Public Nuisance was one of the great lost bands of the Sixties, having built up an admirable reputation in the Sacramento area through live performances while never releasing any recordings during its time beyond a failed single. It originated in 1964 as an instrumental surf band called The Jaguars with David Houston and Jim Mathews on guitar, Larry Holmes on bass, and Ron McMaster manning the drums. Once Pat Minter replaced Holmes as bassist, a shift was made towards vocals and the more British influenced rock that was all the rage. In 1966, they recorded and rerecorded a pair of songs (“There She Goes” and “Please Come Back”) as Moss and the Rocks before finally settling on the name Public Nuisance. Houston and Minter shared songwriting and vocal duties, and several more recording stints yielded enough material for two albums.
Unfortunately, circumstances beyond their control kept all of it from seeing the light of day until it was finally compiled on a double-CD collection in 2002 called Gotta Survive. Tracks from another recording session remain lost, but everything that could be recovered is apparently included in this collection. As welcome as the archival approach is, it does prove to be too much of a good thing in a few cases. Listening to both versions of the first two recorded songs will likely be of interest only to completists since the later renditions are superior to the originals. “I Am Going” ironically wears out its welcome as a pleasant Beatlesque melody is driven into the ground with one false ending too many. With an assist on lyrics by his pal Kevin Seconds, Houston did a remarkable job of transforming an untitled backing track into a winning song called “Going Nowhere,” and it fits in quite well with the rest of the album. However, having the bare-bones instrumental track follow immediately after really dilutes what is otherwise a unique achievement as far as I’m concerned. So more can be less, but ultimately we should be grateful that music of this overall quality should finally be made available after being lost for almost 35 years. Joey D’s liner notes might be overly enthusiastic, but his excitement is understandable. You definitely feel a sense of discovery when you listen to this anthology for the first time, and it’s hard to believe that the most outstanding of these tracks never shared the national spotlight with acknowledged classics by The Seeds, Count Five, and The Sonics. “America,” “Small Faces,” “Magical Music Box,” “Ecstasy,” “Darlin’,” “Love is a Feeling,” and “Gotta Survive” can stand alongside much of the 60’s garage rock comprising the legendary Nuggets box sets. This is hard-rockin’ stuff, my friends! Granted, some of it is a bit dated; Public Nuisance were part of the “Make love, not war” generation, after all. But these sentiments will never really go out of style as long as a national policy of aggression exists to rebel against.
Since the dissolution of Public Nuisance, David Houston has kept himself busy recording music for other artists at his own studio. As a musician, he’s left behind the sonic force of his former band, and the only Public Nuisance song I’ve heard him perform in recent years was easily the gentlest in its repertoire, “7 or 10.” I caught his set at a Velvet Underground tribute show in which he focused on the lovelier offerings of that famously abrasive band, and I was really impressed with how much thought he put into the arrangements he devised for his string accompanists. I had seen him sit in with so many groups during shows that I once jokingly referred to him as “an honorary member of every band in Sacramento.” For a more comprehensive account of Public Nuisance’s history and Houston’s impact on the Sacramento music scene, please check out Jackson Griffith’s excellent 2003 Sacramento News & Review article Evolver.
Bonus Fun Fact – David Houston had the honor of having The White Stripes cover “Small Faces” during their 2003 tour and being invited to meet them backstage after a Bay Area performance. It’s a shame Jack and Meg never recorded it for one of their subsequent albums.
You can find Public Nuisance’s Gotta Survive for sale here.