An approximation of my life in Boston, 1992-1995:
A ramshackle apartment in the Back Bay. It’s a Thursday, around 6PM.
College kid #1: Anything doin’ tonight?
College kid #1: Wanna go see Chucklehead?
Me: Yeah, a’ight.
At the time that the Mighty Mighty Bosstones really did look like their claim of being the hardest working band in the business, the hardest working band in Boston was a pack of rascals called Chucklehead. I saw Chucklehead a lot. Pretty much every weekend, most Thursdays, sometimes early week, somewhere between Allston and Charlestown you could get your groove on to one of the best live shows available for $5-$15. Packing a frenetic mix of party funk, smooth tenor sax, awkwardly frantic white-boy rapping, interludes of crooning, and booty-shaking showmanship Chucklehead were the act to beat. By the time they hit full stride with their second record, 1994’s Fuzz, they were one of the bigger draws in the city and had bands as big as Bim Skala Bim opening for them.
Fuzz is a fun record. Right from go – the opening notes have a sample of Leonard Nemoy as Spock saying, “Brace yourselves, the area of penetration will no doubt be sensitive” right before the bass and wah get ripping – you know this is a ride built for fun, there aren’t going to be any serious bones in its body (well, ok. There’s one. But it’s the last song.). By the time the intro is done and the big a capella harmony at the front of “Retrosexy” hits you you’ve already got the groove starting to hit your butt. This is a party record by a party band and they leave zero doubt as to their intentions.
Fuzz really works because all the elements that made Chucklehead such a great live band get to gel completely. On their first album, Big Wet Kiss, the groove was there but it often felt tacked together; the kind of flaws that translate in a live show that make a record feel… less than done. Its sound is also tinny, thin like only early 90s small studios could be. Fuzz finds the band at their best (and worst, more later), Eben “Eb-Tide” Levy rapping and working his wah like mad; Brian “Gecko” Gottesman bringing the smooth and the keyboards, Mick Dempoloulos and “E-Rock” Attkisson holding down the groove, Huck Bennert showing off his sax chops. But the big change – and maybe Fuzz’s strongest element – is newcomer Meyer Statham’s giant power-soul voice. Added to the much richer mix, Fuzz just booms.
The magic of Fuzz is how despite it being a groove record it packs a huge number of lyrical twists that are still with me 25+ years later. Check this Eb-Tide verse from “Hell”:
I’m so phat that I’m challenged spatially
I got my own pad and I’m living palacially
Hay is for horses and j is for jacks
I got the type of tone that keeps fillies on their backs
When I’m mackin’, but that ain’t often
Don’t you know, G., that OPP can land you in a coffin
Like a Tropicana Twister with the flavour nature never intended
I come highly recommended
Like an old Dodge Dart and nowhere near a Jag
You be rippin’ out a fart from your colostomy bag
Obese like Ed Meese, Mason Reese and Orson Welles
You grab a cane citizen and walk the highway to hell
He gets extra bonus points for the great 90s cultural references in there. The other bit that shows up when I’m singing in the shower is “in the annals of your channels if you see me I’m your man-o” from “Tug Boat”. It’s just a good feeling line in the mouth.
Alright, it can’t be all good. The version of “We Can Work It Out” on Fuzz is one of the worst covers I’ve ever heard – and I collect covers. Just about everything you could think of that might be abused in a studio recording from the 90s is in there. Gang vocal? Check. Tinny, distant lead vocal? Check. Too-loud crunchy drum sample? Check. Excessive, out of place bass slapping? Check. The bridges have some merit, mostly on Huck’s little sax licks behind them, but god it’s awful. I’m not even going to link it. You want to hear it, you’re on your own.
Chucklehead called it quits after a third album (Belly Up) in 1997, leaving Boston with a desperate shortage of funk. They put on some reunion shows in 2013/2014, but I was living PNW at the time so I could only hang out in the rain and feel sad. There are a host of soundboard recordings, though, so you can root through and find some of the great Chucklehead live sets (all archived for download at chucklehead.com).
Oh, that one serious bone I mentioned at the front? “Try and Move Me”. It’s the other Gecko track (on top of “Retrosexy”), and it looks at the idea that manhood means not feeling anything. It’s good. Really good. Mellows out the closing, kind of like that not-that-slow cooling down in the parking lot after the show.
Man, I want to see Chucklehead.