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Immortal Lee County Killers III + Black Diamond Heavies
Interviewed 15th September 2005 before a gig at The Spitz
by Andy Hall
Left to right:
Van Campbell (Black Diamond Heavies)
John Wesley Myers (Black Diamond Heavies & Immortal Lee County Killers
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?
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?
(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
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?
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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...?
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...
have great websites with plenty of information, general bluesish stuff
and downloadable music:
More photos are on our photographers site: www.andyhallphoto.com