Ty Segall and the Evolution of West Coast Garage Rock

Southerners and Midwesterners can whine to the contrary, but let’s face it: Since the early ’60s, it’s the West Coast that has coughed up garage rock’s coolest and most innovative punks, brats, and sonic Neanderthals. Right now, as I bang out these words to the raging sounds of The Hospitals’ lost, twisted classic I’ve Visited the Island of Jocks and Jazz, there are jean-jacketed snots all throughout the United States blasting the latest fuzz-soaked hits from John Dwyer’s Oh Sees, White Fence duder Tim Presley, and Ty Segall (who’s about to drop his latest slab, Freedom’s Goblin). Any survey of current, cutting-edge garage has to begin with this talented trio. And speaking of surveys, it’s the West Coast that’s responsible for building the intersection of garage and psychedelia: Southern California coughed up The Seeds, Love, Count Five, and The Electric Prunes, while the Bay Area gave us the acid dreams of The Chocolate Watchband and the wildly under-heralded Mystery Trend (some of San Francisco’s very first ballroom explorers).

Right about now, the Pacific Northwest contingency reading this are starting to howl, “Hey know-it-all dork, what about us?” Good point. The land of suffocating overcast and rain indeed possesses a lofty place in the history of garage rock. After all, it gave us the movement’s very first bands, like The Fabulous Wailers, who cranked out a stomping, R&B-heavy sound punctuated with sax skronk as early as 1959. And then there’s Paul Revere and the Raiders, who possessed a wily pop sensibility, and The Sonics, furry beasts who sound as if they’re strangling their instruments. But the most infamous of all have to be The Kingsmen, whose “Louie Louie” really, truly established the template for the three-minute blast of sloppy distortion, slurred drums, and horny howls. Crank just about any tune from Segall or Oh Sees or White Fence—including their more out-there, Velvety throwdowns—and you’ll hear an unmistakable link back to this moldy oldie.