Special to The Killing Floor
Over the next three weeks there are no fewer than four local shows featuring artists who have made their mark exploring the territory that exists somewhere between rockabilly, country, early R&B and the blues.
It all starts tonight at TT's with the Dex Romweber Duo. Romweber's old two-man band the Flat Duo Jets was pumping out guitar-and-drums insanity long before such a format became widely adopted by garagey roots rockers. The Jets are history but Dex is still out there conjuring up the ghosts of Charlie Feathers, Hazel Adkins and Charley Patton. When I last saw him he was killing it as the opening act for Cat Powers' Memphis-soul show at Berklee. There‚'s no question he‚'ll be even better playing a saloon like TT's. Get there early for the debut EP release party by Jittery Jack, a new supergroup whose members draw on the Ragin' Teens, Spurs and Coachmen, all groups who have long proved that Boston's roots music scene is as good as that found anywhere.
Friday night is a tough choice. Maine-raised Nick Curran moved to Texas and first attracted rockabilly fans playing with Kim Lenz before striking out as a more traditional jump bluesman with a series of releases on Blind Pig. A few months ago he was on a multi-act bill at TTs. When I arrived I figured the bands had switched set times—the maniac on stage was playing ferocious Little Richard-style rhythm 'n' roll. Some friends saw my bewildered face and confirmed that yup, that was Curran too. Now he's returning to town for a show at the tiny Midway in JP courtesy of WMFO DJ Easy Ed, whose weekly radio show (happily archived online) is a terrific journey into the early days of rock.
Easy Ed organized a benefit at that same venue a few months back for Curran, who is touring despite undergoing cancer treatments. The Swinedells, who've been on a roll with their gutbucket screaming soul, are opening, and alas word is that this will be their final show. Let's hope they don't leave off their final setlist their great cover of Clarence Carter's "Tell Daddy‚" which Etta James answered as the more famous "Tell Mama."
Across town is that one man roots music museum known as Sleepy LaBeef, who returns to his old haunt Johnny D's. On a good night, no one can match Sleepy's range—the man will effortless slip in a single medley a Sister Rosetta Tharpe gospel shouter that goes into a Tony Joe White swamp anthem before all of a sudden becoming Ned Millers' hillbilly classic‚ "From a Jack to a King."
Truth be told, that turn-on-a-dime versatility requires a far more adept rhythm section than the pick-up outfits that Sleepy is often burdened with when he returns to the Boston area these days. His Johnny D's show last year started out pretty rough until Sleepy noticed some of his former employees sitting in the audience and called them up on stage. By the end of the night the original band had been relegated to sitting and watching while Sleepy's old chums saved the day. I even heard a hysterical bathroom encounter between one of the befuddled kids hired for the gig and a former Sleepy sideman who politely and patiently tried to explain what it takes to back the man.
While Sleepy recorded for the revived Sun label in the mid-70's, Sonny Burgess recorded‚ "We Wanna Boogie" for Sam Phillips in 1956. Ever since the rockabilly revival started he's been back on the scene tearing it up. Now, amazingly, he's headed to Church, the rock club near Fenway Park, for a July 14 show.
One word of caution: the only bad Burgess show I've ever seen featured him backed by his long-running Legendary Pacers band, who are slated to be with him at Church. The problem wasn't Burgess‚—it was a set list that seemed made for Arkansas function halls with selections like‚ "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia‚" delivered by the other band members. But that was at a Virginia folk festival. Burgess is spending July touring rock dives on bills with real-deal rockabilly bands—in this case, the Pinball Millionaires and the Ragin' Teens—so I'm pretty confident someone will slip him the memo advising him to stick with his own rockabilly output instead of the Charlie Daniels medley.
It's certainly worth the $10 risk, and I'm gonna wager that this is the last time a Sun recording artist plays Boston. Ever.