"False notes can be forgiven. False music cannot."
~ Nadia Boulanger (1982)
Mind Caviar Vol. 2, Spring Issue 2001
It's late night. I'm at Quintron's Spellcaster Lodge on St. Claude in New Orleans, an unmarked, nondescript building next to a gas station that I've never seen open. Well, all that says is that I've never been around during the day-- not my usual haunt, you understand. The club is a brick basement with a hallway and bar leading out to a yard with metal and wood in various spots. It's hot inside. One exhaust fan by the door is our only hope for any aspiration, and the breath of a hundred or so people overwhelm it instantly. The light level is holding steady at an amber 5 lumens with a few more bulbs on the stage in the corner.
After a few room temperature beers and some mindless talk, the first band comes on. I'd seen these guys earlier this evening, running around, being goofy, and giving orders to each other. They are XBXRX, and all I knew about them was that they were Mark Meister's least favorite band. Meister is a bigwig critic at Offbeat, a local music magazine. That's all I know about him. So these guys wearing helmets and masks run up hollering through the crowd and start throwing laundry everywhere. A full minute or two of flung clothes sets the tone, and it feels like I'm in some punk suburbanite's filthy bedroom watching him and his buddies try to rehearse some numbers. They kick in, and they're loud and raunchy. Well, I say raunchy, but I don't think there was a single intelligible word in the lot. On the plus side, they had a really cute girl on keyboards. They go hard, fast and heavy for 40 minutes, trashing gear and wearing out one larynx after another. Then they're gone.
I'm there to see Andre Williams. I'd just been turned on to him a few months before by a friend of mine who was savvy to all things punk and off-kilter. He comes out after a bit, and he looks pretty good for a man of 65. He's dressed real Dapper Dan, but between the basement heat and performing, he loses the hat and jacket first, then the white shirt goes away. He's got a wide smile and obscenely drunk eyes, and he rips up some supremely hard blues for the rest of the night. The Spellcaster is a place where time waits outside like your loser friend and then ditches you, leaving filthy daylight spilled everywhere.
So the album that introduced me is a 1998 release called Silky. I have it only by borrowing it from the dear friend mentioned above and never giving it back (Hi Pat! I hate you!). Here's a few of the choicest songs:
Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, and Furburgers
Well, it starts off with "Agile, Mobile, & Hostile," a chanky, overtrebled guitar riff over some drums with the reverb dial set on "Roast - 450 degrees." The first line: "Everybody tryin' to get to the moon. I'm just tryin' to get into the womb." Watch out for the toms on this one--unless you have a pair of Klipsch bi-amped woofers, you will clip your speakers. You'd think the recording engineer might have seen the meter on the sound board having a Tourette's fit in the red zone, but maybe not...
"Pajamas" gets a little more traditional, sounding like T-Birds with a smarmy black lead singer and with a 60's fuzz garage air. "Bonin'" and "Let Me Put It In" are slow blues shuffles, just a backdrop for Andre to wax philosophic on the finer pleasures. "Do the big nasty, baby! Do the big nasty, mama! Bone me, baby!" And in the latter, there's a nice Janis Joplin style break after which Andre spews innuendos like, "Let me slide in--a bid for your love. Let me oooooze in--a bid for your love." Then he screams, "Let me put it in, put it in! A bid for your love!" Good stuff.
The frathouse rock song / anthem of 35 years ago would have been "Pussy Stank," probably the sleaziest hook of any song I've heard. Too bad this record's about 33 years late. Whiny organ, dirty funk single-line guitar, and snare-heavy drums, all fine and good, but there's not much more to the song. There doesn't need to be, though. After a couple of reps, the band does a stop. Everybody sing along: "Pussy stank, but so do marijuana!" Meanwhile Andre keeps pleading with his girl to put the soap down. Set this one on repeat and offend your entire neighborhood--again, and again, and again.
You Know I Need a Ride! Take my Wife!
There's two beautiful angry rants on there as well. "Bring Me Back My Car Unstripped" is a one-chord percussion piece with Andre yelling bloody murder at his thief. Guess what they use for percussion? According to the credits: auto trunk lid, car bumper, auto fender, gas tank, brake drum, and a beer bottle for that full clink effect. Of course, I identified everything without the liner notes. Yup. Sure I did. But there's nothing like hearing the pain of Andre yelling, "Why'd you take my shit, man? You took my wheels! Bring me my shit back-- unstripped!" And on a side note, there was a short-lived project around here called the Gas Tank Orchestra, which used tanks exclusively for every instrument, but they weren't quite as punchy as Andre.
"Everybody Knew" is a marching dirge with a little Doors and a lot of distortion thrown in. He gives a fantastic crying breakdown account of the murder of his girl and her cheat, Eddie. "Roses is red, Violets is blue... Don't be a woman that everybody knew." Guitar howling feedback plays around Andre's vocals.
And They Just Loved to Come Hear Me Sing the Rhythm & Blues
My friend had told me that Andre had done some good work in the past. I saw an older man on the album cover and thought, sure, okay, that's possible. Maybe he did some small records. Then I saw his bio. He was pretty big around 1955-1960 in Detroit, mostly clubs and recording with the Don Juans, and working with the record labels Fortune, Motown, and Chess. Some better-known hits from the earlier time were "Jail Bait," "Going Down to Tiajuana," and "Bacon Fat." He wasn't much of a crooner, so his best strength was setting up a good backbeat and talking on top of it--and he's considered the father of rap. Andre also did sessions with some familiar names like Parliament, Funkadelic, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Spinners, Jon Spencer, and Amos Milburn. Apparently after hanging with Ike Turner, he had a few bad years in Chicago with a lot of drugs keeping him company.
In any case, he's back, he's bad, he's slanky, sleazy, smarmy, charismatic, and a hell of a performer. His current stuff brings together the best of garage and blues, anger and lust, and makes vices and base desires respectable in a three-piece suit. Thanks to the FCC and a half-baked conception of decency, most of his material will never be played on any radio station in America for the next thousand or so years, so you'll have to go catch his act or snag an album or both. Either one is a great experience, so get going--showtime is at 10. He'll be pulling up in a cherry red Cadillac with a V8 motor.
Tongue " Copyright © 2001 A. Lark. All rights reserved.
A. Lark is a media slut with a preference for animation and subtitles. Lark lives in a perpetual delusion but not one of grandeur. He believes it's much better to disturb than to entertain, but if you're really good, you can pull off both at once. He is also a musician, having played in bands in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for years. He mostly uses keyboards, but considers anything that makes an interesting noise worthwhile. Lark still has a dream band to put together. Unfortunately, however, 1971 is gone, Peter Gabriel has left Genesis, and R. Fripp won't return his calls.
Email A. Lark. Abuse is welcome as long as it's funny.
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