"When you called before, I shoulda dropped everything and talked, but I was in the middle of a few things, and it's kinda hard for me to change gears out here and go from chief engineer to rock legend," former Alarm Clocks guitarist Bruce Boehm says via cell phone from a freight ship that's somewhere in Lake Superior.
Boehm is something of a rock legend now, but during the short time that the Alarm Clocks existed in the mid-'60s, he was anything but. Norton Records' new disc, Yeah!, the first official Alarm Clocks release since the band put out its one and only single, "Yeah!"/"No Reason to Complain," in 1966, seeks to give the band the props it never got.
About a month after cutting "Yeah!," the Alarm Clocks, a garage-rock band from Parma, went to Sound Ideas Recording studios to cut a demo tape that it could give to local promoters. In one take, the group recorded several tracks, among them raucous covers of "Louie Louie," "It's All Over Now," and "It's Alright." At the time, the group thought that the tape would help take it beyond the high-school party circuit, but in retrospect, the band's unhinged performance has had a lasting effect.
"We just walked in and said, 'Just throw on a tape and don't worry about the mistakes or anything,'" recalls Boehm. "We'll just do our routine and go nuts, and that's pretty much the way it ended up."
When George Gell and Tom Fallon, two Cleveland record collectors who used to publish a 'zine called Rebel Teen, tracked Boehm down some 12 years ago to ask him about the history of the Alarm Clocks, one of their favorite bands, he thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.
"I get this phone call from George, and this guy asked for Bruce Boeing," Boehm says. "Usually, if you can't say my last name, then you're a salesman, and it's goodbye. But I said, 'Yeah, speaking.' And he asked, 'Is this the Bruce that was in the Alarm Clocks?' Now I thought it was my kid brother playing a joke. He was flipping out, because he finally found one of us. And he's flipping me out, because I can't believe that somebody is actually asking about the Alarm Clocks after 20 years. He's telling me the single is one of the greatest garage songs ever recorded. I met them a year after that, and I told them about the demo tape, and I made them a copy and then made [singer-bassist] Mike Pierce and [drummer] Bill Schwark copies. Those are the only three I've ever made copies for. I was pretty protective of it."
A couple of years ago, Mark Leddy, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom (where "Yeah!" is in the jukebox), mentioned to Norton Records' Miriam Linna that Fallon had a tape of the rehearsal. Fallon, who plays with Leddy in the band Satan's Satellites, was more than happy to lend his copy to Norton for its first legitimate pressing. And while the group never intended it for release, it's now available on Yeah!
The album's liner notes provide a detailed history of the band. Initially, Boehm, drummer Tim Douglas, and bassist Jeff Suveges, all teenagers at the time, formed the Perceptions, which recorded a few songs in a basement. Boehm eventually quit the Perceptions and, after a short stint in a band called Night People, formed the Alarm Clocks with Schwark and Pierce.
Both "Yeah!" and "No Reason to Complain" were recorded live in the studio, and some 300 copies were made (the original pressings have since become collectors' items that sell for up to $1,000). With its lyrics about cruising for women and walking down the streets on a Saturday afternoon, "Yeah!" is hardly a masterpiece. "No Reason to Complain," another song about looking for quick and easy love, isn't great, either. Yet the rawness -- characterized by Pierce's high-pitched yells and Boehm's abrasive guitar -- is distinctive. So much so that both tracks were included on an influential Crypt Records compilation called Back From the Grave that was released in 1996.
"Both songs have been covered by a lot of bands," Leddy says. "I know that Teengenerate, the Japanese band, did a version of 'No Reason to Complain.' It's probably been covered 10 or 12 times. By no stretch of the imagination are they the first garage-rock band, or anything like that. They're good songs, but they're so incredibly primitive-sounding that they're almost punk rock."
Fallon, who is preparing to put out a disc of old garage rock by bands from Columbus, started collecting obscure garage singles shortly after the punk revolution, and the Alarm Clocks became one of his favorites.
"Right after the punk-rock thing died out, there was a resurgence of interest in '60s garage," he says. "I started collecting those records about 20 years ago, when they were just obscure 45s, and that's how I discovered the Alarm Clocks."
When Boehm left the Alarm Clocks to work on a freighter in 1967, the group essentially dissolved. Boehm says that he wanted to restart the group shortly after he returned home from the ship, but he was drafted and served 14 months in Vietnam. By the time he returned from Vietnam, Pierce was in the navy and Schwark had started to play with the successful Damnation of Adam Blessing.
"Of course, I always wonder what would have happened if I had stuck with it," Boehm says. "But I guess, after a few more years out here, I can retire and be a rock star like I always shoulda been."