Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story
(Way Back Records, Germany, 2007)
In the days before punk rock spread the word about DIY culture, and before Bandcamp and Soundcloud made it possible to put your music out there without even trying, folks who wanted to release a record on their own had to figure out the nuts and bolts by which a tune got turned into a piece of vinyl.
In West Michigan, Dave Kalmbach was the guy who knew how to make that happen. Kalmbach was a talented audio engineer who built a recording studio into a movie theater in Sparta, where he recorded bands during the day or after the last show of the night. In the mid-60s, Kalmbach would record your band for a fee. For a bit more, he’d cut master lacquers of the final mix, and for the deluxe package, he’d have singles pressed and release the record on his own Fenton Records imprint.
Dozens of teen bands from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint and even Traverse City made the hike to Kalmbach’s studio and returned a few weeks later to pick up 45s of their work bearing the Fenton logo. A 2007 compilation, Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story, is a two-CD (or three-vinyl LP) set that skims the cream from this unique chapter in Michigan rock history.
Featuring 61 songs from 32 Michigan bands, Scream Loud!!! tends to focus on the gentler and more jangly side of 60s garage rock — think Pebbles, not Back From The Grave. Still, there are a range of great tracks here, from the moody pre-psychedelic tone of the Aardvarks’ “I Don’t Need You” and “I’m Higher Than I’m Down,” the Soulbenders’ frantic tear through Love’s “7 Plus 7 Is,” the full-bodied frat rock of the Renegades V’s “Wine, Wine, Wine,” the likably goofy R&B workout of the Assortment’s take on the Contours’ “First I Look At The Purse,” and the top-shelf jangle pop of “(Clouds Send Down) Tears From My Eyes” by the Plagues.
What’s most remarkable about Scream Loud!!! is how consistently good this music is. These bands came to Kalmbach, not vice versa, and the result is a document of a time when Michigan was seemingly overflowing with good to great rock ‘n’ roll bands.
Today, some of these original Fenton 45s are highly collectable among vinyl fanatics, at times selling for hundreds of dollars. Plans are afoot to reopen the Fenton studio as an affordable recording and rehearsal space for West Michigan musicians and, with any luck, 50 years from now there will be another set of tunes as eclectic, energetic and entertaining as those contained on Scream Loud!!!