Of all outsider music, none is further outside than The Shaggs. Three young sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire whose harrowing story is like no other pop music story in history, is known at this point far and wide. Their father took them out of school, harassed and abused them to force them to “make music,” hoping to hit it rich off that new rock and roll fad. Since they didn’t have one iota of knowledge about music, the girls invented their own music. An amazing otherworldly music like nothing anyone’s ears have ever experienced! And being that they were young girls, this music had a great innocence to it, coming through guitar bass and drums. Now I don’t just mean they wrote songs, but that they reinvented music almost in an autistic way. Not knowing their back story early on, it’s amazing that this was created under duress. Everyone that heard it thought it was just the bizarre childish ramblings of the weirdest teens on earth! And they were, but still…
To implement their father’s bizarre plan, these girls (Dot, Betty, and Helen Wiggin) were also forced to play every weekend at Fremont Town Hall where, it is said, that they were endlessly abused by rotten kids for doing the “Shaggs’ Own Thing,” yet they soldiered on weekend after weekend because they had to. Next was to record an LP and here is where their magic was set in stone. Released in 1969,The Shaggs’ Philosophy Of The World came and went and legend tells of them being thrown in a dumpster by the studio owner/co-producer (with their dad, Austin Wiggin). Either way 900 of the thousand LPs disappeared, so right off the bat it was incredibly rare. Being the most famous weirdo of his time the record made its way into the hands of none other than Frank Zappa who went on a radio interview in 1970 with the Shaggs LP under his arm and famously during the interview proclaimed “this band is better than the Beatles” and then made them play a song—the first public mindblower the band created. They kept playing until the day their father died of a massive heart attack in 1975 and then just stopped.
Ten years after its original release, at the end of the first punk wave, mega record collector Terry Adams, singer for cult rock-n-roll band NRBQ, got his record label (Rounder Records) to re-release the LP. The minds punk opened were endlessly searching for weirdness in records, movies and pop culture. People like myself scarfed up the Shaggs LP and were mesmerized by its unique weirdness. It started being used as the measuring stick for weird music. People like Kurt Cobain put it in his top five favorite records of all time. In 1999 for the 30th anniversary NRBQ celebration concert they put on a show in New York That was one of the greatest and most bizarre nights of my life. I went with Shaggs megafan and one of my best friends, the late Bill Bartell (aka Pat Fear of California punk band White Flag) and it was a true mind bender. The Shaggs, playing their first show ever outside of Fremont, NH had the middle spot between Sun Ra’s Arkestra and NRBQ! Possibly the weirdest bill ever. I secretly recorded it, and it sounds exactly like the record. They read the music off of the original handwritten charts and only did four songs because they could only find those four pieces of sheet music! I had Dot Wiggin recreate the drawing of her cat Foot Foot from the back cover of the LP—made infamous in their “biggest hit” song “My Pal Foot Foot”—on my ankle and had it tattooed on the very next day! (I already had a tattoo on my actual foot foot.)
Here’s Pat’s recounting of the show on Popshifter
Pat Fear: When I went to New York in 1999 to see the Shaggs when they played with NRBQ at their 30th Anniversary concert, I ended up getting to know them. They didn’t understand that they were going to be mobbed and I ended up being their handler. They had never experienced anything like being mobbed for autographs, so I set them up with a table for merch and stuff and ended up being their manager for a day. So I got to know them pretty well over the course of the two days.
They were really nice. It was only two of them; Helen wasn’t well enough to play [The Shaggs were comprised of three sisters: Dot, Betty, and Helen Wiggin; Helen died in 2006] so it was just Betty and Dot. That was the first time they had played since they broke up in 1975. I went to the soundcheck because I was not going to miss one second of Shaggs performances!
I met them and they were just standing around, these two, nice, older women—normal people who looked like middle-aged housewives—but they had guitars with them. And I barely recognized them. I said, “Look I don’t want to bother you but I came from California to see you. This is a big thrill and I’ve always liked your music.”
And they were like (adopts Shaggs-like accent), “Oh, that’s so nice!” They talk just like they do on the records. I was like, “Wow, this is actually happening.”
Dorothy [Dot] had a PeeChee folder in her hands and she opened it up right before they were about to do the sound check and she said (in Shaggs voice), “Oh, we’re only gonna do four numbers because we didn’t have time to study them.” And she opened this PeeChee folder and there was handwritten sheet music to “My Pal Foot Foot.”
Popshifter: Oh my goodness.
Pat Fear: Those songs were written out and scored on sheet music, by hand! And when she said “study” she meant, study the sheet music.
Popshifter: How is that even possible? (laughs)
Pat Fear: Jaw on the floor! I was with Howie Pyro [D Generation] and we were both like, “Oh. My. God. You don’t know how much I want that piece of paper.”
All of this brings me to the reason for this post. There is barely any surviving anything of The Shaggs. No one cared, they went nowhere, there was NOTHING. Until now. Yesterday the YouTube channel of another infamous outsider music icon, R. Stevie Moore, quietly uploaded this video with the simple title “Shaggs live footage, Fremont Town Hall 1972.” Never in my life did I think I would ever see anything like this. It’s just incredible to see them move in their time, to get an idea of the “scene” as it were. And they did have MOVES! They’re doing KISS-esque choreography (before KISS existed) and the few people that are there are dancing! I’m so happy.
Below is a small portion of footage, the full thing can be watched on YouTube here but can not be embedded. If this interests you even slightly, I would look NOW as it could be removed at any moment. [UPDATE: It was already removed, but here’s a different version…]