them. Compared to the teen bands of the day from which they might only have been removed by a few years (the oldest being in his early twenties when they hit), these guys were Midnight Movers ... the real deal.

Let me hip you to something that Wildweeds fans already know. All of the Weeds could sing, but three of them-Al Anderson, Ray Zeiner, and Bobby Dudek-could WAIL. Anderson, the lead guitarist and chief songwriter, idolized Ray Charles and evolved a style mixing full-throated gospel shouting with a sometimes smoother approach, a la Percy Mayfield. Zeiner's vocals were rougher, tortured and more urgent-the perfect foil for his Hammond B-3; think Otis Redding on "These Arms Of Mine." Bassist Dudek, blinded at an early age, was a pop evangelist--always ON, always pleading, like Jackie Wilson at fever pitch. The group was completed by Martin "Skip" Yakaitis, the onstage MC/percussionist who lent wry humor to the proceedings, and drummer Andy Lepak, with a sweet. high voice.

Clearly, all this was miles away from Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, the reigning "tastes" of the day, and even the Weeds couldn't ignore the prevailing pop sensibility entirely. They mixed masterfully-played Hendrix and Beatles covers into live sets that were often mind-bendingly eclectic. But in the studio, when the group joined forces with producer Doc Cavalier (after he inked them to Chicago's Chess label under its Cadet subsidiary), it was a different story, When "No Good To Cry", a searing mix of jazz-inverted guitar chords, thumping bass and swirling Hammond organ topped off by Anderson's white-hot vocal, hit the airwaves in 1967--the year of the Summer Of Love-it was clear that, like Memphians Alex Chilton and Chips Moman with "The Letter" and Detroit's Mitch Ryder with "Sock It To Me, Baby". The Wildweeds and Cavalier had conjured a performance so soulful it transcended genre and race, in the process giving the Eastern U.S. an AM radio smash for the ages.

More glory days were to come. Hartford was a major radio market in the sixties, and The Weeds were its undisputed kings. With strong support from Bertha Porter, the legendary program director of Hartford's WDRC, "Someday Morning" hit later in 1967, followed by "It Was Fun While It Lasted" in 1968 and "I'm Dreaming" (on the Cadet Concept label) in 1969-all are included here, along with their Bsides. Then rifts opened and trouble set in, as it often does when multi-talented individuals attempt to meld. The group reconfigured (with Alex Lepak on bass, Dudek on drums, and Zeiner gone) and jumped to the Vanguard label for one country-flavored LP in 1970 before splitting. Dudek and Zeiner went solo (check out Zeiner's beautiful ballad, "I Had A Girl," a Wildweeds track later remixed and issued on the Poison Ring label); Yakaitis passed away too young; and Anderson joined NRBQ, eventually settling into a longtime stint as a successful Nashville songwriter.

But the glory days live on in these soulful tracks, full of the kind of raw energy and refined musical chops that define them as truly great. Dig it.

Christine Ohlman (The Beehive Queen)
Soulful rock 'n roll by the roots!!!