Folk rock band
The folk rock band the Frogs have been performing and recording their masterful and controversial songs for more than 20 years. With brothers Jimmy and Dennis Flemion at the helm, the Frogs began performing their own brand of folk rock music in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, coffeehouses and small club venues in the early 1980s. The Frogs have released several single-issue albums and numerous tapes over the past 20 years, but because of their often provocative song titles and lyrics, the group has found it difficult to find mainstream radio play and record label support. If not for the support of a few supergroups and celebrities like Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Courtney Love, Joey Ramone, Pavement, and Kelley Deal of the Breeders, the Frogs may have called it quits several years ago. Despite the solid support of their more famous fans, the band has struggled with the controversy they create with their songs. Some critics who have not understood the group’s satire have accused the Frogs of being homophobic, racist, and intolerant of religion.
In 1980, Jimmy and Dennis Flemion first hit the stage at the 8th Note coffeehouse in Milwaukee as a duo. The brothers played under band names The Gila Monsters and The Stupid Frogs before settling on just the Frogs. With Jimmy Flemion on guitar and vocals, and Dennis Flemion on drums, vocals, and keyboards, the band expanded their sound with the addition of bass player Jay Tiller of Couch Flambeau in 1983. Over the years, the Frogs have enlisted nine bass players as temporary replacements or substitutes at their live shows. Deal and Eddie “King” Roeser of Urge Overkill are two of the band’s celebrity fans to have played bass for the band.
Recorded at Pearl Studios in Milwaukee between 1986 and 1988, the Frogs’s self-titled debut album was released by Drag City Records in 1988. The Flemion brothers only pressed 1, 000 copies of The Frogs. The album was later re-issued in 1999 on Alarm Records. Some fan favorites include “Layin’ Down My Love 4 U” and “Hades High School.” The band’s second album, If’s Only Right And Natural, was released on Home-stead Records in 1989.
The Homestead Records press release for It’s Only Right And Natural provided mocking praise in what has become a trademark for the group’s press releases: “It’s filled with an abundance of musical wisdom, lyrical treasure and a sexual awareness never before experienced. Songs like ’Someone’s Pinning Me To The Ground’ and ’Been A Month Since I Had A Man’ reveal the beauty, longing, ecstasy and grim reality behind the gay/lesbian experience in America.”
The band and those who have adopted them help perpetuate a greater depth to their music by helping to spread different rumors concerning the band. The Flemion brothers have in the past told the press that they were lovers. In another story planted in the press, they were housebound lovers dying of AIDS. When the band joined Gerard Cosloy’s Homestead label in 1989, they had gained an even greater weaver of tales. Cosloy first profiled the band as serious “radical gay rockers” for his Conflict fanzine. In a Homestead advertisement for It’s Only Right and Natural the label wrote: “It’s time to face the real facts of life: YOU ARE GAY. YOU HAVE BEEN FROM THE DAY YOU WERE BORN.” Some music critics began writing that the brothers were involved in a new gay liberation manifesto. Other critics who missed the irony wrote that the band was involved in a growing gay supremacist movement that advocates genocide for straights. The band’s name later became an acronym for Founding Revolutionaries Of Gay Supremacy. Many of the Frogs’ fans have found it humorous that the irony was lost to so many of the band’s critics in the media.
The band found it difficult to find label support and played very few shows because of a lack of fan support in Milwaukee. The Frogs had spent many years writing songs rather than going off on nationwide tours and developing a stronger fan base outside of Milwaukee. Discouraged and tired of playing to 30 or 40 people, the band was on the verge of calling it quits in 1991. But a visit by Billy Corgan to what was to be their final show in Madison, Wisconsin, changed the course of the band’s future. In town recording an album with Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan immediately took the Frogs on as a pet project after seeing the performance. The Frogs then began opening shows for Smashing
Members include Dennis Flemion, drums, keyboards, vocals; Jimmy Flemion, guitar, vocals; Brian “Beezer” Hill (group member 1988-89 and 2000), bass; Jay Tiller (group member 1983-86 and 1989-92), bass.
Group formed in Milwaukee, WI, 1980; debut release, The Frogs, 1988; released It’s Only Right and Natural on Homestead Records, 1989; released Now You Know You’re Black on Matador Records, 1994; released Here Comes Santa’s Pu***, 1995; released Rearviewmirror on Epic Records, 1995; released My Daughter The Broad on Matador Records, 1996; released Star Job on Scratchie Records, 1997; released Unsealed: A Tribute To The Go-Go’s on Four Alarm Records, 1999; released Bananimals, 1999; released Racially Yours, 2000.
