After fronting the highly influential but underground 1980s garage-rock group The Gories (a band instrumental to The White Stripes' sound) lead singer Mick Collins formed the Dirtbombs, a band with an always-changing line up and sound. Despite little commercial success, the Motor City group became part of Detroit's elite set. But with somewhere near 17 different group line-ups, the only consistent in the Dirtbombs has been and will always be singer, guitarist, and songwriter Collins.
As the Gories were on their last legs in Germany in 1992, Collins had an idea to create a new band that took the Gories' garage element of rawness and enhanced it with two bass players and two drummers. He wanted each Dirtbombs album to be completely different and completely danceable. By September of that year, Collins, who also released material with Blacktop and King Sound Quartet, rounded up Tom Lynch on bass, Dana Spice on what he calls "fuzz," or bass number two, and Pat Pantano and Chris Fachini on drums. The official first Dirtbombs recording was the crude four-song EP All Geeked Up, but the first actual release was a summer 1996 single for Sympathy for the Record Industry called "High Octane Salvation;" in the fall, In the Red Records put out All Geeked Up.
The Dirtbombs' sound—heavy and loud but grounded in smooth melodies—was anything but the minimal sound of the Gories. "All I wanted is to stop being compared to The Gories," Collins said about the formation of the Dirtbombs. Collins, an African-American singer in an otherwise white rock 'n' roll band, was given the tag "The Last Black Man in Rock" numerous times, an element that contributed to the Detroit essence of the band. Collins' deep soulful voice, which glazed over fuzzy, bass-heavy rock music, was something most of Collins' fans had never heard. Getting his fans dancing was something new too. "One of my firm beliefs is that if you can't dance to it, it isn't rock and roll," Collins told The Stranger. "So every band I play in, you're going to be able to dance to it. Overall, Detroit is a really rah-rah, fist-in-the-air kind of rock town. From soul music to techno, we like music that has a strong rhythm."
In 1998, In the Red put out the Dirtbombs first official full-length recording, the rock 'n' roll party, Horndog Fest. The recording was made with Collins and Lynch, this time with new players Joe Greenwald on fuzz, and photographer/musician Ewolf and Chris Handyside on drums. Produced by Collins himself, this record proved a little too raw for listeners. Even Detroit ignored it upon its release. "The only people that knew about it were garage fans, and since it wasn't a garage album, they hated it," Collins stated. "Nobody else even knew it existed, so I was just stuck." More than a few people, including In the Red owner Larry Hardy, noticed Collins' presence and commented on his unique singing voice. "He's such a great singer," Hardy told SanFrancisco Weekly. "No one else sings like that these days. He's the last one. There aren't many black singers that sing like that anymore, either—not in rock 'n' roll music."
Jack White of the White Stripes has been a Collins fan since his Gories days, and when he put together the Detroit compilation Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit for Sympathy for the Record Industry, there was no question that he would ask the Dirtbombs to contribute. The band laid down "I'm Through With White Girls," released alongside tracks by the Von Bondies, the White Stripes, and the Detroit Cobras. The band, which would release the full-length Ultraglide in Black in May of 2001, now existed of Collins, Tom Potter on fuzz, producer Jim Diamond on bass, Pat Pantano and White's nephew Ben Blackwell on drums. Ultraglide in Black became a favorite of Detroit music fans; it was a perfect amalgam of Detroit music. A dozen classic songs by artists like Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, and Phil Lynott (lead singer of Thin Lizzy), were covered in Dirtbombs fuzz. While fans adored the album, Collins wanted to reiterate that it wasn't a soul record. "When I formed the band I made a list of the LPs I was gonna do. One of them was covers of Black rock songs. After it came out, I discovered I hadn't gotten the concept across as well as I'd hoped: I was trying to make a rock 'n' roll record," Collins said. "The idea was that the songs one the record were valid rock 'n' roll songs that happened to be recorded by black artists. Everybody kept saying 'soul this' and 'soul that' and I'd pretty much written it off as an artistic failure." Fans thought otherwise.
All Music Guide summed up the feeling of Ultraglide in Black, "The Dirtbombs have created a record that is akin to stumbling across a box of cool records in your parent's attic, and is suitable for continuous play at any house party."
When it came time to record Dangerous Magical Noise in 2003, the Dirtbombs penned a rowdy number of originals that shimmied away from the soulful vibe of Ultraglide in Black. "I would hope that the only element common to every Dirtbombs LP is fuzz, since I actually try to keep common elements out of them," Collins said about the sound of their third long player. Produced by Collins and Diamond, Dangerous Magical Noise picked up touches of glam-rock, messy garage, and even anthem-esque rock. "Stubbornly lo-fi and expectedly scrappy, the album is also tremendously listenable, a rhythmic, leg-flailing romp through vintage soul cool, glam boogie, classic rock thrash, and punk bravado," stated online zine Pitchfork Media.
Remarkably, the band who recorded the album was the same one that made Ultraglide in Black sound so marvelous. Touring schedules however would shift the group to include a variety of different members throughout 2003 and 2004. In 2004, the Dirtbombs released a split single with Detroit electronic duo Adult. on drummer Ben Blackwell's label Cass Records. They did a version of Adult.'s "Lost Love," while Adult. dug into the Dirtbomb's "Pray for Pills." It was just another indication that the Dirtbombs are an evolving band able to tackle different styles. "I don't want anyone to be able to say that there's a 'Dirtbombs sound.' While I'll grant that you can tell it's us, I try to make every record as different from the others as possible," Collins said. "There was a time when it seemed like we were playing to blank stares, but at some point, people 'got' it, whatever 'it' is. And now our shows are packed and people are into it."
For the Record . . .
Members include Ben Blackwell , drums; Mick Collins , guitar, vocals; Jim Diamond , (left group, 2004) bass; Ewolf (left group, 2001), drums; Joe Greenwald (left group, 2001), bass; Troy Gregory , bass; Chris Handyside (left group, 2001), drums; Tom Lynch (left group, 2001) bass; Ko Melina , bass; Patrick Pantano , drums; Tom Potter (left group, 2004), bass.
Group formed in Detroit, MI, by Mick Collins, 1992; has had around 17 different band line-ups; released four-song EP All Geeked Up, In the Red Records, 1996; released debut full-length, Horndog Fest, In the Red Records, 1998; contributed to Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001; Ultraglide in Black, In the Red Records, 2001; Dangerous Magical Noise, In The Red Records, 2003.
Addresses: Record company—In the Red Records, P.O. Box 50777, Los Angeles, CA 90050. Website—The Dirtbombs Official Website: http://www.thedirtbombs.net.
All Geeked Up (EP), In the Red, 1996.
Horndog Fest, In the Red, 1998.
(Contributor) Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001.
Ultraglide in Black, In the Red, 2001.
Dangerous Magical Noise, In The Red, 2003.
San Francisco Weekly, August 15, 2001.
The Stranger (Seattle, WA), August 9, 2001.
"The Dirtbombs," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (December 22, 2004).
"The Dirtbombs: Dangerous Magical Noise," Pitchfork Media, http://pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/d/dirtbombs/dangerous-magical-noise.shtml (December 22, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from an interview with Mick Collins on December 22, 2004.