A few weeks back I featured Violent Femmes take on Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? while many moons ago over on the old blog I had an in-depth look at the band’s self-titled debut LP. It struck me when reading S-WC’s contribution from yesterday, and the fact that he is 11 years and 363 days younger than me, that many readers may have missed out on the greatest band to ever come out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin given that their best and most enduring material dates back to the early-mid 80s when the likes of S-WC and his peers were maybe just too young to pick up on bands that never had the slightest hope of making it onto Top of The Pops.
They began life as a busking trio consisting of Gordon Gano (vocals and guitar), Brian Ritchie (bass) and Victor DeLorenzo (drums/percussion) in their home town. Legend has it that in August 1981, the late James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders caught them performing on the day his band were playing a show in Milwaukee and invited the trio to open for them. This led to a fair bit of publicity and requests to open for other bands touring the USA and before you know it their records were coming out via Warner Bros. The American Dream in full swing……
The debut LP was released in April 1983. It is the ultimate definition of a slow-burner as it took eight years to be certified platinum, by which time the band had released 5 albums and 9 singles, none of which charted in any meaningful way, although the critical acclaim and the fact that they always put on an entertaining live show meant that they had a fair-sized fan base, particularly in the UK and Australia.
The music at its best has an acoustic bent blending pop, country and folk with many of the songs reflecting on how life doesn’t always turn out as planned. By 1992, the band had gotten a bit tired and briefly split-up reforming again after about 15 months but with Guy Hoffman coming in on drums. This incarnation of the band was very busy throughout the remainder of the decade on the road and in the studio with a further three LPs. It was during this period that the band perhaps got their biggest ever exposure when long-time fan John Cusack had featured the band’s songs in the cult movie Gross Point Blank.
This led to a newer younger fanbase discovering Violent Femmes and so it was no surprise that 20 years on from the release of that amazing debut LP that plans were made to re-release it with a whole number of extras of demo versions, non-LP singles from the period and live tracks. Unlike many such re-issue editions, this didn’t in the slightest detract from the quality.
There was a further fall-out in 2009 when their most famous and enduring song, Blister in The Sun, was licensed for use in a TV ad in the USA. The fact that it was used to promote a burger chain particularly infuriated Brian Ritchie and he attacked Gordon Gano, who ironically is a vegetarian, for putting the band in a situation where this could happen. The band broke-up…
It looked as if that would be it, but in 2013 news came that they were getting back together again in 2013 to promote the 30th Anniversary of the debut LP. Some of you might think that’s just taking nostalgia too far, but believe me, this debut LP is one of the best records ever released and fully deserves to be acknowledged by its makers in every possible way. But in one last surprise, it was revealed that Victor DeLorenzo was not going to be part of the plans, and his place behind the drum kit was taken by Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls.
The band is still going strong and tomorrow night are playing here in the UK in London before appearing at a series of folk/roots/blues festivals across North America in the summer.
Here’s one track from each of the first five LPs plus a live track taken from a 1999 acoustic tour of their home state:-
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Country Death Song
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Special
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Lies
mp3 : Violent Femmes – American Music
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Prove My Love (live)