One of the highest-voltage punk acts to hit the Midwest in the late '80s, the Laughing Hyenas matched the thudding grind of the Stooges with the bluesy, scuzzed-up post-punk of the Birthday Party and P**sy Galore. At first, the band specialized in noisy dirges overlaid with the tortuous, throat-shredding vocals of frontman John Brannon. As time passed, their blues connections became more and more explicit, looking back to the Rolling Stones and original sources like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. However, the Hyenas weren't quite prolific enough to take their place alongside similar indie stalwarts like Royal Trux or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and quietly faded away.
The Laughing Hyenas were formed in Ann Arbor, MI, in 1985 by vocalist John Brannon, formerly of area hardcore band Negative Approach, and guitarist Larissa Strickland, who'd been playing her instrument for a scant six months and had previously been in a local group called L-Seven (not the L7 who later went on to grunge-metal fame). The two added bassist Kevin Strickland and drummer Jim Kimball, and quickly made a name for themselves on the Detroit-area scene. Signing with noise rock specialists Touch and Go, the Laughing Hyenas issued their six-song debut EP, Merry-Go-Round, in 1987, with production by a pre-Nirvana Butch Vig. The full-length You Can't Pray a Lie followed in 1989, and the group went on tour supporting Sonic Youth.
1990's Life of Crime was hailed by many as the Hyenas' most fully realized album to date, but it proved to be the original lineup's last hurrah. Kimball and Kevin Strickland both departed to form the roots-punk outfit Mule with P.W. Long in 1991. Brannon and Larissa Strickland regrouped with a new rhythm section of bassist Kevin Reis and onetime Necros drummer Todd Swalla. Still coming together, the new version of the Hyenas cut the Crawl EP in 1992, but further turnover ensued when Reis decided he couldn't tour as extensively as the band wanted to. He was in turn replaced by Ron Sakowski, also a former member of the Necros. After honing its chemistry via heavy touring, the band finally returned in 1995 with Hard Times, the bluesiest album in their discography. After a long break, Brannon and Sakowski fronted the group Easy Action, which issued a self-titled debut in 2001. Larissa Strickland passed away on November 4th, 2006. ~ Steve Huey