Rugged, ragged, always real — you couldn't find two people that embody DIY ethos with more palpable sincerity than punk rock heroes Fred and Toody Cole from Portland, Ore.
You probably know them slightly better as two-thirds of Dead Moon, one of those scarily influential bands that, for one reason or another, the larger world still doesn't quite seem to know, despite how well-loved they are by musicians and rabid fans alike.
Fred's musical start came in the early '60s; one of his first groups was the Weeds, but you might know them better as the Lollipop Shoppe. Their single "You Must Be a Witch" is now an underground psychedelic garage classic, but at the time it didn't chart, and neither did their album. The group disbanded within a few years.
At this point, in 1967, Fred had already met and married Toody. The story goes that the Weeds' van ran out of gas in Portland on the way to Canada. The band got a gig at local venue the Folk Singer, which had a certain Toody Conner under their employ. A year later, the two were married, and they've been together ever since.
Fred has played in numerous bands, but his first group with Toody was the Rats, raw punk with just a dash of the country influence that winds its way throughout all their output in some form or another. Sick of being unable to keep a stable lineup, Fred taught Toody how to play bass. Once the Rats had disbanded, the Coles' next band together was more deeply country: the Range Rats. Andrew Loomis tried out for this band, but it didn't quite work out; the Coles ended up using a drum machine instead. At this point, it was 1987, and they wanted to return to a darker rock 'n' roll sound; Loomis auditioned for a new group on drums, and this time it was just right. Thus arrived Dead Moon, with 10 studio albums, five live albums, and three compilations released over the course of their prolific existence.
In 2006, Dead Moon disbanded, but that didn't spell the end of Fred and Toody's music. Almost immediately afterward, they started another garage rock band, Pierced Arrows, with Kelly Halliburton on drums. Two albums, five singles — including one split with the Black Lips — and numerous shows followed, spreading their powerful, lovelorn spirit to fresh ears and veteran fans alike.
It's not just in the approach to their own music, though — the Coles are DIY, and have been their entire lives. In the '70s, Fred ran his own equipment store — Captain Whizeagle's, which lent its name to a label they started at the time to release their own music. In 1988, they started another label to release Dead Moon albums, Tombstone Records; this would eventually lend its name to their own Western-themed DIY miniworld that included not only a music store, but a general store as well, all on their own property in Clackamas, about 25 miles southeast of Portland. The Coles built everything from the ground up, all the businesses and their own music-paraphernalia-filled home, where they still live (although they've since retired from retail). Even the mastering of the majority of their work has all been done in their own home, employing a mono lathe from the '50s that had been used for the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie." (The lathe was actually a birthday gift to Fred from Toody.)
Dead Moon reunited for a string of shows in 2014, but the death of original drummer Andrew Loomis earlier this year brought an official end to the beloved band. Fred's own health issues have also put a stop to the unruly rock 'n' rollness of their shows. (In 2014, he successfully underwent emergency open-heart surgery, but the following year, they had to cut short a festival performance when Fred collapsed on stage.) As Toody told the Willamette Week in March, "At this point, Fred's rock 'n' roll days are over. He knows it and he's happy with it." But in true dogged Cole fashion, they are continuing to perform as a duo, playing songs from throughout their musical career, and that's what we'll be treated to at El Club on Sept. 26.
These days, they play seated, with an intimacy between one another wise and touching, the real stalwart kind that can only be born of a 40-plus-year romance and an over 30-year musical partnership.
The thing about Fred and Toody is that they were never trying to make a point. They needed to release their music, so they created a label. They needed to make a home for themselves and their children (they have three, and now at least seven grandkids), so they built it. They needed to make sure everyone was taken care of, so they ran their own businesses for years. Today, DIY is a buzzword. But for Fred and Toody, it's simply life — and we're extremely grateful for the chance to see them living it, side by side onstage, proof that even though the shape may need adjustments, you really never have to stop doing what you've always loved, on your own terms, in your own way.
Fred and Toody perform with Power at El Club on Monday, Sept. 26; Starts at 8 p.m.; 4114 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; elclubdetroit.com; $13.50 in advance/$15.50 day of.
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