Monday, February 25, 2008

Rubber Rodeo

It was sometime in the Summer.
Or maybe over Christmas Break.
I know I was back from college, hanging out with the usual motley gang of wharfrats I always found in Newport. The club was Harpo's "Jazz" Club. I had just been finagled there by the gal who painted the club's murals. I could make them out through the haze of various smokes -- unfiltered, menthol, clove, those French "chocorettes" that were popular, and of course, the sweet rancid ganj. And there were the Stooges, Marilyn, W.C. Fields, all of the Marx Brothers, Janis, and I seem to remember a Jimi, but that could be because the artist's upstairs neighbor claimed to be Hendrix's daughter.
Newport was that kind of town, so I never thought to question anyone's story. "Oh, you're a Cowsill too?" "Oh, you were a werewolf but you got better?" "Oh, you and your car were in The Great Gatsby?" "Oh, your sister's starting a band called Throwing Muses?" "Oh, you want me to stay overnight with you to wait for the ghost of The Mrs. Astor?"
The stage at Harpo's was about 5 inches off the floor, just high enough to trip over, and I think there was a drum riser, just a few inches higher. When The Dead Boys played there (a little before my time, so I can't verify this), Stiv threw his microphone cord over a pipe overhead and stood flatfooted with absolutely nowhere to go even though he had planned on pretending to hang himself.
Well, on the particular night in question, the stage was dressed like the set of a cartoon western, complete with a couple of barrels, a cardboard campfire and cactus. along with the band's equipment. Which included a farfisa organ and a pedal steel guitar.
So this is what a Rubber Rodeo show looks like, I thought. I was familiar with their single "Who's On Top" which I just thought nobody got. And it was overshadowed, at least at my college radio station, by Trish's cover of "Jolene." (Thanks to Armagideon Time for opening up those memory gates.)
The farfisa I could get. Newport was full of new-wavey coverbands, so they were plentiful. The pedal steel was an oddity. But, helmed by "Easy Mark" Tomeo (Eddie Stern was on the single) as the evening got going, you knew this was something unique.
Rock, by 1979, had sensibly done away with the showy guitar lead. Hair bands and others who had to show their prowess and training knew where they belonged.
But C/W has an entirely different climate. A guitar solo in the right Country-Western song is more than punctuation: it's another movement, another emotion swelling into the depths of the exposition. And a pedal steel incursion can be transcendent.
Even if you've got the goofiest bunch of urban cowboys and girl in their Melody Ranch outfits on stage urging the audience to swing their Whistling Lariats along with the theme from The Good The Bad and The Ugly. (I like bands that give toys, particularly streamers on a string attached to an annoying noise-making cylinder.)
In this video, they're wearing the same outfits they wore onstage, and being just as dry as that sandy soil. Sure doesn't look like Swansea.
By the end of the night, we were all pals.The bass player, Doug Allen -- the most famous cartoonist in the room, whose strip was in every free weekly on top of every cigarette machine in every club -- drew a Steven on something which I promptly lost, and Bob and Barc mentioned something about being descendants of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and we talked about our hockey hair and tennis and I promised that whenever they got to play a gig in Worcester, I'll work them up a promo in my (college radio station's production) studio if "y'all could slide me a few passes." And they did, and I learned Gary Leib was a cool visual artist as well as keyboarder.
Someday I'll post that clip. It's me doing my best Johnny Cash, telling listeners that if they're "missin' that high lonesome sound, they should hightail it on down ...." The music stabs are right on.


bitterandrew said...

Fantastic post.

karie said...

MTV was GREAT once.

Right around 1983.