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The Boston Phoenix
January 7 - 14, 1999

Sex and moonshine

The Raging Teens get happy

Cellars by Starlight by Brett Milano

Raging Teens Legend has it that seminal English punks the Jam used to get slammed in the British press for being too much into Mod-era revivalism. At a London gig in 1977, frontman Paul Weller responded in kind: he came on stage wearing a sign around his neck that read, "How can I be a fucking revivalist when I'm only 19?"

One might ask a similar question about the Raging Teens, one of the youngest and feistiest of Boston's rockabilly bands. Like their buddies the Racketeers, they're out to fight the sterility they find in modern rock by going back to the source and playing the old style as faithfully as possible. The twist is that three-quarters of the Raging Teens were barely around for the '70s, let alone the '50s. When the band formed two years ago, everybody but lead singer/rhythm guitarist Kevin Patey was a genuine teenager. Relative old-timer Patey has a few band credits, including the Celtic-rocking Shaggahs and the rockabilly diva Miss Xanna Don't; he was also in the Moving Targets "for about two weeks, before Kenny Chambers decided he didn't want a second guitar player."

The Raging Teens borrowed their name from a series of compilation CDs that came out five years ago spotlighting long-lost singles from New England rockabilly cats. The band's Raging Teens CD looks like one of those compilations, and darned if it doesn't sound like one too. The songs are tight (11 in 23 minutes), catchy, and full of the sex-and-moonshine-infused mania that drove the best Sun-era singles. And the Teens' not-quite-secret weapon is lead-guitarist Amy Griffin: prone to teased hair and Elly May Clampett dresses, she's about the last person you'd expect to see firing off the killer Link Wray/Scotty Moore-inspired leads she dishes out.

"She's like this child genius," Patey enthuses. "She does landscaping for a living, and she can tell you the molecular breakdown of a virus in your body when you're sick. She had a pretty kooky upbringing -- her mom was a teacher who wouldn't let the kids watch TV, so they'd go listen to records or learn to play piano instead. When she was 15, she got a guitar from her mother, and her first passion was rockabilly music; so this is really what she grew up with."

When we talked last week, Patey was literally hours away from fatherhood. His wife, Mary Lou Lord, was three days into labor at a Salem hospital. That's not Lord's only connection with the band; in fact, Patey credits her for getting the thing started. "She kicked my ass. I didn't play for the longest time before we started dating; I was selling cars instead. Then she came to my house and said, `What's that dusty guitar doing over there in the corner?' " In return, Patey turned Lord onto rockabilly, and that influence came out during her national tour last year. The Raging Teens opened some of the dates, Patey did some of the roadie work, and Griffin doubled as Lord's keyboardist. "We played the Westbrook Theater in New York," Patey recalls. "The opening band was this indie-progressive thing with a cello, the place was packed, and then we came on. And Mary Lou said, `What the hell is this -- my audience is dancing!' A lot of music today is a downer, and coming from the indie world, Mary Lou was exposed to a lot of downer music. I think she's glad to find something she can kick up her heels to."

The Raging Teens' CD is the inaugural disc for Lord's Annabelle label, which is releasing it in conjunction with the Racketeers' Scollay Square label. An uncredited Lord also helped with the production, though she opted not to sing on the album. ("She chickened out and wouldn't do it, but she really liked the way Amy sings," Patey says.) Lord even contributes the most authentic-sounding number on the disc. With its period lingo and storyline (the singer is about to make off with the girl of his dreams before her big brother shows up), "Move Move Move" is something you'd expect from a '50s delinquent. In fact, Lord wrote it at her friend Nick (Bevis Frond) Saloman's house. "People wouldn't expect him to be into rockabilly, but the guy has a record collection I'd die for," Patey says, adding that he's long been a fan of his wife's songwriting. "She's pretty bashful about her own writing, but I tell her she's out of her mind because I've never heard her write anything bad."

If the Raging Teens don't fit in with her indie world, Patey has no complaints: to him, the retro tag is a badge of honor. "We try our hardest to have that [vintage] sound, because it's a sound that I just love. But rockabilly has been diluted so much that people are looking for a little honesty -- too many bands have approached it like, `We like the way it looks, we like the upright bass, but the real sound is never going to fly in this day and age.' " The tour dates with Lord were enough to convince him otherwise. "People are bored, they want to be entertained. A lot of these alternative bands come out and stand with their backs to the audience, and you have to be damn good to pull that off. With rockabilly it's just a simple beat -- you may not like us or the way we do it, but it's pretty hard music not to like."

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