FOREWORD: The Hentchmen were around way before the White Stripes made it cool to be Detroit rockers again. Hell. Jack White even recorded with them early on. Yet except for an ‘08 live album with the aforementioned White, the Hentchmen have kept a low profile. As of 2009, ‘04s Form Follows Function remains their latest studio work.
Detroit’s fertile garage rock scene detonated nationally when dynamic duo the White Stripes moved a million copies of ‘01s alarming tempest White Blood Cells. But its roots could be traced directly back to the Hentchmen and the Gories, whose early ‘90s gigs reinvigorated the same sloppy sweat-drenched excitement distortion-packed hard rocking milestones Iggy & the Stooges’ Raw Power and MC5’s Kick Out The Jams captured during the late ‘60s for nearby Ann Arbor.
Earlier this year, Detroit’s Von Bondies scored a real coup when blazing glam-punk anthem “C’mon C’mon” received corporate airplay, becoming opening theme to Dennis Leary’s surprise hit t.v. drama, Rescue Me. On top of that, frontman Jason Stollsteimer acquired peculiar publicity when he got his face busted by White Stripes’ Jack White in a club confrontation. Meanwhile, femme disco-punks Gore Gore Girls, Beatles knockoffs the Singles, and soul junkies the Soledad Brothers secured indie pop exposure as long-time residents the Hentchmen toured relentlessly and finally took hold domestically.
Hentchmen leader Volare shares, “We thought it was difficult to form a band until me and Tim played in a ska band after my dad taught me keyboard chords. We tinkered with that. Tim had played sax in a marching band, then learned guitar. I bought a Farfisa in ’91, got into the Animals and Paul Revere & the Raiders, and connected with the organ.”
Utilizing a raw-boned stripped down approach, vintage old school practitioners the Hentchmen’s long-play debut, ’94s Ultra Hentchmen, cranked out untidy frat-house ready-mades full of rollicking foolhardy exuberance. Initially getting together after high school, the Henchmen’s first official show was, fittingly enough, an Ann Arbor house party. ‘95s Campus Party, ‘97s Broad Appeal, and ‘98s Motorvatin’ kept this well-oiled trio, consisting of Volare, classic automobile restorer-guitarist Tim V. Eight, and drummer Chris Handyside (replaced by Mike Audi), busy boastin’ ‘bout girls, cars, and gee-tars.
“We’d had 45’s on different labels, but when the White Stripes built up their garage cult following, it helped open the doors and everything exploded,” Volare inquires. “We started doing cassette 4-track demos and then Norton Records signed us. That was long before the White Stripes made it. Our first three recordings were real crude lo-fi Radio Shack microphone stuff. It was fun. The energy is all there, but we didn’t go into a real studio until the last Norton album, (‘02s much improved) Three Times Infinity. We tried to make it more interesting for ourselves. Jim Diamond (famed producer) didn’t have a piano, so we didn’t use one on that record.”
Two years hench, the seasoned threesome return with their most diversely potent offering yet, Form Follows Function (Times Beach). Streamlined power chord gambol “Perpetuate The Continuance,” lubricated broadside chant “Mike In The Middle,” and fired-up swoon “Love” (with its rollercoaster organ) lather frolicsome hullabaloo atop barroom blitzed clamor. With its swaying harmonic looseness and buzzy undercurrent, “Cars On Film” nibbles at the heels of unkempt New York relics, the Fleshtones. “Virginia Dare” cleverly combines New York Dolls glam-rock attitude, Chuck Berry’s ringing guitar, and Mink De Ville’s shuffling piano.
“The new studio we used had a piano. I’ve experimented with all types of keyboards. I’m playing lots of bass keys as accompaniment to Farfisa and various organs,” he maintains prior to avowing, “My dad was a pianist, but didn’t like rock. I grew up listening to Easy Listening ‘70s artists like the Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and George Benson. My dad was into Show tunes, contemporary Jazz, and Stephen Sondheim. When I began listening to ‘80s rock radio, my parents weren’t keen on that. But I was obsessed with it. I went on a different path than them when I discovered the Beatles and Rolling Stones. My parents liked them as kids but outgrew it. My mom leans more towards Luther Vandross R & B.”
Alongside local pals the Paybacks (where Volare moonlights on bass), Detroit Cobras, and Von Bondies, the Hentchmen just keep gettin’ better as the fresh millenium builds. Perhaps the hippest regional sect is Woodbridge, home to Wayne State University and, most importantly, pint-size Motor City Brewing Works, where a series of live Ghettoblaster sessions were assembled, featuring above-mentioned outfits plus lesser known natives the Witches, Buzzards, Bantam Rooster, ComeOns, Outrageous Cherry, and Volare’s pop-rooted faves, the Sights.
“Detroit’s scene got bigger because people moved to Woodbridge, especially suburbanites hanging out getting cultured. I live in a different part, Hamtramck (home of GM’s assembly plant five miles north), a Polish community with Middle Easterners being the majority population now. It’s cheap I guess,” Volare suggests.
It should be noted that during ‘98, the Hentchmen collaborated with pre-fame White Stripes frontman Jack White on mini-LP Hentch-Forth.
Volare recalls, “Jack and I were pals back then. He sat in. We had him play bass on that recording to make it sound bigger. It was still lo-fi. It wasn’t until Infinity when we began to crack down. Our friend, Dave, formed Italy Records. We all bowled together. So he put out a Hentchmen/ Jack White single with some British Invasion covers.”
For a short spell, the Hentchmen teemed with guitarist Greg Siemasz (famed Motown discjockey) as the Lolitas.
“We were a novelty act. We played proms at the Gold Dollar, a legendary joint in Cass Corridor. We hated our proms so we wanted to perform a real rock and roll show like we should’ve had. All the bands in town formed fake prom bands. Ours had my ex, Shelby Murphy, and Deborah, Tim’s wife. They screamed. We did punk covers for three shows. The funny thing is, we recorded one track on an Arthur Alexander tribute for a French label.”