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The Immortal Lee County Killers III + Black Diamond Heavies
Interviewed 15th September 2005 before a gig at The Spitz
Photos by Andy Hall

Left to right:
Van Campbell (Black Diamond Heavies)
John Wesley Myers (Black Diamond Heavies & Immortal Lee County Killers III)
Chet Weise (Immortal Lee County Killers III)
Toko The Drifter (Immortal Lee County Killers III),
Mark Holder - 'Pork Chop' (Black Diamond Heavies)

In town under the auspices of Rupert Orton and his regular night at the Spitz 'Not The Same Old Blues Crap', and hailing from, as they put it 'The Southern USA, centered around Nashville', The Lee County Killers and The Black Diamond Heavies share band members as well as attitudes and vans. Their take on blues, whilst individually distinct, fits under the 'Punk Rock Blues' umbrella with their non reverential approach to how the blues can evolve in the 21st Century.

Both bands are LOUD, and have as much in common with rock as with blues, and both have a following primarily outside the blues world, yet both acknowledge their blues roots - check out the Heavies' take on Son House's 'Death Letter' or the Lee County Killers album titles - 'The Essential Fucked Up Blues' and 'More Fucked Up Blues'.

On the night both bands played storming sets to a pretty good audience consisting of yer actual 'young music fans' (some of them were even female), as well as a few of us crusty old blues heads lurking in the background. They both play with plenty of conviction, and they appear to be doing it on their own terms - carrying forward the blues tradition by blending it with all the other elements that you can't help but respond to if you're a musician today, all the while keeping it real and personal. Now isn't that what the blues has always been about?

You're all over here playing 'Punk Rock Blues' - how would you define that? How does the blues fit into what you're doing, and why is what you're doing different from say, Stevie Ray Vaughan?

Chet (Lee County Killers): Well we're better! No, that's just my sense of humour... Actually I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan play twice. I kinda think 'Punk Rock Blues' was something that was given to us, rather than what we chose. We just kinda stumbled into that sound and that's what people started calling it. I think the label Fat Possum has been throwing that term around for while.

Chet makes his point

It does feel like there's something going on, that a scene has emerged in the last few years - 'Punk Rock Blues' or 'New Blues' or whatever you want to call it. Do you get a sense of that as well?

Chet: Well there's what's going on this evening for a start - here's this guy named Rupert in London, England that's doing a 'Punk Rock Blues' series!

It seems like music comes in waves... This isn't the first time it's happened - in the late sixties blues came out all over the place, especially in the UK. If a lot of people are into a certain thing and they see a band that's doing it and they go 'Hey, they're coming from what I like' and their band gets recognised and the bands start playing together, then the fans start coming together... It's just like what happened with Beatlemania, but this happens to be blues rather than skiffle and pop and stuff.

People start finding out about each other and then kind of a scene starts happening. But there's always people who are fans of the blues and playing the blues, I think what's happened recently with Punk Rock Blues is that you just have another generation of people who not only listen to John Lee Hooker but also The Sex Pistols and The Damned, and Motorhead and Black Sabbath, and soul music. So we got more in our history than The Yardbirds did.

But specifically in terms of the Lee County Killers I think the punk rock bit is more about the way we do it tha what we actually listen to or what we play. We've always done it in a very DIY kind of way - we load our own van, change our own strings, do our own web page... sleeping on floors... eating shitty food! But musically I guess people interpret the energy in a punk rock way. I mean you listen to old Hound Dog Taylor records - he's got just as much energy as any rock n' roll band.

Pork Chop remains inscruitable while John Wesley Myers keeps
his Hammond fingers out of trouble

Pork Chop (Black Diamond Heavies): You know, speaking for the band I'm in a little bit, everything we do has really deep roots in American music... we just amplify the hell out of it! In large measure the blues was about unstated aggression - music that had everything to do with the way black people were being treated in the country and that really resonated with me. At the same time I'm also listening to The Sub-Humans so it all kind of blended together...

I didn't set out to do anything but play music I like, so I don't care if they call it 'Punk Rock Blues' or 'Banana' - actually I'd love to be a practitioner of the 'Banana' movement! But people need to hang a word on it. You know Clarence Gatemouth Brown was a 'blues musician' who played in a swing band and played cajun fiddle. But it's like 'he's a black man and he's got a guitar so he must be a blues musician' right? Any time you need to do that you're going to oversimplify the nuances of a persons music or ideals. So I'll take it however I can get it. If they want to call it 'Punk Rock Blues' that's fine with me.

