“Can you believe we are really here?”
That was our theme throughout our European adventure.
“Can you believe we are in this hotel room with Paul Size?” “Can you believe we are watching ZZ Top in this tennis area?” “Can you believe we are in the middle-of-nowhere, England?” “Can you believe we are in the Borderline?”
Can you believe The Red Devils are back?
There was a moment, watching The Red Devils from the side of the stage in Dublin’s 3Arena, performing to thousands of music fans, that it really hit home: I have been listening to this band for 25 years.
Would “young J.J.,” at 20 years old on July 28, 1992, hearing The Red Devils for the first time, immediately buying the disc, and putting it on heavy rotation all that summer, really believe he would be here in Ireland with the band? And 25 years to the day, no less — 28 Jul 2017.
The record shaped my life in so many ways. After hearing that record, my friends and I started putting together our first blues band. I never even really played drums when I got the idea I should start playing songs featuring Bill “Buster” Bateman. Insanity! (Our band, eventually, was called “Automatic 32.” Were we the first Red Devils-inspired cover-ish band? We played “Goin’ To The Church,” “Automatic” and “She’s Dangerous.”)
Our friendships were forged over cheap beers, Chivas Regal, girls (especially girls with cars, as we otherwise could not get to our own gigs!), cheap gear (so cheap that, for a few parties, the bass player and harp player shared an amp!) and records like “King King,” “Hoodoo Man Blues,” and the Hound Dog Taylor collection.
Bateman would give me my first real brush with the band in ’92, when I saw them perform at a local club in my college town. That meeting gave me my first Red Devils souvenir — a setlist — and was the first time I wrote about the band, a concert review for the student newspaper.
Through “13,” bootlegs, newspaper clips, scanned-in photos, advertisements and nascent websites and email lists, we tried to piece together The Red Devils’ story — with nowhere to put it all.
Over the years, I saw all the band members in different configurations: 13, Paul Size with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, Bateman with The Blasters. But most importantly, Jonny Ray Bartel with The Knitters in Indianapolis in December 2007.
Tom and I went up to Jonny Ray after the show; he could tell right away we wanted to talk Red Devils. He told us a couple of things that night that would stick with us, and directly influenced the launch of this blog about a year later, in 2009.
“No Fightin’.” Credited to all five Red Devils, original. A title that set the tone. And a damn cool URL.
Through this website and Facebook, we interacted with the musicians — Jonny Ray, Paul, Mike Flanigin, Alex Schultz, Johnny Morgan and Eddie Clark. Look hard enough on this blog, and you will find a “BFG” comment that eventually ties back to our European summer. Emails from musicians, industry veterans and fans told us we were on the right track.
All this interest, but no band. But the stars were coming together, and a line can be traced from the cover bands to the “King King” 2010 vinyl reissue to Mick Jagger’s best-of featuring the Devils to an important take in Classic Rock Magazine to our extensive interview with Mike Flanigin, solidifying his position as a Red Devils circa 1992.
Jonny Ray and I kept in touch over the years, and in 2016 a plan was starting to hatch. It was incredible to think that, somehow, The Red Devils would be reborn. As his Europe scheme unfolded, he said something in a phone call that I latched onto: “Oh, you and Tina are coming too!”
In February of this year I was asked to write the band’s bio one-sheet for promotion. How fast did they need it? “Yesterday,” Jonny said. I told him no problem, “I think I have been preparing for this for the last 25 years.”
Which brings us to Europe.
If high expectations can be met, these were exceeded. The experience was more than we could have ever hoped for.
The music: Excellent. The band: Gracious and accommodating. You couldn’t write a better story, even though I tried.
1. “Can you believe we are really here?” We weren’t the only ones saying that at the last show in London. That was all the great people we met. We were in a room with real Red Devils fans, people we had only communicated with by email or Facebook all these years. People from England, Holland, and on and on. Yes, we were really here.
Would I have wanted to see The Red Devils at the Borderline with anyone other than people like Paul Brown? Probably not. Despite only knowing each other electronically, Paul and I had an incredible shared experience and history, spanning several decades and many thousands of miles. And that web of connection twisted around the dark room that night.
That was The Red Devils.
2. If Tina and Tom and I were any small part of helping keep the band’s name alive all these years, then I am incredibly honored. If I could turn someone on to “King King,” I would do it. The record is just that good.
3. I had some trepidation about this reunion. Without Lester Butler, is it The Red Devils?
Final verdict: Yes.
Here’s the what-for: We loved 13 because it was “new music from Lester Butler,” as advertised. It wasn’t The Red Devils, but was a continuation of a lineage and a sound and an attitude.
Lester was not the only keeper of those attributes.
Three-fifths of the “King King” lineup reclaimed their history this summer. By bringing in Mike Flanigin to replace Dave Lee Bartel (let’s remember the fifth “King”), the lineup was a true throwback, and with another good friend of Lester’s.
After Butler’s tragic death in 1998, the story of The Red Devils was given an ending that most of those guys did not want or ask for. Their final chapter was out of their control.
With this tour, no matter what happens next, the Classic Rock articles or book mentions will now need to address that The Red Devils came back and, in just a few weeks, reminded the world that, on any given night, they can be the best blues band you have ever heard.
Did I ever think that disc I bought on July 28, 1992, would lead me to Europe with my wife 25 years later, to hang out and listen to my favorite band, meeting new friends from around the globe for some breathtaking (and emotional) moments in Europe?
Believe it or not, it happened.
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LINER NOTES: Thank you to the following for help and inspiration on the NoFightin.com European tour: Jonny Ray Bartel, Pieter V/D Pluijm, Joost Tazelaar and The Red Devils crew: Paul Size, Mike Flanigin and Bill Bateman; Jan Obri at Stimmen Festival; Sinead at 3Arena Dublin; staff at The Borderline London; Garry White, Nicki Vinall, Alicia Borowska and all of our new friends at the Bluefunk Rhythm and Blues Club in Poynton, UK; Lila Antonides at Travel Leaders; Pablo Gamboa and ZZ Top; and Gene Taylor, Dave Lee Bartel and Lester Butler.
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For the past several weeks and months, I have wrestled with what this blog is, and what it will be in the future. It became the de facto band website (until this one) for a time this year, and I was drafted to be some small part of the band’s needed hype machine.
But NoFightin.com was started in 2009 as an almost archaeological exercise. It was deeper in the weeds than any band would ever go on their own music or legacy.
It was not meant as a “tribute” site, or as a live site for a working band.
The “Return of The Red Devils” feels like the summation of what we have been doing with this blog: “See, we told you these guys were great!”
What comes next?
Well, I guess it’s up to The Red Devils. What do you have for an encore?