Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

New al­bums from Meet Your Death and James Leg

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Back in 1960, a folk­lorist/eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist named Fred­er­ick Usher dis­cov­ered a street singer named Ed­die Jones (if, in­deed, that was his real name) play­ing a one-stringed con­trap­tion and singing the blues on Skid Row in Los An­ge­les. Usher de­scribed Jones’ in­stru­ment as a “home-made African de­rived Zither-Mono­chord.” (I doubt Jones called it that.) It’s ba­si­cally a close cousin of the did­dley bow, another in­stru­ment with African roots. There, in some Skid Row al­ley, Usher recorded at least 15 songs by Jones, some with his crony, har­mon­ica player Ed­ward Hazel­ton. Four years later, the ven­er­ated folk la­bel Takoma Records re­leased an al­bum of those record­ings un­der the ti­tle One-String Blues.

I first heard this re­mark­able, if un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated, blues gem back when I was in col­lege. My fa­vorite track was a wild, filthy, hi­lar­i­ous lit­tle romp Jones called “The Dozens.” The song be­gins, “God made ele­phant big and stout/He wasn’t sat­is­fied un­til He made him a great long snout. …” (This is a fam­ily news­pa­per, so, for the sake of the chil­dren, those are the only the lyrics I’ll go into here.)

So imag­ine my de­light when I re­cently came across a new self-ti­tled al­bum by an Austin band called Meet Your Death. They’ve got a track they call “Ele­phant Man,” which is a louder, more rau­cous ver­sion of Jones’ on­estring “Dozens.” Front­man Wal­ter Daniels growls the lyrics over John Schoo­ley’s apoc­a­lyp­tic slide gui­tar and then blows his har­mon­ica as if chal­leng­ing the ele­phant to a loser-leave-town bat­tle. This ver­sion is based on Bo Did­dley’s 1970 take on it, also ti­tled “Ele­phant Man.” And even though I’m pretty sure Meet Your Death wasn’t overly con­cerned about get­ting a G rat­ing here, they leave out the “dirty” verses. Even so, the song is crazy joy from start to fin­ish.

But even with­out “Ele­phant Man,” I was bound to love Meet Your Death. I’ve been a long-time fan of both Daniels and Schoo­ley — I even got to see them to­gether in an acoustic set­ting along with fid­dler Ralph White at a Beer­land gig in Austin a few years ago.

Harp-man Daniels is a long­time Austin stal­wart, hav­ing played in such bands as Big Foot Ch­ester and Jack O’Fire, which cov­ered a Blind Wil­lie McTell song called “Meet Your Death” back in 1994. I mostly know Schoo­ley from his three al­bums on the Swiss la­bel Voodoo Rhythm Records, un­der the name “John Schoo­ley and his one-man band.” In Meet Your Death, this dy­namic duo is backed by a cou­ple of younger guys — Harpal Assi on bass and Matt Ham­mer on drums.

Meet Your Death plays hard-rock­ing punk blues cov­ers by some great Amer­i­can writ­ers like Hank Wil­liams (“I Don’t Care If To­mor­row Never Comes”) and Mose Al­li­son (“If You Live”). But next to “Ele­phant Man,” my fa­vorite song here is the open­ing track, which comes from a more ob­scure source. “Obeah Man” is based on a song called “Ex­uma, The Obeah Man,” recorded in 1970 by Ba­hamian singer Macfar­lane Gre­gory An­thony Mackey, who recorded un­der the name Ex­uma. Start­ing off with jun­gle drums, the song quickly turns into a hoodoo­drenched, Dr.-John-by-way-of-Bo-Did­dley in­vo­ca­tion to the rul­ing de­mons of rock ’n’ roll, with Daniels as the ragged-voiced high priest. By the end of the song you’ll be­lieve that the singer “came down on a light­ning bolt” and “has fire and brim­stone com­ing out of [his] mouth,” as he sings.

Meet Meet Your Death at their Band­camp page: www.meety­our­death.band­camp.com. Also rec­om­mended: ▼ Blood on the Keys by James Leg. If you need more of that blues-driven, rump-bumpin’, holy-roller­shoutin’, swampy rock ’n’ roll, a key­board player called James Leg just might be your man.

Leg was born John Wes­ley My­ers. He’s the son of a preacher man, born in Port Arthur, Texas ( Ja­nis Jo­plin coun­try), and raised in Chat­tanooga, Tennessee (home of the choo-choo). Be­fore launch­ing his solo ca­reer, Leg played with a cou­ple of no­table hard-chug­ging bands. He fronted The Black Di­a­mond Heavies and played in the fi­nal in­car­na­tion of The Im­mor­tal Lee County Killers, a pi­o­neer­ing band of the punk blues sound. Leg also recorded an al­bum

(Painkillers, 2012) with cur­rent blues min­i­mal­ist ti­tans Left Lane Cruiser.

Blood on the Keys, recorded in a con­verted Ma­sonic lodge in Ken­tucky, is a splen­did show­case of what Leg does best: roar­ing and thun­der­ing (with a voice that falls some­where be­tween Cap­tain Beef­heart and Jim “Dandy” Man­grum of the band Black Oak Arkansas) over stripped-down atom­icpow­ered boo­gie. A big per­cent­age of these songs fea­ture Leg backed by his own key­boards and drum­mer Mathieu Gazeau — some­times joined by guest gui­tarists and, on a cou­ple of tracks, backup fe­male vo­cal­ists (a group called Foxxfire).

And in­deed, these songs — in­clud­ing the opener, “Hu­man Lawn Dart”; “Mighty Man” (writ­ten by the early ’70s Bri­tish band Mungo Jerry, best known for their hit “In the Summertime”); “Hug­gin the Line”; and “DogJaw (Do Some Things You Say)” — are guar­an­teed to get the crowds mov­ing.

But there are a hand­ful of out­liers here too. One of the most mem­o­rable songs on the al­bum is “Should’ve Been Home With You,” penned by the late Austin song­writer Blaze Fo­ley. This mi­norkey tune rocks with just about as much in­ten­sity as any other on Blood on the Keys, but the de­monic fid­dling of Sylvia Mitchell gives it a sweet touch. Mitchell also plays on “St Michel Shuf­fle,” which sounds like a trib­ute to Tom Waits. There are also a cou­ple of soulful, gospel-in­flu­enced bal­lads, in­clud­ing the ti­tle song and, even bet­ter, “I’ll Take It.” I’m glad that Leg’s blues bruis­ers out­num­ber his bal­lads. But there’s noth­ing wrong with a lit­tle va­ri­ety.

Get a Leg up on this al­bum at www.alive-records. com/artist/james-leg.

On a track Meet Your Death calls “Ele­phant Man,” front­man Wal­ter Daniels growls the lyrics over John Schoo­ley’s apoc­a­lyp­tic slide gui­tar.

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