Punk’s Renegade Pioneers.
In 1978 a 14 year old kid headed to downtown Portland on the bus in search of his first guitar. With a mere 50 bucks, he figures he can put something down at one of the many hock shops along 4th Avenue. Coming up fruitless he stumbles across a small storefront in between two massive stone columns at 4th and SW Washington.
Peering through a foggy window a vast display of guitars, amps and equipment were enticing enough, but what actually brought him into the store was the man and woman working inside. They were two of the coolest looking people he’d ever seen. Not saying a word as the impressionable teen reluctantly entered through the door, they just smiled and kept talking to each other. They smoked cigarettes and sipped beers openly from below the counter whilst two small children were happily playing at their feet
Pierced Arrows; (L to R)
Kelly Haliburton, Toody Cole, Fred Cole
That day, I never even looked at the sign out front, becoming so intrigued by this leather-clad couple through the steamed front window as they tinkered away at their craft, taking phone calls and listening to loud music. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone as cool looking as these people since then (on any rainy October Saturday). With his mod but spiked doo and leather jacket, the man looked like a cross between DeeDee Ramone and Jeff Beckfrom the Yardbird days. The woman, a vision ofPatti Smith meets Joan Jett. She seemed at once a chick who at once hadn’t a care in the world kicked back on a stool at the side of the cash register, and a responsible mother who knew how to run a business and wouldn’t suffer fools lightly. With her slender build, Keith Richards shag and heroin-shiek demeanor, he with his bad-boy aloofness yet quietus affable nature- never had much to say until I gathered enough of a question worth asking. His working knowledge of equipment and hand-crafted instruments was almost scientific. I didn’t know much yet about the music industry, but I knew then and there that these were, or would be very influential people. I only learned their names from a 45 they gave me on a return visit to buy some strings. Fred and Toody Cole.
There were quite a few name brand guitars and amps which were out of my $50 price range, but I noticed others had no logo on them. “The name-brands might be a bit out of your price range, but here’s one I made- I’ll sell it to you for fifty bucks”, Fred said as he handed it to me.
I remember telling him I didn’t yet know how to play. “I never really learned either. I just played it till I got it down. You can do it too”. Turned out that Fred made a good share of the guitars and amps in the store.
Exclaiming that I couldn’t afford an amp, Fred told me to just plug it in to my stereo. “Just don’t turn it up too loud, or you’ll blow it – where there’s a will, there’s a way”. It was with this comment I plunked down my duckets for a Fred Cole Strat knock-off. Real solid, very original feel to it – just didn’t quite stay in tune for long. But hell, that coulda been me.
This was also the place I first heard a REAL dose of guttural garage-rock gone punk. There was some very heavy music blasting throughout the store. I asked, “Do you guys have a band?” Toody said, “Right now we’re calling it the Rats. That’s us you hear”. I was bowled over to meet my first real musicians. And they were actually recording. They were so raw, yet professional in their delivery. They looked the look, talked the talk, and they walked the walk.
It wasn’t until I went out into the driving rain to wait for the bus in front of Callin Novelties that I noticed the name of the place….. CAPTAIN WHIZEAGLES.
In the years since, not really anything has changed about the way Fred and Toody run their lives – to them nothing’s out of reach, you just do it- no such thing as limitation, or lack of funds or just making due. You happily work with the tools at hand and make it happen. Perseverance, a bit of a gambling spirit, tenacity, and sheer love of rock and roll… oh yeah, and plenty of passion.
They are the kind of people who you’ could drop down in the middle of some God-forsaken part of a continent, they may have nothing but a paper clip, plektrum and a cigarette butt between them, but could successfully pluck themselves out of the middle of nowhere. They’d get the car running, build a boat to ferry it across a raging river, then sell it to get a room for the night- all to make it to a gig, then perform an outstanding show at some local swamphole and make the bucks to get back home safely. Dead tired, Fred may even insist they stop of to play some Blackjack to amp up the night’s wager. Eat that Survivor! There’s nothing like an insatiable desire to succeed.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but rock and roll has been safe for our relationship anyway”, says Toody. “It’s really exciting to see avenues open for women these days, everyone for that matter. I don’t think there’s anything that limits a person, except your own reasons for failure”.
Indeed, Toody picked up the bass guitar only at Fred’s insistence that she try. Fred was tired of messing with changing players, and instead realized that Toody was as rock-solid as they come. A woman of substance, her constitution as a devoted wife of a seasoned frontman, mother of 3 and earthy pulse were more than enough to fit the bill. A sense of rhythm and good looks helped considerably to round out one of music’s most enduring musical couples. “I’m glad to be a part of a revolution of people who got over the fear of speaking their mind and said ‘just be yourself'”. Judging by the many female dominated bands in this town alone would make it hard to believe Toody hasn’t provided a firm example of how it’s done, and done right. Portland and the NW seems to breed a prevalent emulation among many female rock musicians(consciously or unconsciously). Any doubts are quickly doused seeing them loading gear in or after a show, Dead Moon patches dutifully sewn on their well-worn, ragged leather jackets.
