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The Norfolk Sound

Most big cities can lay claim to some regional kink in their particular musical output; Chicago Blues, say, or New York punk. Even some smaller U.S. music scenes have earned wide acclaim, like the "Bakersfield Sound," or Southern Californian surf music.

Norfolk, Virginia, home to the world's largest naval facilities (complete with a ton of drunken sailors demanding live music) has somehow escaped wide notice. To this day, its reputation survives chiefly among a handful of English music heads who keep the history alive via a newsletter, The Norfolk Echo. (Available through Finnbar International, 16 Turketel Road, Folkestone, Kent CT20 2PA.)

"The Norfolk Sound" is most closely associated with one Frank Guida, an Italian-American ex-GI from the East Bronx who opened a tiny recording studio in the 1950s and cranked out hits by Gary U.S. Bonds and the late Jimmy Soul. He used an idiosyncratic, learned-on-the-fly recording method that put a stamp on the music and gave it an admirable sense of place and time.
Other Norfolk notables include Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Norman "General" Johnson & His Showmen, Daddy "G" & The Church Street Five, The Five Sheiks and Margie Day.

Norfolk also figures prominently in the secret history of the punk era. Minutemen bassist Mike Watt was born across the Elizabeth River from downtown Norfolk at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital (in the same delivery room as Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott) and Velvet Monkeys founder/producer extraordinaire Don Fleming formed his first band, Citizen 23, while stationed in the area as a member of the U.S. Air Force.

Notable bands working there today include the Candy Snatchers, who split time between Norfolk and the adjacent city of Virginia Beach, and the Action Habit, who were formed out of the ashes of 80s post-punk stalwarts Antic Hay (who later called themselves God & Famous). Flat Duo-Jets founder Dexter performs regularly at the on-again, off-again Cogan's Art Bar, and is said to be living in his car while he cranks out a series of reverb-drenched DIY albums.

Live music venues there today include the NorVa, a 2,000-capacity behemoth run by former Cellar Door exec Bill Reid, the afore-mentioned Cogan's, and Mango's, a beach-themed bar tucked away in a strip mall in the city's gentrified Ghent district.

Current goings-on in Norfolk

Clubs of note:
  • ABYSS (1065 19th St.; 757-422-0748)

  • BAIT SHACK (Inside Norfolk’s Waterside complex; 757-630-9878) Features lame pseudo-alt bands.

  • BAKER STREET 757-479-4480. 1920 Centerville Turnpike in Va. Beach. www.dazone.come/bakerstreet.

  • BEACH GRILL (57-496-2755. 3152 Shore Drive in Virginia Beach) Heavy punk and rock action. Divey. Heavy drug scene.

  • COGAN'S ART BAR (1901 Colonial Ave. 757-627-6428) Locals just call it "Cogan's." The booker is a 300-pound record-collector, hipper-than-thou twit, but he snags some heavy punk/alt/emo action for cheap. Local mic night can actually be cool. Seed's gigs during 1999/2000 were like Borbetomagus meets Coltrane meets Stevie Wonder. The Action Habit kicked some serious Television-meets-Who ass, too.

  • 4400 CLUB Was on Hampton Blvd, RIP. Legendary punk (and frat boy) hangout.

  • Same with FRIAR TUCKS, RIP.

  • JEWISH MOTHER (757-422-5430. 3108 Pacific Ave. in Virginia Beach.) The reubens and the cheesecake are usually better than the folkie, neo-jazz action they typically feature.

  • PEABODY’S (21st & Pacific Ave. in Va. Beach.) Stiff $$$ at the door. Fights, over-priced booze and booty-shaking. Go nuts, kids.

  • ROUTE 44 (206 22nd St. in Va. Beach) Vic Demise, the area's notorious Bukowski-type punk dirtball, gives this joint the thumbs-up. Zoinks!

  • SMACKWATER JACKS (757-340-6638. 3333 Va. Beach Blvd. in Va. Beach). Dumb name, worse acts. Warning: Karaoke. No cover, though.

Record and musical instrument shops:

  • ALPHA MUSIC 757-486-2001. 3234 Va. Beach Blvd. in Viginia Beach. Half-decent prices. Ask for Walter; he can fix anything. He's the short dude who bears a disturbing resemblance to Paul Shaffer.

  • AUDIO LIGHT AND MUSICAL 757-853-2424. 3301 N. Military Hwy in Norfolk. Decent prices.

  • BIRDLAND 957 Providence Square Shopping Center in Va. Beach. 757-495-0961. Knowledgeable staff, way cool.

  • CAMP ZAMA 3812 Hampton Blvd. in Norfolk 23508. Near ODU. Prob best alt-type store. Features cool indie in-store gigs, too.

  • JAM LOCKER MUSIC 4402 Princess Anne Rd. 757-467-7171. Recording studio and instrument shop and rehearsal space. Equipment rental.

  • SKINNIE'S RECORDS 814 W. 21st Street in Norfolk, in Ghent. 757-622-2241. http://pages.prodigy.com/skinnies/home.htm. Specializes in punk vinyl. Also has a disturbing collection of RaHoWa tuneage (Racial Holy War - white supremacist blather). Whether that's some sort of muddle-headed free-speech choice or indicative of something darker is up to the owners to explain, although I suspect it's the latter because I saw Merle from G. G. Allin's band in there - complete with swastikas dripping off his denim - hanging out with the owners once. Buyer beware, do what you think is right.

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