Forty-five years ago, North Bay audiences discovered a new groove.
Coming out of Marin County, the Tazmanian Devils were a proto-New Wave band that became one of the first in the region to mix rock ‘n’ roll with roots-reggae, R&B and even Gospel influences.
They almost took the world by storm, signing to Warner Brothers record label and releasing two albums before disbanding in the mid-1980s.
Though the Tazmanian Devils never quite hit the top of the Billboard charts, they lived on in the hearts and ears of Bay Area fans that still fondly remember the band’s lively shows at clubs like the Sleeping Lady Café in Fairfax.
Now, those fans and newcomers have the chance to hear new tracks from the group; recorded during a live show in 1982 and released digitally as the first in a planned ‘TAZ Bootleg Series’ of albums available to stream on the nonprofit Internet Archive.
Guitarist Dave Carlson and keyboardist Pat Craig, with bassist David Mackay, first formed the Tazmanian Devils after playing a show with Jimmy Cliff in 1975.
“That was a life-changer, that show,” Carlson says. “I always loved reggae, but when we saw that band, they were so heavy and powerful. Much different than the records, it was a rock band playing this incredible rhythmic groove.”
That show was the seed that grew into the Tazmanian Devils, who recruited vocalist and guitarist Dennis Hogan, drummer Barry Lowenthal and bassist Duane Van Dieman, after Mackay left to play with Mike Nesmith.
The band quickly became a popular live act in Marin and Sonoma County, and began touring the Bay Area and the West Coast. They also hooked up with producer Erik Jacobsen to record their self-titled debut in 1980 and Broadway Hi-Life in 1981.
“The albums had a great sound, but it was highly produced,” Carlson says. “It was a different sound than us playing live, we always wanted to go more into the live direction.”
After disbanding in the ‘80s, the band members remained friends and released a new record of material in 2006 titled Taz Nuvoux. Now, the Tazmanian Devils go back to their heyday with the release of Eugene 1982, a live album captured on reel-to-reel tape by the group’s former roadie Dave Duca.
Streaming online at the Internet Archive, Eugene 1982 sounds fresh and crisp for a 39-year-old soundboard recording, and the group’s ahead-of-its-time music now pops with a modern attitude.
“I love demos and bootlegs,” Carlson says. “You get the real feeling of what it was like in the day.”