Fred Cole ended up in Portland, Oregon in the late ’60s with a band of Las Vegas teenagers who called themselves the Weeds and were running from the draft, the law or both. In any event, they ran out of money, stumbled onto a manager, transformed into the Lollipop Shoppe and released an album on UA Records. Fred didn’t like being on a major label, didn’t enjoy being (literally) locked up in a rehearsal room and especially didn’t like making his girlfriend, Toody, climb in through the window to see him.
Cole resurfaced in the punk-booming late ’70s in the Rats (a trio with Toody and a series of drummers), releasing a series of LPs on his own Whizeagle label. He simultaneously operated Tombstone Music, an equipment store that later housed a label of the same name. When the Rats finally disbanded (one too many drummers left), Fred took up country music with the Western Front but decided the pull of rock’n’roll was too strong and formed Dead Moon. The band’s lineup has been constant since its 1988 debut: Fred, Toody and Andrew Loomis on drums. (Several records include tracks with other drummers; those are leftover Rats songs.)
Dead Moon usually records in Cole’s 8-track studio; though deaf in one ear, he also masters each disc (few titles are available on CD, most are mono only) on the same 1954 Presto-88 disc cutter that inscribed the Kingsmen’s definitive “Louie, Louie.” His songwriting spans punk and garage traditions, though the band’s choice of covers, like “Hey Joe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” underscores his ’60s roots. Consistent throughout the oeuvre is a blunt, working-class pragmatism. The band has stubbornly declined to play in the US outside the Pacific Northwest, and consequently is better known in Europe, where Dead Moon tours regularly.
The considerable recorded output isn’t exactly interchangeable, but it all sounds very much like Dead Moon; Fred’s high, quavering vocals are remarkably expressive but an acquired taste. The fidelity is modest and the group’s grasp of tuning nuances sporadic, but the songs bash and pop with the enthusiasm of a first-year driver on the figure-eight circuit (and so what if the car crashes). It sounds like vintage punk rock, or, when there are too many jugs of wine in the room, the Yardbirds stealing new songs.
The simplest starting point is Live Evil, on which Toody yells at her husband to tune up (impatient to get on with the task at hand, he doesn’t), the band is in splendid shambles and most of its best songs are represented. Strange Pray Tell is Dead Moon’s strongest, most frenzied release, and includes the stunning “Fire in the Western World.” Nervous Sooner Changes is a comparatively restrained song cycle (well, kind of) on the theme of infidelity — this from a couple who by then had been married three decades and already had three grandchildren.