Butler on Bateman: ‘He’s like a Marine drill sergeant!’

Never mind the played-out white-boy-Blues-Brothers plating of this Dec. 3, 1992, Los Angeles Times story about The Red Devils by Bill Locey.

The main course is the praise Lester Butler heaps on Bill Bateman in this Q&A.

Q: So you guys are skiing in Colorado. Do you have too much money?

LB: No man, we’re snowed in here in Breckinridge. There was a big blizzard, plus we got a half-price deal on lift tickets. These are two of the most fun things in life, skiing and music. Skiing is a sport where you can be creative; same thing for music.

Q: Roots rock never seems to make it big but it never seems to go away. Where do the Red Devils fit in?

LB: The blues is a live art form, I guess, but I sit up every night and think about this. We do basically Chicago blues — Slim Harpo kind of stuff jammed up and a little electrified. It’s raw, house-rockin’ blues. We’re just like a steak and a potato on a plate, no carrots, nothin’ else.

Q: But why the blues?

LB: I’ve been playing the harmonica since I was a little kid. The first time I ever heard blues on the radio, I dug it. When I was 12, 13, 14 years old, I’d get acoustic guitar guys to hammer out the melodies, and I just naturally knew where every sound was. I was just a harp hippie hanging out on Venice Beach. One day I hooked up with Hollywood Fats. He turned me on to Little Walter and all the hard-core Chess blues guys.

Q: So are you guys on the road as much as the traditional blues guys?

LB: We’ll know more about that by the end of next summer. Lately, we’ve done 35 gigs in 90 days. We’re all hard-core road dogs, anyway. Especially Bill Bateman. At 42, he’s the veteran. He’s like a Marine drill sergeant. He’ll make any gig, drive all night, do sound check, drink beer all night, play, sleep two hours, eat at Denny’s, then drive all night again.

Q: None of Rick Rubin’s other bands sound like you guys. How did you guys get signed?

LB: He came into the King King club one night and became a fan. He must’ve seen us 60 times now. I sort of see him as a friend. He just got to the point where he can just do what he wants that’s his whole thing. He brought Mick Jagger to our show, a couple of the Black Crowes, some of the Chili Peppers, Brian May from Queen, Lenny Kravitz — I can’t remember them all.

“We’re all hard-core road dogs, anyway. Especially Bill Bateman. At 42, he’s the veteran. He’s like a Marine drill sergeant. He’ll make any gig, drive all night, do sound check, drink beer all night, play, sleep two hours, eat at Denny’s, then drive all night again.”

Q: Is your album with Mick Jagger going to be released?

LB: I can only hope and pray.

Q: Can music make a difference?

LB: Music really saved my life when I was at rock-bottom because of drugs. I used to think, “Hey, let’s get some cocaine and some hookers and party for a couple of days.” I still have an addictive personality, but somehow, music stops me from even thinking about that stuff anymore.

Q: So rock ‘n’ roll has killed everybody, but somehow saved you?

LB: That’s it.

Q: What’s next for the Red Devils?

LB: We’re a blues bar band signed to a major independent label. I can’t believe we stumbled into the most unbelievable dream come true. After Colorado, we’re gonna go back home and record a demo for Def American.

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Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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