Just a few months after first hearing The Red Devils in 1992, I was thrilled to learn the band would be performing just down the street, at Jake’s Nightclub in Bloomington, Indiana.
The show — originally Sept. 28 — was rescheduled for Oct. 13, one week ahead of my 21st birthday. A press pass from my college newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student, would basically get an underage reporter into any bar — as long as the reporter promised not to drink.
The music is rough, raw and rootsy, and the gut of the sound is Chicago blues. But the Red Devils push the sonic requirements of traditional blues to include more bass lines and more guitar sound. The result is a band that is as rock and roll as it is blues, and mainly young and hungry. Size is the youngest member, the Texas-bred guitar whiz being only 20 years old.
The weekly alternative the Bloomington Voice actually interviewed Butler:
“Blues is a shared language,” says Butler. “It’s still really fun for me … Because of the chord structure, it’s similar to jazz. You can go and have a jam session, and it sounds f—in’ great. It’s different than rock … We all share that language. Music is a dialogue between five different individuals.”
The Voice also noted that Texan Mike Flanigan had taken over rhythm guitar duties from Dave Lee Bartel for the tour.
Opening was Bloomington’s Chosen Few, a very popular mainstream college rock band that always drew a crowd. Their sunny pop-rock couldn’t have been more different from the incendiary Devils, who looked like a bunch of punks on stage, with a whole lot of swagger and attitude.
Besides the babyfaced Paul Size, the other members of the band looked older than I expected — I really had no idea how old Lester Butler was at the time (32), or that Bill Bateman was already a longtime legendary roots figure from his work in The Blasters.
The band was loud, but in the pocket all night. The songs from “King King” sounded meaner, especially the grooving “She’s Dangerous” and a stomping “I Wish You Would.” They rounded out their show with classics such as “Who Do You Love” and “Shake Your Hips” — Bo, boogies and blues.
It was obvious the Devils were well-oiled from their U.S. tour; this was pre-Pink Pop or Moulin in 1993, but on the heels of their opening slot for the Allman Brothers, and just this side of their gig with Los Lobos.
My review appeared in the paper two mornings later, and I cringe at it today — there are certainly some things I would have said differently in retrospect, and I would soon be much more familiar with the blues in a way that would have helped my review. What I didn’t write about were my experiences meeting the band members. Well, “meeting” might be too strong a word.
Between sets, Butler strolled through the bar: dark shades; dirty, baggy, pimp-length leather coat; and hair much longer than I expected. As he walked by, I leaned in, “Hey man, great set!” His response: A grunt. I mean, he did not turn his head at all, or lose a beat walking. He just said “unh,” and kept moving. I had been decisively blown off.
In retrospect, this moment sealed my commitment to this band’s music; I didn’t care much for assholes, and I ditched more than one “favorite” band in my youth upon learning the members were otherwise flawed. In this case, I thought, “Hell, who cares? This music is great!”
Bateman, on the other hand, was as friendly as could be — especially when he found out I was working for the college paper. Between sets, we talked blues, the band’s tour and their album. After the show ended, he hollered at me from the stage and passed down the setlist from the show. The veteran member of the band certainly understood how to play the bar game.
I wouldn’t see any member of the band again until Butler’s 13 came back to the midwest in 1997 — and it was a different Butler both on stage and off. More on that later …