Sunday, February 18, 2024

Dexter Romweber (RIP) and The Flat Duo Jets

Like a lot of folks right about now, I've been thinking about the recently deceased Dexter Romweber and his old band, The Flat Duo Jets. The news of Dex's passing is, to me, truly shocking and sad. I'd just gotten home from seeing an incredibly great show by Big Sandy along with the Dave and Deke Combo, was tired, old guy no longer used to staying out so late, and I checked the social media monster on my phone and learned the news. Man, how I loved The Flat Duo Jets at one time. I nearly wore the grooves out on my copy of their first LP. Their versions of Benny Joy's "Wild, Wild Lover," The Frantic Four's "Down by the Old Millstream," Bobby Brown and Curios' "Please, Please Baby," Glen Bland's "When My Baby Passes By," and others all seemed to blaze forth both from the shadowy past of American music as well as from outer space. Like the music rode some lost radio signal that had broken loose from the 1950's and traveled out past Pluto before it boomeranged back toward Earth even more damaged, warped, loud and furious. Or something like that. Later I would discover the original versions of all of those songs, first on various rockabilly compilations, then sometimes even on 45 records. But The Flat Duo Jets definitely acted as one of my gateway drugs.

Speaking of drugs... I was trying to recall at what point and just how I first discovered The Flat Duo Jets and narrowed it down to the year 1990. Then I had recently returned from New York City to Pittsburgh, PA, where I had family, in order to get clean. It's hard to collect records when you have a dope habit, and, as I skidded into the early 90's, I owned only a couple of Cramps records, maybe a Little Walter LP, and it got worse from there. At that time I had to rebuild everything, the record collection, my brain, and my whole life. By necessity I took a menial job with the Three Rivers Arts Festival that summer, working on the set-up crew. This mostly involved constructing miles of scaffolding --for artist booths, stages, etc.,-- and ripping back and forth to the festival's warehouse in a beat 70's Chevy pickup that really hauled ass. At this job I met a guy, Chris Franko, who'd been hired to work security around the festival office. For him that mostly meant sitting around and reading books all day, and, whenever the crew blew back to the office, shooting the shit with us. We discussed the usual, music, film, books, politics and all of that, and he was pretty hep. Much more so than me! Back then I was pretty much just a mess. Anyway, Franko was the one who turned me on to The Gories, The Scientists from Australia, and... The Flat Duo Jets, among others. All of those bands put some dents in my life, one way or another. For example, hearing The Gories made me take up playing the guitar, thinking "Shee-it... I could do that! " (I learned my lesson there--sure, it was easy to play their one or two chords. But could ya do it with the same mojo? What the hell, after kicking the dope, I needed a new pass time.) And The Flat Duo Jets would just sort of haunt me all of the time.

I wanted badly to catch The Flat Duo Jets live, but I'd have to wait years, until the late 90's, before they played the 'burgh. Sure, old Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh of Mad Mike Metrovic, et. al., is legendary. But the rocker kids there at the time mostly tended to go for the sort of jockly, testosterone-fueled indie rock found on the Touch'n'Go and Amphetamine Reptile record labels. For example, the hot ticket at the time were local boys who made the indie rock big time, Don Caballero, who played a sort of muscle bound power prog rock. And the guy that promoted most of the underground shows was into art damage and experimental music. Yes, I've seen The Ex, and the Dog Faced Hermans. We did have The Cynics and The Mount McKinleys to scratch the garage rock itch. But, for the most part, during the 90's, Pittsburgh got passed over by most of the bands that played my kind of music. However, sometimes when ya gotta wait for something, it's all the better when it finally hits. Eventually, probably around 1997 or thereabouts, Dex and Crow brought the act to town and I made sure not to miss it. They did not disappoint. In fact, I don't think their records fully prepared me for the intensity of their live show, and especially for the state that Dex worked himself into when he played. When he rocked he was truly possessed by something not altogether benevolent. And man could he and Crow play. Of course, between every song, there was all the tuning he had to do on that crappy Silvertone guitar. Yeah, yeah, everyone loves the tone of those Danelectro-made lipstick pickups, and rightfully so. But the headstocks are fucked, forcing the strings to angle off the nut too severely up to the tuning pegs to remain in tune very long, rendering the guitars a total pain in the ass to play a show with. But Dex made it look easy, as if he'd been born with a Silvertone as an extra appendage. Needless to say, after their show, I went out directly and bought the first one of those I could find. And back then they still fetched only about $100. 

