The Swamp Rats were an American garage rock band that hailed from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The band achieved regional success with singles mostly consisting of cover versions of popular songs. Their material is considered one of the earliest examples of proto-punk, which has led to re-releases of their work.
The band originated from a group known as The Fantastic Dee Jays, which was formed in 1965 by Denny Nicholson, Dick Newton, and Tom Junecko. The three performed locally until being hired by disc jockey, Terry Lee, of WMCK Radio. Lee, who was manager of several other bands, became their manager/producer, and dictated their song lists, uniforms, and purchased their equipment. In live performances, the band performed covers of British Invasion pop songs, and soon gained a following in Pittsburgh. In March 1965, the band released their first single, "Apache" b/w "Fight Fire", both cover songs. They would recruit vocalist and drummer, Bob Hocko, for their next releases, which included original material like "Get Away Girl", co-written by all the members. They released a self-titled debut in early 1966 and disbanded soon after.
Terry Lee created the Swamp Rats with Dee Jay member, bass guitarist Newton, and newcomers David Gannon on drums, and Don Schreiner on lead guitar. Lee signed the band to the small St. Clair label, and produced their debut single, "Louie Louie" b/w "Hey Joe". The recordings were a contrast to their previous band's material as they were more heavier and punk orientated. Soon after their debut, Hocko returned to the group as lead vocalist along with bassist Paul Shalako being added. They would appear on the band's second release "Psycho" b/w "Here, There, and Everywhere", again both covers. Gannon would not be involved in the group's further releases, but remained their live drummer. Hocko's vocals on "Psycho" was an example of scream-singing. The band produced several more singles on the same label which sold well in Pittsburgh, and they performed in Lee's dance clubs with revolving lineups. Despite their popularity locally, the band suffered from personal disagreements, limited single distribution, and the lack of original material. Lee prevented the band from writing much of their own compositions, which caused disputes between Lee and Newton on what type of material to write. Newton left the band in 1967 and was replaced by Joey Guido. Lee was replaced by Nick Cenci who had the band signed to Co & Ce. for their final single, "In the Midnight Hour". When Guido fled to Canada to escape the draft, the band performed in two final gigs with Nicholson returning to the band, before disbanding in mid-1967.
In 1979, following a returning interest in garage rock, the band's material was released on a compilation album title, Disco Sucks!, on the Keystone label. The album consisted of singles by the group, two tracks from a 1972 reunion demos, work from Hocko's band, Galactus, and an outtake. The album was poorly circulated, however, and did not received as much attention as expected. A bootleg follow-up was released in 2003 on the Get Hip label called Disco Still Sucks!. It included all of the band's singles, except "Two Tymes Too" and "Mr. Sad", along with more outtakes, and original material by Hocko.
David Gannon died on October 4, 2014; he was 67 years old.