For nearly 30 years, the Athens, Georgia-incubated Woggles have been steadily flying the flag for raucous and ripping garage rock while the winds of musical change have whipped all around them. But while the term is applicable, lead singer The Mighty Manfred says it can also be limiting.
“What’s not accurate about it is the notion that garage-rock musicians lack ability with their instruments. There’s finesse, but that doesn’t overshadow other elements like angst, emotive quality, putting on a show, and the joy of looseness,” he offers. “There’s an energy and vitality to garage rock outside of technical expertise. It doesn’t have to all be Yngwie Malmsteen!”
The current lineup of the band includes The “Professor” Mighty Manfred (“wailer”), The Fleshammer (“picker” since '03), Buzz Hagstrom (“thumper” since '94) and Dan Elextro (“beater” since '95). The band has put out a wide variety of albums, EPs and singles and appeared on compilations since 1990. The Fleshammer replaced The Mighty Montague, who died that same year and was buried wearing a Woggles T-shirt and with a guitar strap in the casket.
Their most recent long-play effort is 2013’s The Big Beat, and Manfred says they’ve just finished recording the followup, to be titled Tally-Ho! It will be out in late summer on Wicked Cool Records, Little Steven’s boutique label. And, as on the other records, all four members contribute to the songwriting. Manfred says their reasoning is simple.
“It’s not just the same guy writing same song over and over again. We have four different people writing the same song over and over again!” he says. “There’s more material to choose from that way!”
Of course, even if the Woggles aren’t coming to your town, the reach of the Mighty Manfred is indeed mighty. On weekdays you can hear his dulcet speaking tones holding down a three-hour DJ shift on Little Steven’s Underground Garage Sirius/XM channel.
“You want secrets? You’re standing behind the curtain here…it’s all theater of the mind!” he says in mock stentorian fashion before divulging these “secrets”: He usually tapes his show a day in advance, or a week if the Woggles have a tour. He’s been known to put together his show from the back of the band’s touring van. He has access to Little Steven’s “giant playbook” of songs in addition to ones he’ll upload. And while his directive may be to play “one Beatles and one Stones” song an hour, he can choose which one.
The Woggles will appear in Houston opening for the reconstituted ’60s garage-rock legends the Sonics (“Psycho,” “The Witch,” “Dirty Robber,” “Have Love Will Travel”) tonight at the Continental Club. And it’s not their first gig together – both groups shared the bill at a tattoo convention in Austin, where the guys onstage were seemingly the only ink-free people in the building.
“I hear one guy screaming during the Sonics’ set, ‘These guys look like a bunch of dads!’” Manfred recalls. “And then the guy next to him said, ‘Yeah, if your dad was cool.’ I think we mere mortals are lucky to have such gods walk among us like the Sonics still!”
Finally, the Mighty Manfred is hopeful that this visit to the Bayou City will feature…less bayou. The Woggles had the misfortune to have booked a gig at Rudyard’s in 2001 during Tropical Storm Allison – what he and the band were assured was (though Houstonians know better) a “100-year flood.”
“We drove in and it was bad. We played upstairs and normally it would suck because you have to lug your equipment up there. But this time it was great because we were above the water mark,” he remembers.
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Unfortunately, by the time their show was over, water had creeped up the curb and into the club and up the stairwell, keeping them stuck there until about 4:30 a.m. when it finally subsided.
Oddly, Manfred says that Rudyard’s never lost power the entire time. And he was happy that, while their van had some flooding in the back as they were loading equipment back in, it didn’t damage the engine block.
“So we went to this woman named Cathy Cowgirl’s house – she seemed to know everybody – and crashed until about 6 a.m. Then we headed out for Austin,” Manfred says. “I hope the weather is better this time around!”