1993: Devils pitch an incendiary sound mix

This interview/show preview is entertaining as hell. It’s a crib-note version of the Devils’ history with some colorful imagery and not always on the accurate side (Honor Marine Band harmonica, anyone?). Enjoy this 1993 entry from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

DEVILS PITCH AN INCENDIARY SOUND MIX
By Robert J. Hawkins, Arts Writer
Sept. 9, 1993

Pulling a high-noon gig at Cal State Fullerton in the hot sun, dressed in black, sucking up heat and that acrid film that passes for oxygen near Los Angeles, Lester Butler is whipped but unbowed.

It is not like last year, when he and his heat-seeking blues band, the Red Devils (who perform at 7 and 10 p.m. tomorrow at Street Scene ’93), were flying on high-octane media fumes from their 14-song marathon session with Mick Jagger. And cutting their own debut with Def American bad boy Rick Rubin. And holding court at the King King Club on Monday nights and road-warrioring around the country.

No, it’s not like that.

For one, the album “King King,” named after the band’s home base (a club at Sixth and La Brea in Los Angeles), has come and gone, and even Butler is tired of most of the cuts. ” ‘Goin’ to the Church’ is still a fave,” he says of his own tune — a fresh engine sitting atop an old Canned Heat chassis. He likes a few more, but that’s last year’s news.

“We’ve got a whole new slew of material that we’ll get sick of in another year,” he says with a laugh.

Did we mention that the King King is dead? “The club closed down and died after we left,” says Butler. Hey, the road calls.

The club wasn’t much to look at, unless it was Monday night and the line stretched out around the corner, meaning the Red Devils were in town. But then, you’d have Hollywood dweebs like Bruce Willis come in to jam and fantasize about a real rock life. Then Rubin discovered them there in 1990. And so did Jagger.

So the debut album — live stuff — came out on Rubin’s Def American label and probably because it was one of the best blues-rock albums in years — poof! You can’t play that stuff on radio, man! We don’t have a format! Sad, but true.

Def American is sort of dead, too. Butler attended the “funeral” in L.A. recently when Rubin buried the word “Def.” It’s in the dictionary, for crying out loud. The Rev. Al Sharpton conducted the ceremonies.

“Yeah, it was weird. But that’s Rick. There was a hell of a party afterward,” Butler says.

The Red Devils are just about ready to cut another album. They’re sticking with Rubin, too, and his retooled American Records label. First, they’ll cut a single for a European tour. The Red Devils have toured Europe three times since “King King” came out.

It’ll probably be a cover of Billy Boy Arnold’s “She’s Dynamite” backed by Butler’s own “She Fooled Me.” Chicago blues man Arnold, one-time harmonica sideman for Bo Diddley, is a serious god in Butler’s private Temple of the Blues. “He’s one of the greatest blues songwriters,” says Butler.

The Red Devils covered his “I Wish You Would” on their first album. David Bowie covered it once, too. So did lots of pale white guys with blue hearts. Arnold, says Butler, “told us he liked the way we did the song. That was unbelievable.” They’re friends now, and collaborators.

Butler plays a mean Honor Marine Band harp himself. He handles the vocals, too, filtered through an old ham-radio microphone. It’s got grit, a grainy texture that Rubin goosed to the max on the album. Even blew away Butler’s expectations. He sounds like something near evil out of a smoke-and-barbecue, swamp-soaked roadhouse — no later than 1939, either.

The Red Devils have been together since the late 1980s and don’t have to talk to know what’s happening next on stage: Drummer Bill Bateman is an ex-Blaster (who isn’t?), brothers David Lee and Jonny Ray Bartel on rhythm guitar and bass, respectively, and Paul “The Kid” Size on lead guitar.

They burn in an incendiary mix of hard-core asphalt blues, shuffles, a little Chicago, some swamp, a touch of Creedence, some of Hendrix and a few odes to the other gods in Butler’s temple: Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf — to name just a few.

“We’re definitely an extension of all that. I do my share of copying and borrowing,” Butler says. He also does his share of acknowledging. The Red Devils give blues greats their due.

On stage though, when the Red Devils crank it up, the music as Butler says, “invents itself.” It takes on a life straight out of the powerful dark corners of the Crossroads. It builds, like pressure in a pot, until you’re scraping energy and sweat off the ceiling.

“I like to play long, drawn-out cathartic songs,” says Butler, “filled with peaks and valleys just like good sex — well, sex the way a woman would like it to be.”

You devil, you.

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