"There ain't no shame in just goin' home," sang LA psych-rockers Hunger on their sole LP, 1969's Strictly From Hunger. Following the album's botched release, that phrase would seem like prophecy. As the members straggled back to their hometown of Portland, they may not have felt shame but certainly grave disappointment.
Today, prepping an improbable reunion, lead singer Michael Lane sounds humble in self-assessment.
"We always knew we were just an average band at best," he says, "but no one could've put any more blood, sweat and tears into the four years that were given us."
Originally billed as the Outcasts, Hunger is a forgotten player in the storied history of Portland garage rock. Though they played clubs all over town, their peak came with a win at the 1967 Rose Festival's Battle of the Bands, where their prize was a coveted Fender PA system. Soon lured to Los Angeles, the band would be transformed by two encounters—first with manager Stan Zipperman, who rechristened them Hunger, then with a member of another area outfit.
"When we first went to LA, we were doing all covers—Zombies, Box Tops, " says Lane over the phone from his Southeast Portland home. "We were rehearsing one day, and a guy from a band heard us and said, 'You guys aren't gonna do anything around here until you start doing heavier music and writing your own stuff.'"
That admonishment—plus the advent of psychedelic drugs—inspired the band to take on a more distinctive sound. Playing moody, complex garage rock with organ at the fore, Hunger landed more gigs around Southern California. But the band's interactions with the industry were fraught, including a dispiriting series of equipment thefts, the most brazen by the band's own roadies, who absconded with all their gear—including the PA they had won at the Rose Festival.
That meant that when Strictly From Hunger finally emerged, the band couldn't properly promote it. Not that they were particularly excited about it by that point, anyway: The distinctive lead guitar by then-Strawberry Alarm Clock axeman Ed King was removed under legal threat from Alarm Clock's management. Hunger soon broke up, and it wasn't until a test pressing, with King's guitar parts intact, surfaced in the 1990s that the music was heard as intended.
The band was amazed when producer Eothen Alapatt, of archival specialists Now-Again Records, informed them of the album's cult following. He encouraged not only a re-release, but a reunion. Lane, who quit music after the breakup and worked for 21 years as a custodian at Mount Hood Community College, first balked at the prospect.
"I said, 'I don't know about that. We've got people scattered all over, and people have got some real health issues,'" Lane says.
At least two original members will be present but not perform. But the band's other Strawberry Alarm Clock connection, drummer Gene Gunnels, is flying in from Las Vegas, and the other players are reportedly rising to the occasion.
"It's wonderful for every one of us," Lane says. "It really started a fire in everybody's heart again."
SEE IT: Hunger plays Turn Turn Turn, 8 NE Killingsworth St., with Lavender Flu and Day Dos, on Saturday, April 7. 8 pm. $10. 21+.