I still have all of my Flat Duo Jets records, but for some reason haven't played em much in recent years, I'll admit. And they cut several great ones after their first, LPs like "Safari", "Introducing the Flat Duo Jets" (songs all recorded in one take at Brooklyn's Coyote Studios), "Wild Blue Yonder", "White Trees", "Red Tango" and more. And while I eventually got to catch him live quite a bit, I haven't seen Dex play since the Norton Records 25th anniversary party in Brooklyn already more than a decade ago. And somehow I doubt I'll dust off those records and play them now, even in tribute, at least for a little while, since I'm sure to do so would just be too impossibly sad. What a loss. Characters like Dexter Romweber don't come around too often. Truly rest in peace, Flat Duo Jet, god bless you, and thanks for all that you gave us. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Andy Starr - Rockin' Rollin' Stone

“I don’t want to hear none of your tales, boy… Too many tales come from these mountains and everwhere…”*

The Ozark Mountains breed many legends. In the foggy hollers there, tales abound of witches, of the impending revolt of the Nini indians, and of a chicken-legged man-monster known as the Yarp. Yet another to have once roamed those hills was rockabilly legend Frank “Andy” Starr, the Rockin’ Rollin’ Jumpin’ Crazy Stone.

Born into abject poverty, named after a U.S. president, Franklin Delano Gulledge (b. 1932) grew up in a dirt shack near Mill Creek, “about six mile from Combs, Arkansas.” His mother struggled to feed the brood bestowed upon her by her rounder husband. The elder Gulledge, Grover Cleveland by name (yes, such naming was a family tradition), came and went according to the movements of an itinerant hustler. He was rarely present in the home. To help out around the dirt farm, sister Drew sold the Cloverleaf Salve that arrived by mail order. She sold so much, in fact, that she won a prize: a cheap guitar. The siblings all shared that guitar, beating and bashing it in the hillbilly fashion, but young Frank took a true shine to it. Blowing thru Mill Creek again around that time, G.C., a fiddle player himself, heard his middle son strumming on that mail order guitar. Father encouraged son to “tag along in the Key of D.” He liked what he heard and began to take his son with him to play the local dances held in cabins around the hills. 

(Continued, with song files, after the jump.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ESQUERITA! - The Voola's First Capitol Single

The Voola's debyoola, released 1958.
Oh Baby - Esquerita 

Capitol Ad, 1958

Esquerita & Friend in New Orleans, mid-1960's

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hey Trumpet Ears! It's National Sputnik Monroe Day

Image courtesy Off the Top Rope Productions
Repost from Last Year: 
March 24th is now National Sputnik Monroe day, commemorating the legendary grappler celebrated in Robert Gordon's It Came from Memphis and elsewhere. In the late 50s, Sputnik effectively put the bionic elbow drop on segregation at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. Go here to read more about this, or pick up a copy of Gordon's great book. 

Coinciding with National Sputnik Monroe Day is the world premiere (happened last year, 2011: ed.) of the Memphis wrestling documentary Memphis Heat. If you're in Bluff City tonight and want to catch the movie and ceremony for the late, great Sputnik, go here for more details.

"Sputnik Hires a Band"  on Peak Records (a label owned by Lansky's clothiers?). Year? Supposedly the first wrestler record, even before Classy Freddy Blassie's "Pencil Necked Geek."

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Crazy Cajun on the Teevee!

Huey P. Meaux, aka The Crazy Cajun, record producer, erstwhile resident of Huntsville Penitentiary, and disc jockey broadcasting his last Friday night oldies sheaux on KPFT, Houston, TX, 1974. You better sho believe it! 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Skeets McDonald's Tattooed Lady Plus Eleven Other Sizzlers

Travel the boondocks, go back in time, out past Rackemsack, on the Hamtramck Line. Hear a boogie piano played by a man from the hills. Pet a shaggy-haired poodle, it’ll give ya a thrill. At the burlesque show you’ll see pasties twirl, but you best watch your step ‘round a Highland Park Girl. She took it to the country, and she took it to the town, but when the preacher saw her, he laid his Bible down. 
In that past, nearly forgotten now, in that golden age of raunchy hillbilly records that began in the pre-war days and culminated in the early 50’s, folks knew how to make a party record. Some were tawdry, some were trite. But the best songs portray the deed with salty humor and no guilt and, what’s more, they convey the sense that death and decency lurk just outside the whorehouse door. So you'd better have your fun while you can. 
           Collected here on the 1959 LP Skeets McDonald’s Tattooed Lady Plus Eleven Other Sizzlers, is a twelve-pack of tracks chock full of leering, lascivious, and barely concealed double-entendre. For the most part all of these sides were originally released on long lost 78 rpm singles on Devora and Jack Brown’s fabled Fortune label.
           Brief, anonymous liner notes tell more of the story:

