Almost 10 years ago, a new band ambled on stage at the Keg, a seedy hard-rock bar in Glover Park. Overkill, then Washington's only punk band, had agreed to yield the stage so that this new outfit could perform the five songs from its debut record, "Hot and Cool." They played the five, plus an encore. Those were all the songs they knew.
Overkill broke up in a matter of months. The Keg was bulldozed a few years later. But the musicians who premiered that night, the Slickee Boys, are still around. They'll mark the anniversary with shows this Friday and Saturday at the 9:30 club.
Only two of the 1976 Slickees are still with the band, but "Hot and Cool" still seems an apt blueprint for the Slickees. It contained rockabilly ("Brand New Cadillac"), British acid blues (the Yardbirds' "Psychodaisies") and the band's own goofball psychedelia ("Manganese Android Puppies"). It also demonstrated the Slickees' dedication to the local scene with a cover of "What a Girl Can't Do," a regional hit for a mid-'60s Washington band, the Hangmen. A rave-up version of the "Exodus" theme showcased both lead guitarist Marshall Keith's prowess and the band's irreverent pop appetite.sk,2
The Slickees' '60s sources have sometimes led to their being pegged as mere revivalists, especially since the garage-band renaissance that the Slickees partially inspired. These days, rhythm guitarist Martin (Kim) Kane notes that audiences sometimes complain his band is not sufficiently faithful to its roots.
But Kane, who is in many ways the band's auteur, never intended to re-create the look and sound of the "Shindig" era. He never even experienced that era, at least not firsthand. A State Department brat, he spent his teen years in the Far East, where he developed a taste for East-meets-West cultural cacophony.
"I like that weirdness," says Kane, who calls the Slickees' sound "Korean-viewed American music." ("Slickee Boys," in fact, was the GI name for the Korean street punks, frequently orphans, who supported their taste for American pop culture with petty crimes and hustles.)
The other current Slickees are drummer Dan Palenski, who has been around since the band's second record, singer Mark Noone and bassist John Chumbris. Among the alumni are singer Martha Hull, now of girl-group revivalists the Dynettes, and bassist Howard Wuelfing, a rock writer who led the Nurses before becoming a record company publicist.
Keith, Noone and Chumbris survive on their earnings from the band, though Kane calls their existence "real poverty-level." Palenski, who has four children to support, works at a printing plant, while Kane has the same job he had when the Slickees first formed, "building services manager" at an elementary school. Chumbris, the band's newest member, is 24; the others are all in their early thirties.
The Slickees' biggest success so far has been "When I Get to the Beach," an early-'80s single also available on the "Cybernetic Dreams of Pi" album. Kane describes it as "an extremely small little hit." The video from the song was only a runner-up in MTV's "Basement Tapes" competition, but it was allowed on to the cable channel anyway. The song has become a warm-weather perennial on WHFS-FM and, as spring break approached this year, MTV once again slipped the video into rotation. Despite this success, the band has not released another video. "We got so tired of videos," explains Kane.
The quintet's next album, tentatively titled "The Slickee Boys Die and Go to Hell," has been recorded, but a label is still being sought. The band is trying to get a release from its contract with Twintone, the small Minneapolis label that issued its last two albums.
Most of the Slickees' releases have been recorded at small, technically limited local studios and have often included older songs. Kane says the new project is "a real-sounding record for once, with all new material." Writing new songs is a priority now, says the guitarist, "so we don't get dragged into being the good old Slickee Boys."
The band hopes to precede the album with a 12-inch single this summer and to support it with a major tour. This time the Slickees, who have never played west of Minneapolis or east of Boston, would like to make it to Europe, where their records have long sold well.
An artist and designer who creates the band's record covers, Kane draws upon both American pop art and traditional oriental sources. He's at work on a new guitar body based on a Kabuki face-mask motif. Kane promises new and more offbeat sets and costumes for the band. "That flannel look really bothers me," he says.
Kane is considering quitting his job and devoting all his energies to the band, which has decided to mark its 10th anniversary with a major push. Still, he remains realistic. Could the Slickee Boys ever become major-label rock stars? Can they release singles that become more than extremely minor small little hits?
"I'm always so pessimistic," Kane replies. "I would say no."
He admits to mixed feelings about his band's surviving 10 years without any support from the rock establishment. "I'm kind of proud of it and kind of disgusted, too," he says.
"It's amazing. Of course," Kane says, laughing, "people may be saying, 'It's amazing, but who cares?' "