Earlier this month, Fat Possum Records announced that the label would grant a long-overdue reissue campaign to the second and third Grifters full-lengths, 1993's One Sock Missing and 1994's Crappin' You Negative (title taken from one of the best lines in Raising Arizona). Both albums, along with a slew of related 7"s and an EP, were originally released by our own Shangri-La Records but had fallen out of print during the post-millennial years, especially on vinyl.
The Grifters, formed by Stan Gallimore (drums), Tripp Lamkins (bass), Dave Shouse (vocals, guitar), and Scott Taylor (vocals, guitar) in 1990 out of the ashes of A Band Called Bud, had already hit the road hard and built a small nationwide following after the release of their 1992 debut So Happy Together. When they dropped sophomore effort One Sock Missing in 1993, the band garnered its next level of attention. Either unfairly lumped into the then-exploding Lo-Fi scene or the deconstructionist blues leanings of the also popular Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Grifters really sounded like very few of their contemporaries.
Dark, heavy, extremely noisy, fatalist, and often very catchy, the band made the absolute most out of the economical accommodations provided by Easley Studios, creating layer upon layer of noise pop in which there was actually quite a bit going on to the attentive ear. Printing Easley's phone number in all of their liner notes was also a huge driving force in making the studio a major destination (Pavement, Sonic Youth, etc.) as the middle of the decade played out.
It could also be argued that this era of the Grifters played a big hand in spreading Ohio's Guided by Voices to a larger underground audience, as both bands often found themselves touring together. One Sock Missing contains veritable Grifters' classics "Bummer," "She Blows Blasts of Static" (also a stand-alone 7" on Shangri-La), "Corolla Hoist," the brooding urban-psych nightmare of "Just Passing Out," and wailing emotional catastrophe, "Encrusted," among many others.
1994's Crappin' You Negative was a noticeable step forward and capitalized on the momentum achieved by slightly scaling back on the abstract dissonance and songs that just fell apart out of nowhere. Local shows had become capacity affairs at the Antenna and Barristers, and the Grifters were getting a ton of great press nationwide. Crappin' You Negative, also recorded at Easley, kicks off with the bulldozing "Rats" and, like its predecessors, isn't afraid to delve into the darker, more depressed enclaves of early '90s indie rock with songs like "Dead Already," "Junkie Blood," and "Black Fuel Incinerator." Each album side closes with one of the Grifters' great sleeper "hits"; the plodding-but-beautiful dirge of "Felt Tipped Over" on the A-side and the stumbling power-pop brilliance of "Cinnamon."
Live shows, of which quite a few serve as formative memories for this writer, could be a total mess or could be transcendent but were always worth seeing as the Grifters really made one proud to claim Memphis as a home base. As mentioned above, the band was getting noticed outside of town in magazines like Spin, and following a set at CBGB in NYC in 1994, The New York Times wrote:
"Beneath the fuzz and the clatter, the secrets of the band's underground allure lay intact. The guitars were dipped deep in the blues tradition of their hometown, and the rhythm section often took detours into jazz. Mr. Shouse had a sixth sense for pop melody that made the audience work to retrieve the perfect pop pearl that lay inside cracked new rockers."
Fat Possum's release date for the two reissues is August 12th. Record label head honcho Bruce Watson explained that this project was a long time in the making.
"I'd always been a big fan, and we started talks with the band and Sherman (Willmott, of Shangri-La Projects/Records) around the turn of the year, and everyone came to an agreement about us buying the masters and making this stuff available on vinyl again," Watson said.
"There isn't any bonus material, because I don't think any existed really, but each album will have great liner notes by Andria Lisle."