#TBT Three Chords Never Die

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, legend; blues musicSome songs never die. There are terrible songs that make you want to shove an ice pick through your ear drums every time and some that have the power to make your day of any year. For me the latter would include most anything by Howlin’ Wolf, Al Green, Otis Rush… with dozens of selections by Roxy Music, Jimmie Reed, Mingus, etc… Ice pick songs tend to be by Grateful Dead, Beatles, Oasis, etc… I’m almost always up for the Velvet Underground — “Sweet Jane,” “Waiting for My Man,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties” — and then there are songs like “Sister Ray” that raise the bar, then smash it into powder and smoke it.

There are songs with so much history and angst behind them that people have written books about them — “Louie Louie” (investigated by the FBI for sexual and anti-American content), “Lili Marlene” (favored by both Allied and Axies soldiers during WW2 and Marlene Dietrich’s theme song). And there are songs that are as simple and well designed as a claw hammer, so good and simple that even a trio of guitar banging bone heads can’t screw them up — “96 Tears,” “Sweet Jane,” “Gloria,” “Louie, Louie,” maybe even “It’s My Party” –songs that have been recorded hundreds of times and played by a million garage bands that may never die.

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, The Skunks: Austin's First Punk Band

I’m not suggesting that my own song “Earthquake Shake” falls into any of those categories, but I’ll say that having at least three other cover versions out there pleases me a lot.

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, The Skunks: Austin's First Punk Band, "Earthquake Shake," by the Skunks from Austin, TX
“Earthquake Shake” is the second song I wrote (going back to about 1975), and it joined the Skunks’ live set list in late 1977 as we threw our band together as an opening act for The Violators at our first gig at Raul’s in January 27, 1978.

There were no other punk bands in Austin at the time, except maybe the Bodysnatchers, who might have considered themselves a rock band.


Anyway, the Skunks had a working song list of about 20 – 30 songs, as the original guitarist, Eddie Munoz, and I had been playing together in a glam-blues-rock band called Jelly Roll and other bands for almost two years and we could fake our way through dozens of blues and rock and rockabilly covers, playing in bars that required three to four hours of live music from a band.

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, legend

A not-pristine copy of “Earthquake Shake” on eBay for $150. Copies in Very Good or better condition have fetched $250 and higher.

Playing all night in Texas joints and parties could be a tough way to earn a dollar, but, as I like to say, it sure beats working. The Skunks of 1978 also played “Thigh High,” which was my actual first original song (also about 1974). The 1978 Skunks (with drummer Billy Blackmon) recorded a demo of “Earthquake Shake” in January or February 1978, along with a few others no one would remember today (except, I reckon, the band), such as  the not-so-classic “Virgin Mary” and “Adolph Hitler Was a Closet Queen.”

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, legend

Jesse Sublett and his 1950s Fender Precision bass guitar.

If I remember correctly, we also recorded “Earthquake Shake” with Joe Gracey producing in his studio in the basement of KOKE-FM (a k a Electric Graceland), but it didn’t make the cut of the Skunks “Black/Bootleg” LP on Gracey’s Rude Records. Long story, but that record took so long for Gracey to release (1980) that the new version of the Skunks, with Jon Dee Graham on guitar, recorded “Earthquake Shake” and “Can’t Get Loose” on a Friday night in July 1979, using two 2-track tape machines and sent it off to be pressed and released it in late July 1979 on our own Skunks Records label. The single was a hit on KLBJ-FM and sold out quickly in Austin (despite what some music historians have stated elsewhere, KLBJ-FM was hugely supportive of our band; not only were our official releases part of their playlist but they also played demo cassettes in heavy rotation as early as the summer of 1978).

In 1980 we released a second pressing of 1,000 copies with a different sleeve. The original sleeve was printed for free by a fan at Ginny’s copying services in Dobie Mall. We got a lot of free (pilfered) stuff in those days. In 2000 The Skunks released a live CD called “Earthquake Shake: Live” (including the original 45 version and live sets from Max’s Kansas City and the Back Room in Austin; available on iTunes) and then, later that year, the Italian label Rave UP released a compilation of Skunks material on a vinyl LP called “Earthquake Shake.” In 2010 Last Laugh Records, based in Brooklyn, released a facsimile edition of the original 45. Last Laugh is owned by one Harry Howes, a busy guy, as you can see below:

Jesse Sublett, Austin author of noir and true crime fiction, blues singer, leader of The Skunks of Austin, Texas

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, legend

At least a couple of Austin bands were playing “Earthquake Shake” at Raul’s in the late 1970s; but the first band I heard about releasing their own version was  The Long Gones, from Cincinnati, Ohio (1998, on the Shake It label). There’s also the French band the Splash Four, who in 1995 titled their record “Do the Earthquake Shake,” released on a Japanese label. I heard about it years later, found the band, contacted them, and was told, Sorry, we no longer have any copies.

Get Hip from Pittsburgh distributes the record, which I recently acquired through eBay. I’m happy to say that our French fans turned in a damn good version of the song. In fact, the style of “Earthquake Shake” seems to permeate the whole record. The guy behind Get Hip is apparently Gregg Kostelich, who plays guitar in a long-running old-school punk band called The Cynics. Ironically, Lois and Dashiell and I were in Pittsburgh for a family reunion when the Splash Four CD arrived in the mail here in Austin. Had we known, we could’ve looked up Greg in person to save on postage. 🙂

My friend Mal Thursday has also recorded “Earthquake Shake” and plans to release it soon, maybe this summer, on a release by his great garage band, The Malarians. I look forward to that.

Oops, I almost forgot that Soul Jazz Records from the UK included “Earthquake Shake” on the excellent compilation of garage punk 45s released a couple of years ago called “Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself!: Underground Punk in the United States of America, Vol. 1” This is an excellent package, highly recommended.

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician, legend; blues music

I think the second-most-covered song by the Skunks is “Gimme Some.” The Skunks have released several versions, including one on the Joe Gracey produced LP, plus the Republic “Purple” Skunks LP of 1982, our double-EP from 1980, the Rave Up LP, the Earthquake Shake: Live CD, and probably several others. The Sons of Hercules recorded what some consider to be the definitive version (I admit, it’s really, really great); the all-girl band The Platforms recorded a smoking version as well. And Tim “Napalm” Stegall’s band The Hormones do an incendiary version as well.

I’m always gratified to hear from fans. My friend Robb Burley, the auctioneer, says that his two girls, age 4 and 6, count “Gimme Some” among their personal Top Five songs of All Time.

Update: I’ve added some mp3s to play on the music player, including the Splash Four version of “Earthquake Shake” as well as the Skunks original single and a live version. Unfortunately, the interface with the music player is hard to figure out and it’s a 50-50 chance whether it will work or not. Crossing my fingers that it does.



Earthquake Shake "Earthquake Shake" from Do The Earthquake Shake! by Splash Four. Track 16. Genre: パンク. "Earthquake Shake"
Earthquake Shake (live 2007) "07 earthquake shake". "Earthquake Shake (live 2007)"
Earthquake Shake "20 Earthquake Shake". "Earthquake Shake"

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