It’s been more than 30 years since the Commandos wowed their fanatic barroom audiences in Austin, Texas, with what they called “rock’n’roll without the gooey drippings on it.”
Fans still talk about the Commandos, remembering those crazed live shows that featured sizzling guitars, emotion-packed vocals and a rock’n’roll swagger delivered with both passion and a keen sense of humor.
A new release on Jungle Records goes back to the formative years of the Commandos, resurrecting 12 songs recorded in October 1983 at the Lone Star Studio in Austin, a compact room often remembered for its proximity to a giant bug on a pole advertising a nearby pest control business.
The “Lone Star Studio Sessions” showcases the writing and performance talents of the Commandos co-founders, Suzy Elkins and the late Gerry “Phareaux” Felton, two Mississippi pickers and songwriters who had met in the eighth grade in Hattiesburg.
The sessions were intended largely as demos to launch the Commandos, who went on to make a full-blown studio album, and appear on an Elektra Records anthology of Texas bands. They went on to tour Scandinavia.
But the tunes are much more than demos. To loyal fans, the songs represent the vitality and soul of the Commandos and capture much of the spirit of the live shows.
The songs were among the fan favorites that the Commandos used to fire up crowds night after night in Austin hot spots, most often the Hole in the Wall on the Drag near the University of Texas campus
The Lone Star Sessions captures three of the Commandos all-time best original tunes — “Tell it on the Line,” Morning Train” and “Too Fast” — which get intense, no-frills workouts, packing the energy of the barroom renditions.
Among other highlights of the release is “My Baby Loves Monster Movies,” a tune that features blood-curdling screams by the late Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis. The veteran actor was in Austin for a Halloween film festival and consented on the spot to add his imprint to the recording. He arrived at the studio in a hearse with the top cut out, listened to the song one time, did his part, told the Commandos to “Get lucky, kids” and then jumped back in the hearse, which had been circling the block because the battery was weak and the driver knew it would have to be jump-started if he shut off the engine.
A must for the Lone Star Sessions was the Commandos’ version of the classic Sonics tune “Psycho,” long a crowd favorite at live shows. Suzy’s vocals invariably left fans in a frenzy and were every bit as intense as the original. “Psycho” and “My Baby Loves Monster Movies” were released as a 45 on Jungle Records which is still cherished by fans lucky enough to own it.
Instrumentals always had a place when the Commandos got down to business in three-set club appearances. In one of their best efforts, Suzy and Phareaux glued together Scotty Moore’s “Have Guitar will Travel” with “Diamondback,” a sizzling instrumental done originally by Cecil Moore on the Sarg label out of Luling, Texas.
Because the Commandos were still solidifying a line-up, the studio sessions were supplemented by the cream of Austin’s roots rockers, including members of the LeRoi Brothers and Omar and the Howlers. LeRoi Brothers drummer Mike Buck and Howlers’ tub-pounder Wes Starr got heavy workouts.
The sessions further opened the creative flood waters for Suzy and Phareaux, who were at their finest while composing real rock’n’roll tunes in the spirit of the bands they admired the most, like Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Pretenders, Dave Edmunds, Tony Joe White and the LeRoi Brothers.
As rock’n’roll critic/historian Ed Ward noted at the time: “The Commandos are one of those bands that keep rock’n’roll honest, sticking with the bare-bones essence that seems to come to the fore every time the music seems to be taking itself too seriously.”
The release of the Lone Star Sessions gives old and new listeners alike a chance to sample that high-energy honesty.
Listen/Buy – The Commandos – The Lone Star Sessions
Austin American Statesman – Reviewed by Peter Blackstock – January 24, 2019
Vintage Guitar – Reviewed by Dan Forte – November 2019
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Tell It On the Line (S. Elkins and G. Felton)
You Make Me Feel Bad (D. Dozier and J. Barnett)
Intercontinental (S. Elkins and G. Felton)
Diamondback/Have Guitar Will Travel (C. Moore/B. Black and S. Moore)
Too Fast (S. Elkins and G. Felton)
Too Much Rocking (K. Dykes)
Wild Talk (S. Elkins and G. Felton)
Wild Honey (R.S. Field and J. McMurry)
Psycho (G. Roslie)
Morning Train (R.S. Field and S. Elkins)
Tilt (R.S. Field)
Baby Loves Monster Movies (R.S. Field)
Gerry Felton – guitars and vocals
Suzy Elkins – vocals and guitars
Bruce Kirk – bass
Mike Buck – drums on Too Much Rocking, Too Fast, Intercontinental, Diamondback/Have Guitar Will Travel, Wild Honey, Psycho
Wes Starr – drums on Morning Train, You Make Me Feel Bad, Wild Talk, How Come You Tilt Everything You Touch, Tell It on the Line, Baby Loves Monster Movies
Omar Dykes – harmonica on Intercontinental
Don Leady – guitar on Psycho
Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis – additional vocals on Baby Loves Monster Movies
Chorus/Revelers on Too Much Rocking – Ed Ward, John and Sally Kelso, C. J. Woodward, Cindy Craft, Jeff Poehlman, Wes Starr, Louis Black, Mike and Tina Buck, Don Saathoff, Jane Lyman, Melissa Hirsch, Nick Connolly, Patty Vinson, Ariel Wollman, and Gary Rice
Produced by Vince McGarry
Recording Executive Producer – Gary Rice
Engineered by Stuart Sullivan
Mastered at Terra Nova by Nick Landis
Digital Executive Producers – Suzy Elkins and Bruce Sheehan
Art, Design and Layout by Billie Buck
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