IS A CHARM OF POWERFUL TROUBLE – The Immortal Lee County Killers (Estrus)
There are fucked up blues bands and there are fucked up blues bands. God knows, we had a spate of them running around Australia in the late '80s, though a few called in more varied influences like Beefheart, just to make it interesting. A few minutes into the second album from Alabama's Immortal Lee County Killers and you’ll concur that these guys are for real. And very, very different.
In the studio, the Killers are Chet "El Cheetah" Yz on lead vocals and guitar and J.R.R. Tolken on drums and vocals. For a duo, they sure make a mess of noise, to borrow an Amerikan expression. This is the blues, like Tav Falco's Panther Burns and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, but seriously bent even more out of shape. Almost visceral in its appeal, it entertains because it disturbs. And just when you thought no-one could do it any different.
"Love is a Charm…" is 11 songs, eight of them covers that, for the most part, are so obscure or re-worked (like "That's How Strong My Love Is") that you’ll never pick 'em anyway. You’ll either love or detest this. Like the blues, there is no middle ground.
Songs like "Robert Johnson" and "Shitcanned Again" sound like they bypassed making a pact with the devil and went straight to hell and snorted something toxic instead. There are a few respites, like "What Are They Doing in heaven Today?" and "Truth Through Sound", but most of it is abrasive as number five sandpaper. This is all busy fills, rusty slide guitar and an unrelenting vocal attack that puts Lux Interior in the ranks of the sane.
Truly the place where punk meets the blues. Witness "Rollin' and Tumblin’"
for some of the dirtiest, scuzziest guitarwork this side of a home for the criminally
insane. Primal and caustic. I'd love to hear El Cheetah and J.R.R. unleashed
onto the crowds at the East Coast Blues Festival. Now THAT'D perk up the mums
and dads, and put some bite into the hippies' Mullumbimby Madness. – The
ESSENTIAL FUCKED-UP BLUES - Immortal Lee County Killers (Estrus)
The Immortal Lee County Killers are a two-man blues suicide squad out of Opelika, Alabama, consisting of ex-Quadrajets Chet "Cheetah" Weise on guitar/vox/harp and Boss Sherrard on drums. I'll admit to being less than optimally aware of their earlier work/bands, but I caught 'em in the beer garden at Casino El Camino during SXSW last March, and was suitably impressed. Besides warming up by yelling "Fuck you, Nebula," on mike at the top of his lungs, Chet showed great balls and admirable disregard for his own safety by climbing atop a Marshall half-stack AND an operative fountain (I kept flashing on something I dimly remember learning in high school about water, electricity, and death going together) while playing, well, uh, this real FUCKED-UP blues.
The essential fucked-up blues? That'd be Charlie Patton, wouldn't it? Or maybe Howlin' Wolf. Captain Beefheart in his "Strictly Personal"/"Mirror Man" acid-country blues phase. Some of the guys out of the Fat Possum Records stable (most of 'em indigenous to the area around Oxford, Mississippi, home of both William Faulkner and the late music critic/producer Robert Palmer) definitely qualify: R.L. Burnside (whose "Ass Pocket of Whiskey" collaboration with, uh, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was sort of the John Lee Hooker-with-Canned Heat combination for the post-grunge '90s and as far "out" as I thought you could take this kind of music, until I heard these Killers), the late Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, the Jelly Roll Kings.
Electrified rural bluesmen with a lot of spleen to vent. (The real fucked-up blues is most definitely NOT exemplified by the Northern Mississippi All-Stars, the visually disorienting - skinny white kids on slide and drums accompanied by a 350-pound black bass player of extreme manual delicacy - the two white kids in question being the sons of Memphis legend/Flamin' Groovies and Kim Salmon accomplice Jim Dickinson; THOSE boys play a, uh, kinda SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE, if not totally idiomatically-correct, brand of nice-blues. Or by Keb Mo' or Corey Harris, both of whom my non-"hard rock" appreciatin' girlfriend actually likes.)
