© 2020 WFIT
Public Radio for the Space Coast
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Punk Band Algebra Mothers Enjoys A Resurgence, With A Little Help From Jack White

The Algebra Mothers were cult favorites in Detroit's rebellious punk rock scene in the 1970s. The band is now enjoying a resurgence, thanks in part to help from Jack White's label — Third Man Records in Detroit.
The Algebra Mothers were cult favorites in Detroit's rebellious punk rock scene in the 1970s. The band is now enjoying a resurgence, thanks in part to help from Jack White's label — Third Man Records in Detroit.

In the 1970s, the band Algebra Mothers were cult favorites in Detroit's rebellious punk rock scene.

The four friends from Cass Tech High School released a single called "Strawberry Cheesecake" that earned them a cult following. They toured around with some well-known punk bands — but then the music stopped, and the Algebra Mothers disappeared for the next 40 years.

That is, until Jack White's label — Third Man Records in Detroit — reissued the single that got Algebra Mothers so much attention back then — along with more than a dozen new tracks recorded in the late 70's and 80's in various home studios and live venues. That album, called "Algebra Mothers," was released late last year.

Two members of the band, Ralph Valdez and Gerald Collins, talked with NPR's Don Gonyea about their re-entry onto the music scene 40 years after their debut.


Interview Highlights

On where the name "Algebra Mothers" comes from

Collins: It came from a dream. One of our high school classmates had a dream about some teenage unwed moms that were terrorizing a school using protractors and T-squares. It seemed to make no sense, but it also seemed like a great idea to just grab for a band name.

On how they fit in to the Detroit punk scene of the 1970's

Valdez: The punk scene kind of brought us together but we were always very Detroit oriented. There were a lot of bands that we played with that kind of came from the suburbs and such, and that's fine. But I do take pride in the fact that we were all inner city kids who met at Cass Tech and brought together through this punk energy some great songs.

The single "Strawberry Cheesecake" by the Algebra Mothers earned the Detroit punk band a cult following in the 1970s. Jack White's label — Third Man Records in Detroit — reissued the single along with more than a dozen new tracks late last year.
/ Courtesy of A-Moms and Third Man Records
The single "Strawberry Cheesecake" by the Algebra Mothers earned the Detroit punk band a cult following in the 1970s. Jack White's label — Third Man Records in Detroit — reissued the single along with more than a dozen new tracks late last year.

On their transition from young punk musicians to responsible adults

Valdez: We were actually never that angry or rebellious as much as we were excited by the energy of the music and the return to the top 40 energy that we grew up on. And we were so blessed to grow up in a city like Detroit that had such great diversity in top 40 where you could hear Funkadelic next to Johnny Cash and the Temptations next to Alice Cooper — just all this great music made us really appreciate things. But when punk came around it was like it's time to go back to the even earlier roots of the Kinks and the Stones.

Collins: I felt like it was an opportunity to get back to a time in my life when I listened and got excited about this music, but I was too young to participate in it ... The early British Invasion stuff was all gone by the time I was a teenager and when punk came around it kind of felt like, "Wow! I get a chance to go back in time and play music that I wish I had gotten to play then. So it was a lot of fun.

On the racial and gender diversity in Algebra Moms

Collins: We stood out for a lot of reasons, but our crazy chemistry of oddballs kind of mixing races and genders and nationalities and influences, it was always natural and organic and never calculated. We had, just by chance of our friendships, a Mexican-American, an African-Americans, the original drummer was Filipino, we had two women ... gay, straight, everybody was involved and part of the mix.

On what they are doing now, creatively

Valdez: I'm the director of the Dearborn Community Arts Council and I'm also co-producer and deputy director of the Concert of Colors, which is a big musical festival here in Detroit every year.

Collins: I'm doing food and beverage in an undisclosed location.

On what's next for the band

Collins: More noise. New Noise. There's still some stuff that we haven't done that we think we're going to brush off and bring back. But we're working on new stuff and we're going to be in the studio this summer recording some of this stuff. That's so that when the band goes out and plays, it won't just be a nostalgia show.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.