By MIKEL TOOMBS
Do you remember being 13? Do you remember “Be My Baby”? Do you remember “My Pal Foot Foot”? Do you remember “Luka”?
That’s part of the pitch for the eclectic music festival POP Montreal (Sept. 17-21), which will feature the likes of Ronnie Spector (the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”), the Dot Wiggin Band (the Shaggs’ “My Pal Foot Foot”) and Suzanne Vega. (Read more about POP Montreal here.)
Now, surely, even if you weren’t 13 at the time you heard them, you remember two of those songs. But “My Pal Foot Foot”? That one was found on the Shaggs’ endearingly and, it turns out, enduringly naïve 1969 album, “Philosophy of the World.”
The teenage, New Hampshire-based Shaggs were a before-their time sister act (Dorothy, Betty and Helen Wiggin); some, including Dorothy (see below), felt that “Philosophy of the World” was recorded, by the siblings’ insistent father (one song is titled “Who Are Parents?”), Austin Wiggin, well before its time.
“Philosophy” has been deemed “the best worst album ever made” and was hailed by Kurt Cobain as his No. 5 favorite album of all-time.
To get some perspective on the record, which was reissued in 1980 on Rounder, and then in 1999 by RCA and by the New York producers of a Shaggs musical (!) three years ago, we go back to a 1981 article in my music zine Teenpop (“A Journal of Informed Opinion”).
Here, Barry Alfonso talks to Dorothy (Dot) Wiggin Semprini in what appears to be only her second or third interview ever. (The follow-up album, “The Shaggs’ Own Thing,” also would be released by Rounder. And just last year, the Dot Wiggin Band’s debut “Ready! Get! Go!” was issued by Alternative Tentacles.)
TEENPOP: I heard that there’s a possibility that some more Shaggs material was going to be released. Do you know anything about that?
DOROTHY WIGGIN: Well, it’s a possibility, and that’s about all right now. It’s nothing that’s definite.
TP: What would the material be?
DOT: The most of it is the Shaggs’ own material.
TP: I heard it was a piece called “The Shaggs’ Own Thing.”
DOT: That’s the plain music; that’s the instrumental.
TP: What would the other ones be?
DOT: One is “A Place in the Heart.” And the other one is “Painful Memories.” And I think there’s “Love at First Sight,” “He’s a Cutie.”
TP: That sounds sweet.
DOT: Uh huh. “Something Special.” “Who Are Parents?” I think. I can’t remember which ones are on tape.
TP: “Who Are Parents?” is also on “Philosophy of the World.”
DOT: Oh, then it probably isn’t that one. They’re all different ones.
TP: It sounds like you must have recorded a lot to have enough to put a second record together with.
DOT: Yeah, we had done another whole tape, but that’s all we did., the tape itself.
TP: Was this recorded about the same time the first record was?
DOT: No, it was probably, oh, maybe five years later.
TP: Is the music very different from what was on the first one?
DOT: Not all that much different. It’s different, but not that great a difference.
TP: It’s still the three of you playing?
TP: Well, for the fact of this maybe coming out, that indicates there was some interest in “Philosophy of the World.” Do you know if the record has sold well?
DOT: The last time I talked to Terry (Adams) of NRBQ (who got the album released on Rounder), I heard it was selling pretty good in New York.
TP: Are you pleased? How does that make you feel?
DOT: Yeah, I guess so. I feel surprised. I thought we had heard the end of it. Because it wasn’t that great a recording. And then they did re-record it, but I still wasn’t satisfied with it myself.
TP: It was re-recorded? Do you mean they had the original tapes and they did something to them?
DOT: No, they used one of the brand-new albums that was never played. Our tapes were stolen.
TP: That’s right. It was in the attic or somewhere.
DOT: Well, it was in the upstairs of our house. It was in a trunk.
TP: Have people been seeking you out because of the record?
DOT: I’ve had one or two other calls, and one person sent a picture that they wanted us to autograph and send it back.
TP: Oh, did you do that?
