Brothers Jimmy and Dennis Flemion emerged from Milwaukee with a joyful love of music and a defiant, provocative spirit that made them impossible to ignore. (The silver lamé suits and giant bat wings didn’t hurt, either.) While their work courted controversy and ruffled feathers in right-wing circles, it also resonated with some of the era’s most defining alternative musicians in a lasting way.
Beck sampled them on Odelay. Foo Fighters covered their songs live. Pearl Jam, Kelley Deal and The Smashing Pumpkins took them on tour and remained frequent collaborators. Most famously, Kurt Cobain included It’s Only Right and Natural on a list of his fifty favorite albums of all time, ranking the subversive classic above classic releases by R.E.M., The Beatles and Sonic Youth.
While Dennis Flemion tragically passed away in 2012, Jimmy continues to preserve the songs and legacy of The Frogs through reissue projects, his YouTube channel and, this weekend, a pair of very special live performances. Tickets are still available for Friday’s hometown show at Milwaukee’s X-Ray Arcade and Saturday night at Cobra Lounge in Chicago.
Ahead of the big gigs, we talked to Jimmy Flemion about revisiting classic material, keeping rock ‘n’ roll dangerous and jamming with Billy Corgan at Lollapalooza 1994.
Listen to Jimmy’s Interview on Milwaukee’s WMSE
Jimmy Flemion of The Frogs
March 24 // Doors at 6:30 PM
Jimmy Flemion of The Frogs
Scott Lucas (Local H)
March 25 // Doors at 6:30 PM
Riot Fest: As The Frogs reached a wider audience, there were some extreme reactions from certain circles. If you’re pissing off the right people, does that mean you’re doing something right?
Jimmy Flemion: Yes. They are threatened by what we may know and because we speak the truth – which is what they are frightened by.
Do artists have a responsibility to make people uncomfortable?
JF: As an artist, to speak and live from your heart, I do feel it is your responsibility to be the rebel. That’s why I took so much to James Dean. That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is. It’s supposed to be dangerous.
RF: On the other hand, the people who really mattered “got it.” How does it feel watching clips of bands like Foo Fighters and Sebadoh covering your songs?
JF: It’s humbling and a sweet feeling when musical peers are touched by the songs and music. You feel that you’re onto something, doing something right.
RF: Kurt Cobain famously included It’s Only Right And Natural on a list of his favorite albums of all time. Could you hear your influence on any of Nirvana’s work?
JF: I can’t say I hear anything offhand. If I found out that was the case, I’d be truly flattered.
RF: Another outspoken fan of The Frogs was Billy Corgan, who joined the band onstage for “I Only Play 4 Money” during your Lollapalooza 1994 dates. What did his support mean to the band?
JF: It meant everything. He took us out of the bars and clubs and put us in front of a whole new world. We were comfortable in our underground scene and shows that were up close and personal, and now suddenly we had to learn how to project & win over the crowds at another level & the professionalism that goes along with that scope, which once again prepares you & tests you for future encounters. He produced Starjob for free. That gesture alone and the attention from that disc was priceless. His support opened many new doors & I’m forever grateful.
RF: That was an especially eclectic lineup, featuring everyone from Beastie Boys and George Clinton to Guided By Voices and Flaming Lips. What was your experience like?
JF: It was a fun time and went by so quickly. Six shows up in a puff of smoke! The first show was in Las Vegas in 117° heat with costume & makeup on. That was hot, I recall that one vividly. Billy joining us in Kansas City & Chicago were definitely highlights, amazing guitar fireworks. Milwaukee homecoming was special. The crowds were very supportive throughout our slots on the tour and made it all worthwhile. There’s footage of me playing guitar in the crowd & the fans were smiling. That’s how I remember it, warmly.
RF: You just released a 40th anniversary reissue of Death Songs. What was it like revisiting that material?
JF: It was eye opening. This was a period where it was all acoustic and the songs were so dynamic and dramatic. I wanted to pick out the version of the takes that I felt best suited the song. I worked on it for 9 months with multiple running orders until its completion. The playing of the songs live required a tightness and brought back all the great recollections of the first wings, the dry ice, fog machine and flash pots marking the Death Tour.
RF: Your YouTube channel has some great videos of you performing stripped-down originals and songs by Johnny Cash, The Kinks and T. Rex. Why did those songs speak to you?
JF: There’s a stamp that all those artists put on their songs that speaks volumes of their huge personalities & comes through so beautifully and poetically in the translation. It’s the timing, patience, delivery and power of the message. When Johnny Cash sings “When The Man Comes Around,” it’s life affirming. A teaching. You’re running out of time – what are you doing? They’re songs that make you think and feel strongly, that inspire you even further to hope and to act.
RF: These upcoming dates in Chicago and Milwaukee will be your first shows in a while… What can fans expect?
JF: Well, it’s been 3 years since my last show, 15 since I played Chicago and 17 since Milwaukee. I’ve done a mere 7 shows in the last 11 years. I love playing live, the interaction with the audience, the up close and personal connection. There are so many people I haven’t seen in years, and I’m looking forward to it so much. What can people expect? I’m not one to show my hand. I like surprises. I like the unknown. Expect songs that you may expect and the unexpected. I’ll do my best to play well, be in tune & make it musical.
You can see Jimmy Flemion on Friday, March 24th in Milwaukee at X-Ray Arcade (17+) with The Quilz or on Saturday in Chicago at Cobra Lounge (18+) with Scott Lucas (Local H) and Al Scorch. Doors open at 6:30 PM.