Local Noise: Shimmytang

Shimmytang is one of the funkiest groups on the Jersey shore scene. And they harken back to the early days of rock and roll in the ‘60s, when groups would do their own songs, but mix in old, not-so-well-known songs and do them in their own style.
“It’s funky soul music,” says John Noll, bass player with the band. “Mostly old school black R&B, the kind of stuff that came out of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans in the mid- to late-‘60s and early ‘70s. It’s raw and greasy, made to get people moving. Funky but not funk. That came later. The closest recognizable comparison would be to the Stax Records sound, but some really cool stuff in this genre also came out of New York, Philadelphia and L.A. We make it our own and play it aggressively.”

The band also includes Rob Barone on guitar and lead vocals, Jimmy Liakas on drums and lead vocals, David Hollander on saxophone, and Jason Reynolds on percussion. They all bring ideas into the group as to what music to do, both in the live shows and on their recordings. “We look for obscure stuff that most people have never heard of,” John adds. “Mostly forgotten songs that were originally released as 45s on small regional labels, the kind of tracks that DJs and collectors dig for. A lot of them have resurfaced on compilations or on record collector blogs. My friend Tim Kronin at Jack’s Music has turned me on to some cool records. Rob, Jimmy, and myself bring up song ideas at rehearsal and we pick the ones that fit our style. There’s a very deliberate intention to avoid the familiar hit songs that people might expect from a band like this. We don’t want to do anything predictable.”

John actually formed the group, but it took a while to develop. “After a long hiatus I started to miss playing and decided to try putting something together,” he recalls. “I thought a lot about the excitement you have when you’re 14 and just starting out and getting your first band together. There’s something challenging about being young and naive and venturing into the unknown and I wanted to tap into that mentality. That’s why I decided to play bass instead of guitar, to feel like I was starting from scratch with an unfamiliar instrument.

“I got it rolling with some Craigslist ads and just started jamming with people. There were two complete lineups that came and went before settling into the current group. There was one early rehearsal when nobody showed up, so there were some bumps in the road. Seventeen people have either been in the band or auditioned. It’s paid off because now we’ve got a solid lineup with good chemistry and developed a recognizable sound which I think is our most significant achievement. Most people who’ve seen us thought we were an original band.”

Shimmytang have graced stages at venues such as the Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, The Downtown in Red Bank, The Mad Hatter in Sea Bright, The Colt’s Neck Inn, The Lake House in Loch Arbor, McLoone’s Pier House in Long Branch, The Liberty Tavern in Union, The Stage House in Scotch Plains, and Edgar’s in Manasquan. This summer they will be a part of a number of festivals as well.

Some of the most popular songs the band performs may not be well-known, but they bring the crowd to their feet. “We get good reactions when we play ‘My Baby Likes To Boogaloo’ by Don Gardner, ‘Funky Thing’ by The Unemployed, which are both on our CD,” John says. “As well as ’Hang On In There’ by The Stovall Sisters, ‘Watch The Dog (That Bring The Bone)’ by Sandy Gaye, and ‘Boogaloo Down Broadway’ by Fantastic Johnny C. That one actually cracked the top 40 and some people recognize it.”

As far as what songs they choose, and what to record, they abide by one overriding goal. “There’s really only one goal, to have fun,” John relates. “We feed off the audience’s reaction. There have been gigs where everything came together and the audience really ‘got it’ and were up and dancing all night. That makes it all worth while. Then there are nights where they were expecting a typical classic rock cover band, or the vibe is too mellow, so it can get a little frustrating. We’re not doing background music. We need the audience to be part of it. On good nights people come up to us all excited that they’ve found a band that plays this kind of music. It connects with the human instinct to let loose and work yourself into a frenzy. It’s exhilarating when you let go of your inhibitions. You have to shut your brain off and let the animal instincts take over.”
If you want to find Shimmytang, John has some advice: “We always tell people to just Google Shimmytang and they’ll find us,” he laughs. “And there are a bunch of free tracks you can download online.”