The Shaggs Story

by Dorothy Wiggin, as told to John DeAngelis

[picture of Wiggin gals]

When we were growing up there was always music in the house. My father would always have the radio on, or there would be some music shows on television. He was attached to music very much. He used to play a Jews Harp. He could play that better than anybody I ever heard. I always liked to be outside, and whenever I was I always had the radio with me. We all had our favorites, and they were all different. Mine was Herman's Hermits, and Betty's was Dino, Desi and Billy. Helen didn't really have a favorite band, but her favorite singer was Ricky Nelson.

It was my father that really got us interested and inspired us to get started. He just asked us if we wanted to take music lessons. I guess he had always wanted to take them as a kid and figured we were all so close as a family that it would be good to get a family group. The three of us girls were interested, so me and my sister Betty took guitar and voice lessons and Helen took drum lessons--and then we just took it from there after probably a good year of just the lessons. We tried putting a few things together and it kind of all came together.

My father felt that if we were taking both lessons and going to high school that we would have to drop one or the other, so we took home courses all through high school with American School in Chicago, through the mail. All three of us got out diplomas that way. We liked doing it that way because we did it on our own time, and that way we had time for our music as well. The only thing we missed was the social part of it.

Going into the recording studio was all my father's idea. We didn't feel like we were ready yet; we didn't feel that we knew that much about music. We were just getting started. He gave is a lot of support. He backed us up all the way.

It's really hard to pinpoint when Philosophy first came out. We don't remember the exact time. I know it was a good ten years ago; it may be closer to fifteen by now. The year should have been on the album, but I guess it isn't--we looked. And the tapes were stolen, so we can't go by those. We had all of our tapes upstairs in the house we were living in. We had them in a big army trunk of my uncle's, and the whole trunk was taken.

The man who released Philosophy just disappeared. We were supposed to get I forget how many albums, but we were supposed to get a lot of albums for the price my father paid, and we only got one box. He just didn't keep his word like he said he would. He didn't do everything that he was supposed to have done. My father even got a lawyer after him to locate him and find out what the story was, and the lawyer couldn't find him. And, in fact, there were two or three other people looking for him, so I guess there must have been something there.

When Philosophy first came out, it was played on a Boston station, WBCN-FM, a few times, but we never got any reviews or anything on it. We just figured that was the end of the album. Until NRBQ called us, we thought the album was non-existent. We were really surprised. We figured it was something that came and went, and we'd never hear about it again. . . . And when Rolling Stone magazine named The Shaggs Comeback Band of the Year--I guess astounded would be the word.

We played regularly up until my father passed away. We were playing at the Fremont Town Hall. We had a dance there every Saturday night. It started getting rowdy and there had been a few fights, so they made us quit for awhile. Then we'd get together once in awhile and play. We did volunteer jobs, playing at hospitals. We all still live fairly close together.

Now I'm married and I have two boys. Having children is the best thing that ever happened to me. Kids are life, I can't explain it any other way. I hope someday they'll be interested in music, and if they are I'll encourage them and back them up all the way. But if they want to go into entirely different fields, it's entirely up to them. I haven't written since I've been married. I've still got quite a few unfinished songs. I'd like to continue with music lessons, but right now I'm pretty busy.

I get a lot of letters. Most of them are nice. I got one awhile ago, it was insulting, or asking if we were trying to insult them. I guess they didn't like the music, or didn't think it was music. I just threw it away. I figure everybody has their opinion. If they don't like it, they don't have to buy it.

© 1988 by John DeAngelis
(First published in New Rhythm & Blues News #19, October 1984. Revised and reprinted without permission)

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