With his solo debut out now, the guitarist knows that the band he was in three decades ago will always be a part of his life. “There’s too many extraordinary things that went down that it’s not going to go away,” Paul Size tells nofightin.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of an interview with Paul Size. For more, read Part 1 here.
The Red Devils legend is about so much going right, and so very much going so very wrong.
Paul Size was there for it.
Fans still think of Size as “The Kid,” as the 20-year-old was known in the band and press materials, a baby-faced bluesman juxtaposed against the roadworthy Bateman, Butler and Bartels.
Today, Size has 30 years of experience under his strap and a debut solo album called “Can’t Lose Playing The Blues.” He has come to appreciate his time in The Red Devils — and his persona as the have-gun-will-travel guitar hero from Texas.
“I mean, I have to admit, I like it. I used to want to kind of run away from it,” Size said during a recent interview with nofightin.com. “But I realize now that, you know, I’m grateful I did it and I was part of it. Like, I’ve always said, it’s a footprint on the moon … there’s too many extraordinary things that went down that it’s not going to go away.”
“Extraordinary things” is one way to put it.
On the plus side: Right place, right time, and right guys. The band’s magic — incendiary live shows — was incubated in weekly gigs in a bar in an old Chinese restaurant in Hollywood. The King King club had an energy, a vibe, Size said: “There was always somebody famous there. So it had this kind of the ‘in thing’ kind of thing to do on Mondays.”
And that other side: Failed team-ups and recording projects, fights, drugs and financial battles turned the blood bad. The sad, untimely death of Lester Butler made it impossible for the Devils to truly reconcile, or ever bring together their classic lineup one more time.
Conditions were right for “The Return of The Red Devils”: Their cult status had grown over the years, and the 25th anniversary of “King King” was a great hook for fans, festivals and clubs.
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It also caught the attention of one Rev. Billy F. Gibbons, the mad scientist of blues-rock. The legendary ZZ Top was going on tour of Europe that summer. And Gibbons was a fan of The Red Devils. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Devils were tapped to reform and perform.
In the ensuing 25 years, the former Devils had spread out around the U.S., from one end to the other, and all points in between. Size was living in Martha’s Vineyard, and had settled into a routine of day jobs, local gigs, family life and a stint with the combo Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.
“It was ZZ Top!” Size recalled excitedly of getting the gig. “… I mean, I just couldn’t pass that up. And I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I was kinda doing really nothing where I was, I had this really, really boring job doing water treatment, so I was in basements of houses and I was just bored, you know?”
Reconvening in Europe, original members Size, Jonny Ray Bartel and Bill Bateman connected with former band member Mike Flanigin, who would replace Dave Lee Bartel on rhythm guitar for the tour. Putting the band over the top, in Size’s mind, was “Big Pete” van der Plujim on harp and vocals, “the only guy that I would ‘ve ever done it with,” Size said.
With very little rehearsal, The Red Devils were ready as they could be.
“We had that kind of, that was the big reunion in Holland I think it was (Ribs & Blues Festival). Before that gig, we rehearsed, and we had a few of these little kind of down and dirty little club gigs that we played before that,” Size said. “And so we got together a couple of times and it flowed, I mean, everybody knew their parts and yeah, it just flowed really easy.
“But it wasn’t until that first gig, I think it was some … really cool gig with, I mean, just, it was an old, cool blues place. They had records all over the wall. I mean just classic blues joint. And we just like, we kicked so much butt, it was great, and that was the first gig. We were like, this gonna work, you know, this has got to happen.”
Size said he quickly found his groove with this version of The Red Devils. He also got an unexpected vote of confidence.
“Well, being that we did rehearse and we were together, as long as I knew those guys were onboard, I felt great,” Size said of reuniting. “I felt like, you know, especially Gibbons, … now that I know he’s such a fan of me, which is weird in my mind. …
“Our first gig with him, he gave me that (Devil) guitar, you know, and I mean, so I was totally comfortable. I felt no nervousness from any of that. … I felt like I was part of the family.” (The whole Devils’ family would be outfit with guitars from Gibbons during the tour.)
After kicking off the rust, the band quickly released a souvenir live CD recorded from early gigs, “The Return of The Red Devils,” and set out destroying Europe for the next several weeks, with no hesitation.
As they tore down arenas, outdoor festivals, small halls and major clubs, the tour served as a more fitting final act for the band than they were allowed in the 1990s.
On their last night of the European trek in 2017, at London’s Borderline club — where the band had had legendary performances two decades ago, including jamming with Mick Jagger — old fans returned. They were a little grayer than they were in the 1990s, but this time, they brought their children along, to hear what dad had been raving about all these years.
One person wearing a fresh black ZZ Top tour T-shirt stood at the lip of the stage waiting for the show to start. He had never heard of the band before seeing them a few nights earlier with ZZ Top. He had to see The Red Devils again.
The magic still worked and, like the Devils of old, their last note might still be resonating in a SOHO alley somewhere.
With another milestone coming up — the 30th anniversary of “King King” in 2022 — can that Red Devils magic be conjured again?
“We’re all still here,” Size said, leaving the door ajar. “I mean, it costs a lot of money to get us together,” he continued, “so it would have to be, I know for all of us to do it, it would have to be financially OK.”
Maybe because he was the first of the “Def American” Red Devils lineup to quit for good — missing the real band breakup in 1994 — Size doesn’t seem to carry the same baggage about those turbulent Def American years that the rest of the band might.
“When I was in it, when I was young, I just couldn’t wait to get out of that after about a year or two, because I just wanted to play in a more quiet …” Size said, his thought trailing off into laughter.
Though he has moved on with “Can’t Lose Playing The Blues,” as well as a new band called The Wicked Lo-Down, which he said is kin to the gutbucket, energetic style of The Red Devils, Size knows he’ll probably be tied to the legend of this Monday night blues band from the ‘90s long after he’s gone.
Rather than fight it, Size has made peace with it.
“I honestly, sometimes I just sit and go, well, I’m going to die comfortable. I know that my name’s going to live on and somewhere or another, it’s going to be on a CD or through music. And that’s comforting in some weird existential way,” he said.
“I know it’s maybe vain or something, but it’s comforting. And it … kind of buries that whole, ‘I gotta get out there and rule the world.’ It kind of just buries that. It’s like, all right, I played my part and I got lucky. And so I like it now. I really do … I just appreciate it, you know?”