HARTFORD, Conn. – Forget the photo ops on the snowboard, the hockey skates, the Harley. Never mind the shaggy visage of the rebel Vietnam vet. If John Kerry’s supporters still need to prove that their candidate isn’t a stiff-necked square, maybe they should be blaring “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” at top volume.

That’s the surf-rock shimmy that opens an album by the Electras, a high school band featuring a young John Kerry on electric bass. Recorded in 1961 on a reel-to-reel recorder in a rehearsal room at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, the collection of garage-rock workouts was pressed onto a small batch of vinyl and soon forgotten.

But the bassist’s political aspirations have revived interest in the band, inspiring its less-famous members to unearth the master tape of the record. Recently they reissued it on compact disc and put it up for sale on a Web site (electrasrockandrollband.com).

In the original liner notes (excluded from the reissue), one P.W. Johnson, a classmate who would later be killed in Vietnam, describes the future senator as the “producer of a pulsating rhythm that lends tremendous force to all the members.”

It was an apt, if somewhat overstated, assessment, says Larry Rand, a founding member of the Electras, who lives in Sharon, Conn.

“I think it’s fair to say that John’s bass was prominent because it was loud. Yes, it was a pulsating rhythm. That’s fair,” says Rand, one of the band’s two guitarists.

Consider Kerry’s contributions to “You Can’t Sit Down,” one of the few tunes in which the bass supplies more than a background duck walk. It’s a chugging little number that sounds as if Kerry is laying down rhythm on an amplified rubber band.

Except for the two tracks to which Rand lent his vocals (including a cover of “Summertime Blues”), the album plies a studious set of instrumentals in the vein of swinging rock outfits like the Ventures.

On cover versions of boss cuts like “Shanghaied” and “Yellow Jacket,” the band (named after a Buick) seems to really break a sweat. On less spirited selections, one imagines the prep schoolers bent over their instruments, intent on getting the notes right.

But Rand, who went on to Harvard and a career as a constitutional law scholar and educator, recalls what it meant to cut loose with his band mates.

“Boarding schools can be pretty nasty environments,” he says. “But there was none of that in playing in this band. There were no barriers.”

He describes a young Kerry in terms that all of the candidate’s acquaintances seem to use: determined, serious, studious.

“We did want him to loosen up, but I’m not sure we were applying that to John Kerry specifically. We were applying that to all of us,” Rand says.

By the time most of the Electras, including Kerry, graduated in 1962, the band had racked up a handful of gigs at proms and debutante parties. More important, they had pitched in to get about 500 copies of their St. Paul’s recordings pressed by a division of RCA that offered made-to-order records.

Just as they once split up those slabs of nostalgia (Kerry reportedly has held on to 10 copies), the profits from the reissue are being split among the members. Funneling the loot to the Kerry campaign, says Rand, a staunch Kerry supporter, was out of the question because of the “political division within the band.”

(c) 2004, The Hartford Courant

Visit the Hartford Courant on the World Wide Web at http://www.ctnow.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-06-21-04 1234EDT

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