Addresses: Home —The Frogs, P.O. Box 1263, Milwaukee, WI 53201-1263. Record company —Four Alarm Records, 660 W. Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60661, phone: (312) 454-1105, fax: (312) 454-1182, e-mail:[email protected] Website —The Frogs Official Website: http://www.thefrogs.net.
Pumpkins. The Flemion brothers even performed as backing musicians for Smashing Pumpkins on occasion. With Corgan supporting the band, other megastars followed. Pearl Jam took them on the road for some of their shows, and both Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins distributed their songs on the B-sides of singles.
The Frogs hit a snag when they attempted to release their third full-length record, Racially Yours. The problem arose when record companies saw that the album cover featured one of the brothers in black face paint. The next obstacle to finding a label was the album’s songs about “Purification of the Race” juxtaposed with pro-African American songs like “Freedom.” Record companies were afraid to be involved with a project that could lead to bad publicity and possible boycotts. The band was unable to release a full-length album between 1989 and 1996 because they refused to compromise and alter the content of their material. Racially Yours was not released until Four Alarm Records issued it in July of 2000.
The Frogs’ next big event took place in 1994 when they took second stage for the Lollapalooza show at the Sam Boyd Bowl in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was 117 degrees when they played the show. The band was exhausted but managed to play a full set. When cable television music network MTV wanted to film the Frogs, it was a moment of crisis for the band. Dennis Flemion discussed the dilemma in an interview with PopWatch: “I didn’t want to be filmed because I had no respect for MTV up to that point. I told myself I’d never sell out, I’d never go on MTV, ever. They literally begged me to let them film us. It’s no big deal for me now…. They had the MTV head person come talk to me…. I talked to Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips and he said to do it…” Thus, Flemion finally consented and the Frogs had their moment of fame on MTV.
In 1996, while the band continued to look for a label for Racially Yours, The Frogs released My Daughter The Broad on Matador Records. Cosloy had left Homestead for Matador and the Frogs followed him to the new label. Steve Albini, producer and member of Big Black, wrote the band’s “mocumentary” for the Matador Records press release. The release begins: “Born Joey Levitch in 1916, the entertainer known as the Frogs began his career in the Jewish resorts of the Catskill mountains….” Albini goes on to tell a hilarious tale of the Frogs hooking up with Eddie Vedder and making movies in the post-war years of the late 1940s and later going on tour with the USO to entertain American troops during the Korean War. It is completely absurd and in keeping with the Frogs’ satirical tradition.
The group’s next release was Star Job in 1997 on Scratchie Records, a small independent label based in Chicago, Illinois, that is connected with Smashing Pumpkins. The record was produced by Billy Corgan under the pseudonym Johnny Goat. Star Job is about a bunch of angry rock stars raving against their fans. Pearl Jam covered a couple of songs from the album. “I Only Play For Money” became part of an anti-grunge theme song although it was originally written in 1985.
The Frogs released a steady flow of records through the end of the 1990s, including Bananimals in 1999 and Racially Yours in 2000. The Flemion brothers continue to perform, although they are anxious to take on new material for their next release. When Stephen Thompson of The Onion online asked Dennis Flemion: “You guys have played in blackface. You’ve taken on the persona of gay folksingers. You sing about rape. Is anything off-limits?” Dennis replied: “At this point, we probably wouldn’t sing about that kind of stuff. A lot of those songs are old. At this point, you know, we’ve probably slayed just about every sacred cow you could put in front of us.” The Frogs are planning more work with Scratchie Records and are slated to release their next album in February of 2001.
The Frogs, Drag City, 1988.
It’s Only Right And Natural, Homestead, 1989.
Now You Know You’re Black, Matador, 1994.
Here Comes Santa’s Pu***, Matador, 1995.
Rearviewmirror, Epic, 1995.
Punk Rock Xmas, Rhino, 1995.
The Frogs Do Wesley Willis, Dutch East India, 1996.
My Daughter The Broad, Matador, 1996.
Star Job, Scratchie, 1997.
Unsealed: A Tribute To The Go-Go’s, Four Alarm, 1999.
Bananimals, Four Alarm, 1999.
Racially Yours, Four Alarm, 2000.
Alternative Press, July 1989.
Melody Maker, July 1, 1989.
Spin, July 1989.
The Frogs Official Website: http://www.thefrogs.net (December 21, 2000).
The Onion, http://www.theavclub.com/avclub3207/avfeature3207.html (December 21, 2000).