Playback: Dialing In Birdlegg
Birdleggs, Strange Boys, Moonpies, Ed Hall / Gorch Fock / Brown Whörnet, and other weirdness
"The consummate bluesman doesn't give himself a [nick]name. You get a name from your peers because they respect you!"
I'm getting Bluesman Wisdom 101 at 2am from Birdlegg, who's sweating through his suit after a frenzied performance at Sixth Street mega bar Maggie Mae's, where the 66-year-old harmonica player holds court weekly. Since he bought a cordless microphone in 1988, he's hardly been able to keep himself on stage, and tonight he's giving male audience members instructions on having "game." He plops down on an unsuspecting female's lap, asks her to marry him, and struts out the front door to blow a lively harp solo among the drunken masses.
"The whole object of my show is getting people involved," nods Birdlegg. "Play with them – not to them."
He earned his musical moniker in the Oakland blues scene, where he played for more than 30 years. There, he's worthy of a single name. Here, he's just another unknown great slugging it out, as he puts it, "in the fucking minor leagues."
That's copacetic for Eddie Stout, who recently signed Bird to Dialtone Records. The bread and butter of his local imprint, founded in 1998, remains recordings by real-deal bluesmen, largely African-American musicians, whose authenticity, credibility, and talent surpass their national reputation. On his roster: Austin's Hosea Hargrove, Houston's Lil Joe Washington, and Ray Reed. Though small, Dialtone offers a recording advance and international distribution.
"America's so great that we're still living our history. There's still a few guys left that were around at the beginning of time," proclaims Stout, who offers as examples Lazy Lester and Bobby Rush, both on Dialtone's Texas Harmonica Rumble. "They were there on the circuit watching the whole blues thing transpire."
Compared to those two, Birdlegg's a young buck, but his exuberant, soulful playing extends the history of old blues greats like Sonny Boy Williamson II.
"Bird's hot," enthuses Stout. "He's a showstopping entertainer, sure, but if you look past that, he's a great harp player."
Birdlegg's set to record with a band assembled by Stout, including Omar Dykes, Mike Keller, Nick Connolly, Johnny Bradley, and Jason Moeller at Church House Studios. A self-titled release is planned for October.
Strange Boys Living Grateful
Ryan Sambol and Greg Enlow's new rock & roll outfit Living Grateful debuted with a hype-less gig at Trailer Space Records on Saturday, at which Sambol announced that it had been one year since the duo's former band, the Strange Boys, played their final show, thus confirming what many expected. That the group, once regarded among Austin's most promising indie-rock acts, is dead.
From their grave rises Living Grateful, who on Saturday bore no resemblance to the jangly garage pop of the Strange Boys, instead beating out something more rustic, twangy, and timeless. Their name, Sambol admits, came from a Grateful Dead shirt he defaced. The band's ranks include pianist/guitarist Chris Catalina, drummer Casey Seymour, and Gina Spigarelli on bass.
"It was just act one," Sambol reflected about the Strange Boys, former Chronicle cover boys who once had the music world by the short hairs with a deal on Rough Trade Records, international touring, Pitchfork attention, and a local following. "The great thing about Living Grateful is it's the opposite of the Strange Boys. We're learning from the Strange Boys' mistakes."
How so, I ask?
"By having more fun."
Fun commences Sunday, July 21, at Pau Wau Records' summer party, in which 140 guests board a barge and hit Lake Travis for a four-hour float. Enjoy drinking, dancing, and swimming to the sounds of Living Grateful, pop maestro Bill Baird, the charming oldies melodies of Chris Catalena & the Native Americans, and dirty, soulful art rockers Cartright, whose drummer Nick Cornetti captains Pau Wau.
Tickets are $25 and include free food from Me So Hungry. Jump aboard at www.pauwaurecords.com. If it sells out, catch Living Grateful the night before with Natural Child, the Bad Lovers, and Pharaohs at Hotel Vegas.
Long live the freaks. Long live the weird. Long live the bands where anything goes.
Saturday's show at Eastside sawdust factory Delta Millworks (4701 E. Fifth) brings together a seemingly impossible lineup of Austin's veteran envelope-pushers, including Trance Syndicate alums Ed Hall, who break from their alter egos as Pong for a rare show in their lysergic, post-punk trio format, body paint, et al. They'll join avant psych-metal Goliath Gorch Fock, resuming their trombone-tempered musical mayhem after five years of inactivity.
Consider those reunions, but not an accompanying set from prog-punk geniuses Brown Whörnet.
"It's just a myth that we're no longer a band," explains guitarist Jimmy Burdine. "This actually marks our 20th year together."
They still record incessantly, having produced the epic "Brownloads" podcast series and recently completed a concept album called Dr. Dickle. Respect also goes to the show's longest running band, the Pocket FishRmen, featuring jumpsuited guitarist extraordinaire Cris Burns and master of disguise Brant Bingamon, who've played consistently for more than 25 years.
"Austin used to be this oasis where punk didn't have to be a genre of music. It was just about freaking out, doing whatever the fuck you want, and having fun," remembers Gorch Fock bassist Win Wallace, who organized the show. "I feel like all of these bands represent that."
Former Big Boys guitarist Tim Kerr, who earlier this month became the first visual artist to exhibit at Jack White's Third Man Records, hosts his "Freedom" piece, in which he posts a song online and anyone compelled to show up and participate performs it.
"It's sort of [a] call to arms for people who might just start their own band after being involved in this, or folks seeing how much fun others were having when you celebrate life by having a musical conversation with others who you might not even know," offers Kerr.
› Hard to imagine Thursday nights at the White Horse without Mike & the Moonpies playing. The local honky-tonk hopefuls have been a fixture at the Eastside beer-joint from its beginnings, or even earlier, as they were among the musicians who helped paint the venue's walls before it opened. Lately, the boys' touring schedule hasn't found them in Austin every week, so their residency draws to a close with a last dance tonight, Thursday. Beginning in August, White Horse regulars Them Duqaines, a corrugated country quintet with two vocalists, take over the weekly slot.
› Minor Mishap Marching Band answered the question, "How many people can you fit on Antone's stage?" on Friday as 29 scantily clad musicians shook their brass and booties to celebrate the release of a new EP as well as a line of Minor Mishap black and yellow underwear.