Skeets McDonald’s orignal hit recording of ‘The Tattooed Lady’ heads this spicy, risque collection of party novelties. This is the ‘Lady’ that burned up the juke boxes in the 50’s. What a song! Also included is Skeets McDonald’s ‘BirthdayCake Boogie,’ another sizzling scorcher in the honky tonk tradition.
Here is hilarious party fun galore as this album spins merrily on its way with ‘DirtyBoogie’ and ‘She Sure Can Rock Me’ by that outstanding honky tonk piano player and singer, Roy Hall, who is also a fine comedian and a versatile actor. Another high-light of this great album, are the two evergreens, ‘HamtramckMama,’ and ‘Highland Park Girl’ by the famous York Brothers. Additional spice added to this album is, ‘At the Burlesque Show’ by Rufus Shoffner, also the humorously spicy, ‘He’s a Mighty Good Man to Do That’ and ‘Song of the Club’featuring the talented and naughty vocal stylings of Boots Gilbert. The titles of the other three numbers, by Johnny Bucket and Tommy Odim, speak for themselves [See below - ed.]. Have a ball with this exciting TATTOOED LADY album!

 If Not Available At Your Dealer Order Direct

Let us end here, stopping as abruptly as do the tracks on this crude album. Now move your hand, don’t let it linger, or you’ll get sticky stuff all over your finger.  

Griddle Greasin' Daddy - Johnny Buckett

Birthday Cake Boogie
Can I Play With Your Poodle?

 Original cover illustrations by David R. Kirk

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!

Mike Edison apparently has a soft spot for book reviewers. Or maybe he just doesn’t want us to sweat the job too hard. As for our portion of summary and description, he's already done most of he work for us with his long-assed subtitles. First there was his memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go, Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and The Most Notorious Magazines in the World (whew! I get bushed just typing it!). Now he gives us his latest Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!, Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers, an American Tale of Sex and Wonder (New York, Soft Skull, 2011).
            Edison contextualizes this latest tale with an epigram.
“America,” he writes, “always the most audacious of cultures, is also the most repressed.”
For said repression’s release—manual and otherwise—we owe a debt to our pornographers. Or so the premise goes.
From here, as if in anticipation of the collective nose-holding such names still elicit among prudish readers, Edison makes haste to establish Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein as champions, not only of the beaver shot, but also, more importantly maybe, of free speech. But then you can’t have one without the other. No Free Speech fight, no beaver shot. For few have tested the First Amendment more rigorously than the smut peddler.
After this introduction, Edison then informs us that, of these Four Horsemen of Porn, “I want to tell you their story, and then some.” On this score, Edison delivers the goods. Pick up a copy of Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! and read about Lenny Bruce, Little Annie Fanny, and Helen Gurley Brown, learn how the set of Caligula was even more decadent than the actual film, revel in Larry Flynt’s foul-mouthed antics before the Supreme Court, dig all this and a whole lot more. 
            As for the story-teller, we've got the right man on the job here. Go ahead, check his resume. Edison once edited Screw, wrote girl-copy for the Crescent Publications family of fine smut rags (Cheri, High Society, Swank, etc.), and claims to have penned dozens of pornographic novels. (What’s that you ask? What’s a ‘pornographic novel’? Well, imagine a dirty book, sold on a dirty newsstand… Er… What’s a newsstand? Aw… forget it.) So Edison possesses more than a little first-hand experience with his subject. Plus he’s pretty fuckin’ funny, and his brash narration, at its best, strikes a balance somewhere between seasoned journalist, borscht-belt comic, and titty-bar emcee.
            Elsewhere, however, Edison relies too heavily on that brashness, and his research seems a bit light. Much of the thrill of this sort of story comes from marvelling at the reporter's legwork. And sure, Edison bags many good quotes here, from Flynt, Paul Krassner, the Jr. Gooch, et. Al (Goldstein). Plus D!D!D! comes with a fairly extensive bibliography and footnotes on most pages. Yet Edison often uses the latter less like a tool for documentation than an opportunity for another aside, one where a few hopped-up similes work to convince us to not sweat the sources, Edison's good for it, he'll get us back tomorrow, don't worry about it.
            But, in the end, these are minor gripes. After all, this ain’t a PhD dissertation. A sensational subject calls for a similarly sensational narration. The important thing is Edison perceives the big stuff, like the tragedy of fortune, and the prices paid by each of his Four Horsemen.
             And did I mention that he’s also pretty fuckin’ funny?