Needle Drop: King Bee, “Hot Pistol”

When the conversation turns to the forgotten band that was King Bee, which it, admittedly, never does, it becomes quite clear that one mono inferno begets another. In other words, a person cannot speak of King Bee without alluding to Dead Moon. Long-revered (at least in these northwestern parts) as the irrefutable sovereigns of the underground punk arena, Portland’s rock ’n’ roll triumvirate, apart from creating some of the most hard-driving and soul-throttling music this side of Detroit, possesses a founding legend like no other.

Formed in ’88 and composed of husband-wife duo, Fred and Toody Cole and late drummer Andrew Loomis, the band was, and is, the truest manifestation of its leading lo-fi mastermind’s essence and vision. The lore surrounding Fred Cole’s road to the status of rock ’n’ roll baron, though heard by far too few, is profoundly warranted, not only because it’s as serpentine as journeys come, but given the newfound rarity of bonafide tales of onerous toil and perseverance among rising bands, the story now rings even more compelling.

Above all, the fact remains that just about every group Cole assembled over the years put out more than its fair share of unthinkably masterful rock ’n’ roll, no matter how brief a tenure.

Cole first emerged at the age of fifteen as the leading man of Deep Soul Cole under the moniker, the “White Stevie Wonder,” a descriptor that would be utterly and demonstratively abandoned amidst his turn towards rock music. As the 1960s progressed, Cole made a living laying it down for lost garage outfits of the era such as the Weeds and the Lollipop Shoppe, whose single “You Must Be a Witch” ranks among the finer high-pressure psych-garage tracks to come out of the tradition’s heyday.

The following years would mark an increased variegation in Cole’s choice in musical forms as well as a clear indication of things to come in terms of label operations. From here on out, Cole would release all future wax through his and Toody’s own Portland labels, such as Whizeagle and Tombstone Records, with the latter remaining extant up until recent years (dishing out the latest Cole family endeavor in the form of Pierced Arrows). He launched into the next decade with yet another heinously short-lived project, Zipper, whose blend of the primitive and the heavy made for a one-off 1975 LP filled to the brim with the grimy vocal wailing that would define all succeeding Cole-fronted bands, the most fleeting of these being King Bee.

Though Cole’s legend rests firmly, and rightly so, with Dead Moon, this meteoric 1978 effort bears the proper mentioning which has seemingly eluded it for close to forty years, even among the former group’s retinue. Staying together only long enough to produce one of the greatest and most obscure lost singles of the 70s, King Bee unified the raw power of Zipper with the unremitting spark of the Weeds, resulting in an all-too-brief spell of lo-fi delirium which appears in its full majesty on the lead track, “Hot Pistol.”

Apart from supposedly being the first instance of Fred Cole being Fred Cole the Fret-master General, taking up responsibility for both lead vocals and guitar, the song is, in hindsight, an undeniable prototype for what was to come. After a thirty-second intro that can only be described as lurking, a culminating shriek of “two-three-HEY!” sends the trio a-steamrollin’ right on for the darkness, charged with a downright obscene riff and a chorus dominated by Cole’s trademark combustible holler.

Given that the recording itself makes the rest of his output sound borderline polished, a good deal of Cole’s words are left pronouncedly obscured, though not to such a degree that his penchant for elemental lyricism is ever in question. With all his conjuring of heat and fire, Cole offers some of the earliest traces of the thunderbolts-and-nightsticks imagery that would be found on the self-referential “Dead Moon Night” over ten years later. Appropriately, the climactic section of “Hot Pistol” more or less takes these images to heart, quite brazenly accelerating into a total conflagration of feverish strumming, which only reinforces what had been rather evident from the get-go. With Fred Cole, there’s no such thing as a minor work.

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