MUSIC / Fissinger 1980.
Nu-Kats Grin and Teddy-Bear It
By Laura Fissinger 

The first night I ever heard contemporary power-pop and the first night I ever saw Frederick "Rick" "Skogie" Moore were the same unerasable evening. It was at a University dance ten years ago, a time when it seemed like every other ambitious local band wore lots of purple satin and learned their key riffs off the Yes album. During the Elvis classic "Teddy Bear," Moore whipped out the real item and proceeded to fearlessly demonstrate some arcane maneuvers of stuffed bear-human being relations. Just last year Moore and his boys were forever banished from Miraleste High School near Palos Verdes California for the same inventive play of passion. 

Some urges never die. 

The original incarnation of Moore's Nu Kats was recently acknowledged by no less than Creem magazine as having been one of the first power-pop bands known to man; during their six-year residency (1970-1976) as Minneapolis' strangest, they were indeed and anachronism. 

Now, of course, power-pop or whatever you can think to call it, is in some sort of vogue. After four years of getting stood up by Lady Luck in Los Angeles, Moore may be getting his dream date at last. Look Out Management are currently winding up negotiations on a record deal. It's a good thing those urges don't die. 

California laid claim to Skogie (three out of four Nu Kats belonged to that band) in 1976, after extensive national touring and some limited recording experience hinted at unexplored musical and circumstantial possibilities. Los Angeles was not clutching it's breast in anticipation. "The reception was as abysmal as you can imagine," Moore laughs now. For a good while the band did a Jekyll and Hyde. Skogie also played dates as the Kats , while Skogie became a dance band doing lots of cover material, lassoeing lots of fans, and happily rediscovering unmitigated pop after trying other genres for size. There were moments of longing for home on the range. "One of the first things we found out is that Minneapolis audiences are much more intelligent than L.A. audiences. And in L.A., the attitude is crucial. They want to be told what's hip. The bands simply have to act like they know what they're doing, no two ways about it." 

Hip in El Lay circa 1978 had it's finger pointed to new wave. "We were in the right place at the right time - making bad business moves. Around that time the Knack was negotiating with Capitol - and opening for us!" Bad business moves, phase one: someone made a hard sell for a sign-up to the Kats, saying they were from CBS - they weren't. This person also represented herself to CBS as the Kats management - she wasn't. She insisted that CBS, which was genuinely interested in the band, sign the Kats and her other property as a package deal - which they wouldn't. Moore pleaded his own case to the label, but legal knots tied by the double agent circumvented any other CBS/Kats possibilities at that time. 

Bad moves, phase two: Moore and company hooked up with the Knack's former manager. "Suddenly we were riding the tail of a Knack backlash, with everyone - record companies, press, people in general. He was a nice guy and he tried hard, but there was this backlash. On top of that, he was trying to get us a deal that topped the Knack's dollar-wise or something ridiculous like that - he kept blowing off deal after deal for us."

Meanwhile back at the music that was the raison d'etre of all this havoc, Kiss' Gene Simmons had become a rabid fan of the group. His attempts to land a Casablanca deal for the Kats were foiled by (of course) the group's manager, an ex-Casablanca mailboy with a bone to pick. A first LP was finally completed for an Infinity deal. On the day the Kats were to be paid, MCA record's fledgling subsidiary "disappeared from the face of the earth. It was the worst thing that ever happened to us."

Phase three: Mr. Manager, the man with the toxic touch, took the finished Infinity LP to other major labels trying to secure a new deal. This time the lethal mistake was his insistence that the Infinity album must be used for the band'' first release, and that the band must have complete control over every aspect of their product. With an unproven act, there were no takes on those terms - and a lot of miffed record executives to boot. "When I went back later the labels were glad to tell me that that manager of ours was the biggest mistake we'd ever made. So I said, well, he's not with us any more, so how 'bout it? And a lot of them said, well, you've been around for a while now without getting a deal. Maybe you're not proper deal material." 

From this nadir, Moore asked Mr. Manager for money to do a new demo tape/independent release. His refusal got him (finally) fired, and Moore made his long-time unofficial management of the Nu Kats official. Thanks to a solid reputation around town, Moore secured free studio time and attendant necessities. Rhino, a small independent label, offered funds in exchange for the rights to release the five-song demo as an EP. Plastic Facts has done well in sales and critical reception in the two months since it's release. 

Ron Stone of Look Out Management turned up during a two-month period when "20 guys were trying to manage us, and we were trying to choose one. Ron didn't even ask for a contract, he had so much faith in himself. He just wanted a chance to prove it to us. I wanted to see who the labels wanted to do business with, out of all of these guys. Ninety percent of them wanted to deal with Ron" The Nu Kats have joined a client roster that includes Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell and the Cars.

If the recording contract comes through as soon as Moore expects, the Nu Kats will be heading out to New York to start recording before the end of winter. In the lapse time, lay claim to a copy of Plastic Facts. Moore has grown into a solid craftsman, a for-real songwriter who knows how to juggle variations on the almighty adolescent impulse with disciplined and clever composing. He plays with meter and melody in a fashion far more assured and sophisticated than most of his peers; he's also got three players with him who can do the job. And for sheer ear titillation, there's Moore's voice and brother Bobbyzio's sax as mainstays of the sound. There are more power-pop bands around than there is room in the cut-out racks, granted, but most of those boys operate on calculation, not urge. 

Teddy bears of the western world, beware.

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