Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rollin' by the Record Machine

I was in late junior high when I first heard the song that titles this post. I loved it immediately, and bought the 45 (which sounds positively antiquated) at my local drugstore. Over the next 20-odd years I'd listen to the song countless times, first recording it onto cassette mixes (ahh, the days of "tapes"!) and then as technology improved I finally got my now-scratchy tune burned onto disc.

I never gave much thought to the band who recorded the song, though. Sure, I knew the name - The Rockets - but because for me the song existed in a musical vacuum I never really explored any of the rest of their music. One time I bought a tape of theirs I found: a live album that had Rollin' by the Record Machine on it, as well as another song I grew to like, Can't Sleep. Otherwise, though, I never gave 'em another thought.

Which is a shame, really, because now I've discovered that The Rockets were the best bar-band classic rock group I'd never heard of. Understand: I came of age in small-town Michigan, where I obsessed about Kiss and, later, Twisted Sister. I didn't read anything but Hit Parader, Metal Edge or Creem for music mags, and The Rockets didn't make it into those publications. It was a pre-internet world, and I was a Thumb-trapped teen whose idea of a big day out was to drive 60 miles to the mall. I'm saddened now that I didn't find out more about The Rockets back in the day for three main reasons: 1) they're awesome, 2) they're a local Detroit band, which I never knew until literally 2 days ago, and 3) they OPENED for Kiss, for gods' sake!

I'm dwelling on all of this right now because I just recently purchased a dual-disc CD of theirs featuring their albums Back Talk and Rocket Roll, the latter opening with my fave song. You know what? There's not a bad song in the bunch! The Rockets seem to be among the most depressing of "shoulda-been" stories BECAUSE they were so darn good. Don't get me wrong: there's no new ground broken in their music. They come off as a classic rock group on a par with Boston, Bob Seger and Thin Lizzy, with the slide guitar and country-esque harmonies of southern-fried rock similar to .38 Special or April Wine. This is a band made for cruising town, swigging Strohs from long-necked bottles and puttin' on the jukebox at the pizza parlor. I guess their ALMOST fame was because their music WAS so good, but ultimately they didn't have enough about their act that was distinguishable from many other solid, mid-70s bands of the same ilk.

Sadly, The Rockets have slipped into a relative obscurity, and so today's homage is really just a sort of "aw, damn!" missive. I'm sad that I didn't know more about The Rockets when I had a chance to buy more of their music. I'm sad that I could have been a fan, and maybe made a difference in their success as a major act. If you want to read more about them, there's a long soliloqy on the group (and deceased lead singer David Gilbert) at:

More Rockets info can be found by visiting the website of founding member Johnny Badanjek at:

You can also listen to a lot of The Rockets music there, and join me in a toast to a great band that "shoulda been."


Blogger Lisa said...

I'm gonna make a point to check them out. There's nothing better than finding out more about a band from the past that you really liked.

It's sorta like finding money in your coat pocket.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Animal said...

A cool thing? I emailed Rockets drummer Johnny Badanjek yesterday, encouraging him to take a look at the blog and just basically apologizing for not discovering more about the band earlier. HE REPLIED! "Hey Scott,thanks for the blog. It's pretty much right on. The band was together for about 13 years, and you have to have hit a record to stay out on the road and bring in the fans. Hopefully one day there will be a best of The Rockets C.D. with all the songs on one box set. But there are alot of different labels involed and it's hard to say what they plan to do or when. During the day though the band toured or played with Kiss, Bob Seger, Blue Oyster Cult, The Allman Brothers Band, Z.Z.Top, REO Speedwagon, 38 Special, Marshall Tucker Band, Dr.John, Fleetwood Mac, J.Geils, Journey, Arrowsmith, Robin Trower just to name a few. Thanks again for passing the word about The Rockets. I wish you all the best from the Motor-city. Bee"

How cool is THAT? And wow...what a lineup of tours. If you like any of those bands he listed, you'll like The Rockets.

11:12 AM  
Blogger gun-totin-wacko said...

Just found your post, from Bee's site. Being a Detroit 70s kid, I know and love the Rockets. Definitely need to get the cd, though I still want "Rocket Roll" the most.

As much as I loved the group though, I have to say that part of their problem, IMHO was their concerts. I saw them twice, in about '82 and then the next year- first on their Make it or break it tour (as I've always called it), which was underwritten by Ford resulting in $4 tickets, and next opening for (I think) Sammy Hagar. Sadly, I was never impressed with their live act. Great music, but David Gilbert seemed absolutely devoid of charisma or presence. Sigh.

Have you ever heard of Trooper? Kinda similar to the Rockets. Canadian band, proteges of Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and BTO. Similar style, to my mind. Perhaps even better songs overall, but peaked at number 39 on Billboard for "We're here for a good time (not a long time)"... I do encourage you to check them out if you can, but they're hard to find in Lansing- pretty much have to go over to The Great White North to find any of their stuff. Or online, of course.

11:29 PM  

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