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Big Sky beat

Archival collection highlights state's early rock 'n' roll

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When it comes to the evolution of rock 'n' roll, Montana is like the Galapagos Islands. Our geographic isolation, especially in the pre-Internet days of the 1960s, kept us largely separated from current trends, forcing bands to form and grow with little outside influence. But these giant tortoises had radios and guitars, and in those heady days of rock's infancy, that's all they needed.

For five years, Dave Martens has been tracking down long-lost music and related artifacts from dozens of 1960s Montana rock bands. Long Time Comin' is the fruition of his efforts. It's a lavish package, including two 180-gram LPs, a CD and a glossy booklet with stories about several of the bands, complete with photos and posters from the era.

Taken as a whole, Long Time Comin' provides a solid timeline, from Chan Romero's "Hippy Hippy Shake," recorded in 1959, to Gross National Product's 1969 proto-psychedelic freakout, "Liquid Paisley." Havre's Kirt Miller surely must have experimented with substances wilder than Highlander Beer to write lyrics like "My dreams are broken now/ Take a trip on the purple cow."

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While disconnected from the cultural vibrancy of the big city, Montana musicians managed to get a grip on certain trends, although usually a year or two behind the curve. The Wanderers' "Don't Pity Me" is garage rock obviously influenced by the early Beatles, with its close harmonies, tempo changes and the middle eight. But by the time it was released in 1966, the Beatles were already moving into their experimental period. The Night Raiders' "Girl Night and Day," similarly, sounds like Eric Burdon singing "Wooly Bully," right down to the Farfisa organ, although without those staccato organ stabs of the Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' hit.

By Side 2 of the second disc, you can hear the sound beginning to open up, the bands using the stereo field as a nascent psychedelic style develops. The heavily phased drums on The Missing Lynx's "San Francisco Bus" in 1969 and the seasick harmonies of "An Auburn Love" by the Gross National Product heralded the end of the original garage rock era and the dawn of a groovy new age. Thanks to the work and perseverance of Martens, we can listen to Montana rock 'n' roll's growth from birth to the cusp of maturity.

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