If the Replacements, the Kinks and Booker T. & the MG's morphed into one very cool rock band, they'd be flourishing today as the Forty-Fives. They're rife with crunching guitar riffs, dollops of power-pop hooks and a dash of Hammond B3 soul; an Atlanta garage band who rock loud and fast without losing sight of those all-important melodies. Brash songs explode and tumble with the kind of reckless abandon that always makes for great skull-rattling.
But they didn't start out that way. Originally a harder-edged, just-shy-of-metal power trio featuring mop-topped lead singer/guitarist Bryan Malone, drummer Adam Renshaw and bassist Mark McMurty, the Forty-Fives blossomed into a more R&B-tinged soul/pop outfit when husky organist Trey Tidwell joined the fold in late 1998. After recording Get It Together in 2000, the band toured as the opening act for the likes of Wayne Kramer, the Dickies, Link Wray and Marky Ramone.
Sounding ragged-but-right from the slew of steady gigging, the Forty-Fives eventually entered fabled Sun Studios in Memphis to lay down some new lo-fi yet high-voltage tunes. The album they squeezed out, last year's Fight Dirty, is crammed with songs about life on the road, romantic turmoil and perseverance; more trebly guitars, wailing vocals and kick-to-the-head rhythms. If Fight Dirty sounds like merely a refined version of Get It Together, it's no coincidence.
"We were between labels and broke, so it's not like we went in with the intention of making The White Album or anything," says Malone, whose singing recalls ex-Plimsouls frontman Peter Case. "We simply just want to get better doing what we do. It was pretty much the live set we were playing at bars during that time, and we knocked it out in just four or five days."
And without blowing their miniscule recording budget.
"For the life of me, I can't understand how in the world you can spend $250,000 to record an album," adds Malone. "I don't think we've ever spent more than $5,000 or $6,000. That said, Rick [Miller] encouraged us to experiment a bit. We used some old [foot] pedals and tinkered with some crazy noises and wild feedback. But basically, we're not a big-sounding band—we don't do overdubs or double-track. We stick to the essentials."
The Forty-Fives turn back the clock to a time when rock & roll was more about getting your ya-yas out than getting exposure on MTV. And even though numerous music scribes continue linking the foursome to The Vines, Hives and White Stripes as part of the over-hyped, back-to-basics rock movement, Malone scoffs at the idea.
"We sound different, and some of those bands are on major labels with resources behind them that we'll never see," he insists. "Plus, while we're on the road, I've got to worry about keeping our van running and replacing the amps we blow out. It's a real pain in the ass."
Even as he ponders tomorrow's "maintenance problems"—as he calls them—Malone's still having fun being in the band. Perhaps more than anything, it's the energetic vibe running between band and audience that keeps the Forty-Fives spinning happily along.
"Every gig is pretty much nuts," says Malone. "It's a hot, sweaty show that leaves us soaking wet, and sometimes a little battered and bruised. But all four of us love doing this. As long as people are coming out to see us, we'll stick with it. Hell, and probably even after that."
The Forty-Fives perform with The Datsuns and The Star Spangles at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0377; Sat., 7 p.m. $15. All ages.
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