Legendary Cleveland rock writer on the Devils, 1992

Two great articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in October 1992 give more history of the Red Devils (winning 1992 Best Blues Band at the Los Angeles Music Awards) along with a review of a live gig at Peabody’s DownUnder in The Flats Oct. 15.

Both articles come courtesy of reporter Jane Scott, who has her own interesting history. Born in 1919, she was known as “The World’s Oldest Rock Critic,” working in the hometown of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. According to the Plain Dealer, she covered everyone from The Beatles all the way to Nirvana before retiring in 2002. For the Devils to be the subject of the 70-something Scott’s writing — not once, but twice — may demonstrate their status and potential in late ’92.

Check out the level of detail here, especially in the review — this woman knows her Devils! She doesn’t slack off, even when reviewing a bar band.

By Jane Scott
Plain Dealer Rock Reporter
October 9, 1992

CLEVELAND — It happened unexpectedly in a converted Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles called the King King, a a tiny, smoke-filled club with a 12-by-15-foot stage and a battered old upright piano.

The Red Devils fire up Peabody's DownUnder Thursday.
The Red Devils fire up Peabody's DownUnder Thursday.

The Monday night regulars there, the bluesy Red Devils band, spotted a familiar figure standing in back. He seemed to be enjoying himself, bassist Jonny Ray Bartel remembered.

Suddenly the man moved up to the stage, jumped up and sang Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with the band.

“It was Mick Jagger. What a surprise! The crowd went nuts,” said Bartel. “And what made it nicer was that he asked us first. He said ‘Would it be all right?'”

Jagger surprised the Red Devils again by asking if they would like to record with him.

So the five-pack — also Bartel’s older brother David Lee Bartel on rhythm guitar, vocalist/harp player Lester Butler, lead guitarist Paul Size and drummer Bill Bateman, once of the Blasters — took their gear to Oceanway Studios in Los Angeles.

“We didn’t know what to expect. Well, four hours later Jagger showed up and we proceeded to record 13 really cool, but obscure songs,” said Bartel.

“We did Muddy Waters’ ‘Still a Fool,’ Slim Harpo’s ‘Dream Girl’ and some Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. I hadn’t heard of half of them,” he added.

“But we learned them on the spot (that’s called a spontaneous jam) and recorded them in three tries,” he said.

And again Jagger seemed to be enjoying himself. “Funny, but he just seemed to be younger than before. He was mugging and goofing off and dancing around, having fun.”

The Red Devils doesn’t know what will happen with the recordings, although the group is hoping a few will appear on Jagger’s upcoming solo album. But Jagger has a lot of projects going, Bartel said.

So why would the leader of the world’s greatest rock band (the Rolling Stones) come see a 48-month-old band in a 140-person club like King King.

“The blues,” answered Bartel. “Mick loves the blues just as much as we do, we found. The Stones are blues-based, as you know. We’re one of the few bands around here doing roots music. We play hard core intensified blues. Chicago blues, but a lot of Louisiana and Mississippi music in there, too.

“Our guitar player stretches out the sounds and bends it. You might call it a Jimi Hendrix approach.”

And good news spreads. The Red Devils’ rootsy rhythms has been packing them in at King King since 1988. The place is a blues hangout that has drawn stars including Bruce Willis, David Bowie, Peter Wolf, Wynona Judd and members of the Black Crowes.

Others appreciate the band, too. The Red Devils, who will perform Thursday night at Peabody’s DownUnder in The Flats, won best blues artist of the year at the Los Angeles Music Awards last fall.

It is far from a “send in the clones” tribute band. Sometimes blues groups idolize the old bluesmen so much that they try to copy them without adding anything, Bartel said.

“It’s not that we don’t totally respect the blues legends,” Bartel said. “We use as authentic equipment as possible. Sometimes we come off as purists. But hey, we’re also young kids. We get out of control at times. We love to have fun.”

Their album’s raw, spontaneous sound is live, recorded over three nights at King King. The songs include Willie Dixon’s “Automatic,” “She’s Dangerous” and “I’m Ready,” and a sweet, riveting roundup at the end of Little Walter’s “Quarter to Twelve.”

Two of its songs — “Goin’ to the Church” and “No Fightin,” were written by Butler. “Devil Woman,” one of the liveliest, was written by the whole band.

“That’s another thing. Liveliness,” Bartel said. “You gotta keep the energy up. Kids today are so used to high energy music you can’t get their attention otherwise. Playing some of the old blues songs note for note would be boring. I’m bored sometimes. Kids want action. So you have to put in a a little extra dynamite. Call it a little nitro.”

Bartel believes that it’s the band’s rough edges and abrasiveness that draws heavy metal fans to its shows.

The present band, together four years, started its first national tour in August. A highlight was opening for Bob Dylan in Kansas City in September. Its next recording date is set for January.

“We hope someday to do as well as Stevie Ray Vaughan,” Bartel said. “He did Howlin’ Wolf, but made him sound so fresh. Stevie put so much love into it.”

In a way, the naming of their album “King King” is a loving tribute by the Red Devils.

“It wasn’t just Mick Jagger who came to see us there,” said Bartel. “Another man came down and scoped us out about 60 times. Finally he signed us. He was Rick Rubin of Def American Records.”

By Jane Scott
Plain Dealer Rock Reporter
October 17, 1992

CLEVELAND — Blues purists would have had a heck of a time keeping track of the Red Devils Thursday night at Peabody’s DownUnder.

The Los Angeles quintet delivered its searing blues notes in two sets, but not necessarily as expected.

“Lester (harp/vocalist Lester Butler) likes to call songs at the last minute and change things around,” said guitarist Paul (the Kid) Size before the show.

One of the band’s best offerings, Willie Dixon’s “She’s Dangerous,” was swingier than the original and rockier than even the Red Devils’ album version. Perhaps Butler’s major change went unnoticed by any but tried and true blues buffs, or those up close to the stage. During Butler’s original, “No Fightin’,” the crowd heard the words “You’re not supposed to tell a lie.”

Butler sang the words to Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Cross Your Heart” over his original, “No Fightin'” song.

“I’ve got to change things every few days or so to keep myself interested,” he said between sets.

The crowd, though a little subdued compared to raucous rock audiences, were so interested they stayed for a second set, a mini-one after midnight. They waited even though the band walked off stage without any encores. The decision to return was made in the dressing room.

This was the 4-year-old band that was invited to record with the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. Guitarist Mike Flanigan had only been with the Devils a few weeks, but fitted in fine. The group played together tightly, with former Blaster member Bill Batemen a demon on drums and Jonny Ray Bartel, who looked like David Bowie, on bass. Bartel missed the first song, Little Walter’s “Off the Wall,” but got up on stage in time for the second, Slim Harpo’s “Hip Shake,” a lighthearted delight.

Butler started out with his Marine Band harmonica and played fast and furious through the first 10-song set. Some of the notes were sweet, but most were intense.

It was blues all the way. Cleveland’s Sweet Willie — singer Jeff (Sweet Willie) Hoffman, his brother lead guitarist Bob Hoffman, guitarist Barry Smoloff, drummer Girod Gillespie and stand-up bassist Bob Walsh — have been together six months, but have a down-home bluesy base. They scored highest with Slim Harpo’s “Don’t Start Crying Now” and their own “Sugar Coated Jive.”

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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