Rootsy Tuesday

Every music scene is different, but there are some rules that apply wherever you go. Every metroplex worth its salt contains at least one surf band, rockabilly band and ska band.

It might not be coincidental that fans of those three genres tend to be among the most hard-core music connoisseurs on the planet. Rockabilly zealots, for instance, maintain an underground national network that helps spread the word whenever a promising band of tattooed hellions comes to their town. It might explain why word appears to be spreading about the Rhythm Room's Tuesday rockabilly and roots nights.

If not quite the best-kept secret in town, the weekly pompadoured throwdowns qualify as the coolest musical happenings on notoriously slow Tuesday nights.

The Rhythm Room started the roots nights with little fanfare in June, and entertainment director Bob Corritore says the shows quickly developed a "built-in following, where you start to recognize the same people after a while." The showcases offer an expansive approach to roots music, realizing that surf rock and rockabilly have more in common than a fondness for vibrato.

Though known primarily as a blues venue throughout its six-year history, the Rhythm Room has always mixed in other kinds of bedrock Americana, booking alt-country acts before it became fashionable. The link between rockabilly and blues acts sounds like a natural one, if only because they share a taste for vintage tube amps and hollow-body Gibsons. But some listeners can get disoriented by the combination.

"I've always put the two in a similar place," says Corritore, a Chicago native who fell in love with Muddy Waters' music at age 13 and later got to see the blues legend perform at his high school gym. "It's great, earthy music. But some people make distinctions. Some blues fans won't go to rockabilly shows 'cause they see it as a bunch of redneck acts. And some rockabilly fans don't like blues."

Such quibbling doesn't make a whole lot of sense. At the risk of sounding like Tony Bennett, I'd offer that there are basically two forms of music: the kind that swings, and the kind that doesn't. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the kind that doesn't, but the swingin' kind tends to be more fun.

Take, for example, the recent Tuesday-night Rhythm Room show by L.A.'s 007's. Their twangy surf-guitar licks might not have made for meaningful art, but the music swung like a colony of hyperactive chimps. When they tipped a hat to their namesake and unleashed an instrumental version of the theme from Goldfinger, it was too suave to deny.

The Tuesday shows also encouraged the recent formation of the Ramblers, a side project featuring Hoodoo Kings guitarist Mario Moreno on bass. Moreno used to play with local heroes the Varmits, and he was unabashedly rootsy when rootsy wasn't cool. The Ramblers affect more of a hillbilly country vibe than your tattooed rockabilly dementia, but their mix of originals and obscure country chestnuts found its target.

August will offer Tuesday showcases by bands like the Suicide Kings and Cadillac Angels. Corritore says the club temporarily will deviate from its rockabilly nights in September because of some big national blues shows that couldn't be booked on any other night. Beyond that brief interruption, however, the club intends to continue pursuing a policy of setting up roots-rock shows for Tuesdays, and leaving weekends for its trademark blues acts. Corritore even plans to book some swing bands for roots nights.

A guaranteed Tuesday highlight will be an October 14 visit from Ronnie Dawson, the rockabilly godfather known as "the Blond Bomber," surely the best first-generation rocker still on the club circuit.

Beyond the hell-bent attitudes and swinging grooves that unite rockabilly and blues, Corritore sees a deeper connection between these musical forms.

"The world's getting smaller, and, as communication improves, people tend to lose their regional dialects, and I've always thought that's part of the richness of the music," he says. "With some of these bands, you can still hear the dialects, and I think that's beautiful. It's part of what makes rockabilly and blues and all that stuff great."

Beat It: The Beat Angels lost a bass player, but it didn't slow them down for long. Tired and frustrated by a collectiv lack of lucre, bassist Tommy CaraDonna--a former Alice Cooper sideman--decided to quit the band and move back to his old hometown, Los Angeles. Within a few days, the band found a replacement. Eric Stevens, a New York transplant who's been a friend of the band's for a while, will fill in temporarily. Lead singer Brian Smith says if things work out, Stevens could settle into a permanent slot in the band. CaraDonna's departure forced the group to cancel three gigs.

Who's in town: Madder Rose's music has recently taken a distinct turn away from guitar alt-rock toward a mildly funky, keyboard-dominated sound. If you didn't know any better, you'd swear the band was from London, and not New York's Lower East Side. Nonetheless, the change suits the band, and should make for a decent night out Friday, August 8, in the Fender Showcase Room of the Electric Ballroom in Tempe.

John Lydon hasn't made an important piece of music since 1980's Second Edition, but you could make a case that hearing his slick, new techno-flavored rantings is preferable to watching him half-heartedly regurgitate old Sex Pistols material. How interested you are in his Sunday, August 10, show at Electric Ballroom will depend on how much you value the chance to see a myth in person, even if the myth can't hit the high hard one anymore.

Surreal gimmick or legitimate band? That's the question that will be answered when Ukraine's Red Elvises bring their warped form of rockabilly to the Rhythm Room on Sunday, August 10. Not exactly an Elvis tribute band, they play early rock 'n' roll with tongue appropriately placed in cheek. One can only hope they don't prove to be the Yakov Smirnoff of rock.

--Gilbert Garcia


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