Sex Clark Five, are underground pop legends. They are synonymous with Strum and Drum, a musical category they themselves invented in the previous millennium.
SC5 come from Huntsville, Alabama, the town that brought you Wikipedia and the Saturn Five moon rocket.
According to an early SC5 press release Huntsville was put on the map (or some maps anyway) by Wernher von Braun’ merry band of rocketeers after WWII. The sleepy Southern community became populated by many relocated scientists who created a unique proving ground for young rock and roll enthusiasts like SC5.
Huntsville High School Students, James Butler, Rick Storey and Trick McKaha witnessed their city’s transformation and in their whimsical comic book minds, sturm and drang begat Strum and Drum.
James, Rick and Trick were veteran outcasts of many performing Rocket City garage bands and school orchestras. At the Butler family home located down the block from the famous gravity defying Upside Down Hill and von Braun Castle (where The Professor conducted anti-gravitational experiments in his own basement) there was a revolving door of local musicians, ballerinas and artisans. SC5 saw the light when James brought a four track cassette recorder back from Germany in the late 1970s. Trick and James sketched out art rock type songs on tape.
Meanwhile Rick and James explored abbreviated skewed pop song concepts. They filled cassettes with crazy ideas and eventually joined forces to release an extended play 45.
Enveloping twangy British invasion, glitter, punk, industrial, classical and anything else that came to mind during chaotic sessions, Strum & Drum music was born!
With James’ historical fascinations and clever wordplay the brief accelerated pop tunes shined like small gems kicked up by marauding soldiers in the night.
The Butler family basement would hence be known as Cavern Studios, with a TASCAM Portastudio 4-track casette as its “technological” centerpiece. (As of 2014 with missing buttons it is still in use)
Several bass players tramped in and out of the studio before ex-London schoolgirl, Joy Johnson replied to a bassist wanted notice posted in a local record shop. With Trick McKaha smashing his drums around the room (or across the stage), this arrangement would be SC5’s most recognizable public lineup as they recorded their first three acclaimed albums, several 7-inch ep’s and their first two Peel sessions.
Sex Clark Five were (and are) a great live band, sounding more raw and percussive on stage than on record. The energetic shows and stunning boy/girl harmonies were always great fun.
After failing to advance beyond cultdom after several years of constant recording and touring, Joy left the band for academia. James, Rick and Trick would carry the torch recording and promoting SC5 under assumed names like The Martinlutherkinks.
During this phase, the indie rock world saw a flow of lo-fidelity type bands appearing that seemed to emulate SC5’s spontaneously derived style. This didn’t escape notice of a few knowledgeable critics like Elisabeth Vincentelli and the late Eric Flaum.
SC5 would continue, with vocalist Laura E. Lee, to manage releases on tribute albums, a series of 45s in Europe, and two more John Peel BBC sessions that were essentially unreleased albums.
SC5 have continued to articulate Strum and Drum musical rants and twisted suites well into the new century, as anyone who has been fortunate to locate a copy of their fifth LP Crimson Panzer and 2013’s RembrandtX can attest.
As pop music tastes radically change one thing is certain. Sex Clark Five continue to produce some of the most fresh and original pop music on the planet. Like many music fans have found and John Peel so eloquently proclaimed, “Strum and Drum forever!”