“Last chance before we start dropping dead?” read the Facebook post from the fan page for a Whisky a Go Go show by the Sloths. A little dark, but that’s not surprising for the 1960s L.A. garage band that reunited four decades after its Sunset Strip heyday and then called its album “Back From the Grave.”
The Sloths played the Whisky Sunday night, opening for Love With Johnny Echols, and it was the perfect homecoming for the band that got its start on the same stage nearly 60 years ago.
“This is going to be really fucking strange!” vocalist Tom McLoughlin announced as the band started a compact set of 1960s classics.
Seeing the Sloths play live in a club was a long time coming for this writer.
I had last seen the Sloths perform in approximately 1965, a bunch of teenage boys dragging their electric guitars and drums into my family’s guesthouse, where they banged out “Satisfaction” over and over again, but also rehearsed original songs like their single “Makin’ Love.”
At 5 years old, I didn’t really know what that meant, but I loved hanging out with the cool teenage rockers and riding down the Strip in my mom’s convertible as she gave them a lift to the legendary Teen-Age Fair in Hollywood. Influenced by the raw, bluesy rock of the time, they played on bills with Love, the Doors and the Seeds, making an impression on the L.A. music scene that was small but significant for a bunch of teenagers from Beverly Hills High.
Bass guitarist Michael Rummans is the only original member of the current Sloths lineup, but for this show on the occasion of the Whisky’s 60th anniversary, original guitarist Jeff Briskin returned to the group. Current drummer Ray Herron was felled by COVID, so Danny Gorman of The Yellow Payges, another ’60s Sunset Strip act, took over, while Dave Provost of the proto-punk Droogs was on lead guitar. And Tommy McLoughlin of The May Wines, a horror film director (“Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives”) who does double duty as a snarling, writhing lead vocalist, is an energetic frontman for the reincarnated band.
The Sloths’ original guitarist and vocalist was my late brother, Hank Daniels, who died several years ago. He designed the band’s Rat Fink-inspired logo and wrote both of the songs on “Makin’ Love,” their debut and only single.
At some point, I heard the band had gotten back together, but for whatever reason it had never occurred to me to see them play live and reconnect with the band members who had last seen me as a small, pesky fan.
When “Makin’ Love” was pressed as a single on Impression Records in 1965, the Sloths weren’t able to get much airplay for the grungy, slightly risqué song. A year later, the band split up. Some members went to college and others went on to play with more well-known acts like The Yellow Payges and The Kingbees, and their music faded into pre-YouTube obscurity.
Their revival was brewing for many years. As punk rock grew in popularity in the early 1980s, compilations of 1960s garage bands helped fans discover the music’s DIY roots. “Makin’ Love” found its way onto a garage compilation in 1984 and the original single slowly became a pricey collector’s item (up to $6,665 on Ebay!), which years later drew the interest of Ugly Things magazine. When the magazine’s publisher called up some of the original members, the band got back together in 2011, and played everywhere from SXSW to Spain and back to the Sunset Strip. The inspirational story about second acts made it into AARP magazine, which even made a short documentary about the retirement-aged rockers.
The Sloths played over 200 shows up until the pandemic hit. The members, now in their seventies, had been laying low ever since. But the Whisky’s series of 60th anniversary shows, which included performances by the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Chocolate Watchband, in addition to Love With Johnny Echols, was a natural fit for their post-pandemic return.
The Whisky crowd was a mix of fans old enough to remember the 1966-67 Riots on the Sunset Strip, Gen X-ish garage rock aficionados and much younger patrons who were either a new generation of Love fans or there to see newer support acts like Portland’s psychedelic grunge band Psych-Out.
“We played at Pandora’s Box literally the week before the riot on the Sunset Strip,” McLoughlin recounted onstage. “So then we ended up hanging out at Canters.”
A half-century later, their garage sound still bears marks of my brother’s “wild incoherence,” as one writer described it, thanks to McLoughlin’s committed theatrics. At the Whisky, they played a set of covers of the music that influenced them, from the Animals to Chuck Berry to the Stones (sadly, no “Satisfaction”), but no originals, due to the drummer snafu.
The Sloths’ original songs may have titles like “Before I Die,” but that doesn’t mean they’re calling it quits yet. After all, as McLoughlin observed onstage, “We’re still behind the Stones, so we’ll keep doing it.”
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