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Ginger's Spice

The Wildhearts' tumultuous tale

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Rock & roll and debauchery go back a long way. Ever since Les Paul streamlined the device we now know as the electric guitar, the resulting tumult has led to hip-shaking, lovemaking, and the teeth-gnashing of upstanding citizens everywhere.

Britain's Wildhearts not only took musical cues from their rock forebears, but they also nabbed their lifestyles -- as breathlessly portrayed by the English rock press. Led by a one-named lead singer -- the charismatic Ginger -- the band's bio reads something like the script to Spinal Tap, if Spinal Tap weren't so goddamned tame by comparison. Here, in abridged form, is their story.

After a run with the glam-tastic London Quireboys, Ginger was kicked out for using too many drugs. After a cup of coffee with the NYC-based Throbs, he decided to start his own band, The Wildhearts, in early 1990. Joining Ginger in the project were C.J. Jagdhar, drummer "Stidi" Stidolph, a singer by the name of Snake, and someone named Julian on bass. Soon, as a harbinger of the revolving door policy to come, Ginger canned everyone except Jagdhar and took over the front-man role. And why not? All he had to do at that point was learn to sing -- everything else (i.e., the look, the drug habit) was already in place. After nabbing drummer Bam from Dogs D'Amour and hiring bassist Danny McCormack, the group were soon underground sensations, reminding those who were there of the old days and fulfilling a rock & roll fantasy for those who weren't.

After flirting with Atco Records, the "Hearts signed a contract with EastWest Records in the summer of 1991. The Wildhearts then went out on tour with a band the Brit rock press had an even bigger hard-on for: the Manic Street Preachers. Original drummer Stidi then returned on Earth Vs. The Wildhearts, released in September 1993. Stidi was then summarily dropped again, replaced with former Radio Moscow drummer Ritch Battersby (there will be a quiz later). Substance abuse was running rampant in the band by this point, and their shows were more over-the-top and exhibitionist than ever. By early 1994, one-time "blood-brother" C.J. Jagdhar was fired and replaced with guitarist Devin Townsend (Steve Vai) and keyboard player Willie Downing (The Grip).

After a triumphant Reading Festival performance later that year -- they finished their set! -- Ginger and bassist McCormack paid a visit to the Kerrang! magazine offices, which they more or less razed in a promotion stunt for a limited, fan-club-only release the band called Fishing for Luckies.

Finally, in May 1995, the band released its sophomore effort, P.H.U.Q., after going through two different producers and an alleged suicide attempt by Ginger. The record entered the British charts at number six, and sold rather well for a band that was constantly in flux. However, the album never quite made it out of Europe, and never earned a US release. The band did add new guitarist Mark Keds (Senseless Things), who then -- I swear I'm not making any of this up -- went missing in the midst of a Japanese tour.

At this point, the increasingly unstable and drug-addled Ginger was attempting to get the band released from their EastWest contract. After an aborted tour with AC/DC, The Wildhearts were finally dropped by EastWest, who then attempted to milk the legacy by re-releasing Fishing for Luckies along with a Best of The Wildhearts collection.

After this, the band signed with tiny Mushroom records, releasing 1997's Endless, Nameless before the wheels fell off completely. By this point, The Wildhearts had managed the rare feat of becoming legends without the benefit of any consistent lineup, string of albums, US presence, or touring schedule -- basically a British Guns 'N' Roses, were Axl Rose not such a recluse. Smelling the shifting winds of pop culture, a freshly clean-and-relatively sober Ginger reunited the "classic" Wildhearts lineup in early 2001 -- C.J. and Stidi were once again back in the fold, as was bassist Danny McCormack.

Fast forward to 2004, and longtime "Hearts fan Justin Hawkins is the lead singer for what may well be the world's biggest buzz band, mocku-metal rockers The Darkness. Hawkins has his choice of opening acts for the band's first-ever US tour -- who wouldn't want in on a tour that is selling out before the band even steps on the plane? -- but chooses pal Ginger and his Wildhearts, despite the preceding bio/just-say-no homily listed above.

Or maybe because of it. As The Wildhearts have proved, it probably doesn't matter either way.

The Wildhearts, touring behind their new release, Riff After Riff, will appear at The Room Tuesday, March 23, along with The Dragons and The Dead Kings. Tickets are $7 at the door.

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