Reviews: Red Devils storm Texas 1992-93

Read past the played out “white guys can’t play the blues” leads on these two reviews from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from 1992 and ’93. Writer Dave Ferman actually catches the Devils correct when he notes that “what puts the Devils head and shoulders above so many other bands is their intensity, their ability to lock into a groove that sounds like their birthright and build a song to an ecstatic finish.”

Ferman also mentions two song titles we’ve never heard: “I’m Gonna Throw a Party” and “Can’t Get You Off My Mind.” What tunes could these be?

Red Devils give the blues a fresh sound
By Dave Ferman, Star-Telegram Writer
Sept. 19, 1992
DALLAS — White blues bands usually try to do one of two things.

They either try to emulate their idols note-for-note, or descend into overamped blues/rock overkill and spend far too much time showing how fast they can crank out the licks popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and the like.

It’s tough to be both fairly authentic and dose the old warhorses with a healthy shot of rock raunch, but the Los Angeles-based Red Devils is one band that can. The band’s set at Trees Thursday night — and well into Friday morning — proved that, in the right hands, the same old blues licks, lyrics and rhythms can sound brash, fresh and right as rain.

The show was the band’s first Metroplex performance since releasing its debut, “King King” on Def American. The Devils also recorded this past summer with Mick Jagger and spent most of the previous months opening for artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers.

Pretty big doin’s for a bunch of guys who essentially play the same sort of stuff as the T-Birds and the Stones. But it took only two songs — an untitled opening instrumental and “I’m Gonna Throw a Party” — for the Devils to show the assembled why they aren’t just another loud blues band. The secret here, as is so often the case, is feel.

Devils’ guitarist Paul Size, with a cigarette welded to his lips, spun out solos that were both flashy and deadly tight, sort of a cross between Buddy Guy at his early-’60s best and a more intense, hard-rocking Jimmie Vaughan.

Size is a guitarist to watch, and this was — despite lead vocalist Lester Butler’s funky stage presence and excellent harp work — his show.

On a cover of Slim Harpo’s “Hip Shake,” Size threw in hot, Chuck Berryish-leads and traded off with several perfectly greasy Butler harp solos.

The Bo Diddleyish “I Wish You Would” featured plenty of piercing guitar and an infectious rhythm, and Size’s own “Devil Woman” — while showing that Butler sometimes needs to enunciate into the mike a bit more clearly — was equally fine.

A long version of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel” showed Size could stand to work just a bit on building extended solos, but, again, the feel — the mix of serious chops and soul and exuberance — was right there, as it was all night.

By mixing the Stones’ casual cockiness, Southside Chicago musicianship and Texas shuffle-boogie, the Devils have come up with a blues sound perfect for those who are tired of the blues.

ABOUT THE OTHER NIGHT: Thursday night, The Red Devils with Rumble, Trees, Dallas
ATTENDANCE: About 200; a healthy crowd for Trees, but not packed to the rafters.
THE CROWD: The usual Trees/Deep Ellum music hounds, some blues fans and a handful of college kids who didn’t care who was onstage as long as they could flirt and play pool upstairs.

Unflagging Red Devils deliver white-hot blues
By Dave Ferman, Star-Telegram Writer
March 7, 1993
FORT WORTH — There’s a difference between simply learning old blues tunes off records and getting up and performing them — and playing them like you own ’em.

That difference, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates guys like Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan — and Los Angeles’ Red Devils — from the other 50-dozen white blues bands currently out grinding out the same old same old.

The Red Devils blew into Cowtown for the first time ever last night and, despite a smallish, slow-to-warm crowd, pitched a more-than-passable wang dang doodle, treating those that did show up to one hot little rockin’ blues show.

Visually, the Devils are a hybrid: one part slicked-back post-’50s rocker cool (on the part of drummer Bill Bateman and bassist Jonny Ray Bartel, both of whom would easily fit into Social Distortion) and one part sloppy roadhouse bluesers (on the part of lead singer/harpist Lester Butler and lead guitarist Paul Size, a Denton native who had a large contingent of old buddies down front).

It all fits together because of the band’s loose, attitude-laden approach to blues warhorses, such as “Who Do You Love?,” “Baby Please Don’t Go” and several others by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon. You’ve heard them before — but the band managed to make them sound fresh and vital. Swaggering and strutting around the stage, Butler sang in a rakish yowl, blew plenty of greasy harp, and then stood back as Size unleashed every funky blues lick known to man.

The solo tradeoffs between Size and Butler make the show: Both the covers and the originals, such as “No Fightin'” and “Devil Woman,” are good tunes. But what puts the Devils head and shoulders above so many other bands is their intensity, their ability to lock into a groove that sounds like their birthright and build a song to an ecstatic finish.

This was especially evident on a very fast “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” which featured Size’s convulsive, jagged solo work; Butler’s harp showcase “Baby Please Don’t Go”; and a loose-limbed version of Willie Love’s “Automatic.” Here, and at plenty of other points in the evening, the Red Devils managed to combine the fervor of a garage band and the sure-handed finesse of a bunch of guys who have been playing in Southside Chicago bars since Nixon was president. And in a world full of overly reverential blues bands, that’s quite a feat.

Dallas’ Rumble, which opened the evening with a 10-song set of stompin’ rootsy rockabilly, was worth the price of admission on its own. “Burning Hell,” “Each Little Kiss” and “Send A Little Love To Me” were wonderful, as was the final number, a nicely kitschy-but-serious cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.” And bassist Spyche’s gorgeous midset cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” reconfirmed her position as the coolest human on the planet.

Spyche, will you marry me?

ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Saturday night, The Red Devils and Rumble, Caravan of Dreams, Fort Worth
ATTENDANCE: Sparse during Rumble’s set but steadily increasing throughout the evening. By 10 songs into the Red Devils’ set, the place was maybe two-thirds full.
THE CROWD: The hip, the curious, and the confused. While a sizable contingent of folks seemed thrilled to see the band, others appeared to have just wandered in out of the street and popped in, thanks to a low cover charge, to check out the band.

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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