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Venerable Standells bring garage rock and 'Dirty Water' to B.B. King's

The Standells 18-city tour starting Sunday night in Charlotte, N.C., and bringing them to B.B.King’s in New York for two shows at Lucille’s Bar & Grill next Tuesday (April 30), is the biggest for the historic 1960s garage rock band in a long time.

The Standells: From left, Larry Tamblyn, Mark Adrian, John Fleck and Greg Burnham.
The Standells: From left, Larry Tamblyn, Mark Adrian, John Fleck and Greg Burnham.
Jude Bradley

“We’re certainly excited about it,” says Larry Tamblyn, the band’s keyboardist and lead vocalist. “We’ve done some small tours but nothing to this extent. But things have really skyrocketed for us, with a new album [Bump, released last year as the band's first new album since Try It in 1967], new manager and agent.”

Keyboardist/lead vocalist Tamblyn formed The Standells in Los Angeles in 1962—though they’re best known for the garage rock anthem “Dirty Water," which reached No. 11 in 1966. Other Standells hits include “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” “Why Pick On Me” and “Try It”; their songs have been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Ohio Express.

Besides Tamblyn, the current group consists of bassist John Fleck, guitarist and co-lead vocalist Mark Adrian and drummer Greg Burnham.

“Things are really going great,” continues Tamblyn. “I get a sense of a renewed interest in groups that are older--though I hate using the word ‘older.’ We all think we’re in our thirties! But there really is a renewed interest.”

Not meaning to offend fans of contemporary pop music styles that rely more on electronics, Tamblyn adds, “People want to be entertained again, and get back to real music with lyrics they can understand and beats they can dance to—and dynamics, which we use a lot of in our music. I think a lot of kids are experiencing our kind of music for the first time: We get mixed audiences at a lot of venues--everywhere from 16, when they can get in, to our age.”

Tamblyn himself is now, at 71, the oldest member of the group.

“We’re really making an effort to stay true to who we were and who we are today,” he says. “We play old songs and new songs from Bump. One reviewer said they fit right in seamlessly, and at a concert in San Diego the reviewer said he liked our new stuff better! Another one said, ‘You blew me away in the ‘60s, and I never thought I’d say it, but you blew me away more today!’”

The Standells’ major appearances last year at San Diego’s Adams Avenue Street Fair and New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp, along with their CD release party at the Satellite in Los Angeles, also brought “all sorts of good publicity,” says Tamblyn.

“It’s great when people are happy, and that’s what we’re here for--to make people happy,” he says, “to take them back to a time in their lives or brighten up their day now. The combination of all these things seems to be catching on.”

Indeed, Tamblyn reports that The Standells play a big concert in Italy on July 5, to be followed by a festival appearance in August in San Diego.

“We’ve got something going on every month, and it seems to be picking up steam this year,” he says.

The band’s veritable revival commenced in 2009, when Tamblyn reformed it “with guys who were anxious to perform and tour,” including Fleck, who was Love’s first bassist before originally joining The Standells in 1967.

“I wanted to record a new album and start touring again, and they all picked up on that vision and made it theirs as well,” says Tamblyn. “But we didn’t have material or a studio and decided to build our own—in a garage, of course!”

The garage provided “a really intimate setting,” notes Tamblyn.

“There’s something about recording in a place that’s not a pristine, polished-floor environment, that spawned our creativity,” he says. “We started writing music that was a throwback to the old Standells and a lot that was a new twist on the new Standells. [Legendary rock radio DJ] Cousin Brucie said it takes from the ‘60s to today—and hits it out of the park.That’s why we like to include the new stuff in the shows.”

Tamblyn is looking forward to playing the smaller Lucille’s space at B.B. King’s.

“It’s a lot of fun to do smaller venues and engage with the audience more,” he says.

He also likes that he and the band are driving to all the tour stops.

“It’s a lot more fun digging the scenery and the good camaraderie with the group,” he says. “We’re still the same garage rockers—except maybe a few years older!”

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