The oldest story in the world

Fourteen years after breaking up, the Plimsouls return with a new record and an old sound

For a time, history was all Case really knew: Born in Buffalo, New York, he caught a bus to San Francisco in the early '70s and made his meager living busking on corners for change. He traveled the West Coast, from Portland to Mexico, banging out old Lightnin' Hopkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James, and Mance Lipscomb songs on his acoustic--a young white Yankee learning his way through music by picking out the music of old Southern black men. He eventually fell in with guitarist Jack Lee, who recruited Case with an offer of doubling whatever meager money he was making on the street. With Paul Collins they formed the Nerves, perhaps the first and finest of the power-pop bands of the late 1970s; their "Hanging on the Telephone" off the 1976 Nerves EP was recorded by Blondie just a few years later. (Appropriately, current Plimsoul Burke made his reputation as Blondie's drummer.)

The Nerves busted up two years after the EP: Collins ended up forming Paul Collins' Beat, Lee went his own way with the ill-advised Maiden America record, and Case formed the Plimsouls with drummer Lou Ramirez and, later, bassist Pahoa; guitarist Munoz joined up in 1980, bringing to the band a punk-rock sound as big as the Texas sky he was raised under. But the end came a mere four years later: Too many nights spent drinking and taking speed and too much disappointment came between the band members--that, and too much of doing too little to sustain what remained of their hopes of becoming more than L.A. club heroes. They became the band they portrayed in the film Valley Girl--fantastic musicians relegated to the background.

"We just really fell apart," Case said fatalistically. "It was just everything. It was 1984, during our last tour, and we were going through Texas. I had already started playing solo. I had this new batch of songs, and the band was sorta starting to play them, but it wasn't working. It was a different style of music. But it was a natural thing for me to do at the time, to go back to writing these story songs."

The Peter Case who emerged as a solo artist on such albums as 1986's Peter Case, 1989's The Man with the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, 1995's Torn Again, and this year's Full Service No Waiting was a born-again troubadour, a man who left behind the forlorn love songs of his early 20s and turned toward writing about "sin and salvation," as he wrote in the liner notes to Peter Case. They were songs about lost Americans, street-corner castoffs in search of a better anything; he covered Blind Lemon Jefferson and Roy Orbison on his 1994 Sings Like Hell, signed as a solo artist to tiny Santa Monica-based Vanguard Records, and spent some of his solo career trying to recapture what he'd had with the Plimsouls. (1992's Six Pack of Love especially finds Case pushing his all-pro band toward what he now called "big-note...simple" rock and roll--"just like what the Plimsouls used to do, but better," he said, laughing.)

But now he has found that sound again--with that band again. The new record will hit stores in October, though it's already available online (www.lather.com/plimsouls). The band--which may or may not even exist at this point, with Case again concentrating on his solo career--will also continue to play their random Los Angeles gigs at small clubs, yet another band making the rounds and weary of going through the whole damned thing one more time.

"I gave up asking why about this stuff a really long time ago, because I don't get anywhere with it," Case said last fall. "Maybe I'm not that smart. Maybe I don't have the insight. If I was asking why about the Plimsouls, I could ask it for years. I don't really know why.

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