Chet: I think for all of us around this table it's great that blues is still alive and there's a new generation that's doing it and expanding the art, but in the end as far as we're concerned what we're doing is what counts to us most. Blues is history, it's about tradition and that's all great but what's in the moment, what we're doing, is what's most important to us. We're creating our own kind of music and that's what I want people to say - that we sound like the Lee County Killers, not necessarily bearing the torch of the blues. The blues doesn't need anyone to carry the torch, it'll be around forever just like rock n' roll and punk rock, and country and everything. There's this other little thing called truth and honesty, and I think some people get so wrapped up in what blues is supposed to be, the idea of 'The Bluesman' and blues jams and the right bend and all that they forget about the fact that a lot of the people that we consider traditional real blues they learned from other people... we do a song by Johnny Shines, and he learned a lot of stuff from Robert Johnson... they weren't getting on the net and watching The Blues Brothers - although I think it's a great movie - but they weren't putting on the shades and the suits and deciding that's what a blues person supposed to do. They were just learning how to play music.

Pork Chop: At no point did Johnny Shines every ask Robert Johnson 'What is the minor pentatonic scale?' There was no point where a tab book broke out at any point!

Toko The Drifter in thoughtful mood

Toko The Drifter (Lee County Killers): I think blues runs in everyone... It's does not discriminate against sex, or religion, or where you're from. Everybody buts a little bit tore up about things from time to time... Whether financially, or romantically or whatever, it doesn't matter, everybody gets down a little bit. And blues can be a happy thing too. It's like you take some negative energy and you turn around and shoot it back out positive, that's a good way to get...

Pork Chop: The essence of what Toko's saying is that blues is a feeling - it's not a style of music. In that sense is Hank Williams was a blues artist? yeah, on some level he was. Was Johnny Cash a blues artist? Sure, absolutely. Was John Coltrane? Anybody that tries to express human experience through music, and particularly the experience of getting your ass kicked in some kind of way, is playing the blues on some level.

Group interviewing cray-zee American rock and roll guys somewhat daunting for your editor...

In recent years there seems to have been a lot of flag waving about blues being 'American Music' and for us Europeans that's a little difficult...

JR Toko The Drifter: Well it's like what we were just discussing - everybody gets that blues feeling...

Chet: It's ridiculous, it's like saying you have to be black to play the blues.

Pork Chop: We got a fellow that travels with us who's an American indian. Blues ultimately, in terms of the form is world music. If you go far enough back it's Africa. I think people talk like that because they need to buttress up their insecurities or something. It's like 'I'm proud of this musical form that I didn't invent, and I'm not particularly a master of, so I need to wave a flag or something and say I'm more authentic than you because I'm from America, or I'm from the south or I used to eat a damn hogs foot when I was a kid'. It's all bullshit man.

Well, you guys are all from the Southern USA with the accents and everything, so I can't help but feel like you outrank me a little bit! But I wonder if you've ever came across Dr. Feelgood - kind of a punky blues band from the first time around. Do bands like them cross over to the US?

Pork Chop: Just heard of them - we just saw the DVD the other day. They're fucking on fire man! Wilko is out of his damn mind.

I was looking at your website's the other day and was struck by the fact that there's a lot of girls on the message boards... It's got to be a good sign if girls and not just hairy guys are coming to your gigs...?

Pork Chop: Well they feel the sexualness of it! Blues is very sexual music. And very rhythmic - it's like a heartbeat, or that other very human rhythm we all like to experience... Plus we're all extremely attractive!

So you've been over here doing 15 or so dates, how have you found it? How does it compare here to in the US?

Pork Chop:
I've heard some bands over here that are as real in what they're trying to express as anybody in America. It's certainly not a question of authenticity or anything. There's a band we saw from Stokton on Tees - The High Plain Drifters - they're just unreal. There's not a band anywhere that plays better then them!

At this point we had to cut things short... There did seem to be a mild media frenzy surrounding these guys and the 'Blues In London' time was up... A couple of hours of hanging about later we saw them take to the stage and it has to be said, these boys ROCK...

Both bands have great websites with plenty of information, general bluesish stuff and downloadable music:

More photos are on our photographers site: