By Joe Iaquinto
Living in New York in the 1970s, disco, and playing disco music in clubs, was unavoidable. In hindsight, some of the music was downright fantastic, especially for us bass players, but at the time, the stigma attached to it was overwhelming.
As if to answer the prayers of those who couldn’t stand it any longer, punk rock began to infiltrate the music scene like so much lava spewing out and destroying all that was polyester and satin. As I witnessed this massacre, I couldn’t help but cling even harder to my beloved Earth, Wind & Fire, Doobie Bros., Chicago, etc., wondering how anything good could come from this. Now, I have always been very musically openminded, but most of the stuff I was hearing from the NYC rehearsal studios was downright frightening! And working at Manny’s Music on 48th Street in Manhattan, I was pushed further into the abyss by the number of people suddenly coming into the store and bashing on Fender P basses.
But then I heard the Laughing Dogs.
Yeah, they were playing CBGB’S and were classified as a punk band but they were really head and shoulders above the common crop of three-chord, “1-2-3-4!!!” monsters. These guys wrote clever, interesting songs, had strong vocals, and were damn good musicians.
Bassist Ronny Carle (aka Ronny Altaville) was a chameleon, running the gamut from throttling his Rickenbacker and Fender Jazz basses in an 8th note frenzy to creating melodic lines that would make Macca proud. These guys were truly a power pop group with a punk attitude, slyly hiding their true intentions behind a wall of lo-fi bass and drum sounds. They often played gigs with Blondie, Talking Heads, Mink Deville, and the Shirts – all great New York bands – and wound up recording probably their most punkish song, “I Need a Million,” on the 1976 album Live at CBGBs. If you’re not familiar with the Laughing Dogs, do yourself a favor and check them out.
I absolutely love bands that can play multiple styles of music and do so with a sense of humor that keeps them from sounding contrived, and that’s these guys.
They sound like Elvis Costello, XTC, The Tubes, 10 CC, Warren Zevon, and the Beatles if they all got together and created something.
Check out “Lazy Road,” from their album, Pre-Colombian Gold, 1974-1976. It sounds like early Steely Dan, with wonderful bass playing Ronny Carle. And then there’s “Low Life,” from the 1979 LP, The Laughing Dogs, with enough jangly guitar and vocal harmonies to launch a dozen 90’s pop bands.
I’m grateful to my dear friend and fellow N.Y. bassist, Larry Tepper, for providing me with lots and lots of Laughing Dogs material. Larry’s also the guy who turned me onto Colin Hodkinson and Back Door, way back when we were in high school.
Hey, it’s what we bass players do, right? We pay it forward!
Ronny Carle Sound & Vision…
“Lazy Road” https://youtu.be/UxkEenY6e2I
“I Need a Million” https://youtu.be/kqceZjbFVXo
“Low Life Band From Brooklyn” https://youtu.be/e9ucPYeqL-k