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IMPALA was formed in Memphis, TN in the early 1990s by John Stivers (Guitar), Scott Bomar (Bass), Justin Thompson (Sax) and Jeff Goggans (Drums). Their first long player, El Rancho Reverbo, was co-produced by the legendary Roland Janes (Jerry Lee Lewis' guitar player and session player at Sun Records) at Sam Phillips Recording Service. After receiving rave reviews and gaining exposure playing one-niters across the South East, Impala was picked up by West Coast label, Estrus Records. The band's first release on Estrus was Kings of the Strip, recorded at famed Easley Studio in Memphis. Following the release of this album, Impala toured relentlessly, appearing at Garage festivals such as Garage Shock, Sleezefest, Crap Out and Dixie Fried and appearing on shows with guitar legends Dick Dale and Davie Allen and the Arrows.

Over the past decade numerous films and television shows have featured the band's music. Most notable is Impala's arrangement of Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror" in George Clooney's, Chuck Barris biopic, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. After few years hiatus, the band
has reformed with the addition of Bobby "Blue" Bland/the Bo-Keys sideman, Marc Franklin on trumpet and keyboard.


Impala. A rumbling guitar, a honking sax, the type of drumbeat that liberated strippers from their spangled costumes, and a steeped-in-Memphis tradition bass line. The kind of nervous energy that could propel a sensible Catholic schoolgirl into the arms of a dangerous man, make a sailor catapult off the mast into a stormy sea, or cause a veteran gunslinger to fire madly into the air before plunging over a rocky cliff. The 'party now, because we're gonna pay later' attitude that pervades the Southern consciousness, from Tennessee Williams' plays to Jerry Lawler's ringside antics.

When Impala surfaced on the Memphis garage scene in 1993, local audiences hardly knew what hit them. The group built a sonic time machine that, once you paid the cover charge and crawled on board, might deposit you in 1955, 1967, or 2239. With just one song, they could turn gritty, dumpy Barristers into West Memphis' time-honored Plantation Inn, the home of their musical ancestors like the Mar-Keys, the Packers, and the Royal Spades. Another tune would drop you into Ennio Morricone's wasteland desertscapes; still another would transport you to a New Orleans whorehouse, on a magical night when all the girls were turning tricks for free.

Four unlikely saviors could hardly be imagined: the bespectacled John Stivers, Jittery Justin Thompson, Lanky Jeff Goggans and laconic Scott Bomar.

Cram this Clark Kentish quartet into a phone booth – or more likely, pour an alcoholic elixir down their throats – and somehow, Impala emerged growling. In those early days, the all-instrumental group was the joyful yin to the Oblivians' furious yang. Frantic, yes, angry, no — just hellbent on having a damn good time. Light bulbs were dimmed, or broken out, as hot chicks stood atop barstools, aiming flashlights at the stage. We danced, we drank, and we partied down Memphis-style, gorging on beer and groping each other until our eyes glazed over, our guts gave out, or both.

In late '93, the band recorded its first record, a vinyl EP called "LTD A-Go Go," then entered Sam Phillips Recording Studio to cut El Rancho Reverbo soon afterwards. Engineer Roland Janes – who recorded the cream of the crop of the city's original garage bands at his own Rolando studio in the '60s – was seriously impressed by Impala, although he didn't understand why the group didn't want to add vocals.

When Select-O-Hits imprint Icehouse Records released El Rancho Reverbo in 1994, Bomar suddenly found himself stocking his own record. Estrus Records releases Kings of the Strip (recorded at Easley-McCain recording studio) and Square Jungle (cut at Sam Phillips) soon followed as Impala took to the road, playing Bellingham, Washington's Garage Shock festival, opening a L.A. show for garage geniuses Davie Allan & the Arrows, and devastating crowds in New Orleans, Chicago and St. Louis.

The time spent offstage was never dull, the men of Impala amused themselves with genuine Italian switchblades (purchased, naturally, at an Arizona truck stop), intra-vehicular fireworks (Missouri's Boom Land was a favored stop), and detours to shake joints, BBQ stands, and Norman Petty's recording studio (where Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and the Fireballs laid down infamous tracks) in Clovis, New Mexico.

Impala proved perfect for then-nascent filmmaker John Michael McCarthy, who needed a score for his movie Teenage Tupelo. Several years later, George Clooney tapped Impala's back catalog for a medley of Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror" and Duane Eddy's "Stalkin'" which ended up in the Chuck Barris bio pic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Another song, "Incident on the Tenth Floor" was used in the trailer for the indie flick Way of the Gun.

A mythology, hammered home with songs like "Ronnie and the Renegades" and "Last Tango in Turrell," was carefully built, then carelessly laid to waste by beer-fueled gigs and burnt roadmaps, even as Impala wrote tunes like "Wild Night at the Bloody Bucket," an homage to onetime Carl Perkins' pianist Bill Grantham, who worked alongside Bomar at Select-O-Hits, and "King Louie Stomp," a salute to fellow musician King Louie Bankston of New Orleans' Royal Pendletons. "Choctaw" turned Jorgen Ingmann's momentous "Apache" inside out and regionalized it, while "Cozy Corner" acknowledged the Bluff City's best pork ribs. The never-before-released "Amarillo," meanwhile, proved to be the final nail in the coffin –
cut at the end of the session for Impala Play R&B Favorites, released on Estrus in '99, it languished in the vaults for years as the last number Impala ever recorded.

Combust or be combusted, these songs instructed. Destroy yourself before the music destroys you. Praise the drumbeat, and pass a bottle of booze to the stage.

It's amazing, a decade later, that we're all still standing. Unfortunately, as a unit, Impala is no more. Occasionally, the quartet (with the addition of trumpeter Marc Franklin and drummer Paul Buchignani, who replaced Goggins several years ago) gets together for a gig like JMM's Hurricane Elvis party, or a high-profile concert.

When they do, we all know to ground our virgin daughters, batten down the hatches and lock away the firearms.

Even the air hums ominously, as Impala blazes once more.

Andria Lisle
Memphis, Tennessee
November 2005

 

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