â€śThe Velvets are alive,â€ť said my friend Kara back in 1991, who just heard the Ass Ponyâ€™s play a show in Charlotte. I was skeptical because every group Kara heard that featured a fuzz guitar and even a miniscule amount of feedback reminded her of the Velvet Underground.
My suspicions were confirmed after listening to their debut release on Okra Records, Mr. Superlove. Many of the tracks from this album appear on the new two-disk compilation The Okra Years. While they were pretty far from the Velvets, Ass Ponyâ€™s creative force Chuck Cleaver and his band at that time produced some extraordinarily wild tunes that reminded me more of warbled Michael Stipe fronting for a highly experimental form of The Stooges. Since then, Cleaver and his band of many incarnations have done much to change the face of alternative music through the years.
Later fans of the band and those whoâ€™ve fallen for the resplendent lushness of Ass Ponys side project Wussy should drop everything theyâ€™re doing right now, and buy The Okra Years, because you cannot fully appreciate the Ass Ponys' sound without experiencing the sonic joy of this groupsâ€™ early studio and live adventures. On original tracks such as â€śGood With Guns," â€śAzaleaâ€ť and â€śItâ€™s Not Happening,â€ť Cleaver, Dave Morrison, John Erhardt, Randy Cheek, and Dan Kleingers get to play with Cleaverâ€™s highly sardonic and slightly morbid lyrics, creating sounds that are mystifying and all-consuming.
The first side concludes with three covers, â€śWe All Love Peanut Butterâ€ť by the long defunct Cleveland band One Way Streets, a slightly clunky version of â€śAll Tomorrowâ€™s Parties,â€ť and a perfectly wonderful live cover from the bandsâ€™ 1989 debut gig, â€śGo-Go Kitty,â€ť which features a wailing sax solo by Erhardt and is reminiscent of some of the outstanding avant-garde jazz work of John Lurie and The Lounge Lizards.