Cult Heroes - Amerikan Story (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Cult Heroes

Amerikan Story (2016)

Rave up records

For many years I’ve been a collector and chronicler of all kinds of classic Michigan punk. From the earliest and most obvious stuff like MC5 and The Stooges to the hardcore of Negative Approach and The Meatmen. From the nasty sounds of Detroit to more unknown stuff from smaller cities like Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo. I usually start with the biggest bands and then go back and try to fill in the cracks. One of the bands I always wanted to explore further was Ann Arbor’s Cult Heroes. Now with the release of Amerikan Story, I’m finally able to get a good chunk of their music in one place. I’m happy to report that it doesn't disappoint.

Cult Heroes singer Hiawatha Bailey has an interesting backstory. He worked with MC5 and The Stooges in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was the only person of color in the John Sinclair led White Panther Party. He did time in federal prison alongside Michael Davis and Wayne Kramer (both of MC5). You’d be hard pressed to find anyone with more legitimate old school punk credibility. He started Cult Heroes in 1978 and had some early success. They played CBGB’s (back when it still mattered) after four months of being a band. They played with the Ramones, Joan Jett, Destroy All Monsters, Oingo Boingo, the Dead Boys and Johnny Thunders. They put out two 7 inch records that are highly desired by collectors. This was all by about 1981.

Amerikan Story includes three of the four tracks from those classic 45’s. “Berlin Wall”, “Amerikan Story” and “I Don’t Like It” are all here in their original glory. I’m not sure where the other eight songs came from. There are no liner notes to help fill in the blanks. (It’s the one downside in what is otherwise a very nice package.) So what does it sound like? Although Hiawatha has been called the black Iggy Pop, this sounds less like The Stooges and more like fellow Detroit proto-punkers Death. It walks a fine line between punk, garage and straight up gritty Detroit rock and roll. At times, the guitar can get pretty aggressive and almost veers into crude thrash.

Hiawatha has an above average voice, especially for punk. I hesitate to say it because it feels a little racist, but the guy has got soul. (So does Bobby Hackney from Death.) Lyrically, Cult Heroes don’t mind being overtly political, much like The Five. They’re also highly capable of writing catchy songs about more traditional rock and roll topics like girls and drugs. (Also like MC5, now that I think about it.) In addition to the tracks I mentioned previously, “Kids That Kill”, “Nation of Strangers”, “She’s Got Nothin’” and “Wolves at My Door” are all standouts. This collection is well curated, so there’s not really a dud in the bunch.

Surprisingly, the Hiawatha led Cult Heroes are still around. They even still play annually at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. I haven’t been able to make it to one of those shows yet (it’s about a three hour drive), but it’something I hope to make happen. The band doesn’t have much online or social media presence. As far as I can tell, Amerikan Story is their first and only proper LP. it’’s a wonderful addition to my sometimes Michigan-centric record collection. Rave Up Records is an Italian label that specializes in releasing obscure American recordings. They seem to be doing for early punk what labels like Alternative Tentacles have been doing for 80’s hardcore. This is volume 80 (?!) of the American Lost Punk Rock Nuggets series. Perusing the catalog, it looks like a lot of cool stuff. Imports can be a pain to find, but in this case it’s worth the effort.