A notebook belonging to Lester Butler gives a rare little glimpse into The Red Devils’ lyrics, setlists and creative process.
The writings are in the hands of Paul Brown of the UK. Brown says he was in the crowd at the Devils’ May 4, 1993, gig at London’s Borderline. Afterward, he picked up the setlist left behind on the stage. The setlist turned out to be more than that.
“When I picked up the ‘setlist’ … it wasn’t until I returned home that I realised there were entries in over 20 pages, very much in the style of the notebook in the CD insert,” Brown wrote to us. “There are setlists, lyrics and doodles.”
Jonny Ray Bartel essentially confirmed the authenticity of the one-of-a-kind notebook in a Facebook post: “Nice collection Paul. Looks like you have an entire notebook of Lester’s. Awesome …”.
Let’s look into the pages Paul emailed to us:
IT’S YOUR TURN TO CRY: This song can be heard in many contexts, but here Butler’s lyrics coalesce around a theme. Where we would have assumed he was just borrowing floating lines and verses, in fact — at least at this time — he was making specific choices.
WAY DOWN SOUTH: Another set of lyrics, these wouldn’t come out officially until “13.” Here, Butler wrestles with who comes from “down south”: “she?” or “I”.
So much of Lester Butler’s appeal was in performance and persona. Rudimentary rhyming such as “dance, romance,” “good, would” and “nite, right” give no indication of what those words can do in a live setting.
WISH WE’D HEARD IT: Like Little Walter? They’ll try “Off the Wall” or “Fast Boogie.”
SIZE’S CONTRIBUTIONS: While there wasn’t a Texas influence readily apparent on “King King,” Paul Size’s background came in handy on stage.
Instrumentals such as “Backstroke” and “Sensation” (sic) are meat-and-potatoes blues in Texas. “Forgive Me” is likely an outsized shuffle a la the Fabulous Thunderbirds. And it’s assumed that the shorthand “Frank Frost” is the tune “My Back Scratcher,” covered to great effect on the Paul Size/Jonny Moeller record “Return of the Funky Worm.”
SET LIST MYSTERIES: As so much of the Devils’ repertoire is lost to time (unfortunately, live bootlegs over-represent festival gigs, rather than all-night, three-set club gigs), these setlists show some of the choices they made when filling out an evening.