A great “new” tape has surfaced of The Red Devils performing live in the studio on Santa Monica radio station KCRW’s long-running program “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” showcasing a new tune, different arrangements, and an interview with the band.
Jon Miller up in Seattle dug the tape out of storage, and sent a copy along to nofightin.com, and it’s a good one. Though the recording is incomplete — picking up toward the end of a searing version of “I Was Wrong” — it is impressive for what’s there, including a rowdy trio shuffle new to nofightin.com.
The airdate, as marked on the original cassette dubbed live from the radio, is dated 12/7/92, though host Chris Douridas mentions that the Devils’ segment was taped the previous Friday. The timeline is corroborated by the Dec. 7 Los Angeles Times review of a Friday evening gig in L.A.
Musically, this was an odd period for the band: Dave Lee Bartel was out, and Texan Mike Flanigin was in on rhythm guitar, as he had been throughout late 1992 on tour (Dave Lee was back for European and festival dates in 1993). The band’s setlist and arrangements were evolving.
For instance, a nascent “Blackwater Roll” is showcased here, but is in the style of Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back” — pretty much the way the Lester Butler Tribute Band plays it. The focus is much more on the lyrics than the groove here. To hear “Blackwater Roll” draws a great family tree of a song: Probably starting off as a blues jam; recast with an insistent new melody and rhythm live, courtesy of Paul Size; tamed down a bit in the studio with guitarist Zach Zunis replacing Size; and finally the groove resurrected anew on the Paul Size/Johnny Moeller record “Return of the Funky Worm.”
Not as successful is “a brand new arrangement” of “Devil Woman.” The song suffers by a new rhythm part, ostensibly by Flanigin, that drags the song down into a dirge. Butler’s vocal performance, so integral to the song’s success on “King King,” here can’t save it.
The musical highlight has to be a tune we’re calling “Blues in the Morning,” a jam that has not yet surfaced on any other Devils recording, official or otherwise. Using the old blues trope of dropping the bass player in favor of a guitar-harp-drums setup, the song is a bouncy mid-tempo, one-chord jam that just sounds like fun. Butler sounds like he’s jammed the harp mic in his mouth, as he hollers with glee his usual pat lyrics, with a few fun changes (“Shake it down baby, in New Orleans/got your people, love cold ice cream”). Butler’s solo quotes “Got Love if You Want it,” before the band straightens the beat and speeds it up for a whoopin’ minute-and-thirteen finale frenzy. How they failed to get this song recorded or released — even on the “Blackwater Roll” EP — remains yet another Red Devils mystery.
After recording this show, the band played a gig later that night at the Palomino in Los Angeles. From the L.A. Times review:
The band’s “ultra raw” (lead singer Lester Butler’s phrase) attack was certainly energetic enough Friday to escape the museum-piece syndrome. A new song with a “Midnight Rambler” tempo shift and an encore of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” brought the Rolling Stones of 25 years ago to mind; no wonder Mick Jagger pulled the band into the studio to back him on a recording session.
In addition to the music, there are several goofy interview segments with Butler and Bateman, mostly rehashing the Mick Jagger stuff. Host Douridas banters with the band, and the Devils dutifully comply. Butler is his usual cheeky self: namechecking Hollywood Fats, talking Lawrence Welk and Ethel Merman, mentioning the Devils’ “original” name — the Octoberfest Polkateers. You know, typical Lester Butler.
More interesting is conversation about the Mick Jagger sessions and the should-have-been second album. Here are the compiled highlights, which are pretty amazing in hindsight:
CHRIS DOURIDAS: When you do a studio album, what do you think is going to be the twist on that, how is it going to sound different than what we’re hearing on the live stuff?
BILL BATEMAN: Well it will be in the studio, it will be a controlled situation. We are going to do blues songs. We’re going to use a room sound with a live approach, the same as the King King of course, but it’ll be different because it’ll be the studio. All new songs, new arrangements … new!
CD: You recently just got out of the studio with Mick Jagger … What’s going to happen with these, tell us about this, what’s this story?
BB: They’re in the can, they’re saving ’em for later.
CD: It was a time there when it looked like it was going to be his next album, right?
BB: A couple of the takes from that recording session would make it onto his new LP. His LP has been postponed a little bit. We’re not on it right now.
CD: Hopefully you can watch for that to come out some time in the future.
BB: In the future.
CD: I want to ask you about the next couple of things we can hear from you, release-wise. When do you think you’re gonna go back in the studio for a studio project … any ideas?
LESTER BUTLER: As soon as possible. We’re going to record a demo for the record company this week.
CD: Great. And we’ll just keep an eye out about the project with Mick Jagger and see when that thing surfaces, if it does …
LB: Keep your fingers crossed.
- “I’ve Been Wrong” (ending) (1:09)
- Interview segment 1 (4:37)
- “Blackwater Roll” (5:19)
- Interview 2 (1:57)
- “Devil Woman” (6:23)
- Interview 3 (2:16)
- “Blues in the Morning” (shuffle) (5:14)
- Radio out (0:46)
Can you help?
We are looking for the remainder of this radio show, which aired on KCRW in Santa Monica on Dec. 7, 1992. If you have an audio recording, know where we can get one, or have any recollections of this performance, please let us know.
As always, thanks to the great nofightin.com readers out there for bringing this music out of the attics so others can hear.