It’s been almost ten years since your intrepid scribe first journeyed to the windswept plains of north eastern New Mexico to enter the hallowed vaults of Norman Petty, the quixotic producer/engineer, in the first of what would prove to be many enjoyable visits to Clovis. True, Messrs Armstrong, Carroll and Topping had made the premier sorties and thus mined many of the rockabilly gems, as well as the masters of Trevor Churchill’s beloved Fireballs. I knew there was a lot more to Petty’s catalogue than just the essential 1950s material – but I was blown away by the sheer quantity of quality that awaited my questing fingers, as I pored over, and pawed through, his voluminous tape archive. Because of the resolute focus on Petty’s 1950s work over the years, the vast proportion of his 1960s tapes, and especially the multi-tracks, had remained untouched since he filed them after the sessions. Throwing each reel up on the machine revealed a continuing surfeit of blazing instrumentals, spacey psychedelic pop and, as showcased on NOW HEAR THIS!, some of the best recorded mid-60s garage and beat you are likely to hear.
Despite his base in remote Clovis, the urbane and complex Petty had already achieved a tremendous reputation in the business as artist, producer and publisher by 1964. He’d always cultivated ties to Europe, and had produced records in London in the early 1960s; most important was the unequivocal influence upon British groups of the groundbreaking rock’n’roll he cut with Buddy Holly. When the Beatles turned the American record industry upside down, there was only a handful of Stateside producers capable of handling the gauntlet thrown down by the invading British - and foremost amongst them was Norman Petty. The tremors of the British Invasion were felt as strongly in the Southwest as anywhere else, and as the region’s premier recording facility, rock musicians continued to beat a path to Petty’s door. For his part, Norman overlooked his predilection for “beautiful music”, and welcomed both the accomplished players and the teenage garage bands, even though the latter could sometimes test even his legendary patience. Whoever it was, Norman Petty made them sound great.
“Now Hear This!” isn’t just a collection of fuzz and fury – though the lead on Barry Allen’s And My Baby’s Gone is quite likely to melt your speakers (or clear the room of String-A-Longs fans). Petty signed bands with chart potential and several groups featured here, such as the Chances, the Cinders (featuring a young JD Souther wailing away like Roky Erickson) and the Cords were Petty-sponsored combos. Major Canadian act Wes Dakus’ Rebels sought him out to handle their recording career. Otherwise, the punk bands paids the bills, and there are some corkers on display here – snotty put-downs from Colorado’s Trolls and Teardrops, punchy items from New Mexico’s Morfomen and Venturie “5, and tellingly, the ultra-basic Perils from Hart, Texas (population 577), at whose session you can just visualize Norman Petty rolling his eyes heaven- ward as singer Eddie Reed spits out “HATE yew, girl!” with a cotton stalk stuck between his teeth.
Throw in some classy beat-orientated sides from the Crickets, Canada’s Famous Last Words, and Petty’s ever-loyal charges the Fireballs, and “Now Hear This!” forms a tremendous showcase for Petty’s mid-1960s work, an aspect of this singular man’s career I am most proud to have brought to light.
By Alec Palao