“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”
- Pablo Picasso
I think the needle of my turntable was in the middle of “Crocodile Rock” on the album Doin’ The Woo Hoo With King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicztones. My wife (who listens mainly to contemporary country and pop music) and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment at the time, leaving her nowhere to hide from my stereo. She had heard all kinds of different music piped through that system that wasn’t her cup of tea, from The Mentors to G.G Allin. But 5 tracks of King Uszniewicz (pronounced “you-SNEV-itch”) was all she could tolerate.
For much of the 1970’s, King Uszniewicz and the Uszniewicztones were an oldies band that played regular gigs at The Orbit Room cocktail lounge, located in a bowling alley in Detroit, Michigan. Cub Koda from the band Brownsville Station was intrigued by them and even released a single by them on his “1-Shot” record label. Years later a series of compilation albums, made up of home-brewed recordings and out-takes, was released on Norton Records, the most recent being a split LP featuring another band called South Bay Surfers. Oh and by the way, did I mention that King Uszniewicz and the Uszniewicztones were really, really bad at playing music?
It’s challenging to describe the sound of King U and the U Tones. There is guitar, bass, drums and occasionally a keyboard depending on which lineup you are listening to. They trudge their way through covers of songs like “Land of 1000 Dances” and “Doo Wah Diddy.” The vocals – both lead and backing – at times are energetic, and at other times sound tired and drunk. Some cuts sound so bad that I wonder if it’s intentional, but the liner notes by Cub Koda suggest otherwise. Plus this was the 1970’s, before the age of MTV’s Jackass show and Tom Green, before it was trendy to be obnoxious on purpose. There are plenty of inept bands that think they sound better than they actually do.
The trademark of any good King U song is the tenor saxophone played by lead vocalist King U himself. It’s always off-key as it honks out three or four note solos and accents the music. The sax is like that annoying, loud-mouthed and socially-awkward party guest that changes all the festivities. It sounds like a goose that got run over by a truck.
So you may be wondering why I would buy all the King U albums and listen to them. It’s becuase they are humorous and fascinating. They have a sound all their own that cannot be mistaken for any other band. They’re “bad” – but in the same way that an Ed Wood Jr. film is “bad” or the film Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) is “bad.” There’s a certain charm there. There’s something about the false starts, the poor production, and the overall delivery of a King Uszniewicz cover song that gives it a human quality, an honesty that would lost if they were more skilled at what they did. It keeps them interesting, and sets them apart from other cover bands that do the same old thing.
There’s a scene in Rocky (1976) where Mickey, Rocky’s boxing coach, says to him “You got heart, but you fight like a goddamn ape.” That sums up the King and Co.