Concert Review: Issue 73, January 1995

Concert Review: Hi Fi and The Roadburners


Before one can have the slightest grasp of exactly what Hi Fi and the Roadburners did at Spanky's, a little history lesson is in order.
Before one can have the slightest grasp of exactly what Hi Fi and the Roadburners did at Spanky’s, a little history lesson is in order. Issue 73, Janiuary 1995

Before one (l’ve always wanted to use that phrase, it makes me sound professional) can have the slightest grasp of exactly what Hi Fi and the Roadburners did at Spanky’s, a little history lesson is in order. The inside gossip on the band has some relevance too. First, pull out a worn out single copy of Instrumental Madness and listen to it. Since the record is quite rare and it has never been transferred to CD I’ll explain what it contains—rock and roll instrumentals recorded in America around the years 1959 to 1962. After the music has been firmly implanted in your brain, find some old Joe Houston records. They must be the solo recordings, not Houston’s backup work with famous bands.

In the years after rockabilly died, the years when teen idols ruled the charts, before the Beatles and the Beach Boys, before surf music and before ’60s punk these bands were all over America. Their recorded history is possibly more rare than the various other sub-genres of music because they had few hits. Johnny & The Hurricanes, The Fireballs, The Fenderman, The Fabulous Wailers and The Rock-A-Teens are a few familiar names.

Now create in your mind a picture of five greasers dressed in typical 1950s fashions who combine Joe Houston, the instrumental garage bands of the very late ’50s very early ’60s, raw, extremely bare R&B and the punk rock attitudes and musical abilities of the late ’70s. That pretty much sums up Hi Fi and The Roadburners. The inside gossip is that Hi Fi or Erik‘s voice was in bad shape from too many unfiltered Camel cigarettes and too many days on the road—he didn’t sing much this trip through town.

Denis McQuinn is the Joe Houston impersonator who honked out the rock ‘n’ roll. Have you ever wondered why R&B bands are sometimes classified as honkers and shouters? McQuinn gave a demonstration. Jeff Schuch is not a great guitarist. He is a good one. He cranked out the licks on both a Fender and a Gibson throwing surf rockabilly, R&B and just plain garagey rock ‘n’ roll into the mix. Hans Kish, Erik’s brother, hid behind the amps and plucked the electric bass. Dan Curry is the littlest one of the bunch and he is a demon. All good garage bands need a wild man to beat the skins. Curry is very mild and calm off stage, but when he’s on it he’s a thrasher. Erik played rhythm guitar and sang in a raspy voice at times.

Only the hardcore were in attendance and in case you didn’t understand Hi Fi and the band I’ll give my opinion. Much like The Cramps, they’ve taken this ’50s music and mutated it into something strange and wonderful. It’s raw, it’s dissonant, it’s powerful, it’s obnoxious and it’s abrasive. It is not by a long shot rockabilly or even directly rockabilly-influenced. What they play is R&B-inflected rock ‘n’ roll that many have somehow mistaken for rockabilly—the music that followed rockabilly and was overshadowed by Fabian, James Darren and Frankie Avalon. They update it for the ’90s and give a nod to surf music in the process. One cover is all they played. the rest were originals, although one original was a dead ringer for a garage version of “Jet-tone Boogie” and “Something Bad” brought the voodoo specter of “Fortune Teller” to my mind. I paid three bucks for an hour-long show and I felt it was well worth it. They have a new album out on the Victory label—while you are waiting for next month’s SLUG and the review of it, buy a copy of Fear City at the finer shops around town.

Read more from the SLUG Archives here:
Lisa Germano – Interview With A Geek
Feature: Commonplace