As with so many important stories, the one about Wild Records starts with an Irishman walking into a bar. That'd be Reb Kennedy, a lifelong punk rocker who'd spent his recent years getting back to the roots of rock & roll and who found himself in a dive in Downey one night in 2003, waiting to see a bunch of no-name bands playing what the flier called, "Mexican Rock & Roll." Onstage were Lil Luis y Los Wild Teens, a ragged-at-the-edges group of actual wild teens gargling alcohol and regurgitating exhilarating insanity. Kennedy recognized it instantly—the same energy he'd seen when he worked at English punk label Rough Trade and signed Stiff Little Fingers.
"It had nothing to do with musicianship," he says. "What it went back to was the first wave of punk. 'Get out there and do what you can, and if the energy's right, it works.' And that's exactly what happened."
Eight years after he signed the Wild Teens—and named the label after them—that DIY spirit of '76 has made Wild Records one of the most vital LA independents. The same as OC's Burger Records, Altadena-based Wild Records has built its own beyond-devoted cult following, pushing its artists into giant festival gigs overseas and selling out vinyl 45s.
Unlike Burger, however, which specializes in a glam-punk sound that'd be at home in '76, Wild Records guides that punk philosophy toward purer, more primitive sounds—the revved-up rockabilly, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll that put labels such as Sun and Chess into the history books.
But dismiss it as retro and you might as well write off the electric guitar and the jet engine while you're at it. This is high-octane stuff, fast and loud and (of course) wild in all the ways rock & roll is supposed to be. And Saturday's two-stage, all-Wild all-dayer will showcase some of Wild's top bands as well as some of its up-and-comers.
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Some highlights: Omar Romero of Omar & the Stringpoppers is Wild's in-house engineer and a fireball front man at the top of Wild's roster, with Gene Vincent charm and Lux Interior menace. (Or possibly it's the other way around?) The Rhythm Shakers have Marlene Perez up front, a Wanda Jackson-style scrapper who sings as though she'll cut your heart out, per Kennedy. Pachuco Jose y los Diamantes are old-school, zoot-suited jump blues—the original sound of East LA—and Don Juan y Los Blancos do '60s-teen stomp with eye-popping aplomb. On both stages, you'll hear iconoclastic takes on hard-ass, hard-drinkin' rebel music from the '40s to the '70s, linked more by passion than fashion.
"From Sun Records and Sam Philips to even Atlantic and Chess and Stax and Rough Trade, there's always one fucking asshole like me!" says Kennedy. "With a big mouth and they're a bit of a fucking dick and difficult to deal with . . . but they had a clear vision! What makes it seem retro is just how we look—and using the standup bass. But if you remove that . . . we're a punk label."
This artilce appeared in print as "Wild-Eyed Rock & Roll: Don't let the zoot suits and standup basses fool you: Reb Kennedy's Wild Records is a punk-rock label."