Warren Kendrick

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Producer, songwriter, and label owner Warren Kendrick was a crucial figure in the undernourished 1960s Minneapolis rock scene, and particularly esteemed for his production of the Litter, one of the more…
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Producer, songwriter, and label owner Warren Kendrick was a crucial figure in the undernourished 1960s Minneapolis rock scene, and particularly esteemed for his production of the Litter, one of the more highly regarded garage bands of the era. Kendrick entered the music business in 1965 when he and some high school friends made a not entirely serious single, "Beer Bust Blues"/"Scotchmist," under the name of the Scotsmen. This came out on his own label, Scotty, and he immediately began recording, and frequently writing for, other acts that appeared on Scotty. The first notable act of these were the Electras, a tough garage band that did mostly Kendrick songs, including the licentious "Dirty Old Man," on half-dozen or so singles (some of which were released under the name 'Twas Brillig). Kendrick wasn't relying upon his various musical enterprises for full-time support; in fact, he was a high school math teacher, working on music off-hours.

The major act Kendrick mentored in the '60s, however, was the Litter, who did some singles and two albums that he produced. The first of these, Distortions, is rightly thought of as one of the finer garage albums of the '60s, even though it consisted largely of covers. It was one of the few cases, however, where the covers (mostly of songs by British Invasion bands) added an interesting spin to the superior original versions. Kendrick proved capable, unlike some producers of the era, at capturing the full intensity of a band that relied on high-volume levels and guitar distortion for much of their impact.

Kendrick also wrote the only two non-covers on the LP, "Action Woman" and "Soul Searchin'." His authorship of "Action Woman" is ultimately his greatest claim to fame, as that song eventually came to be regarded as one of the all-time garage band classics, first via its inclusion on the Pebbles series, then via its inclusion on the Nuggets box set. From its opening guitar chords and screeching sustain, it set itself aside from the usual ferocious garage rocker with a yet-higher level of intensity. This was not only evident in the guitar work, but also in the leering vocal and sneering putdown lyrics, with a misogynistic streak that was typical of many young garage groups of the time. "At that time I was getting into the mathematics of the music by doing variations on the old I, IV, V chord progression," remembered Kendrick in the liner notes of The Scotty Story. "Starting 'Action Woman' off with the flatted third and going down to the flatted seventh was a stroke of inspiration. At that point no band had ever done it before."

The Litter's album sold well in the Minneapolis area, but the group couldn't break out nationally, even after leaping onto a major label with their third LP. Kendrick was not the sole producer on the Litter's second album, part of which was recorded in Texas with Ray Ruff, and did not contribute any of his own songs as the band was starting to write much of its material . By this time, Kendrick had created a couple of subsidiaries to Scotty, Warick (which issued the first Litter LP), and Hexagon (which issued their second album, $100 Fine). Yet another subsidiary, Peace, put out a couple of releases by other acts in 1970.

Kendrick continued to be active as a writer-producer with regional artists in the late '60s and early '70s, collaborating with acts that were obscure even in relation to the Litter: White Lightning, the Second Edition, Hope, Zoser, and Bob Miller. His best-known work during this time is the Paisleys' 1970 Cosmic Mind at Play album, which he produced. Although this is just an average local psychedelic album, it's highly valued in some collecting quarters. Kendrick made a highly unusual contribution by giving keyboardist Bill Smith a $20 bill for buying marijuana, so that Smith would have inspiration for the final cover, which had exaggerated trippy graphics typical of the period.

Kendrick sold his four-track studio in 1971, and moved to Omaha shortly afterward to become a computer technician and teacher. Many of his productions, some previously unreleased, were assembled for the Arf! Arf! compilation The Scotty Story; Arf! Arf! has also reissued both Litter albums on CD with numerous extra tracks on each.