Bird & Animal Names In Rock 'n' Roll History - Part 20
Chainsaw Kittens, Kittens, Kitty & the Haywoods, Scruffy The Cat, Cat Power
Author: Robert Benson
Robert writes about rock & pop music, and vinyl record collecting.
Let's continue our articles series about "bird" and "animal" group names and artists in rock and roll history, last week here at DigitalDreamDoor; we explored some famous 'dog' names, this time let's look at some 'cat' and 'kitten' names.
A band that was well-known to Smashing Pumpkins fans, the Oklahoma-based Chainsaw Kittens (they opened for the Pumpkins and many other popular acts) built a small following and loyal fan base throughout the 90's by mixing eclectic pop, glam punk, new wave and bits of British invasion into their repertoire.
Formed in 1989 and fronted by Tyson Meade (former lead singer of the band Defenestration) and signing on with Mammoth records, the band's debut release "Violent Religion" did not garner much attention. However, after opening up for many of
alternative rock's most popular bands, the Butch Vig-produced album Flipped Out In Signapore in 1992 heightened the group's profile and fans soon began to take notice. Their energetic mix of glam-damaged energy, theatrical extremity and punk rock was never more evident on their follow up EP in 1993 "Angel On The Range;" which introduced a stable rhythm section for the band, bassist Johnson and drummer Eric Harmon.
The group released Pop Heiress in 1994, but the hoped for success didn't materialize, however the band carried on. A self-titled release in 1996 (also known as Oklahoma Speedway) garnered little attention. The group took an extended break while its members pursued other musical endeavors and personal projects before returning in 2000 with the release The All-America.
Throughout the group's history, their lyrical content tackled an array of topics including religion, the Stonewall riots, Fellini, Oklahoma, the Menendez brothers and even Oscar Wilde. The band went through many personnel changes but was always maintained by the presence of singer and songwriter Meade. Since the band split up (they were active from 1989-2000) they have gained more fans and have gained attention on such sources as Allmusic as one of the best groups of their era.
Popular among Northern Soul fans, the Chicago soul vocal group the Kittens are more popular now than when they were together and recording. Arranger/producer Johnny Pate (who also worked with the Impressions) signed the group to ABC-Paramount in 1964 and the trio (Thelma Mack, Bernice Wills and Laurel Ross) released several singles including "I Got To Know Him," "Lookie Lookie," (among others) and they recorded two singles with Chess in 1968, "Ain't No More Room"and "Hey Operator."(there are several other bands that used this moniker, look for future results in upcoming articles!)
But despite the talents of Pate and Probably one of the most talented girl groups of the 60's the Kittens' career never materialized (they sold very few records outside of Chicago) and they are now part of soul music trivia.
Kitty & the Haywoods
The Ohio Players had a "pet project" in the form of another Chicago-based female vocal group called Kitty & the Haywoods. Starting as jingle singers and back up singers for Curtis Mayfield on his "Never Say You Can't Survive" LP, the girls (Kitty Haywood, her sisters Vivian and Mary Ann and Vivian's daughter Cynthia) released their debut album in 1977 called "Love Shack." The title track was their only chart single (it made the lower side of the R&B charts) and in 1981, they released a second LP called "Excuse me, I've Got A Life To Catch," which failed, spelling the end of their career.
Scruffy The Cat
A Boston-based alternative band, Scruffy The Cat, built a huge following on the east coast (and of course the Boston area) by blending roots rock with a bit of country punk. Led by Charlie Chesterman (vocals, guitar), Stephen Fredette (guitar), Mac Paul Stanfield (bass), Randall Lee Gibson IV (drums), Burns Stanfield (piano, organ), and multi-instrumentalist Stona Fitch, the band never really hit the mainstream arena, but nonetheless found themselves on the college charts in the late 80s; as the band's raw, back-to-basics rock arrangements were a fresh sound for campus DJs and college radio.
In 1987, the band's debut album, Tiny Days, produced a great toe-tapping number called "My Baby She's Allright" and the accompanying videos was a staple on MTV's 120 Minutes weekly show (however Fitch left the band). In 1989, the band cut "Moons Of Jupiter" and was the band's attempt at a crossover hit, but it was rejected by the music critics. Despite generating a good deal of national interest (there was even an article in Newsweek), Scruffy the Cat never really appealed to a national audience and the group split up shortly thereafter.
Cat Power is the stage name of American singer/songwriter Charlyn "Chan" Marshall. Known for her strange and somewhat erratic style, personal struggles and improvisational concerts early in her career, she has used these experiences to become a well-respected musician in the indie folk rock scene.