Toody had put up with the confinements of growing up in the late 50’s where women were expected to fall into typical roles. “Those years were a real controlled period for women. Being yourself was not in the cards when I was in school. The message was, ‘just be an airhead, or you’ll never be popular or successful’. I thought, ‘how incredibly boring and unjust”. One may normally wonder how a girl can dutifully break free from this without insulting their parents; becoming as rebellious and nasty as possible by either shaving her hair off, becoming a thoughtless tweaker, a heroin addict full of selfish intent, and/or getting pregnant by god knows who and dropping out of school. Worse yet, cut her hair and comb it into a jelly-roll/ duck tail, put on a leather jacket and introduce them to her new girlfriend, announcing intent of marriage and leaving at 16.
Instead, Toody was more of a traditionalist, if not conservative. Her ‘rebellious’ nature was to work in a poet-infested coffee house as a barista, who got tangled up with a hell-of-a-nice-and-decent guy with long hair who just wanted to raise a family, and make great music.
Fred has been a contributing and relentless part of music history since at least the British Invasion. Starting in Las Vegas with his first band The Lords, they recorded and released a couple singles.
His band Deep Soul Cole had gained some recognition with their bubblegum-pop single “Poverty Shack”. Its Mothers of Invention humor has a laced lyrical tone, yet possesses a more than accurate psychedelic tinge for the times.
Biker movie “Angels from Hell” used 2 tracks from Fred’s band The Lollipop Shoppe.
By 1966, Fred was beginning to exhibit a punkier -than- pop edge. A tendency for the heaviness of raw garage-rock sound began to take hold. His band The Weeds had recorded a single, “It’s Your Time” b/w “Little Girl”, which emitted a great early example of hard-edged 60’s punk, becoming somewhat of a collectors item. Their efforts didn’t go entirely unnoticed, enabling them to get choice opening spots for the likes of Buffalo Springfield, Steppenwolf and the Doors. They did tons of gigs with Moby Grape, and one opener for Big Brother and the Holding Company yielded a chance meeting and a shared bottle with Janis Joplin, who pointed out the band “Rocked like a motherfucker, ain’t life fucked, or what”?
A promise to open for the Yardbirds at the Filmore in San Francisco was a thrilling and rewarding offer that could afford the Weeds a larger scale potential. But when they arrived ready to sound check, the venue management claimed nothing of the kind. Disillusioned with the scene, the band headed toward Canada. Luckily for Fred (and us) they ran out of gas in Portland, and began playing at the Folk Singer club. It was here that a young attractive woman named Toody worked. They fell in love, were married, and lived happily everafter…literally, to this very day.
The Cole story is a long and interesting one. Too long to carry in one article. One of perseverance, constant creativity, all with a do-it-yourself mentality. An endless drive for what’s real- both in their lives and music. Their cooperative songs are un-bastardised, un-compromised and un-rlelenting… unabashed rock and roll. The Dead Moon years would also contain a HUGE story in and of itself. Thankfully, it is pretty well documented: nearly 20 years long as a power trio, along with drummer Andrew Loomis, who, interestingly had previously auditioned for a spot in the Range Rats, filled the drum seat for its entirety and is continually revered and praised by Fred and Toody. Their early albums, In The Graveyard, Defiance and Unknown Passage were lovingly pressed on an old 1950’s record press which Fred continues to use on current 45 records he releases. His use of such a traditional machination further expresses Fred’s antiquitous back-to-the-basics approach to not only music, but just about everything else in life.They give everything with out giving an inch. Both share a kindred spirit for the same mania of both control and chaos. These are the ingredients in which this country was concieved. Now that’s what I call pursuing the american dream. People talk about what makes a great american, you know- the people who start out with nothing, but carve themselves a niche, and afford themselves the room to do things how and when they want it. Distinctly american. Let’s see Rush Limbaugh argue with that.
Now, with a short break, a new name and new drummer Kelly Haliburton,Pierced Arrows has been born. Their brand new CD, Straight To The Heartbears at once a departure from the evident sounds of the past, carrying nothing but raw rock-punk-garage power straight outta the priceless Cole repertoire. Although this album is still recorded in the signature mono, the sound is succinct and a bit more full bodied than past efforts, delivering a more dimensional variance.
Toody carries a couple vocal numbers, Caroline and Up On A Cloud. She has a refreshing clarity to her voice juxta-positioned Fred’s gravelia. Her bass lines and back-up vocals are even stronger as of late, becoming at once vital as well as expected to her fans. She found her chops and voice a long time ago, but now it seems she has barely scratched the surface.
Fred’s vocal dynamic and angst have simply grown more and more over the years. Age has not quelled the fiery subjects of his youth, he just keeps delivering powerful reasons for growling and grumbling in the same way. Could it be that the world still fucks with us in the same old ways? The politicians keep doing the same fucking program over and over- So Fred and Toody, the gods of thunder, continue speaking to new generations to help stop the merry-go-round madness. Like Black Sabbath who would often be misunderstood, negative subjects are not posed in glorification, but disclosed in detail so hopefully someone will make REAL change.
With the new songs carrying a marked different in dynamics and tone, their live shows carry a new-found energy and vitality. The break created time for a new batch of songs, and a chance not only for the Pierced Arrows story to begin, but for Portland’s only token marathon couple, at nearly 60, to write yet another chapter to a story that may have just begun.
© 2011 Buko Magazine