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"Our enthusiasm stays high just because, whatever else we do, we're just really into immersing ourselves in this musical world that we exist in."
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Nov.08 Cover - Mary Weiss PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dugan Trodglen   
ImageWho Says You Can Never Go Home Anymore?
The Shangri-Las Once Did. But Mary Weiss is Proving That Wrong With a Swell Return to Rock

The Shangri-Las or the Ronettes? Sorry, Ronnie. You’re wonderful, but no other girl group can top Mary Weiss and the gang. Their records were tough, they were epic and each song invited you into a surreal yet believable world of love and sometimes death.

Did I say “girl group” earlier? Don’t let Mary catch me. She hates the term, and that makes sense. The Shangri-Las sound more like “chicks” than “girls.” They were pointing more toward the sexual revolution of the late sixties than the demure groups like the Angels or the Chiffons. As Mary says, “I think we had appeal to a lot of people because the Ozzie and Harriet days were dying off. I never related to high heels and chiffon dresses and all of that stuff.”

I was lucky enough to have the chance to talk to Mary Weiss in anticipation of her upcoming show at the EARL. Atlanta now has the chance to witness the comeback of the iconic lead singer of the greatest “female act” of the sixties, who before last year’s excellent Dangerous Game hadn’t released a record in forty years, since the mid-sixties breakup of her band (My last interview was with Vashti Bunyan who hadn’t recorded in thirty years; what’s up with that?).

The Shangri-Las (Mary and her sister Betty and twin sisters Marge and Mary Ann Ganser) formed in Queens during high school, and when Mary was fifteen they were discovered by a fledgling producer, the visionary George “Shadow” Morton. According to Mary, two things about the group stood out to Shadow, and became staples of the group’s sound. One: “We were very into harmony. We sang harmony all the time and really worked on it.” True, but that was the case with many female combos of the era. The second important component is something the Shangri-Las had all to themselves: “There’s an honesty and street sound that’s unmistakable,” Mary explains correctly, adding, “I guess if we had started ten years later I would have been in the punk scene.”  Heck yeah! I asked if there was aspect of her Catholic School upbringing that fed into the rebellious image of the group. “You mean getting beat up every day?” she asked. Erp.

It appears as though in working with Shadow, Mary and company had it a fair sight better than Phil Spector’s ingénues. Mary speaks fondly of Morton: “Shadow is still a friend of mine to this day. I brought him into the studio to hear the CD after we finished it. He liked it – he wrote a blurb on the sleeve. We did a show at the Knitting Factory out in L.A. and he came with Brooks Arthur, the original Shangri-Las engineer, which was great.”

The songs Shadow Morton crafted for the group were unforgettable little three-minute melodramas acted out by the singers. Mary recalls, “They’re very intricate, especially vocally. They’re the hardest things for my current band to do. They’re syncopated and metered. You have to be right on the money. It’s complicated – more so than most music.” Indeed, songs like “Remember,” “Give Us Your Blessing” and “Past, Present and Future” took you on an emotional roller coaster and the vocals needed to underscore this.

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