DOT: No, not yet. I’ve got it autographed, it’s just gotta get sent back.
TP: Do people seem to understand what you were doing?
DOT: I guess so; I haven’t heard otherwise. They really like it, so I don’t know. I hope they do.
TP: Do you remember who wrote the notes on the back of the album? (Sample: “The Shaggs are real, pure, unaffected by outside influences. Their music is different, it is theirs alone. They believe in it, live it.”)
DOT: My father wrote the most of it. My father and somebody else. I’m not sure who it was, but most of it was my father.
TP: Who drew the little picture of Foot Foot?
DOT: I did that.
TP: I heard that Foot Foot, in real life, didn’t come back, that you changed it for the song.
DOT: Yeah, that’s right. I wanted a happy ending.
TP: That’s nice. All the people you listed special thanks to, are they all people from Fremont (N.H.)?
DOT: No, some of them were from out of town.
TP: How long did you study voice and guitar?
DOT: Probably five or six years. Somewhere in that area.
TP: Who is “Mississippi” Hal Wilson? He’s given extra special thanks.
DOT: He was one of the, I don’t know, disc jockeys? Yeah, from WBCN.
TP: He encouraged you to make the record?
DOT: No, well, he played it for us. He put it over the air.
TP: One thing I noticed is that neither of you play a bass guitar.
DOT: No, we didn’t. After the album was made, my younger sister (Rachel) started playing bass and played with us for a while. I don’t think we had her on the piece of tape, but she did play with us. But she wasn’t that interested.
TP: What are the Wiggin sisters doing presently? Are you still working in a hospital?
DOT: Yeah, I still work in a nursing home. And Helen also works there, but she works in a different department. And Betty is in Florida now.
TP: Are you planning to do anything musical in the near future?
DOT: No, not really, because we’ve all drifted apart; Betty’s in Florida. I just had a baby, he’s 7 months old.
TP: Well, congratulations.
DOT: Thank you. And I’ve been working full-time besides. I’m kinda busy right now. Maybe not in the near future, but later on, we might all get back together. I don’t know.
TP: What do your other two sisters think of the record? Are they aware of it being put out again?
DOT: Yeah, they know it well and they’re kinda surprised that it came back into existence, too. But they’re glad.
TP: I heard that you once performed with NRBQ. Is that true?
TP: Well, how did you meet? Did they simply contact you?
DOT: Yeah, they called us from New York one night and said they picked up our album and wanted to know more about it. And they were in New Hampshire the following month or so, and we had made plans from that. Then they were playing in Nashua, somewhere in that area. We did go see them play; we didn’t go on with them. We just went where they were but, no, we never performed with them.
TP: Would you ever consider making a personal appearance for the record, just you yourself, go sign autographs or go to a record store or anything?
DOT: I don’t know. That would be something I would have to think about. I never gave it a thought.
TP: Do you think your philosophy of the world has changed since you made that record?
DOT: Probably, different things. I couldn’t pinpoint ‘em right now. You know, I’m more mature, oh, 10 years, and I’m married now, and my son.I’m sure if I thought it all over, pinpoint it right down, I’m sure there would be changes.
TP: If you were going to tell someone who hadn’t heard it, what your music was like, what that Shaggs record was like, what would you tell them?
DOT: That would be very difficult to do. I really don’t know. I think that I wasn’t satisfied with the album, and I wasn’t satisfied with the way it was recorded or the way that it came out. Because to me the music and the voices weren’t together, and it could have been recorded much better than it was. I don’t think we were ready to record to begin with, and I don’t think the recording studio did as good a job as they could have. Therefore, it would be hard to say but, I don’t know, I really can’t explain it to ‘em.
TP: Why do you think a lot of people have found the record so interesting? Have you wondered that?
DOT: Yeah, I have wondered it, and I really don’t know. I think it’s something a little different.
Read more about the Dot Wiggin Band here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mikel Toombs is a frequent contributor to GeneStout.com. Read his review of Rachel Taylor’s EP here.)