They weren't the most successful band to come out of the Southeast during the '80s (R.E.M. hold that distinction), or even the most critically acclaimed (that would be Jason & the Scorchers), but Nashville's the White Animals may well have been the most beloved. Mixing '60s British Invasion influences with a '70s punk aesthetic, a dash of psychedelic flavor, and dub rhythms, the White Animals managed to appeal to both jaded indie rock fans and mainstream college kids alike. Punching the clock close to 300 nights a year, the White Animals played every show, whether for drunken frat boys or at the local punk club, like it might be their last.
The White Animals were formed in 1980 by Dr. Kevin Gray, a resident at Nashville's Vanderbilt Hospital. Originally an acoustic duo with Gray and his guitar teacher, the project took on a life of its own with the addition of guitarist Rich Parks, bassist Steve Boyd, and drummer Ray Crabtree. The quartet formed their own Dread Beat label to release the Nashville Babylon EP in 1981. Produced by "dubmaster" Tim Coats, the disc's mix of pop covers, paisley punk, and dub beats received heavy airplay on several college radio stations. Coats was asked to join the band full-time, leading to the 1982 release of Lost Weekend, which yielded college-radio hits in Lee "Scratch" Perry-inspired covers of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and "Secret Agent Man." With principal songwriters Gray and Boyd gaining confidence and valuable experience on the road, the White Animals released their biggest album, Ecstasy, in 1984. Videos for the songs "Don't Care" and "This Girl of Mine" were put into regular rotation on MTV while the band's extended version of the rock chestnut "Gloria" became a fixture of their live show. Released in 1985, the White Animals' self-titled third album was recorded in Memphis with superstar bass player Busta Cherry Jones producing. Live!, a collection of covers and crowd favorites culled from several Southeast performances, was released in 1986. The band released their swan song, In the Last Days, in 1987, breaking up shortly thereafter.
Unlike a lot of bands at the time, the White Animals never took themselves too seriously. They had a good seven-year run, opening for bands like the Kinks, the Ramones, and Talking Heads, but they always knew that adulthood and careers lie on the horizon. The White Animals got together for sporadic reunion shows during the '90s, and in 2000 released 3000 Nights in Babylon, a CD compilation of their most popular material, available exclusively through the band's website, www.whiteanimals.com. ~ Rev. Keith A. Gordon, Rovi