After dropping out of high school, she started performing under the name Cat Power while in Atlanta, backed by musicians Glen Thrasher, Marc Moore, and others. In 1992, she moved to New York and was introduced to New York's 'free-jazz' and experimental music scene. After opening for Liz Phair she was encouraged to record her music by Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and Tim Foljahn (Two Dollar Guitar) and they played on her first two LP's 1995's Dear Sir and 1996's Myra Lee. She signed with Matador records in 1996 and recorded her third LP, What Would the Community Think, which spawned a single and music video, "Nude as the News".
However, in late 1996 after a three-month tour to promote the album, she disappeared from the music scene, opting to work as a baby sitter in Portland, Oregon and then relocating to a farmhouse in South Carolina; with a plan to permanently retire from the music business. But during a restless night, she wrote several new songs, the bulk of them making up the LP Moon Pix. The release was very well received by critics and music lovers alike.
After tiring of her own music, she remained busy on a number of projects and by the start of the decade; Marshall's live performances had become erratic and unpredictable. Marshall later admitted that she had a drinking problem, telling HARP magazine in 2006, "I didn't know I was messed up."
In 2003 she resumed releasing more original material with "You Are Free," which featured guest musicians Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis.
Her breakthrough release, The Greatest was released in 2006 and found Marshall returning to Memphis, pursuing the sound of the 70s, famed for its sensuous feel and beguiling rhythms. She employed Al Green's guitarist and songwriting partner Mabon "Teenie" Hodges to play guitar on the whole album (Teenie co-wrote "Love and Happiness" and "Take Me to the River," among other soul classics). With Hodges onboard came his bandmate (and brother) Leroy "Flick" Hodges, who played on half of the album (Memphis A-team bassist Dave Smith supplements). Anchoring the band is Steve Potts, whose reputation on drums was solidified when the surviving members of Booker T. and the MG's asked him to replace their late drummer, Al Jackson. Other top Memphis musicians guest on keyboards, horns and strings.
But following its release, Marshall had cancel previously arranged shows in North America and Europe as she was struggling with a relationship and had other personal issues. Ultimately, she utilized the self-imposed hiatus to recover from what she described as a "psychotic break" that had left her feeling suicidal and was brought on by mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse.
At the end of 2006, she formed a new band with whom she toured and recorded with throughout 2007. Her new band, The Dirty Delta Blues Band features Judah Bauer (from Blues Explosion), Gregg Foreman (The Delta 72), Erik Paparazzi (Lizard Music), and Jim White (from Dirty Three). The band recorded an album of covers called Jukebox, which was released on January 22, 2008.
Recently, Marshall's performance style has been said to be much more enthusiastic and professional. In fact, in a recent magazine article Marshall states that her newfound musical collaborators and sobriety are largely responsible for her increased confidence onstage. Finally harnessing her inner demons and personal strife, Cat Power is free to open up musically and we can now hear the great musical sounds that she hears.
Stay tuned to DigitalDreamDoor for more articles about "bird" and "animal" group names and individuals in rock and roll!
Chainsaw Kittens Tidbits:
The Chainsaw Kittens are featured on the soundtrack for the 2007 horror movie, Bug, from Lions Gate. The band also reunited for a performance at the Norman Music Festival in Norman, Oklahoma on April 26, 2008.
Tyson Meade currently resides in Shanghai, People's Republic of China, where he teaches English.
In recent U.S. live appearances, Meade has fronted a new group called, Halston, which features members of the Starlight Mints. Meade has also been backed by a New York indie group named Arbor Day. Meade's set lists have drawn from every stage of his more than 20-year career in music.
Scruffy The Cat Tidbits:
Scruffy's first appearance on record was the tune "The Oldest Fire in the World" on the Throbbing Lobster Let's Breed compilation, which was released in 1984.
Scruffy's swan-song, the 16-track Moons of Jupiter was produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson.
Chesterman formed the short-lived Harmony Rockets after the breakup and after the Harmony Rockets disbanded, Chesterman went solo, releasing a series of independent albums including 1994's From the Book of Flames that toned down his punk edges for more of a country approach.
Cat Power Tidbits:
She often performs reworked covers at her live shows, of songs old and new such as those by Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Gnarls Barkley, Will Oldham, White Stripes, and Jessie Mae Hemphill.
In early 2008, she collaborated with Beck and producer Danger Mouse on the album Modern Guilt. She contributed backing vocals to two tracks, "Orphans" and "Walls." The album was released in July of that year.
Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers included a song titled "Cat Power" on his debut solo release Killers and Stars.
Cat Power's unique covers have been used in commercials first in 2005 (Cingular -"Hanging on the Telephone"), in 2006 by DeBeers (a cover of Cat Stevens "How Can I Tell You") and a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in 2009 for Lincoln MKS.
In 2007, she became the first female solo act to win the Shortlist Music Prize when The Greatest was voted album of the year in June.