As a guitarist who's spent a little time in the blues bucket here in Texas my own self, I've come to loathe a certain subspecies of human that one typically finds (onstage or in the audience) at Thursday night blues jams. If you've ever been to one, you know what I'm talking about...all those white guys with the slicked-back hair a la 1965 Paul Butterfield, or the little soul patch a la Stevie Ray Vaughan (the most overaped musician in an extremely tired genre). And I'm not just talking about obnoxious fratboys in Blues Brothers fedoras, either; I mean the GEN-YOO-WINE MUSICIANERS, some of 'em even with REAL DRUG HABITS and such. Reverence for roots might be admirable, but it doesn't always make for real compelling listening, one reason why I stopped frequenting said events (it used to be a real struggle staying awake through XXX number of I-IV-V shuffles long enough to get called up to have MY three songs in the spotlight).
That said, my admiration for Chet Weise, born on that March afternoon in Austin, was based partly on his having the sheer unmitigated balls to get up in front of other humans and play that BADLY, that LOUD, with that much CONVICTION. Chet Weise is something of an anomaly for rock'n'roll...a thoughtful man, something of an intellectual; I'd guess an academic. An articulate anarchist (dig his "Cheetah's Revolution" rants on the ILCK website ). But when he straps on his semi-hollow Gibson, he becomes something Entirely Other...a chunky Caucasian Hound Dog Taylor on strychnine, a very pissed (in both the Yank and Aussie senses of the word) George Thorogood (or Halfgood/Quartergood, as we used to call Mr., Uh, "Bad To the Bone") on steroids, amphetamines, and human growth hormone, the vengeful reanimated shade of Elmore James on the prowl for Jeremy Spencer (whom I understand is big on the blues circuit in, umm, India right now), out to get some Pommy INTERNAL ORGANS as well as some back royalties.
This is PUNK blues, a reminder that Da Blooze is a music of release as well as lament. And make no mistake about it, kids, this rec is a downright LIBERATING listen (due in large part to Boss Sherrard's relentless drumming, which propels the proceedings like a barrelhouse Tommy Ramone or some weird techno loop made up of only the most warped, twisted creations of Hound Dog Taylor's Houserocker Ted Harvey or the guy who kicked the traps on Howlin' Wolf's Sun Records sides). Once you get over the initial sonic assault (if you're a blues fan) or the sheer PRIMITIVISM of it all (if you're a rawk fan), this stuff pulls you in like a bad habit. Unfortunately, my SEASONED AND MATURE eyes can't make out the tiny print on the slick (kinda like reading an issue of Black To Comm or some of the record reviews on this very Bar, but EVEN SMALLER), so I can't refer to many song titles, but I remember "Big Damn Roach" being a standout live, and it don't disappoint in its digital version, either. Uh, Track 8 ("Sometimes the Devil Sneaks Inside My Head," I do believe it says here) is almost a Delta "Black To Comm." I can almost imagine it augmented with the kinda atonal saxophone skronk the MC5 usedta get going on that toon back in the Grande days when John Sinclair was still managing 'em.
They save the best for last, though...a cataclysmic version of Muddy Waters' "Rolling Stone" that's the sonic equivalent of being trapped inside the speaker cone of one of Jimi Hendrix' imploding Marshalls as he finally and forever lost his mojo and released his immortal soul onstage in front of a field of stoned hippies at the Isle of Wight, 1970. This was the song where the Cheetah climbed on top of that fountain at Casino El Camino, a memory I'll carry at least as long as that of Albert Collins with his 1000-foot guitar cord walking outside clubs in Austin and Fort Worth back when, well, when he was still alive. (The all-time best blues guitar story is the one about a cordless-equipped Buddy Guy walking in the men's room at some club and TAKING A PISS during his solo, a feat I'll bet Chet Weise in his wildest dreams has never thought of duplicating.) Not for the faint of heart.
- Ken Shimamoto
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