Eyewitness: Blue Shadows “deadly serious” at the King King


Some of the best stories about The Red Devils come from the people who watched it all go down.

One such eyewitness is Kevin Shattuck, who has been recounting his favorite shows, and the stories behind them, on his Facebook page. Not only that but he is assembling amazing collages that render his musical memories in iconography.

He recently did a piece on the Blue Shadows — the precursor to the blues Red Devils — from the summer of ’88 at the King King. That is Genesis 1 in The Red Devils’ nearly 30-year story.

Kevin’s recollections are published with permission below, but it is definitely worth checking out his Facebook page for stories about The Blasters, X, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Gun Club, Panther Burns and on and on …

In the Summer of ’88, a Chinese restaurant on the corner of 6th & La Brea named “King King” decided to stay open late & book rockabilly & blues acts. I was working at the Beverly Center & the club was on my way home, so I started to drop in fairly often. It didn’t take very long before an astonishingly great punk/blues band named the “Blue Shadows” settled into that space on a Monday nite residency. It included ex-”Blasters” Gene Taylor on keyboards & Bill Bateman on drums, “Radio Ranch Straight Shooter” Greg “Smokey” Hormel (or on occasion) Dave Alvin playing lead guitar & the Bartel brothers Dave Lee & Jonny Ray on rhythm guitar & bass. The front man was a young harmonica player named Lester Butler. He was a pretty good singer, but was a flat out beast on the harp & had a true bluesman’s weathered, world weary demeanor.

The place had a great “feel”. It was a dark, red brick room with a tiny stage, red vinyl booths & gold lacquer Chinese pagoda detailing. The “Blue Shadows” would fill that that stage & crush the joint week after week. They played hard as nails blues with a bit of punk rock snarl & were a wonder to behold. They took their craft deadly serious (& their drinking too!) It was all black leather & denim & they hardly ever smiled, exceptin’ Gene & Jonny Ray (who was always chewin’ gum & grinnin’ like he knew that same joke that kept Billy Zoom amused). Their set list was straight out of “Chess Records” with some songs by West coast gunslingers like Johnny “Guitar” Watson thrown in for good measure. Lester clearly loved him some Little Walter & blew with a similar fury. I’d had the good fortune to see Sugar Blue & Frank Frost back in Chicago & Lester was in the same league. That was the thing with this band… everyone was so damn good at their job. The Bartel brothers had been playing together for years & had Swiss clock timing with Mr. Bateman behind the kit. Dave & Smokey were really different stylistically, but never failed to astonish & Gene added a lush R&B tone on the ivories.

It didn’t take long for word to spread that something special was goin’ down on Monday nites & the line started to wind ‘round the block, but I wasn’t using the front entrance that much anymore, so it wasn’t much of a problem. When the lads were really rollin’ at closin’ time they’d just lock the front door & keep blazin’ until 3 or 4 in the morning. All kinds of pedigreed rock & rollers started stopping by to “jam” with the boys, Rick Rubin “discovered” them & talked ‘em in into goin’ back to the Bartel brothers old moniker from their rockabilly outfit with Emy Lee “The Red Devils”, but that was still a ways down the road. The photo in the center includes the guitarist Paul “The Kid” Size who wasn’t there from the get-go, but images of the “Blue Shadows” were rarer than hen’s teeth.

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