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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Fair
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Vinyl Cave: No Chance Baby! by Oscar and the Majestics

Amongst the fuzz und teenage drang that overflows the excellent 2009 Sundazed comp 2131 South Michigan Avenue, the five tracks by Gary, Indiana, natives Oscar and the Majestics stood as tall as Paul Bunyan among the Seven Dwarfs. That's saying something, 'cause the rest of that three-LP set is uniformly solid to great '60s Midwest garage and pop.

For summer 2011, Sundazed has upped the ante by unleashing a complete album by Oscar Hamod and company. No Chance Baby! includes the five tracks issued by the U.S.A. label, as well as nine more from self-released singles and previously unreleased material. Fans of hard-edged rockers like "Soulfinger" (a recasting of the Bar-Kays hit with vocals) and "Got to Have Your Lovin'" will find even more here to like, but it's not a total fuzz fest either. That was hinted at by the tremolo-driven 2131 South Michigan Avenue track "My Girl is Waiting," featuring a vocal nod back to the doo-wop era. Indeed, the group's 45s cover other '60s rock styles beyond garage rock, from the honkin' sax frat rock of their '63 debut "Jackie Jackie" to hot rod instros like "Top Eliminator" to the near-exotica of "Why-O or Jungle Beat."

The musical diversity of the singles collected on No Chance Baby! makes sense, as it turns out Oscar and the Majestics were a band both before and after the relatively brief original garage punk era, captured on their U.S.A. singles. In fact, the original group never really broke up. Lead singer/guitarist Oscar Hamod explains: "My passion has always been our Oscar and the Majestics' garage rock music. I decided to take selective band gigs and stay focused on writing and creating our music, so I never really took a break from Oscar and the Majestics. All of the original members remain in the northwest Indiana-Chicago area. Sam and I earned our bachelor's and master's degrees. Bob also has a bachelor's degree. Sam and I taught at the high school level in Lansing, Illinois. We retired from teaching so we could concentrate on Oscar and the Majestics performing and promoting our recorded music."

"Sam" is Oscar's brother, Sam Hamod, who plays bass, and "Bob" is Bob Wheeler, holding down the drums. Those three have formed the core of the group since the mid-'60s; earlier incarnations of the group were around as early as 1960 and often included another Hamod brother, Bud, who "played a little bit of everything," as Sam notes in the album's liner notes. As recounted in Jeff Jarema's notes, the group started by playing shows at the family business, the Broadway Lounge. But as a following grew, they soon took a more DIY approach to the music business by renting halls and putting on shows themselves, as well as playing clubs throughout the greater Chicago area and neighboring states.

"There have been many exciting, great Oscar ATM shows over the years," says Oscar Hamod. "We love to perform live so we will perform to support our Sundazed album. As a band we perform a select number of other artists' songs. The audience always requests our original music, so we play it. We like to mix things up too and give the audience a happy, exciting, fun and memorable experience."

Their recording career followed a similar take charge approach, with the group renting studio time, serving as their own producer and -- other than the sides leased to U.S.A. -- issuing the 45s themselves. Along with the earlier material there's more garage rock to be had than what appeared on the U.S.A. compilation, including a couple songs taken from acetates and what has to be the most fuzzed out "House of the Rising Sun" ever.

So I had to ask Oscar how he got that sound: "My original rare 1958 Gibson Explorer guitar has a lot to do with my fuzz guitar sound. I would drive my Fender tube amp to the limit slightly blowing the speakers, which created my unique fuzz sound. Add in my '60s fuzz pedal with my original style of guitar playing and we created our fuzz Oscar and the Majestics recordings. Sam says I enjoy being referred to as 'fuzz master' and 'fuzz king' on various websites and writings about Oscar and the Majestics."

Those are both apt descriptions. But as No Chance Baby! proves, there's more to the group's music than delightfully buzzing guitar. This album is highly recommended for fans of '60s Midwest rock. There's also a single available with an alternate version of "I Can't Explain," which I will be tracking down ASAP! (Sundazed, 2011)

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