Return of the funky Texans
Johnny Moeller: Guitar (mainly R. channel)
Paul Size: Guitar (mainly L. channel)
After he decamped from The Red Devils after a three-year stint, Paul Size found himself back in Texas making a small homeboy record.
Far away from the edgy, Hollywood rock-star vibe, with Size as the gunslinger for hire, 1996’s “Return of the Funky Worm” couldn’t have been any further from the Devils.
The focus here was on Texas blues and funk-fueled workouts with longtime running buddies. There is a comfort level on this disc, issued by Dallas Blues Society Records, that only comes from familiarity.
The record was co-billed “Moeller and Size,” with other Texas players such as Johnny’s brother Jay Moeller on drums, erstwhile Red Devils tour guitarist Mike Flanigin on all kinds of keyboards and vocals, Bret Coats on bass, Rhett Frazier on vocals and Texas mainstay Brian “Hash Brown” Calway on harp.
It’s hard to imagine what a relief it might have been for Size, coming from cross-country tours, European festivals and Planet Hollywood openings, to find himself as the foil on such tunes as the grooving Richard Berry-penned opener “Sweet Sugar You,” or old-school R&B dynamite of “Watch My 32.”
And no doubt he and Moeller were simpatico on this record.
Their relationship has sparked several good blues rumors over the years.
The first is that Mike Judge (a Texas blues bass player and, also, the creator of “Beavis and Butt-head”) modeled his MTV delinquents off of the teenage Johnny and Paul.
The other, more relevant, story goes that, when the Devils asked Size for an audition tape, he didn’t have one. So, he sent one of Moeller, and was hired for the gig.
Makes the left channel-right channel designation all the more important, right?
The pair are in the pocket of the more “out” instrumentals on the record, including the trippy Ohio Players-inspired title cut. Moeller takes the spotlight on Flanigin’s “Nate’s Song,” which would be at home on a Ramsey Lewis record.
And that’s not to say there aren’t things here a Red Devils fan wouldn’t love. “Stand Up” is the final evolution of Size’s “Blackwater Roll” groove, this time imprinted with protest-style S.O.U.L. vocals by Frazier. And Jay Moeller gives a demented twist with his vocals on the group’s stomping take on Frank Frost’s “My Backscratcher.”
But that mixing and matching has always been a Texas thing — from Gatemouth Brown to Johnny Copeland to SRV, Texas “blues” has always been more than that: Musicians that can rock Midwest funk against flat-tire shuffles like “Dallas” and Texas slide numbers like “Hop On.”
At the helm of the record was a Texas blues supporter like no other.
Producer Chuck Nevitt described “Return of the Funky Worm” as “Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson meets Grant Green at the Ohio Players’ house.” That’s a twisted, mad scientist mind that can hear all those connections, but it works.
When he wasn’t tirelessly promoting blues in Dallas and beyond, or producing little-heard but critical records by Henry Qualls and Zuzu Bollin, he was mixing it up with other blues fans online. His smarts and snark were familiar and beloved in the early Internet days.
Almost 20 years after “Funky Worm,” those young kids are the elder statesmen now: The Moeller brothers anchor The Fabulous Thunderbirds.