The Sonics are an American garage rock band, originating from the early and mid-1960s. Among The Sonics' other contemporaries were The Kingsmen, The Wailers, The Drastics, The Dynamics, The Regents, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. This movement is credited with founding Seattle's well-known music scene which survives to the present.
The Sonics' sound is noticeably rougher, cruder, and more brutal than that of their musical peers, and among those in the know The Sonics are sometimes regarded as the first punk rock group, though well before the punk movement took off in the late 1970s. Although they had a fairly standard instrumental line up for the time, The Sonics made their unique sound with wild arrangements, often disturbing lyrics, peppered with screaming and howling, and electric guitars played through amplifiers customized to achieve the harshest tones possible. Although their chief period of success was coincident with the release of Gibson's first fuzzbox, The Sonics' fuzzy sound was their own creation.
The songs they played were a mixture of garage rock standards ("Louie, Louie", "Have Love, Will Travel"), early rock and roll ("Jenny, Jenny", "Skinny Minnie") and original compositions such as "Strychnine", "Psycho", and "The Witch", all based upon simple chord sequences, played hard and fast.
The lyrics of The Sonics' original material dealt with early '60s teenage culture; cars, guitars, surfing, and girls (in songs like "The Hustler", "Boss Hoss" and "Maintaining My Cool") alongside darker subject matter such as drinking strychnine for kicks, witches, psychopaths, and Satan (in the songs "Strychnine", "The Witch", "Psycho", and "He's Waitin'", respectively).
The history of The Sonics begins in 1960 in Tacoma, Washington. Larry Parypa played the guitar at that time with a drummer, Mitch Graber, another guitarist named Stuart Turner, plus a saxophonist and an acoustic bassist. In 1961, Parypa's older brother Andy replaced the bass player and Tony Mabin took over as their new saxophone player.
Stuart Turner left for the army and Rich Koch (who had previously played with The Wailers) joined as new lead guitarist and Marilyn Lodge joined as the band's first singer — they had been an instrumental combo until this point. A new drummer, Bill Dean then replaced Mitch.
Koch and Lodge left the band in 1963. The local star Ray Michelsen became the band's singer after having sung with a handful of other popular bands on the local scene. Larry began looking for a drummer to replace Bill Dean, whom he felt was uncommitted to the band, and found Bob Bennett playing in a band called The Searchers with Gerry Roslie and Rob Lind. Ray Michelsen was looking to leave the band, so the Parypas hired Bennett, Roslie, and Lind and let their previous saxophonist Mabin go.
The well-known lineup was in place, but the Sonics' career as loved by their continuing cult following did not begin until 1964, when Gerry Roslie started singing lead vocals.
With Roslie as lead singer the band started playing gigs at local halls, at such venues as the Red Carpet, Olympia's Skateland, the Evergreen Ballroom, Pearl's, the Spanish Castle Ballroom and St. Mary's Parish Hall.
They were soon scouted by Buck Ormsby, bassist for The Wailers, and signed to The Wailers' own label Etiquette Records. The first single they cut was "The Witch" (with Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin'" as the B-side), in November 1964. This was immensely popular with local kids, and went on to become the biggest selling local single in the history of the northwest, despite its radio airplay being restricted because of its bizarre subject matter.
Early in 1965, The Sonics began recording an LP, Here Are The Sonics was recorded at Audio Recording in Seattle, WA by famed Pacific Northwest recording engineer Kearney Barton. It was recorded on a two-track tape recorder, with only one microphone to pick up the whole drum kit. It was here that they began to pioneer some of their infamously reckless recording techniques. The next album, Boom followed in February 1966. During the recording, The Sonics ripped the soundproofing off the walls at the country and western-oriented Wiley/Griffith studio in Tacoma, WA, to "get a live-er sound."
This heyday began to wane when the band transferred to Jerden Records in late 1966, and headed to Hollywood to record the poorly selling album Introducing The Sonics with Larry Levine in the Gold Star studios. The band later called this cleaner, slicker recording "the worst garbage."
The original band fell apart between 1966 and 1968, members leaving to go to university or to join other bands; Saxophonist Rob Lind became a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War. During this time their sound changed, incorporating string and horn sections, but this proved unpopular and The Sonics passed into obscurity.
The original Sonics reunited briefly in 1972 for a Seattle Paramount live show, with the recording of this show released as Live Fanz Only by Etiquette.
In 2007, The Sonics reunited again, this time for the Cavestomp garage rock festival in Brooklyn (November 2-4, 2007). The line up featured original members Gerry Roslie on vocals/keyboards, Larry Parypa on guitar and Rob Lind on tenor sax; with Ricky Lynn Johnson (of The Wailers) on drums and Don Wilhelm (of The Daily Flash) on bass and vocals.
In 2008, The Sonics recorded a live session for Mark Lamarr's BBC Radio 2 show God's Jukebox on March 22. They played their first ever shows in London on Friday March 21 and Sunday March 23.
Since then, they have played the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, followed by Bilbao, then Belgium, Norway, and the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria in the Basque Country.
Their first show in their home region since their last Seattle reunion in 1972 was on Halloween 31 October 2008 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, where they were introduced and joined onstage for a couple numbers by Steven Van Zandt. Kent Morrill (front man of the Wailers) made a surprise appearance to help sing his signature song "Dirty Robber". Bob Bennett was also present to sit in on drums albeit only for a few songs and only while Ricky Lynn Johnson played in unison.
* Here Are the Sonics (Etiquette Records, 1965)
* Merry Christmas (Etiquette, 1965)
* Boom (Etiquette, 1966)
* Introducing The Sonics (Jerden, 1967)
* Explosives (Buckshot, 1973)
* Live Fanz Only (Etiquette, 1986)
* The Savage Young Sonics (Norton, 2001)
* The Sonics - Busy Body!!! Live in Tacoma 1964 (Norton 2007)
* "The Witch"/"Keep A-Knockin'" (Etiquette, 1964)
* "The Witch"/"Psycho" (Etiquette, 1965)
* "Psycho"/"Keep A-Knockin'" (Etiquette, 1965)
* "Boss Hoss"/"The Hustler" (Etiquette, 1965)
* "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark"/"Shot Down" (Etiquette, 1965)
* The Sonics' "Don't Believe In Christmas"/The Wailers' "Christmas Spirit" (Etiquette, 1965)
* "Cinderella"/"Louie Louie" (Etiquette, 1965)
* "You Got Your Head On Backwards"/"Love Light" (Jerden, 1966)
* "Like No Other Man"/"Love Light" (Jerden, 1966)
* "The Witch"/"Like No Other Man" (Jerden, 1966)
* "Psycho"/"Maintaining My Cool" (Jerden, 1966)
* "Love-itis"/"You're In Love" (Jerden, 1967)
* "Lost Love"/"Any Way The Wind Blows" (Piccadilly, 1967)
* "Any Way The Wind Blows"/"Lost Love" (UNI, 1967)
* "Dirty Old Man"/"Bama Lama Bama Loo" (Burdette, 1975)
* "The Witch"/"Bama Lama Bama Loo" (Great Northwest, 1979)
* "The Witch"/"Keep A-Knockin'" (Norton, 1998)
* "Psycho"/"Have Love Will Travel" (Norton, 1998)
* "Cinderella"/"He's Waitin'" (Norton, 1998)
* "Boss Hoss"/"The Hustler" (Norton, 1998)
* "Strychnine"/"Shot Down" (Norton, 1998)
* The Sonics' "Louie Louie"/The Wailers' "Louie Louie" (Norton, 1998)
* "Don't Believe In Christmas"/"Santa Claus" (Norton, 1998)