Not unlike the Yardbirds, Cream, and even seminal Seattle grunge punks Green River, Sneakers were a “supergroup” that weren’t so conscious of their “super” status, at least not until they disbanded. Winston-Salem, NC’s Sneakers would be renown not so much for their own achievements, rather the future endeavors of frontman Chris Stamey and drummer Will Rigby in the even more capable and accomplished dB’s. Another celebrated Tarheel, Mitch Easter was an on/off again Sneakers collaborator, and I likely need not rattle off the man’s resume (Let’s Active and production work for REM, just in case you’ve been squatting under a rock for the last three decades). Toss in the then emerging Don Dixon as engineer of the Sneaks debut ep (the record in question) and you’ve got one hot mess of a musical axis on your hands. What were the odds that all of these rough diamonds would wind up in the same leather pouch? Sneakers and their attendant 1976 ep would slowly, surely and perhaps unwittingly kick off the “New South” musical movement, that would not only birth a key vanguard of bands like the aforementioned dB’s and Let’s Active, but dozens of lesser known hopefuls, reverberating all the way down to the reaches of the deep south, particularly to the oft noted haven of Athens, GA.
Mildly eccentric and uncompromisingly organic, The Sneakers ep mapped out the blueprint that Stamey and Rigby would perfect in a few years time alongside Peter Holsapple in the dB’s. Rife with minor chords and slightly angular nuances, Sneakers doesn’t ring terribly exotic – that is unless you’re accustomed to a steady diet of Boston and Bad Company. For example “Ruby” is standard but extremely effective power pop fare, but in it’s entirety, the record isn’t the strenuous Rickenbacker love-fest you might expect either. Indeed, slipping your feet a little deeper into this pair of running shoes reveals that these gents were a little too adventurous for that. What lent itself most to the Sneakers asymmetrical penchant was their “crooked” harmonies, led prominently by Stamey, evident on the slyly dissonant “Love’s Like a Cuban Crisis,” and “Driving.” In fact, no one has ever quite sounded like the Sneakers ever since this little platter dropped, save for the dB’s themselves (go figure). Sneakers is an audio snapshot of four young dudes, unhindered by pretense or moneyed interests making music for whom it counts most – themselves.
Sneakers initially emerged on the Stamey-run Carnivorous Records in 1976, it’s six numbers crammed onto one 7″ record Since then the contents of the record have been reissued four times by my count, the second to last time appearing on a 10″ version of the ep on Black Friday of 2014. Omnivore’s current CD/digital incarnation scrambles the tracklist, and pads on five extra songs, three of which were recorded by a briefly reunited Sneakers in 1992, originally seeing the light of day on an earlier anthology, Racket. In the Red, a full length by the Sneaks (then pared down to merely Stamey and Easter) was issued in ’78 and was also included on Racket, and subsequently another reissue of the band’s meager catalog, Nonsequitur of Silence. Confused? Don’t be. Buy the latest and truly greatest reissue from Omnivore, Amazon or iTunes.