Three garage rock titans take over the Highland Strip this Saturday when the Oblivians, Jack O and the Sheiks, and the Leather Uppers play Newby's in celebration of Eric Friedl's 50th birthday. As the founder of Goner Records and member of bands like Bad Times, True Sons of Thunder, the Dutch Masters, and the New Memphis Legs, Freidl has been an integral part of the Memphis garage-rock scene for decades. We caught up with Friedl the week before his 50th birthday party to find out more about Saturday's blowout. — Chris Shaw
Memphis Flyer: How did the show come about and what made you want to host it at Newby's?
Eric Friedl: We wanted to do something around my birthday and get a bunch of people in town to basically just have a good time. We looked around, and, by the time we had everything in order to book it, everywhere we'd normally play was unavailable. Jack had already been booked at Newby's for that date, so we just decided to piggyback on his show.
The other thing that was attractive about Newby's is that we've never played a show there, so it's kind of new territory for us. I have no idea how many people they can fit in there or how many people will be able to get in. There are people driving in from Austin for this show and other places, so it should be pretty interesting.
When the band was more active, did you guys ever play the Highland Strip?
Oblivians never did, but my other band True Sons of Thunder made it over there a couple times. We played the Rally Point, and I'm pretty sure we played the side room in Newby's one time. The Rally Point may have been the worst venue I've ever played in or been in. That place was bizarre; it was unbelievable.
Is this the only local show currently booked for the Oblivians?
I think this is it as far as local shows go, at least for now. We are playing the In the Red birthday party in Los Angeles in July, and doing some European dates in July as well. Jack (Yarber) and Greg (Cartwright) have their own things going on, so we just fit the Oblivians in when it makes sense for everyone to do it. It'll be a good mix because the Oblivians kind of know what we're doing, but Jack's band is incredible right now. They have been killing it lately.
Let's talk about the Leather Uppers. They've been around about as long as the Oblivians right?
They started in the mid '90s, and they released a bunch of 45s that were later compiled into an LP by this guy Ryan Richardson. He's basically like an archivist or a librarian when it comes to collecting.
The Leather Uppers were just this really raw and funny three piece. They existed in their own world, and they were one of those bands who, when we first started doing Gonerfest, we knew we had to have them play. It was kind of like "We will probably never get to see them otherwise, so let's just ask and see if they'll come down." They said yes, and they're just a great, ridiculously fun band. Saturday's show will be their only U.S. appearance.
What is the Leather Uppers relationship with Goner like?
After Ryan released the singles compilation on his label, we released their follow-up album. By the time our record came out, the band had kind of moved on, but Ryan still had all those copies of the record he released, so we bought them from him and repackaged it as a Goner release.
How'd they get on the bill?
I already had the Gories play my wedding, so I wasn't going to ask them again. I started thinking about who I'd like to see, and I thought "I'll ask the Leather Uppers," and they said yes again. They are a two piece now, but they agreed to do it.
At this level, they aren't doing it to make a bunch of money or anything like that. They are basically just interested in coming down and spending a weekend in Memphis in between playing crazy rock-and-roll. They are both living in Canada, so I think they are excited about coming down.
50 is a pretty major milestone in terms of being a touring musician. You've been playing with this band longer than some of your fans have been alive.
The Oblivians has been a great opportunity to make noise that turned into an opportunity to travel and meet new people. We're playing Finland in July, and I've never been to Finland. That's not a place I could just go by myself. As long as we are having fun and it makes sense to do the band, we're going to do it.
We're not out to change the world, but writing a new record a few years ago was a kick in the pants and kept us from playing the same songs that are almost 30 years old at this point. We never set out to do much with the band, and we've exceeded all our expectations, so there's no reason not to keep it going. If it gets to the point where we feel like geezers up there, we will stop playing, or other people will tell us to stop playing.
The Oblivians, Leather Uppers, and Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks, Saturday, April 2nd at Newby's. 8 p.m. $15 admission.