Collision Course

The garage rock career of Russell Quan has been one long train wreck

After the Horseless Headmen dissolved in 1987, Quan gave up being a frontman and became the Creeple Peeples' drummer. "You've got nothing to protect yourself except for a microphone," Quan says, explaining his retreat behind the skins. The Peeples lasted two years, playing the kind of distorto-punk found on the Nuggetsand Pebbles compilations. When the act broke up, the band's organist, Trent Ruane, formed the Mummies, with Quan on drums, Maz Kattuah on bass, and Larry Winther on guitar. (Winther would go on to play in local indie pop act the Orange Peels.)

Mike Lucas remembers the Mummies' first show, which the Phantom Surfers played as well. "We had a song called 'Sandtrap Stomp,'" Lucas says. "We had golf pants and an exploding golf ball, and we asked Russell to wear the pants and hit the ball into the audience. He bit the ball instead, and it exploded in his mouth."

The Mummies' reputation for irreverence grew rapidly. But beyond the shtick -- the musicians played wrapped in gauze, drove a hearse to shows, and posed with topless chicks on their 7-inches -- the group made terrific music filled with surfy licks and blaring organ fills. English garage icon Billy Childish was so enamored of the band that he released Fuck CDs -- It's the Mummieson his own U.K. label, Hangman. The Mummies toured Europe twice, including an infamous 1993 jaunt with locals Supercharger, and opened for big-name '60s acts like the Syndicate of Sound. The quartet helped spur on the growing garage scene, which now included groups such as the Trashwomen, Vanilla Whores, and 8-Ball Scratch.

Akim Aginsky


Friday, July 5

The Riff Randells and the Orphans open at 9:30 p.m.

Tickets are $5


The Tempest, 431 Natoma (between Fifth and Sixth streets), S.F.

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"It's funny how that stuff got kind of trendy; I never thought that would happen," Quan says. "In the '70s that music was looked down upon as trashy throwaway, which it was, but it's just the best fucking music ever made, as far as I'm concerned."

Following the breakup of the Mummies in 1993, Quan kicked his playing into high gear. "He was in something crazy like 10 bands at once," says "Peeping John" McDonald. "A lot of bands wouldn't have been around without him."

Quan joined the Count Backwurds, the Phantom Surfers, the Maybellines, and the Bobbyteens, along with other more short-lived garage combos, most of which played at the now-defunct Purple Onion, the heart of the S.F. garage rock scene. As for why he wanted to be in the Count Backwurds, Quan says, "I thought it'd be great to be in a band with 'Peeping John,' because he's such a great singer -- and such a little shit." He's equally saucy about drumming for the Surfers, a band that had already ridden the crest of the surf revival. "Before I joined, the Surfers were a good band, playing good music," he says. "But then they decided to make fun of everything, including themselves ... I joined in the Vanilla Ice period; I bought into the stock when it was worthless."

Quan's band with the biggest profile was the Bobbyteens, fronted by his longtime girlfriend, Tina Lucchesi. (Their relationship ended in 2000, but the pair continue to play together.) The outfit's mixture of bubble-gum raunch and girl glam-pop paved the way for the Donnas, who were shepherded by Bobbyteens producer and one-time Supercharger Darin Raffaelli.

But of all the groups Quan's been in, the Dukes of Hamburg comes the closest to realizing the sweet beat sound of the mid-'60s. The Dukes were conceived in 1996 by Thilo Pieper, a German native who had booked the Mummies' tours in Europe and had moved to the Bay Area to study at the Academy of Art. "The idea was to cover the Kinks covering Bo Diddley songs -- drink 10 cups of coffee and play them all too fast," Quan says, laughing.

Following three vinyl full-lengths on Dionysus, the Dukes recorded Some Folks with the lineup of Pieper on guitar, Steve Cirelli on drums, Benjamin Day on bass, Chris Imlay of the Hi-Fives on guitar, and Quan back out front on vocals. "That [record] was Thilo's opportunity to polish the turd," Quan says, somewhat ruefully. "There's actually a mid and low range to it. It sounds pretty good -- I just can't stand the sound of my own voice."

Quan's being modest. If Some Folks is certainly the clearest-sounding record of his bulging oeuvre, it is also the most authentic. You could easily throw the group's versions of "Little by Little," "Off the Hook," and "Boom Boom" in with the Rolling Stones' and the Animals', and no one would know the difference. And the Dukes' cover of "Hey Joe" features serrated guitar and vocals sharp enough to cut Jimi Hendrix in two. The one bad thing about the record: It is the Dukes' swan song; Pieper has now returned to Germany.

Quan has no plan to stop playing. Although he admits to feeling the ravages of time, he mentions five bands he's currently in -- the Bobbyteens, the Flakes, the Easys, the Maybellines, and the Phantom Surfers -- as well as a sixth he's been asked to join -- the Magic Christians, featuring Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies. In the end, though, Quan reiterates that he and his friends aren't doing anything important. "Some of the music is pretty listenable, but on the whole it's mostly a train wreck."

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