Valley-Born Droogs Back In L.A.
By Fred Shuster
Daily News Music Writer
The Droogs, the city's longest-running and best kept musical secret, makes it's first stateside appearance in 10 years tonight, and for the cognoscenti the gig is an event.
Oddly, the bluesy proto-punk quartet boasts a sturdy and loyal following in Europe, where the band recently performed at the huge Roskilde festival in Denmark along with such big names as the Smashing Pumpkins, Beck and Radiohead.
On this side of the Atlantic, however, the Valley-born group is known chiefly to critics, pop historians and that tireless cult that champions the music underground.
There was a time when the Droogs-the name, of course, is a reference to the futuristic street gang in "A Clockwork Orange"-cultivated a higher profile. Around 10 years ago, the band toured with Robin Trower, headlined coast-to-coast club tours, got written up in Rolling Stone and even shot videos.
"Then, when the goth thing happened a few years later, we'd see European bands covering our material at (the downtown club) Scream, but we couldn't get a gig there," said Droogs bassist Dave Provost. "At the same time, we could fill CBGB's in New York. If we had stayed in L.A. we would have broken up."
The band, which independently has released eight albums and about a dozen singles over the years, performs tonight at Jack's Sugar Shack in Hollywood on a bill with biker-rock guru Davie Allen & the Arrows.
"We really do this because we enjoy it," Provost said. "With so many bands, it becomes business over art."
The Droogs' forceful, self-produced new album, "Atomic Garage" (Lakota), will be available at the gig. Other releases include the well-received "Stone Cold World," "Mad Dog Dreams" and "Kingdom Day."
The quartet is considered among the first bands in the mid-70's to start its own label (Plug-n-Socket) and release original material. That's the sort of detail European fans love.
"It's a different culture over there," Droogs singer Ric Albin explained. "They really admire a band that develops a repertoire and a purpose all on their own against all odds. They recognize that most of mainstream music is disposable, and they know our story. Plus, we take it for granted here, but Southern California is idealized in other parts of the world."
The Droogs' garage-rock sound has been called a mix between the Yardbirds and Blue Oyster Cult. Others point to the influence of the Seeds and early Rolling Stones.
"We've always been a band the critics liked," Provost said. "We've gotten some pretty heavy press for a group on its own label."
The bassist added that pockets of fans throughout the world kept the Droogs afloat during the lean times.
"People in Europe will support you throughout your entire career," said Provost, who joined the band in the early '80's "If they like you, they will stick with you."
The band got another taste of that sort of fan loyalty in July during one of Europe's largest open-air festivals in Denmark. Although the quartet already had a slot on the bill, promoters called upon the band to fill in for Wu-Tang Clan at the last minute after the rappers missed their flight from New Jersey.
The Droogs-which includes guitarist Roger Clay and drummer James Piston-followed the Smashing Pumpkins, Motley Crue and Prodigy.
"The audience was this endless sea of drunk Vikings," Provost joked. "We could never have gotten on a show like that in the United States."
Albin said the fact that the Droogs have never been aligned with any musical trends has served the group well. "We just carry on year after year," he said.
Another plus is the band's commitment to equality within its ranks. "We've always been a democracy," Provost said. "That's why touring and everything is such a comfortable situation. There are no bad vibes."
After tonight's Sugar Shack show the band is planning a European tour in the coming month's.
"It's nice to see other groups coming out of the Valley now like Spanish Kitchen and Eenie Meanie," Provost Said. "For a long time, it was just the Dickies and us."