Nu-Kats Grin and Teddy-Bear It|
The first night I ever heard contemporary power-pop and the first night
I ever saw Frederick "Rick" "Skogie" Moore were
the same unerasable evening. It was at a University dance ten years ago,
a time when it seemed like every other ambitious local band wore lots of
purple satin and learned their key riffs off the Yes album. During the
Elvis classic "Teddy Bear," Moore whipped out the real
item and proceeded to fearlessly demonstrate some arcane maneuvers of stuffed
bear-human being relations. Just last year Moore and his boys were
forever banished from Miraleste High School near Palos Verdes California for the same
inventive play of passion.
Some urges never die.
The original incarnation of Moore's Nu
Kats was recently acknowledged by no less than Creem
as having been one of the first power-pop
bands known to man; during their six-year residency (1970-1976) as Minneapolis'
strangest, they were indeed and anachronism.
Now, of course, power-pop or whatever you can think to call it, is in
some sort of vogue. After four years of getting stood up by Lady Luck in
Los Angeles, Moore may be getting his dream date at last. Look Out
Management are currently winding up negotiations on a record deal. It's
a good thing those urges don't die.
California laid claim to Skogie (three out of four Nu Kats
belonged to that band) in 1976, after extensive national touring and some
limited recording experience hinted at unexplored musical and circumstantial
possibilities. Los Angeles was not clutching it's breast in anticipation.
"The reception was as abysmal as you can imagine," Moore
laughs now. For a good while the band did a Jekyll and Hyde. Skogie
also played dates as the Kats , while Skogie became a dance
band doing lots of cover material, lassoeing lots of fans, and happily
rediscovering unmitigated pop after trying other genres for size. There
were moments of longing for home on the range. "One of the first things
we found out is that Minneapolis audiences are much more intelligent than
L.A. audiences. And in L.A., the attitude is crucial. They want to be told
what's hip. The bands simply have to act like they know what they're doing,
no two ways about it."
Hip in El Lay circa 1978 had it's finger pointed to new wave. "We
were in the right place at the right time - making bad business moves.
Around that time the Knack was negotiating with Capitol - and opening for
us!" Bad business moves, phase one: someone made a hard sell for a
sign-up to the Kats, saying they were from CBS - they weren't. This
person also represented herself to CBS as the Kats management -
she wasn't. She insisted that CBS, which was genuinely interested in the
band, sign the Kats and her other property as a package deal - which
they wouldn't. Moore pleaded his own case to the label, but legal
knots tied by the double agent circumvented any other CBS/Kats possibilities
at that time.
Bad moves, phase two: Moore and company hooked up with the Knack's
former manager. "Suddenly we were riding the tail of a Knack backlash,
with everyone - record companies, press, people in general. He was a nice
guy and he tried hard, but there was this backlash. On top of that, he
was trying to get us a deal that topped the Knack's dollar-wise or something
ridiculous like that - he kept blowing off deal after deal for us."
Meanwhile back at the music that was
the raison d'etre of all this havoc, Kiss' Gene
had become a rabid fan of the group. His attempts to
land a Casablanca deal for the Kats were foiled by (of course) the
group's manager, an ex-Casablanca mailboy with a bone to pick. A first
LP was finally completed for an Infinity deal. On the day the Kats
were to be paid, MCA record's fledgling subsidiary "disappeared from
the face of the earth. It was the worst thing that ever happened to us."
Phase three: Mr. Manager, the man with the toxic touch, took the finished
Infinity LP to other major labels trying to secure a new deal. This time
the lethal mistake was his insistence that the Infinity album must be used
for the band'' first release, and that the band must have complete control
over every aspect of their product. With an unproven act, there were no
takes on those terms - and a lot of miffed record executives to boot. "When
I went back later the labels were glad to tell me that that manager of
ours was the biggest mistake we'd ever made. So I said, well, he's not
with us any more, so how 'bout it? And a lot of them said, well, you've
been around for a while now without getting a deal. Maybe you're not proper
From this nadir, Moore asked Mr. Manager for money to do a new
demo tape/independent release. His refusal got him (finally) fired, and
Moore made his long-time unofficial management of the Nu Kats
official. Thanks to a solid reputation around town, Moore secured free studio time and
attendant necessities. Rhino, a small
independent label, offered funds in exchange for the rights to
release the five-song demo as an EP. Plastic
has done well in sales and critical reception
in the two months since it's release.
Stone of Look Out Management turned up during a two-month period
when "20 guys were trying to manage us, and we were trying to choose
one. Ron didn't even ask for a contract, he had so much faith in himself.
He just wanted a chance to prove it to us. I wanted to see who the labels
wanted to do business with, out of all of these guys. Ninety percent of
them wanted to deal with Ron" The Nu Kats have joined a client
roster that includes Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell and the Cars.
If the recording contract comes through as soon as Moore expects,
the Nu Kats will be heading out to New York to start recording before
the end of winter. In the lapse time, lay claim to a copy of Plastic
Facts. Moore has grown into a solid craftsman, a for-real songwriter
who knows how to juggle variations on the almighty adolescent impulse with
disciplined and clever composing. He plays with meter and melody in a fashion
far more assured and sophisticated than most of his peers; he's also got
three players with him who can do the job. And for sheer ear titillation,
there's Moore's voice and brother Bobbyzio's sax as mainstays
of the sound. There are more power-pop bands around than there is room
in the cut-out racks, granted, but most of those boys operate on calculation,
Teddy bears of the western world, beware.