The fuzzed-out guitar and sneering vocals still sting in the right places. The year was 1965, a couple of years before the Summer of Love had kicked in, and the Seeds were carving out a sound that would set a template for garage rock.
The Seeds’ breakthrough song, “(You’re) Pushin’ Too Hard,” was a much more ominous and attitude-laden track than the swirling, peacenik psychedelia of the time. But the track became a hit for the Seeds, and ultimately included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s exhibit of “The 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.” Listen now to the Black Keys or the White Stripes, and the lineage of that raw, primordial rock ’n’ roll can be traced directly to the Seeds.
And now, the Seeds are the subject of a rock documentary. “Pushin’ Too Hard,” which will be screened Saturday night, Oct. 3, at the Crest Theatre, captures the band’s blistering rise to fame and sobering burnout through archival footage and current day interviews. Saturday’s event will include a Q&A session with director Neil Norman, producer Alec Palao and Daryl Hooper, the Seeds’ former keyboardist, who’s now a music teacher in the Sierra foothills.
“They had tremendous intensity, like punk, but a little more sophisticated,” said Norman, in a phone call from Southern California. “And they just had this image with long hair, and they dressed freaky but in an elegant way. They were just edgy. They started off as super-underground and just shot up. The Seeds had the edge and the commercial singles.”
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“Pushin’ Too Hard” premiered in August 2014, and arrived during a renaissance of music documentaries. “20 Feet From Stardom,” which chronicles some of the greatest backup singers known to pop music, won the Academy Award for “best documentary feature” in 2014. Other acclaimed rock docs in recent years have focused on famed recording studious, including “Muscle Shoals” and the Dave Grohl directed “Sound City.” 2012’s “Searching for Sugar Man” was also an Oscar winner, and reignited the career of its subject, singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez.
Norman believes “Pushin’ Too Hard” fits within this pantheon of widely heralded rock docs. The Seeds’ backstory includes the rise of a local sensation from Los Angeles to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, and plenty of hedonistic tales from the Flower Power era in between. The film also gives a special focus to Sky Saxon, the band’s eccentric lead singer who later joined a commune in the Hollywood Hills and re-formed the Seeds with a new lineup in the mid-2000s. Saxon died in 2009.
“This is made-to-order; you couldn’t make up this stuff if you had to,” said Norman. “It’s the classic-rags-to-riches-to-rags story. They literally started in the garage and worked in nightclubs. We tell the whole story: The money, the women, the LSD, all that came to pass. This covers everything from Hollywood history, to the record business to Sky Saxon’s craziness to the excesses of rock ’n’ roll. And I knew what was accurate because I was there.”
Norman unearthed material with help from Alec Palao, a rock ’n’ roll archaeologist of sorts who serves as the film’s producer. Palao, who’s earned Grammy nominations for his liner notes, is also known to historians of Sacramento rock ’n’ roll. He helped compile material for “The Ikon Records Story,” a two-CD compilation of tunes from a classic Sacramento recording studio, and “The Sound of Young Sacramento” which unearthed rarely heard local rock ’n’ roll from 1965-67.
Norman also had plenty of access to the band’s archival material. His father was the president of GNP Crescendo Records, the Seeds’ label during its 1960s’ heyday.
“I was there when my dad signed them to an exclusive record soundtrack,” said Norman. “I was there when they recorded ‘Pushin’ Too Hard,’ and I was very close friends with Sky Saxon (and the other band members). I was kind of like their mascot. I got to witness their greatest moments firsthand, like when they got a standing ovation at the Hollywood Bowl.”
Hooper, the band’s original keyboardist, found a much mellower life for himself after the salad days of The Seeds. Hooper settled in El Dorado County about 30 years ago, and works as a music teacher. He also gigs with The Chocolatewatch Band, a San Jose based group that’s also a favorite of garage rock aficionados. But Hooper still has fond memories when he flashes back to those days with The Seeds and their tuneful, yet fuzzy, sound.
“We weren’t trying to copy anybody,” said Hooper, in a call from his El Dorado County home. “We did our own thing. We were hoping it would become popular, and it did. We were kind of pushing the envelope all the time. I’m proud of what we did and happy that it’s being remembered.”
“Pushin’ Too Hard” continues to make its way through the film festival and art house circuit, including a screening on Sunday at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre and the Reel Indie Film Fest in Toronto on Friday, Oct. 16. For now, The Seeds are still rocking, albeit in celluloid form.
“The experience has been so fantastic,” Hooper said about the movie. “You’d expect the old fans to be coming out of the woodwork, but it’s the new ones that have discovered the music, all these 25-year-olds that are coming up to me saying, ‘I love your music.’ It’s just been great.”
The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard
What: Long-form documentary film about 1960s band the Seeds
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3
Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento
Information: www.crestsacramento.com, 916-476-3356