It's hard to believe it now, but before 1989 no band had ever combined the explosive elements of white trash culture, Dada art, and Chuck Berry. There was a gaping hole in the fabric of popular entertainment, and the New Duncan Imperials sewed it up.
Springing to life in Chicago almost 20 years ago, the band startled the club scene with its overpowering live show and reckless disregard for boundaries, confronting unsuspecting crowds with a blizzard of gloriously heavy riffage and free-association lyrics that ran the course from the Brady Bunch to Friedrich Nietzsche. Competing with the music was a twisted stage show bristling with irrational contests, alarming free giveaways, and the most distinctive look of any band within miles. In the years since their inception, bands and trends have come and gone, but the New Duncan Imperials have remained an entertainment juggernaut.
More than any of their peers, The New Duncan Imperials love rock enough to know how truly silly it is. Their history is written in smoke, noise, and nonsense, and it is an inspiring example of what three young men can do with a few stolen riffs, a few dubious ideas, and a few heads of brocolli.
As the three main members of the seminal 1980's Chicago band The Service, Pigtail (guitar, vocals), Skipper (bass, vocals), and Goodtime (drums, no vocals) toured the country performing raw, heartfelt music for tiny crowds in tiny bars for almost a decade. The experience was priceless, but after ten years the rewards were diminishing. What to do?
The solution, as it turned out, was to not care. One day they simply chucked it all over the side and began again. The Service was disbanded, and the three core members began a new group with a new mindset: "It Don't Matter." They returned to the their roots, which turned out to be tangled up in the absurdity of their shared 1970's adolescence. Somewhere between velour shirts, Ted Nugent, and a warm Old Style tall-boy, they found their true calling.
Playing "anywhere, any time, for any amount of money," the band began popping up at dive bars and backyard parties. Word of mouth gave them a cult following within months, and within a year they were playing Chicago's best clubs, every performance a packed, sweaty affair with fanatics jammed against the stage, singing every word to every song. Among the highlights of the early days was a sold-out concert at Cabaret Metro, which also provided footage for their first video.
But there were plenty of popular bands, and many of them were nearly as entertaining as NDI. What set these white trash heroes apart was their joyous approach to self-promotion. They soaked the labels off peanut butter jars and created—and sold--their own brand; mailed thrift-store TV's with a band photo taped to the screen to local DJ's and club owners; starred in a series of their own comic books, baseball cards, and calendars; took hundreds of fans on a Lake Michigan booze cruise for five years running; performed live on Danny Bonaducci's drive-time radio show on the Loop; and hired opening acts that included exotic animal shows, nationally famous jugglers, inept local magicians, and mariachi bands. And this is just a partial list. NDI never rested, never settled for a plain old rock show, never took one fan for granted. Their reward was a core of fanatic followers that followed them to shows hundreds of miles away, started NDI cover bands, planned weddings--and one funeral--around gigs, and named their pets (and at least one child) after them.
NDI also took their show on the road, wiping the floor with audiences from Saskatoon to New York City, where they were regulars at CBGB's. A show at the legendary Tipitina's in New Orleans resulted in a permanent ban from the club (a marshmallow fight ruined the carpeting), and an appearance at an outdoor festival in Finland with an oblivious Jimmy Cliff coincided with the band releasing a single sung in Finnish and extolling the joy of vodka and stadium sausages.
In Winnipeg, their fame was such that they were asked to make a special appearance on the 10 o'clock news. There were also countless radio interviews, usually full of half-truths and often quite bizarre, and almost as many frantic in-store acoustic performances.
And then there are the recordings. The debut, the chaotic Hanky Panky Parley Voo,has sold nearly 25,000 copies since its release in 1989. The current discography includes [how many? we can't count that high] releases, from full-length studio efforts to live powerhouses to collections of oddities, commercials, interviews, and accidents. The new album, End of Phase One, is their first in nearly eight years. Bristling with the kind of straight-ahead-yet-twisted songs that characterize their best work, this albumreveals a band that is tough, vital, and still poking rock in the ribs.
The endless energy and rabid imagination that the NDI have brought to the concept of being in a rock band has led more than one observer, usually the person introducing them at a benefit concert, to pronounce them "legends." Maybe they are. Rock could use more legends like the New Duncan Imperials, who don't take being a legend too seriously, who realize that entertaining the fans is the only thing that matters, and who stop at nothing to prove to every audience that rock and roll is still the greatest--and the silliest--show on earth.
--from the fine folks at Pravda Records