Back in 1979, I had a white-label promotional copy of Durocs on vinyl. I played side one only once, but really got off on the first two songs on side two. The Durocs’ version of Gene Pitney’s “It Hurts To Be In Love” and their driving “Seeker (You Be Sucker”) seemed like criminally neglected nuggets that only I knew about, at least in my circles. Thirty-three years later, I now have another promotional copy of Durocs. This time around, it’s on CD with 8 “Bone Us Tracks.” This time around, I see there were more neglected nuggets than I remembered. In addition, those bonus tracks add up to a virtual bonus disc as well.
The Durocs were multi-instrumentalist Scott Matthews and singer/keyboardist Ron Nagle. Pairing up in 1973, they were producers, composers, and players for film scores like One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest. Matthews had drummed for Elvin Bishop and worked with a young Steve Perry. Among other achievements, Nagle had contributed to the score for The Exorcist. Together they worked with or contributed songs to performers like Michelle Phillips, The Tubes, Glen Campbell, and Barbara Streisand. After earning the attention of legendary producer Jack Nitzsche and a short fruitless tenure with A&M Records, the partners were encouraged to come to Capitol Records as producers. But the offer came with the attached string that they had to release an album as a band.
Naming their project after a pig known for large ears and equally pronounced genitals, Matthews and Nagle complied. But they discovered Durocs fell on largely deaf ears. For one matter, their music wasn’t easily defined. For another, the pair refused to tour which left Capitol with a reasonably viable record but no real band out there supporting it. Even more importantly, Matthews and Nagle lost label goodwill when they released an actual duroc loose at a corporate board meeting as a promotional stunt. Not even a five star review in Rolling Stone could outweigh the “suits” dismay over having a porker delivered to them via a limousine, heralded by a dwarf with a trumpet.
The fact that the Durocs couldn’t be readily pigeon-holed is a tad ironic as they were skilled craftsmen with their fingers squarely on the pulse of popular styles of the era. This means many of their songs are strongly evocative of other acts. They come out of the box sounding like the E Street band on “Hog Wild,” where they debut their dense sound recorded on 48 tracks. There’s a large dose of mid-60s Brian Wilson in “Lie” and especially “We Go Good Together” and the falsetto choruses in “Saving It All Up For Larry.” Then, there’s a bit of George Harrison in “Don’t Let the Dream Die” and David Bowie in “No Fool No Fun.” It should come as no surprise that, in subsequent years, Matthews and Nagle would work with both Harrison and Bowie. Carl and Brian Wilson were so taken with Durocs that Matthews spent studio time with The Beach Boys.
After all these years, the Durocs version of “It Hurts to Be in Love” remains strong pop and, again no surprise, the video the partners made for the song is now popular on YouTube. “Seeker (You Be Sucker)” is still a standout with its chanting verses pointing out how we find illusory answers to our questions from false prophets.
But most of the delights, for both those who have heard the Durocs and those who haven’t, are in the 8 “Bone Us Tracks.” For me, new favorites now include the bouncy “Pete Has Got the Power” boasting hot surf guitar licks and melodic percussion. Likewise, the lively “No Big Deal” and “Burn and Chill” are driving rockers. “Stranger on the Street” is as radio-friendly as a pop ditty can get. Matthews and Nagle get saloon-sloppy in “Drinking’ One Day at a Time,” a homage to old-time country. They also had a lot of fun with “Nawgahide,” but here’s a case where I don’t want to provide any spoilers. Suffice it to say the eccentric Durocs had a quirky sense of humor. “It’s so go-OO-d,” as they tell us.
The only missing component is any explanation as to just what these 8 songs are. Gene Sculatti’s otherwise insightful liner notes include interviews with Nagle and Matthews, praise the added songs, but provide no history for them. Unreleased material from a proposed second album? Rejected tracks from the original 10 song set? If you’re going to offer this edition of a fairly obscure album to begin with, some production notes would have been most useful. Still, judging from the Amazon listing, “Bone Us Tracks” is available as an MP3 download on its own, and that might be an attractive option for some listeners.
So the Durocs remain a group still difficult to easily categorize. Power pop may be the closest term for their synthesis of late-‘70s musical styles. Call them whatever you like, but the Durocs are worthy of a second life. Especially those extra songs buried in the vaults for far too long. Consider them musical truffles you’ll want on your rock and roll plate.