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Somewhere between the twist and the sit-in was a musical experience unlike any other. Between the first British invasion and the first rock opera was the most energetic, honest, exciting music ever created."
Those sentences, penned by South Florida record collector/historian Jeff Lemlich,are perhaps the best ever written to pinpoint that place in time we call the garage-band era. They open his out-of-print 1991 book, Savage Lost: Florida's Garage Bands, The '60s and Beyond, a 416-page tome considered a classic in the genre of record-research lit. "The author spills his blood on every page" wrote one reviewer about this labor of love, and that description could be literal, given the task of producing such a manuscript before the advent of desktop computers.
"I didn't even have a word processor! It was done on a typewriter. One mistake meant retyping the whole page," says the author, marveling at the primitive past. Sitting in his tastefully cluttered South Miami home in front of a sleek, black Dell monitor, he savors technological evolution by clicking to his webpage, limestonerecords.com. Admittedly late to the Internet, Lemlich launched the site two years ago as a place to hock remaining copies of Savage Lost, list eBay auctions of those discs he's willing to sell from his collection of more than 30,000 records, and hopefully gather information for a revised edition of his book. Scrolling through the messages in Limestone Lounge, the site's massive threaded discussion area, it becomes clear that the book is not only revising itself but that it has become a community.
A few young record collectors are posting on the boards, but the heart of the Lounge beats from members of Florida's original '60s garage bands. No mere nostalgia fest, Lemlich's forum is a flowing oral history of the highest order, where aging baby boomers come to grips with their rebellious teenage years and reclaim a legacy that inspired rock from the Ramones to The Hives. Lemlich explains the initiation process: "First thing people do when they get on the Internet is surf porn. After they get tired of that, they Google their names. Suddenly they find out that there are people talking about their old garage band from high school. It's hard for them to believe at first, but soon they really get into it."
It wasn't always that easy. In the late '70s, when Lemlich first began researching what would become his book, it was virtually impossible to gather information on the hopelessly obscure bands. Most had quit their short music careers with the onset of college, marriage, the draft, or a job. Paper trails had gone cold. Letters came back "no such address," phone calls were seldom returned. Despite assurances that the one old 45 they had pressed was a collector's item, some former players evinced no interest in verifying data or telling their story. One man's history is another's old news.
Eventually Jeff met enough enthusiastic folks -- like Florida music veteran Billy DeMoya, "the type of person who would go through their closets for old pictures or records, and would phone their musician friends to try to do the same." As the years accumulated, Lemlich expanded his simple discography into a thatch of detailed chapters featuring pop cultural narratives, broad overviews, rare discoveries, arcane minutia, an anti-drug message, and only 25 photographs. The ridiculous stricture on illustration was imposed by the publisher, who also would neglect to include an index in the softbound volume.
Imperfect and incomplete as Lemlich thought his achievement was, the publication of Savage Lost (titled after a favorite slab of Florida psych-garage by The Kollektion) was an event for a few garage enthusiasts and vinyl geeks. But it was an even bigger deal for those surprised to find themselves in its pages. During its word-of-mouth dissemination through the '90s, Lemlich's book inspired many renewed friendships, fomented band reunions, and became the de factoreference work on early Florida rock music. The connections it rekindled and the sense of historicism it inspired are now coming to fruition on his website.
To click through the threads of the Limestone Lounge message boards is to be inexorably drawn into the groovy teenbeat world of South Florida in the '60s. The photographs alone prove Dad was once as cool as Jack White. One need not be steeped in the lore of Lemlich's bible to appreciate the posts. Every one recontextualizes familiar settings, like mentions of Porky Baine's club made out of boxcars sitting right on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale (yes, that Porky's). Lemlich says just look at the landscape and use your imagination: "The War Memorial Auditorium is still there." Hard to picture the hoary old structure as the scene of go-go abandon now, but to the young bands besotted with rock 'n' roll, it was a prime gig.
Native Floridian Lemlich, who acknowledges only being in his 40s, says he was too young to attend the numerous dances sponsored up and down the coast by competing radio stations WQAM and WFUN. But his tastes were formed by the airwaves of these pop-music giants. Before hippie rock and underground FM grew up to be Clear Channel, powerful local AM stations featuring teen-centric DJs (in South Florida's case, think Rick Shaw) spun play lists chock full of local releases that climbed and dropped in heavily scrutinized surveys. At the time, Lemlich didn't know that some of his favorite hits were by local bands.