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Garage Retrospectives 

Tim Gassen's groups release albums featuring two decades' worth of goodies

The most recent albums by two local psychedelic/garage-rock groups have been 20 years in the making.

These retrospective discs--the Marshmallow Overcoat's 26 Ghosts: The Best of 1986-2005 and the Purple Merkins' Merkinmania!--trace the parallel careers of these sister bands, which have proven popular among the garage-psych communities in the United States and Europe, from the 1980s until the present.

Released simultaneously by Dionysus Records--the Los Angeles-based label owned and operated by former Tucsonan Lee Joseph--the two anthologies allow for memory-inducing trips by old fans and provide a crash course in Overcoat/Merkins lore to listeners new to the fold.

Tim Gassen is leader and vocalist for both groups, their producer, songwriter and all-around impresario, as well as a local filmmaker--he produces the monthly TucsonFilm.com Micro-Cinema showcases for short films at Club Congress.

Gassen also is never at a loss for words, especially when discussing the marketing of his bands.

"Even for someone who's not familiar with the bands at all, they can find out about the bands over the last 20 years in one package," Gassen said.

The title 26 Ghosts refers to the band's 1991 tune "13 Ghosts" and to the fact that the CD includes twice that many songs. It presents the band's favorite tracks from their releases since 1986, and adds new songs recorded in 2004 and this year, especially for this "best of" release.

The title of Merkinmania! is kinda self-explanatory. It features 19 songs, the entire output of the infamous side project the Purple Merkins, a more raw and rowdy version of the Marshmallow Overcoat.

(Trivia break: In case you're curious, a merkin, no kidding, is a pubic wig. The always-helpful Wikipedia.com boasts a relatively exhaustive listing devoted to the term, its history and its uses.)

The Marshmallow Overcoat CD also includes a multimedia section full of liner notes, band photos and newspaper articles, as well as a 27th hidden track.

Some media attention has focused on these completely remastered collections. Musician-actor-DJ Steven Van Zandt recently named the Purple Merkins "garage band of the week" on his national radio and online music show, Little Steven's Underground Garage.

"Also, we have an offer to go back to Europe and tour, and have the original records reissued in Europe," said Gassen, who for a time used the pseudonym "Randy Love."

Over the years, the Marshmallow Overcoat has released a solid dozen records, not including several singles by the Purple Merkins.

At the same time, RollingStone.com has added four music videos and an interview with the Marshmallow Overcoat to its free downloadable collection. Those visuals come from the hour-long DVD that accompanies the 26 Ghosts collection.

"People really like the whole DVD thing. There's some band interview stuff, funny little outtakes and stuff that until now can only be found on the raw tapes. You can see that we're not some pretentious band. It's just people."

Also, the Marshmallow Overcoat go the Hollywood route, in a way, on the DVD. "It also has a commentary track you can turn on and off while you are watching the DVD. You don't have to listen to us if you don't want to," Gassen said.

For creating the video element of the Marshmallow Overcoat, Gassen gives considerable credit to videographer Ray Frieders, who has worked with the band since its inception. "Ray has been here for 20 years with me, both making the videos and getting them on MTV and other TV shows."

Frieders is the head of production for Cox Media in Tucson. He and Gassen, who runs the local Purple Cactus Productions, have had the opportunity to work together on other non-band material over the years.

Frieders pointed out that the Marshmallow Overcoat has been successful as an independent band because it has accomplished what a lot of indie and major-label bands haven't. "With the Marshmallow Overcoat, Tim has retained the right to the music and the music videos."

So when it came time to restore master audio and videotapes, Gassen and Frieders had not only the facilities but the raw material.

Gassen said the time is right for a garage-music revival the likes of which hasn't been seen in two decades.

"Retro and revival--they're no longer dirty words. The major labels are using them for marketing. Look at the Children of Nuggets boxed set. Look at the White Stripes and The Strokes--they have been influenced by the bands on the original Nuggets. Little Steven is going on a national tour. Suddenly, 1966-style garage and psychedelic music is a mainstream genre."

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