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Mario Monterosso Reimagines Sun Records History With Heathens’ “Steady Girl”

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One of the great recent moments in Memphis music history was the discovery (by collector Frank Bruno) of an acetate by a little-known group of Memphis teenagers, recorded at Sun in its heyday. The tracks, two takes of the song "Steady Girl," by the Heathens, were originally shelved by Sun, but released last year by the Black & Wyatt label.

The greatness of the tracks was not due to any virtuoso performances, nor any achievements in song craft, but rather to the infectious, unhinged teen energy that still springs from the vinyl six  decades later. Bruno calls it "the first garage rock recording of all time," and he may be right. But the real magic is in the mania of the band, who collectively stomp through the song with abandon — and little regard for conventions of arrangement or tempo. 
FRANK BRUNO
  • Frank Bruno

Now, we have a follow-up record, also on Black & Wyatt, by guitar slinger Mario Monterosso. Readers of the Flyer know his name well, and of how he moved into the Memphis music scene three years ago via his association with Tav Falco. Nowadays Monterosso is a fixture of sorts, often to be seen at the Blues City Cafe or Hernando's Hide-A-Way. Now he's even more emblematic of the local scene, with a single cut at Sun Records as his calling card.

The irony is that, of all the classic songs and performances captured on tape at 706 Union Avenue, the Heathens' unreleased bit of wax may be the most inimitable. How to pay tribute to a performance so raw, it makes legendary outsiders the Shaggs sound like the Supremes? Monterosso wisely sidesteps the question by giving the song a complete makeover.

Yes, the words and basic structure of "Steady Girl" are intact, but here they're transformed into a formidable, propulsive rockabilly number, complete with all the classic guitar licks. Sacrificing the original's glorious amateurism, this new take gives the song a new forward momentum. What was once a jalopy now purrs along like a Ford Fairlane, even sporting a fresh coat of minor chords in the bridge for something extra plush. Atop it all are Monterosso's on-point vocals, which convey a bit of the swagger of Jerry Lee Lewis, peppered with more hopeful elements of cheer.



The A-side is plenty listenable, but so is Monterosso's original on the flip. "Waiting for a Beer," presumably penned by the singer after experiencing poor table service in Memphis, is a reliable country song about "waiting on a beer not to feel lonely." Ah yes, how good things will be once that frothy mug appears! This track echoes later-period Jerry Lee Lewis, when he was king of "I-40 Country." Here, the addition of Rob Haynes on piano to the core band of Steve Clark (upright bass) and Aaron Mlasko (drums) grounds the groove in a perfect boogie-woogie country shuffle. All in all, a solid showing from a player who's been adopted by this city as one of her own. 

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