With ex­pe­ri­ence as his tu­tor, one-man band flows with roll

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Mark Jor­dan

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Scott H. Bi­ram, slowed by a leg in­jury that he in­curred while on tour in France last win­ter, loaded up his Econo­line van and hit the road this week for a tour swing that brings him to the Hi-Tone Café on Satur­day.

His only com­pany as he winds his way across the Deep South over the next month and a half will be a CB ra­dio.

“I usu­ally take a merch guy and sound guy on the road, but this time it’s just me,” says Bi­ram.

It’s an ap­pro­pri­ately lonely ex­is­tence for a man who bills him­self as “the dirty old one-man band.” And that sense of lone­li­ness per­vades much of his mu­sic; haunted, amped-up coun­try-blues stom­pers that hit you like a spec­tral AM ra­dio trans­mis­sion from 1953.

Over three records, this Texas na­tive has re­de­fined the one-man band tra­di­tion, a spe­cialty of stars like John Lee Hooker and more ob­scure fig­ures like Joe Hill Louis, com­bin­ing the raw feel­ing of the blues with the punk blus­ter of the White Stripes and world-weary po­etry of a Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt.

“I’m ob­vi­ously a con­trol freak. I mean I’m a one-man band, for Christ’s sake,” says Bi­ram from his home in Austin.

“When I’m home I spend a lot of time by my­self at home with the shades drawn. I try to get out but stuff just gets me down. If you lis­ten to some of my songs you can hear me try­ing to over­come that stuff. … That’s me break­ing out for a minute, try­ing to get over that de­pressed state. And then I get into the gloom again. And then I get an­gry and that’s when the metal comes out and the shame-on-you mu­sic comes out. I’ve got a lot of dif­fer­ent parts to me and I just throw them out for ev­ery­body to see.”

Bi­ram grew up in San Mar­cos, Texas, most no­table as the home of Texas State Uni­ver­sity, which for much of the late 20th cen­tury was con­sis­tently ranked as one of the na­tion’s top party schools. The no­to­ri­ously hard-liv­ing Bi­ram cer­tainly learned about par­ty­ing while liv­ing in San Mar­cos, but he also learned about mu­sic.

When he was 6, his fa­ther took him to see Doc Wat­son at the Ar­madillo World Head­quar­ters in nearby Austin, Texas. The next touch­stone was a Light­nin’ Hop­kins record. By the time he was a teenager, Bi­ram, was play­ing in a “punk-metal” band that spe­cial­ized in old Me­tal­lica and Black Flag. Then when he was 18, he ac­quired a banjo and abruptly switched gears to join a blue­grass out­fit .

“When the blue­grass band broke up and the punk band broke, I wanted to keep trav­el­ing and tour­ing and the only way I could think to do it was to crank it up,” he says. “I wanted to keep play­ing in rock clubs, and it’s kind of hard to play in rock clubs by your­self. You can’t be a singer-song­writer on a stool play­ing that cheesy (ex­ple­tive). So I just turned it up,” says Bi­ram, now 35. “I held onto my rock roots and my coun­try roots and my blues roots and it all just mixes to­gether.”

Ma­nip­u­lat­ing his har­mon­ica and his ’59 Gib­son through a small wall of am­pli­fiers while pound­ing fu­ri­ously with his foot, Bi­ram made an im­pres­sion, fill­ing up as much mu­si­cal space as a lot of big­ger bands.

He also made a show out of his sheer au­dac­ity. Fol­low­ing song­writ­ing leg­end Kris Kristof­fer­son at South By South­west in 2004, Bi­ram took the stage and an­nounced, “They said that was a hard act to fol­low. ... I’m a hard act to fol­low (ex­ple­tive).”

A year be­fore, he had been in a head-on col­li­sion with a trac­tor-trailer and left the hospi­tal af­ter just one month to give a still-talked-about show at Austin’s Con­ti­nen­tal Club with an IV still hooked in.

In May, Bi­ram re­leased his third full-length on Chicago’s Blood­shot la­bel. With a ti­tle in­spired by a youth­ful psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence and a ran­dom CB trans­mis­sion, Some­thing’s Wrong/Lost For­ever was recorded at Bi­ram’s home stu­dio with some con­tri­bu­tions from the band the Black Di­a­mond Heav­ies. The record fea­tures nine orig­i­nal songs that fit in nicely be­side a hand­ful of cov­ers from Big Bill Broonzy and Lead­belly.

“With all my records, I just try to cap­ture what­ever mu­si­cally I’m do­ing at the time and cap­ture it as sim­ply as pos­si­bly,” says Bi­ram, who ad­mits Some­thing’s Wrong is more eclec­tic than past ef­forts be­cause of his strug­gles with mood-al­ter­ing med­i­ca­tion. “I couldn’t write very well. The songs weren’t com­ing to me very eas­ily. So the record it­self came out more like a smor­gas­bord. But it’s all me.”

Brian Jack­son

With in­flu­ences from punk to coun­try to blue­grass and be­yond, Scott H. Bi­ram de­cided to per­form his own mu­sic his own way as a one-man band.

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