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Garage Society
by Haven James

Event: Johnny Society
Where: Joyous Lake, Woodstock (679-0367)
When: Thursday, May 6 [1999]

(album graphic courtesy of
Messenger Records & Gideon Kendall)
The Johnny Society will gather up at the Joyous Lake on Thursday night (May 6 [1999]) for the WDST Sessions broadcast and there is an open invitation to join in the meeting. Having heard Wood, their 1998 CD on Messenger Records, and seen the video produced to introduce their charisma-coated leader, Kenny Siegal, the impression one gets from the double-dose is that this band is probably best witnessed live.

Wood is interesting but rough. The production values are low while at the same time, the songs seem to show elements of arrangement that stem from more complex roots. Reviewers have drawn corollaries between parts of these songs and resolves from the Beatles White Album, or, phases of Cheap Trick, and one even mentioned hearing T-Rex-like guitar riffs. Most of these with the exception of some occasional and obvious steals from Lennon and McCartney escaped identification here despite the fact that we'd gathered together fans of the above mentioned legendary bands to share in the listening of the Society's 12-tune effort.

Screening the Wood video, however, filled in a lot of blanks as to the query of just what is going on in the Johnny Society. Long Island native Kenny Siegal is the main man here and Wood is essentially his solo album. From the video it is clear that at least he has a very definite position on the stance his Society music takes. "Let's not civilize it," he speaks going on to explain that at first his songs were "geared toward ugliness." Since then, though, he's been leaning toward evolving them into a more positive vein noting his view that there's too much negative/dark music out there. "Shut up man, do something about it," he rails. Still, he aggressively works to affect people and admits he aims to "fuck with people's heads."

Nothing wrong with that if there's a point but figuring out what that point is can be challenging. Even friend and supporter, Chris Whitley, who is the major artist on Messenger Records and appears on two cuts on this album, acknowledges that it is "hard to pin down what they [the songs] are about." Despite this Whitley admires them as "quite liberated... [and] courageous." Siegal justifies his efforts stating, "You have to take the risk at the risk of looking like an asshole."

The material is raw, Kenny's kind of raw. The instruments he uses are vintage and production values of are no use to him. He's happy to trade hi-tech for authentic though he insists he's not stuck in the past, as in late 60's/early 70's sounds, but instead prefers the simplicity. What it adds up to is a garage band sound, definitely rock and roll oriented, and flavored with some strange lyrical reinforcement.

Prolific does apply to Siegal's efforts. He's written many more albums worth of songs than he's recorded to date. "A record should be like a person, it should have every side of a person," he goes on explaining how he sees his records as characters that have many faces. One face they all seem to share is intensity.

After we'd screened the video the second time our engineer piped up, "Wanna watch it one more time? Can you handle him saying "fucking asshole thirty-two times in a row again?" Over the laughter he qualified his remark with the corrective count that the score was actually "fuck-7, asshole-7, and suck-2" although he might have missed a few. Not too intense for a less than fifteen minute video....

What this all did add up to was a picture of a driven writer hell bent on doing his music and getting it out there. Siegal does have something to say even if it is hard to figure out exactly what that is besides a certain sense of rage and urgency. Live has got to be the key to the Johnny Society, we'll find out Thursday night at the Lake.

Showtime is 10 PM and there's No Cover charge, call 679-0367 if you need directions.

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on April 22, 1999

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