Electric eels were a band from Lakewood, Ohio. They went to the same high school that I did, but graduated exactly 20 years earlier. Lakewood, Ohio is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. The electric eels were active between 1972 and 1975. Those were dour times for the Cleveland area.
The Cuyahoga River had caught on fire, unemployment was through the roof, crime was rampant, but the Cleveland music scene was thriving with some of the most original music ever. The Mirrors, Rocket From the Tombs, Pere Ubu, X Blank X, the Dead Boys and the Styrene Money Band all came from or were influenced by this brilliant era of pre-punk art music.
Electric eels (actually lowercase "e"s in reference to e e cummings) only played in public five times. Each performance was rife with audience conflict, police visits and the band members beating each other to a pulp. Founder + guitar player John Morton admits to being influenced by free jazz: "I remember listening to Ornette Coleman, John Cale, Sun Ra and Albert Ayler. That's what the eels was supposed to be, but we didn't really understand it." We're friends on Facebook, but he's never responded to any of my interview requests. The original band was rounded out by Dave "E" McManus on vocals & clarinet and Brian McMahon on guitar. Many of their early Cleveland gigs included hitting sheet metal with sledgehammers, anvils, and a power lawnmower on stage. The band soon left Cleveland and moved to Columbus after receiving death threats for sleeping with "one too many married women."
Nick Knox (later to drum with the Cramps) was in electric eels in 1975, shortly before the band collapsed. The recordings of rehearsals from this era comprise most of the output of the band, including the 1978 Rough Trade single "Agitated" b/w "Cyclotron." Rumor is that the band broke up after playing a gig at Case Western Reserve college which ended in a fist fight between the members. There is a ton of material available that has been released over the years. If you're interested, check out the Eyeball of Hell compilation LP, or the Those Were Different Times collection. Unfortunately, both of those might be out of print at the moment.
I polled friends on the interweb about their feelings about electric eels. Here's what I got:
Rita Kassák: They agitate me.
Steve Five: They are the predecessors of Sockeye and perhaps Marilyn Manson. Quite possibly no redeeming social value whatsoever.
Jermaine Blair: Cleveland Steamers.
Keith Whiteman: When asked about the formidable Cleveland trash band the electric eels Drew Carey once remarked, " Who? Have you seen my sex dungeon?" I also remember getting a Cleveland 70s and 80s comp and it had two bands. The electric eels and mirrors, I said to myself 'Cleveland does rock'. Jermaine is the best thing to come out of Cleveland anyways.
Brent Collins: They gave me all the confidence i needed to destroy myself. I played the role of Dave E in the electric eels tribute band Jaguar Ride. we lasted one show.
Josie Lazo: As far as I can discern, they make uplifting videos and I've never heard of them. Their raw, garagey punk sound is compelling and un-innovative but they're easy to dance to and have a good beat.
Darren Misner: Though I love everyone in the band, for me it has always been about Dave E, the troubled dynamo and squawker at the center connecting into the garbage heap of pop concerns and his own anxiety that eventually tipped him over to religion. Still it's always that space between nihilism and faith that produces the best stuff, be it Hank Williams drinking and wanting to repent or Jerry Lee Lewis begging Sam Phillips to not record another satanic rock song.
Brian Standeford: I was first introduced to them by Tim Hayes at Fallout Records and it blew my MIND. All the noise and nonsensical guitar solos mixed in with great pop tunes and Dave E's ultra snotty vocals sounded perfect to me in my early 20's. Eyeball of Hell and that Rocket from the Tombs reissue got me hooked on early Cleveland punk.
Cheryl Botchick: After faithfully attending Monday night AmRep/Jesus Lizard-derivative shows at the nearby Euclid Tavern, I spent most nightcaps at the popular (and now available for sale!) Ernie's, where one very old rocker in particular took my skimpy Mary Tyler Moore outfits to mean that I wanted to hear about how he was "at the lawnmower show" that got the Electric Eels banned from all clubs in the city.
Billy Parkinson: I was John Morton in the aforementioned Jaguar Ride. Most of my Eels memories involve shitty beer and prank phone calls to WCSB and Steve Wainstead. Then there was that one time at the Kent State student center when someone printed some funny money and left it on the ground and a wheelchair bound man picked it up only to discover is was imprinted with GOD SAYS F*CK YOU on the reverse. I'm not sure he needed reassurance there. I did end up having an extremely brief email exchange with John Morton at one point, he is a lot less unhinged than his public persona would lead you to believe.
Brian Turner: John stopped me in the street and showed me an operation scar once. And emailed me asking me if I was a pansy and cried when the Ian Curtis guy hung himself in 24 Hour Party People. And designed a T-shirt for me! Top dude!
As far as I can tell, there is some sort of quarrel between John Morton and Brian McMahon regarding the band's music and website rights (!?). I feel it's natural to side with Morton, but the track "Searching Through Sears" by Dave E. and the Cool Marriage Counselors absolutely cannot be denied. Here's a great interview with Brian McMahon!