When he dropped off copies of the new Litter album at Down in the Valley record shop a few weeks ago, Blackberry Way label proprietor Mike Owens got a pleasant surprise.
“There was a kid behind the counter probably in his 20s who told me ‘Distortions’ is his favorite garage-band record of all time,” Owens said.
For original fans of the Litter’s 1967 debut — folks now in their 60s and up — an even bigger surprise might be the fact that there actually is a new Litter album.
It’s debatable that the group behind this latest LP actually qualifies as the Litter, though.
Named after one of the band’s late-’60s tunes, “Future of the Past” is an 11-track collection helmed by only one member of the original Litter, drummer Tom Murray. He trademarked the band name upon his return to Minneapolis a few years ago after living in Colorado for decades.
With the help of Blackberry Way Records — an offshoot of the Dinkytown studio where the Replacements and Hüsker Dü recorded in the 1980s — Murray intends to launch a new lineup of the Litter with musicians half his age. He will manage the new group but only occasionally perform with them.
“We’re sort of picking up where the band left off in the ’70s,” Murray explained.
In lieu of a performance by the new Litter — that’s apparently to come later this year — he and the Blackberry Way team are hosting a release party Sunday afternoon at Mancini’s that’s a meet-and-greet and autograph-signing session with members of dozens of classic Twin Cities bands, also including Crow, Gypsy and the Trashmen.
Among the participants will be two members of the 1967-era Litter, guitarist Zippy Caplan and singer/keyboardist Denny Waite, who’ve performed together in recent years as the Litter sans Murray. They’re part of the Litter lineup that made the “Distortions” album and its single “Action Woman,” later featured on Lenny Kaye’s classic “Nuggets” box set and other garage-rock collections.
Caplan and Waite still hope to play Litter songs together, but they will have to do so under a new name: the Classic Litter.
“We agreed to use the new name to avoid any confusion,” Caplan said.
It might be too late for that.
Since he’s still prominent around town in other acts — he plays with the Surf Dawgs and is about to debut a new covers band, Zippy & the Backbeats — Caplan gave his blessing to Murray’s new Litter and even wound up playing on three tracks of the new record. Crow bassist Larry Wiegand also contributed heavily to the album.
Dez Dickerson of Prince’s Revolution even appears on one track, “Just Believe.” Murray says that was a thank-you for him letting Dickerson out of a contract when he managed the guitarist before the Revolution.
The drummer believes he’s justified in owning the Litter band name because he’s the only active member left from the latter-day era of the group, the one that made 1969’s “Emerge” album for ABC Records. The band was heading into heavier, hazier and more metallic territory, but the sudden shuttering of the record label more or less put an end to the Litter, too. Singer Mark Gallagher and guitarist Dan Rinaldi passed away in 2009 and 2015, respectively.
“Future of the Past” sounds like what the group may have evolved into had it lasted into the 1980s and fallen in with the hair bands of the day. New singer Ronnie Long comes off as a Ronnie James Dio kind of metal squealer, and lyrics have a Spinal Tap-ian vibe with nods to mummies and evil queens and zen-like mantras such as “Voids Can Be Filled” (one of the titles).
Several songs are based on unreleased and/or unfinished material from the early ’70s, some of which was also recently unearthed by Cleopatra Records under the LP title “Wretch.”
“I had tears streaming down my face when I heard that stuff, because I hadn’t heard it for 48 years,” said Murray.
All these years later, he believes the Litter deserves to be heard again, even if in an almost entirely new incarnation.
“It’s new guys, but it’s heavily based on what we were doing back then,” he said.