Spare bands & one-and-dones

Blues musicians will know … get a group of guys together, come up with a name, and you are a “band” for a night. Might have those same four guys another night, new name. Use a different drummer for a pickup gig, and that’s three. One of those bands, likely, was called the Blues Meisters. Law of averages.

The Red Devils had a fairly monogamous relationship during the prime ’92-’93 years: Butler, Size, Bartel, Bartel and Bateman — save for Mike Flanigin taking North American duties for Dave Lee Bartel in late 1992. But once Paul Size left the band in mid-’93, all bets were off.

Here are some of the random situations featuring Lester Butler, primarily between The Red Devils and 13.

THE BACKSTREET CRAWLERS: “Tonight at 9 [at the Blue Cafe], the Backstreet Crawlers, featuring Lester of the Red Devils on harmonica. The Crawlers are an L.A.-based blues outfit who often have non-musician celebs dropping by to jam.” — Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram, July 25, 1992

THE ACCELERATORS: “The Accelerators, a pickup supergroup of local hotshots, has been playing the Blue Cafe in downtown Long Beach on Wednesday nights lately. The rootrocking outfit includes John Bazz (the Blasters), Kid Ramos (James Harman Band), Steven Hodges (Tom Waits) and Lester Butler (Red Devils).” — Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram, Feb. 23, 1994

LESTER & THE DEVILS: “There, playing in front of a disturbingly small audience [at the Foothill Club], was a splendid little allstar outfit going by the name of Lester & the Devils, which included vocalist Lester Butler (of the Red Devils), super-hot guitarist Kid Ramos (James Harman Band), bassist John Bazz (Blasters) and drummer Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits). You can catch them – and it’s highly recommended – in a crowdeder situation when they assault the Blue Cafe in downtown Long Beach on Nov. 19.” — Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram, Nov. 2, 1994

“To celebrate its anniversary this weekend, the Blue Cafe has booked some of its favorite bands: the Blasters on Friday, Lester Butler and the Devils on Saturday, and the Rattle Brewsters on Sunday (a band that is more psychobilly than swing).” — Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1995

BLUES MEISTERS: “The following day [at Beach-Fest] will also feature a roots-style stage, with acts to include Bourbon Jones, Russell Scott & the Red Hots, Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts and a special program of the Bluesmeisters, a two-hour time-slot featuring three acts Phil Alvin, Lester Butler and the Devils and Top Jimmy.” — Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram, March 31, 1995

“Blasters’ vocalist Phil Alvin will appear Sunday with Top Jimmy, Lester Butler, James Intveld, Rick Vito and other area roots musicians in the free-for-all group the Blues Meisters. (“I’ll be there as sort of master of ceremonies,” Alvin said, “probably just because I’ve got the best right hook for keeping guys off the stage.”)” — Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1995

SNAKE SNAKE: “After three-quarters of a century of plodding I-IV-V chord changes, should blues music have even been allowed into this millennium? The short-lived Snake Snake might have made it fly. Comprising the late Lester Butler (the Red Devils, 13, et. al.), guitarist Kid Ramos, drummer Stephen Hodges and bassist Willie J. Campbell (all at one time in the James Harman Band), the group often didn’t even bother with the IV or V chords, instead just grinding on the 1 with a salacious verve. (The band name was from a Les Blank Lightnin’ Hopkins documentary, where a neighbor pesters Lightnin’ about what kind of snake he’s talking about, until Hopkins definitively declares, “It was a snake snake!”) The stellar instrumentalists created a thick swampy sound. Butler’s talents as a singer and harpist paled beside the likes of a Harman, but he did that manic-intensity bit real good up until April of 1998, when he evidently decided that dying of a heroin overdose was the way to go.” — OC Weekly, June 26, 2003

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