I’m a Johnny-come-lately as far as WHEELS ON FIRE is concerned. I first stumbled upon this band from Athens, Ohio when I saw their eponymous debut album listed in Herman Van Der Horst’s 2006 year end list in the Dutch music magazine OOR. Since Van Der Horst has turned me onto a lot of great albums during the last 20 years, I knew I had to check out this album. The next day, I found a copy of the said magazine in the public library with Van Der Horst’s review of the album and I immediately realized that I was in for a real treat. Read with me:
Let’s call it garage rock for convenience’s sake. The band itself - an illustrious five some formed around the brothers Mike and Matt Chaney from Athens, Ohio - hates sub labels like ‘alternative’ and ‘garage’. Wheels on Fire is a rock & roll band, got it?! On close inspection, they are totally right. The problem is that the term ‘rock & roll’ has become tarnished these days since everybody calls his band a rock & roll band. Wheels on Fire on the other hand, makes rock & roll with an urgency, a tension and the kind of necessity that is very hard to find among rock & roll bands these days. A kind of music where country, blues and sane insanity come together and where an unpretentious I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude merges with subtlety, devotion and inspiration. Briefly, a rock & roll band with soul, like they used to say for want of anything better. Eleven gritty and compelling gems not really produced but rather smashed into grooves in a flurry of excitement by Teddy Morgan. Chased by a manic Farfisa organ and a singer who possesses the same kind of intensity and desperation as Sky Saxon (The Seeds) or a very young Van Morrison (Them). Infinitely more significant and deeper than most of all those so-called ‘important’ releases by bands who disappear into oblivion after two weeks. Wheels on Fire makes you believe again in rock & roll and that’s why they are timeless.
(Herman Van Der Horst - Oor nr. 11 – December 2006)
Pretty convincing, huh? The great news is that Van Der Horst hit the nail right on the head: WHEELS ON FIRE is a band to cherish for the rest of your life! The bad news however, is that WHEELS ON FIRE doesn’t fit a category and consequently doesn’t get the recognition the band truly deserves: WHEELS ON FIRE is too punk for Americana-lovers and too Americana for punk rockers.
Early 2007, I got in touch with the band and arranged a show at the wonderful 4AD club in Diksmuide. The five some played a great set and all band members turned out to be very nice people. I told Mike Chaney, one of the two lead singers/guitar players in the band, that the organ often reminded me of Gene Moore’s haunting organ music in Herk Harvey’s cult classic 'Carnival Of Souls' and he admitted that this low-budget cult film from 1962 has been a big favorite of the band.
A couple of months later, I read on the band’s MySpace that their van got stolen, including all the equipment. I feared that this could mean the end for a band that still couldn’t reckon on a decent fan base but they struggled through and recorded another bunch of songs. They gave the demo to Jack Oblivian who passed it on to Bruce Watson of Fat Possum Records. Watson loved the songs and has just released WHEELS ON FIRE’s second album on his own Big Legal Mess Records label. It’s got an appropriate title: 'Get Famous!'
'Get Famous!' may not be the stellar killer album that their memorable debut was, but after repeated listening, I think it is a very worthy follow-up album to the band’s debut album. It’s more straightforward than 'Wheels On Fire', but it also features some killer songs like the Stones-style blues swagger of "Corkscrew Blues" or the wonderful "Two Time Loser" which could as well have been a Reigning Sound song.
I was able to book a last minute show at the Bar Mondial in Antwerp last week and again, they put on a great performance for way too few people. WHEELS ON FIRE no longer has a bass player but the overall sound doesn’t suffer from it: the wailing organ is still prominent and Mike & John’s blistering guitars and dual lead vocals do still sound heartfelt and inspiring. One of the highlights of the show was an amazing cover of The Compulsive Gamblers’ "Rock 'n' Roll Nurse".
In the near future, I hope to do an interview with this awe-inspiring band. In the meantime, I suggest you finally check out the band’s both albums! Here are 2 tracks from the new album:
Too Stubborn to Fold - WHEELS ON FIRE mp3
Corkscrew Blues - WHEELS ON FIRE mp3