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Angie Pepper & The Passengers: An Appreciation

Angie Pepper & The Passengers

July 20, 2017 | by James Greene, Jr.

“The power of love can move mountains and it certainly moved Angie Pepper way off her anticipated course to one she never imagined…”

Those are the words of Angie Pepper herself, Australian chanteuse of the new wave era, whose melancholy siren was resilient enough to suggest eventual success akin to that of a Harry or a Benatar. That never happened, but you can’t blame anyone who spent so much time singing about heartbreak for giving it all up to chase “the one.”

As the third child of a middle class family, Pepper remarked in the same 2010 interview that she was “in many ways… left to my own devices.” Still, her parents instilled in her the belief that any dream of hers was possible. When Angie wasn’t dreaming, she was singing, a hobby she loved — to the gentle chagrin of her family, who often had to ask their youngest to quiet down at night so everyone else could sleep.

Though Angie adored singing, she never considered it a career to pursue. At least not until a year and a half of art school, after a friend nudged her onstage to sing with a blues band at a local pub in Newcastle. A spark was ignited that starry night; Pepper wound up singing with this same act, the Electric Jug Band, for the next year. At one point, Electric Jug opened for rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Bo Diddley, who took a shine to Angie’s voice and encouraged her to visit the United States. Bo laughed a hearty laugh when Pepper politely thanked him as “Mr. Diddley.”

In March of 1979, Angie Pepper played her first gig with the Passengers, a collective of friends and fans who surrounded legendary Australian punks Radio Birdman. While Birdman worked within the barebones template set by U.S. legends like MC5 and the Stooges, the Passengers splashed psychedelic ‘60s spices into their creations (treble-heavy guitar slashing, misting of organ, etc.). It’s very Paisley Underground; songs like the sultry “One Way Out” and beautifully bold admission “It’s Just That I Miss You” (both captured on a demo the band squeezed out in ‘79) would have (should have) burned up the KROQ charts during Reagan’s first term.

Of course, if we’re lamenting Angie Pepper with the Passengers songs that history cruelly ignored, let’s save our strongest ire for the neglect inflicted upon “Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” a pounding pop frustration we all know by heart in some other totally just dimension. It’s a story everybody’s heard before — single girl in love with her BFF’s boy — but as always it’s not the material, it’s the delivery. And the Passengers deliver; the rumbling bass perfectly echoes Pepper’s convulsing heart as no resolution appears on the melodic horizon.

If Angie Pepper really was this torn up in the field of love we should be glad her time with the Passengers came to an abrupt halt in October 1979. By that point, she had fallen head over heels for Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek and decided to move with Tek back to his native stomping ground of Detroit. Pepper and her husband would occasionally collaborate musically in subsequent years (including Angie’s 1984 single “Frozen World” and her roots rocky full length from 2003, Res Ipsa Loquitor), but love took center stage.

“Once my family with Deniz Tek had been established, that became my passion and career,” Pepper said later. “Nothing was more important.”

The couple had two kids and they still reside in the States, doin’ they rock ‘n’ roll parenty thang. That should give some hope to the hopelessly heartbroken.

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