- Amy Gore and Hammer: Sisters in rock and roll.
Amy Gore relaxes on her backyard patio in Royal Oak, Michigan. In front of her sits a copy of Takin' Back My Name, the autobiography of Ike Turner, a man reviled as a wife-beater, but loved as one of rock and roll's original innovators.
What is it about Mr. Turner that most impresses Gore?
"Everything," she replies. "The more I've found out about him the more interesting he's become to me. I love his first recordings, his rhythm and blues stuff. And the Ike and Tina Revue is just the epitome of cool. He was creating something that wasn't there before. He had a sound and a total vision in his mind, and it became something individual that influenced tons of people."
Gore (born Amy Surdu) compares Turner's work to that of schlock filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis and rock and roll Svengali/proto-punk icon Kim Fowley, two similarly out-of-this-world characters that she's stumbled upon while roaming the entertainment highway.
Fowley contributed the lyrics to the Gore Gore Girls' showstopper "Pleasure Unit." Lewis, meanwhile, sparked it all back in the early '90s, when Gore was a teenage punk perusing the video store in Clawson, Michigan.
In the cult section, she saw the future staring back at her -- a future that beckoned from the past. "I saw the spine of this movie box, The Gore Gore Girls, and I thought, 'That's what I'm going to name my band,'" she recalls. "In my mind, it was the perfect concept. But I never would have thought I would make records that sound this good."
Gore refers to Get the Gore, the quartet's 2007 debut for Bloodshot Records. Lewis penned the liner notes, using such apt descriptions as "fierce independence of spirit" and "an absolute belief in the unusual, the strange, the unpredictable."
"How I got so lucky -- I don't know," Gore says of Lewis' words. "Nothing makes me happier than when people get what I'm trying to do -- when they get the combination."
That combination is an iconoclastic mythology steeped in the lore of gospel guitar-slinger Sister Rosetta Tharpe, '70s funk-queen Betty Davis, and X-rated electro-pop star Peaches (who inspired the album opener, "Fox in a Box").
Though Tharpe, popular in the '40s, sang of the sacred, and Davis and Peaches of the profane, it makes little difference in the end, Gore notes, so long as tables are turned and trails are blazed.
"I saw a picture of Sister Rosetta Tharpe playing a white Gibson SG in a train station and fell in love with her. She was a force to be reckoned with. Like Betty Davis and Peaches, she was a one-woman storm. I admire people who are fearless, and these ladies all definitely have a fearless aspect to them. They did whatever they wanted and were unashamed of it."
For the Gore Gore Girls, that means crafting sweet Brill Building pop one minute and unleashing fuzz-drenched garage stomp the next. And tempering it all with miniskirts and go-go boots.
It's a vision that took a decade to evolve and included two albums for the Get Hip imprint and a self-released EP. "In the beginning, my aptitude of playing was such that our earliest recordings were real surf-punk," says Gore, who just began taking lessons from Motown session-guitarist Dennis Coffey. "But I've been collecting girl-group records since I was a kid. So that influence was definitely there."
An example of the latter is a cover of the Greenwich-Barry chestnut "All Grown Up"; it's so rife with gum-smacking attitude that it stands as Get the Gore's centerpiece. Then there's Gore's own "Sweet Potato," which could have been snatched from a long-lost Shangri-Las or Ronettes album.
But here's the clincher: Gore is no retro imitation. She possesses the pipes and edge to deliver all the nuanced sass of a Mary Weiss or a Ronnie Spector.
Anchored by the dueling guitars of Gore and her longtime partner Hammer (aka Marlene Hammerle), the Girls' live show is a cathartic haze of razor-sharp abandon.
"Hammer is my sister in rock and roll. We finish each other's sentences," explains Gore. The songs we wrote for this album happened so quickly that I feel like we've barely scratched the surface. That's the great thing about music -- when things just come together from somewhere else, almost like they're not of this world."
She cites Cleveland's own Alarm Clocks as the premier example of otherworldly rock and roll. The garage-rock legends have recorded their last two albums in Gore's basement with her husband, Freddy Fortune, at the controls.
"Their musicianship hasn't changed, so it's the perfect nonprogression from those first songs they had in the '60s," she says. "It's just mind-blowing and very refreshing. A lot of people ignore -- or it goes over their heads -- how sophisticated simplicity is. Sophistication lies in things that are simple. The beauty of one note, the beauty of a four-piece band. I don't think evolving is necessarily a good thing. I think you should keep some things the same."
In other words, Gore believes in making music the way that Herschell Gordon Lewis made trashy cinema.
"Exactly. I'm an admirer of his style in that he just goes for it. He takes whatever's in front of him and makes it work. And that's a lot of what this band has been. In fact, it's all of what this band has been. And how the best rock and roll has always been. You take what you've got and make it happen. You are the entertainment. You're it."