This week’s installment of “Locals Pick Locals” spans the pop universe without leaving Ingham County. Read on and listen along wherever you stream music.
Steve Butts (Local music buff, walking music encyclopedia)
Pick: El Smasho “Red Devil” — 1990s
The lack of contiguity in the Lansing music scene (because it’s part of a college town) makes the many segments of our city’s impressive backstory appear to be distinct and unrelated.
For example, the creation of the “Touch and Go” zine and label happened here. Local bands like The Meatmen, The Fix, The Crucifucks and The Dogs were all hatched here. The Clash played at Dooley’s and Black Flag played at Ruskin’s Reef. It’s unbelievable. But it doesn’t stop there.
As part of a larger secret history of rock ‘n’ roll in mid-Michigan, enter El Smasho. Part of “ELHC” (East Lansing Hardcore) sect, there was a brilliant self-awareness to El Smasho’s aesthetic. From the eye-catching poster artwork and band merchandise created by singer Tom Deja to “The Smashettes” security team wearing sunglasses and black hats while toting baseball bats to “protect the band” — their punk menace always had an undercurrent of humor beneath it.
With “Red Devil” (released on its 2019 digital reissue), this should have been the song that brought El Smasho fame and fortune. Melodic, anthemic and wry, there is no reason this could not have been their ticket beyond local infamy.
John Olson aka Inzane Johnny (Musician, Wolf Eyes)
Pick: Due East “You Won’t Catch Me Dreamin’” — 1971
Due East’s “You Won't Catch Me Dreamin’” and its B-side, “Born To Reason,” is early-‘70s laidback folk rock with an uber-homemade feel. It’s tough to pinpoint the origins here, but the appearance of Bob Baldori behind the controls ties this slow burner to the capital area. One of two Ozone Records releases, this 7-inch is the only one with a picture sleeve — giving it an almost LP feel. These amazing songs are the middle ground between Plain Brown Wrapper-style “complex rock” and the first stoned waves of Lansing’s folk scene. Almost has a Glee Club tries out CSNY on a St. Johns field trip vibe inside the mellow grooves. Who is this six-piece outfit?
Jeffrey Gower (Vocalist/guitarist, The Stick Arounds)
Pick: Honest D & The Steel Reserve “Oklahoma City Guarantee” — 2006
In the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, Lansing, like many cities across the country, saw a surge in alt-country acts. While bands like The Jayhawks, Son Volt and Old 97’s were enjoying some moderate success on college radio, Lansing was rolling out some sweet local twang. Bands like Ingham County Regulars, Flatfoot and The Gentleman Callers were playing live shows regularly. Lansing even had its own longstanding college radio program honoring this style of country, “Torch & Twang.” No band embodied the countryside of this movement like Honest D & the Steel Reserve. Featuring hot licks from a couple of Lansing’s premier guitarists, and a stone-solid rhythm section, the band covered many of the greats. But it was its original songs that struck me as being vibrant, vital and among the best contributions to the twang scene. Jeremy Rapp and Derek Smith can be heard weaving their twin-guitar attack on songs like “Oklahoma City Guarantee.” Lyrical tongue-twisting like the vocals on “Rachel Please” and “Cucumber Curry” were a Smith staple and one of the big reasons these songs resonated with people. Derek, Jeremy, Joe Bakitis and Danny Amori made an unforgettable band during a memorable time in the Lansing music scene.
Ariella Zanoni (Bassist/vocalist, Dasterds)
Pick: Frank and Earnest “New Traditions” — 2014
I first stumbled upon the local Lansing music scene in 2010 by the happy accident of having talented coworkers. Faster than you can say “Check, one, two … ,” it was clear there was something magnetic about this patchwork collective and their homegrown approach to creating and sharing music. None, however, had quite the irreverent charm as the hard-rocking foursome Frank and Earnest. The GTG Records alum had a plucky eight-year run from 2009-2017, during which they shared their pop-punk prowess with numerous contributions to local music compilations and splits and their own EP and full-length record. The aforementioned LP, “Modern Country,” showcases the band’s quick-steppin’ drive and chunky, melodious hooks that have made it my essential summer sound since its release in 2014. The track “New Traditions” is a favorite of mine, and not just because it has the most vocally satisfying finale of “whoas!” to sing along to. To me, it stands out as an unintended rock anthem. It’s a reminder to appreciate the path you’ve forged, even if you didn’t end up where you thought you’d be. But keeping to true F&E fashion, don’t take it too seriously.