L.A.'s the Sloths Crawl Back From the Grave
Photos by Art Tavana
Written by Art Tavana/LA Weekly
Jason Voorhees' gimmick in Friday the 13th is that he never stays dead. He's the campy horror equivalent of '60s garage rock, back from the grave whenever we need knuckle-dragging escapism to tickle our prepubescent fancy.
In 1964, British Invasion-aping garage rock was sexing up the Sunset Strip, as clubs feverishly booked bands with a rudimentary training in the blues, and a master's understanding of how to turn rock standards into libido-boosting shakedowns. Beverly Hills High School's The Sloths were one of those bands.
Between 1964 and '66, the Sloths opened for the Doors, the Animals and Pink Floyd, and managed to release a crude, nearly improvised single, "Makin' Love," which was too sexy for mid-'60s radio. But by the summer '66, they were done; buried alive, it would seem, under the murky swamps of the hippie riots on the Strip, frequent LSD trips, and law school for original guitarist Jeff Briskin.
Then, in 1984, unbeknownst to them, a 24-year-old record store clerk named Tim Warren (founder of Crypt Records), included "Makin' Love" on the fourth volume of his legendary garage-rock compilation Back From the Grave. By 2011, the rare Impression Records' single of The Sloths' "Makin' Love," with a folk-rock B-side titled "You Mean Everything to Me," was selling for $6,500.
In 2011, fanzine Ugly Things tracked down The Sloths to document their history, and help rerelease "Makin' Love." Briskin -- a practicing attorney -- actually had to hire a private detective to track down his former bandmates.
Of the five "long hairs" that founded the Sloths in '64, only guitarist Michael Rummans remains. Two of the original members have passed away, and Briskin, who got the band back together, played several shows before returning full-time to his law practice in 2013.
"This is the same dream I've had since I was 15 years old," says Rummans. "It's not about the money, it's about the art."
Later this month, Echo Park's hippie commune, Lolipop Records, along with Fullerton's Burger Records, will revive the lost rump of the '60s with a joint release titled, The Sloths: Back From the Grave. The new LP will include eight original songs that sound like melted-together scraps of metal from Detroit proto-punk, '80s power-pop and rockabilly, with vocals that resemble Alice Cooper covering stuff off David Lee's Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile.
Moccasin boot-wearing hippies probably won't get it, the same way L.A. didn't get Alice Cooper. But 50 years later, The Sloths aren't trying to ape The Rolling Stones. The only cover on the record is an unknown Jerry McCain blues hopper from 1955, "A Cutie Named Judy." There's also a Holly Beth Vincent-penned song, "Never Enough Girls," which was originally written for Joey Ramone.
"Let me tell you something," says lead singer Tom McLoughlin, now in his sixties, still the same skinny long hair that got kicked out of seven different high schools for refusing to get a haircut. "Do you know when I wanted to do this? Fifty fucking years ago."
The rebellious son of a professional magician and fire-eater, McLoughlin never fit in anywhere. He's not even The Sloths' original singer. He once fronted the mid-'60s garage rockers The May Wines, an offshoot of the original Sloths -- but by the '70s, he had left music altogether. Still, McLoughlin, who looks like an ageless Rolling Stone, was the natural pick to front the new Sloths.
His songwriting partner and founding member of the Sloths, Michael Rummans, never left music. After the band broke up, Rummans continued to play with garage-rockers the Yellow Payges and the Kingbees, before getting a degree in music. Today, Rummans can scientifically break down a Bo Diddley riff, or explain (in dry, technical detail) the smooth motion of John Entwistle's finger-picking on The Who's "Boris the Spider." He's nearly the antithesis of his lead singer, who turns a discussion about bass technique into NSFW jabber.
"The girl's must have loved him," says McLoughlin, the band's Iggy Pop, whose career has included a year in Paris under the tutelage of mime master Marcel Marceau, limousine rides with Eddie Van Halen, and writing/directing 1986's Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
Onstage, he brings out showbiz pizzazz with all the Hollywood trappings of what he describes as one "huge movie scene," which includes cutting himself with prop knives and handing out maracas to the crowd during their redone, "Sympathy for the Devil"-like version of "Makin' Love." (For Rummans, the difference between the new version and the classic is less about showmanship, and more about music science: "You can actually hear the bass now.")
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The Sloths at a recent rehearsal
McLoughlin is also their biggest cheerleader. While lecturing at Chapman University last year, he drove about ten minutes north to Burger Records in Fullerton to meet Sean Bohrman, the co-founder of the label. "I emailed him first," he says, "He wrote back saying, 'Sloths. Horror. Hell yeah!'
Prior to that, the Sloths were just another DIY band, playing any show they could get. A few months later, they were recording their first record in 50 years, with the support of a garage-rock empire in Burger and Lolipop, both of which salivate at the thought of unearthing an old sound and Frankensteining it into something new, like Jason Voorhees crawling out his grave.
When McLoughlin talks about the current garage rock revival, his eyes light up -- he's back in the '60s, fronting The May Wines and playing Pandora's Box: "The vinyl records, the 'familiar scent' drifting from the back room, the cloths, length of hair, terms 'stoked,' 'rad,' and then onstage performing for crowds that I swear are the kids I was going to school with in the 1960s."
Following the release of the new record in March, The Sloths will be headed out on their first-ever tour, which includes a showcase at SXSW and Houston's House of Creeps this weekend. "This could be the 'Grumpy Old Men Comedy Tour,'" says McLoughlin, "Regardless it will be an adventure!"
The fact that it took them 50 years to bring The Sloths back to life should be expected. They're sloths, the world's slowest three-toed mammal -- with one hell of a prolonged comeback.
The Sloths perform Saturday night alongside Silver Blueberry, Megafauna, Corner and Spare Bones at Houston House of Creeps, 807 William. Show starts at 9 p.m.
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