Mono-Tone Records in France has seemingly done the impossible and rounded up a proper full-length collection documenting Memphis’ legendary all-female punk quartet, THE KLITZ, with Rocking the Memphis Underground 1978-1980. Formed sometime around 1978, the band was initially comprised of Gail Elise Clifton (vocals), Lesa Aldridge (guitar), Marcia Clifton (drums), and Amy Gassner, who was later recruited to play bass.
The group was encouraged and fostered by Alex Chilton, and shortly after forming they became a fixture of Memphis’ hip Midtown art scene. Big Star fans may recognize these LX Chilton protégés from their connections to the ill-fated power pop groups’ history; probably most importantly guitarist Lesa’s near-mythical role as his muse during the recording sessions for the band’s legendary Third album.
But, we’re here today to talk about The Klitz, and fans of the aforementioned group won’t find much in the way of power pop on here. What you’ll get instead is some artfully damaged and deconstructed sides of Memphis punk. While the groups’ nihilistic attitude and approach does put them in the same camp as some of their other punk and no wave peers, there’s a certain quality that sets them apart. The recordings gathered on here come from various sources recorded around their hometown both live and in studio. All of it is definitely on the lo-fi end of the spectrum, which only serves to enhance the ramshackle and wasted vibe the group seems to be going for.
“Two Chords,” recorded during one of their initial recording sessions in 1978 with Sam the Sham (yep, believe it not, the “Wooly Bully” guy) serves as a kind of mission statement for the group. The album also boasts an unsettling clutch of lo-fi tunes recorded in an attic with Chilton such as “Cocaine Blues,” and the accapella “Macabre Lullaby.” Elsewhere, you’ll get a killer live reading of the Cramps’ “TV Set,” which shows the group at the height of its powers, and a wonderfully woozy take on the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” recorded with the legendary Jim Dickinson (who also plays some great sideways sounding bass on the track). The record also includes a wonderful oral history assembled by Ryan Leach that documents the group’s at times inebriated rise and eventual dissolution. Anyone jonesing for more of the weirder edge of Memphis’ late ‘70’s / early ‘80’s downtown punk scene will definitely find a lot to love on here. In the end, The Klitz, during their initial run, burned with a fire that could not be sustained, but during that brief run managed to cut a path that remains unique even today. All they needed were two chords.
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