Georgia Firecrackers

The last time Georgia garage rockers the Woggles played Houston, they hit a high-water mark. Literally. Their show in June 2001 occurred during Tropical Storm Allison, and before the band even got to the club they had an idea that it wasn't going to be just another gig.

Vocalist Manfred "the Professor" Jones picked up the tale over the phone from his home in Atlanta. "Coming in, we were on a raised highway, and I looked off to the side and saw a minivan sinking into the water. The back end was floating up, the hazards were blinking and I watched it go doop, doop, doop… Water was rushing across the interstate and we were crawling along. It certainly was weird."

The adventure continued when they got to the club. "The people at Rudyard's kept saying, 'It never flooded on this street.' Those were pretty proud words. For some strange reason the power never went out upstairs where we were playing. The water came halfway up the staircase. Overall it was a very frustrating night -- the [awful] guitar tone, amp blown up… Everything was just terrible. Our van had a pretty high clearance from the ground so we loaded out a few hours after the show as the waters subsided; we made it over to a friend's house and crashed for several hours. We did manage to get out of Houston and get to Austin, where we had two shows; we played in the afternoon and the evening. That was a long day and a short night before that."

They weren't as fortunate more recently. Tragedy struck the band this May when guitarist George Montague Holton III passed away. "He had entered the hospital with a bladder infection. He also had an infection from impacted wisdom teeth, so they think that between the two infections one or the other or both somehow entered his bloodstream and traveled to his heart and that was it."

Taking over the guitar spot is a member of the extended Woggles family, their producer and ex-Guadalcanal Diary and Hillbilly Frankenstein member Jeff "Flesh Hammer" Walls. The rest of the band remains Dan Electro on drums and Buzz Hagstrom on bass.

The Woggles play high-intensity retro rock. A quote from Lester Bangs about some other band could just as easily have been written about them: "Passion is what it's all about." The band has a reputation for putting on memorable live shows. "Music is a celebration of life; it's supposed to be inspirational and joyous and we try and communicate that to the audience and bring them into that," the Professor declaims. "To me, there's an art to that. Some people think because it's fun it cannot be serious. It doesn't mean that what's created is any less."

Walls produced and played on their new release, Ragged But Right, their fourth full-length studio record in their 15-year career. The disc was engineered by Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids at his Kudzu Ranch studio. Asked at a recent Engine Room SCOTS show about recording the band, Miller quickly warmed to the topic. "I've been wanting to work with the Woggles for a long time…I always thought that the Woggles needed a really good-sounding record. I think it got some of their live energy on some of the songs. Also they really stretched out, and addressed some different things with their music. I think that lyrically it wasn't just about partying anymore; there are some more introspective songs and some psychedelia on there."

The more introspective songs include the Byrdsian "Collector of Broken Hearts" and "Seventh Veil," which adds a sitar to the Northwest sounds of the Sonics/Wailers. Elsewhere they cop a Seeds lick on "Johnny Come Lately," and the lovelorn tale "Night Crawls" ends the disc on a haunting note.

But it's on album opener "People Come On" that the Woggles -- newfound maturity or no -- roar out what remains their manifesto: "It started on the airwaves 50 years ago / Now it's our turn and we can't let go / So get together, people, people come on / Ever felt something so deep in your soul? / You talk about religion -- just rock and roll / Let me share a secret you all already know / Don't worry about tomorrow now let's lose control…"

The band is democratic in their approach to songwriting. The Professor believes this method keeps the Woggles' albums strong from start to finish. "One of the unique things about the band is everybody contributes songs and songwriting ideas; sometimes maybe the group has a bigger hand in arranging them. There are bands I really like and then you get a record and there's one really killer song, then you get to hear four more versions of that song that aren't quite as killer, and then there's a bunch of songs that are mediocre. That's because they rely on one person to write all the material. It's hard coming up with enough good songs to put a record together. So with us it's from four different perspectives, and I think that's a strength of this band."

But the band's forte remains their concerts. Southern Culture's Miller, whose band has toured with the Woggles, is well versed on what usually transpires at Woggles shows. "Expect to dance your ass off, even if you're a total klutz like most guys are," he says. "The nice thing about the Woggles is that you can dance with one beer in your hand. They get the audience involved. It's a high-energy show. Bands like Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind and all that stuff could learn something from the Woggles about putting on a good show. It's showmanship and rock and roll. I don't mean rock and I don't mean roll, I mean rock with the roll. Which is the best kind, 'cause it's hip-shakin' music. I think they're one of the best, if not the best, party band in the States."

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Timothy J. O'Brien