If you weren't around to witness the New Salem Witch Hunters' early days, you might find it tough to gauge the band's import beyond the good-time rock-and-roll you'll get at the band's upcoming 20th-anniversary show. But back in 1986, the Witch Hunters were more than Cleveland's entry into the then-burgeoning 1960s garage-rock revival -- the group was a revelation. Even if you were hip to underground Beatles devotees like the Fuzztones and Marshmallow Overcoat, the Witch Hunters beat 'em all by dispensing with the trappings and just wailing. Tom Fallon's guitar jangle set the tone, but the manic mood was really ratcheted up by singer Dave Atkins' table-hopping at gigs, as well as his between-song banter on such subjects as Anne Frank and our 17th President, Andrew Johnson. Not to mention his giant Afro and full beard, which were completely incongruous with any conceivable "modern-rock" look.
Like their scene brethren (Death of Samantha, My Dad Is Dead, Prisonshake, and others), the Witch Hunters weren't just playing a classic-rock genre; they were playing with it, far removed from any relatable trend, but never far from the bar.
Two decades and five albums later, the band has never really broken up, and most of the original members remain.
"Everyone scattered, physically as well as mentally. But we still play once or twice a year," says drummer Dave Swanson. "We kept wanting to retire," adds Fallon, "but someone always asks us back."
Pittsburgh's Get Hip Records will release the Witch Hunters' 1986 debut on CD for the first time this winter, and in the meantime, the band will celebrate its longevity at the Beachland this Saturday.
"Atkins is a man of dates and facts," Swanson says. "He knew the exact date we played our first show and thought we should play our 20th on that date."
So can we expect any special guests or surprises?
"Nah," says Fallon. "Just business as usual; you know, drinking, mainly."