Archive for lester butler

Onstage with The Red Devils and Zach Zunis at the Paradiso, 1993

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2021 by J.J.

Thanks to Harold Schreuder in Holland, we have some “new ” looks at The Red Devils in 1993 to share.

Harold tells us that he saw the band a few times that year, including meeting The Red Devils (with Zach Zunis replacing Paul Size) at their Nov. 29, 1993, performance at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (You can tell that he really met the band because he has one photo each with the players, and Dave Lee Bartel is nowhere to be seen.)

The first batch of photos are from April and May, 1993, Harold says, with Paul Size on lead. It certainly looks like the Paradiso here on May 2. The other gig is a little harder to tell … could it have been April 29 at De Haagse Koninginnenacht, Den Haag, The Netherlands?

And here are some cool pics of the band from November in Amsterdam, with Zunis on lead guitar:

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Block 1993 interview with Lester Butler after Pinkpop festival (annotated)

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2021 by J.J.

This week, we bring you an interview with Lester Butler from the July/August/September 1993 issue of Block magazine (#87).

There is a lot to take in from this interview, conducted May 31, 1993, after the band had already played its seminal morning set opening the 1993 Pinkpop Festival, and a gig that night in Doornroosje, Nijmegen, Holland. Basically, this interview was their last official activity at the end of an important month for the band, which kicked off May 1 with the legendary performance at the Moulin Blues Festival in Ospel.

The story, originally in Dutch, has been translated by nofightin.com (well, Google Translate, with some contextual edits by us), and appears in its entirety below.

In addition, we offer annotations throughout the story: What’s right, what’s wrong, more context and history. Look for the notes just under some paragraphs.

A band foaming at the mouth: The Red Devils

By Marion Wisse

The Red Devils started in 1988 as a jam session band at the King King club, a former Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. The first time only nine skateboarders came to watch, but due to word of mouth, the number of visitors grew quickly. Among them: Peter Wolf, Lenny Kravitz and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Also always present was Rick Rubin, producer for the Def American label. But it wasn’t until they had seen his face about 60 times that Lester Butler (vocals/harmonica) and his mates knew what that man does in the business.

Much of this is detailed in the band’s official press kit biography.

The debut CD “King King” has been out for less than a year and resulted in a studio session with Mick Jagger. In addition, The Red Devils were allowed to close Moulin Blues and open Pinkpop. In the evening, after Pinkpop, they performed in Doornroosje in Nijmegen. There we spoke to the band.

When the band arrives at Doornroosje a little later than planned due to a minor collision, their Pinkpop performance of that morning has just been broadcast. Great is the hilarity among the band members when Bram van Splunteren does not seem to know who Little Walter was. And when the cameraman of the NOS then switches bass guitarist Jonny Ray Bartel and guitarist Paul Size during the announcement, the boys are really laughing. Immediately afterward we talk with Lester Butler, Paul Size (or was that Lester Butler?), and drummer Bill Bateman.

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From Screamin’ Jay to Icepick James to 13 … the birth of a ‘Plague’

Posted in 13 with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2021 by J.J.

The recent health news of James Harman has reminded me, again, of the cyclical nature of the blues, and the passing down of music from one to another.

Lester Butler was (in)famous for partaking in this tradition. What many probably don’t know is that the most notorious song on “13 Featuring Lester Butler” is not exactly an LB original.

The roots of “Plague of Madness” date back to a 1957 single from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “Frenzy” (written by David Hess and Augustus Stevenson). A speeding, twanging getaway chase of a song, the accomplished music is the perfect launching pad for the wild notions that come bling!-ing out of Screamin’ Jay’s head (more on that in a bit).

Walk your fingers up the H racks in the Blues/R&B section to come upon Harman, James and his take on “Frenzy” 26 years later, on 1983’s “Thank You Baby” with the devastating Kid/Fats lineup of the James Harman Band. Again, this song suits James Harman and Co. at just the right time: A jumping, rip-roaring R&B rave-up that wouldn’t necessarily upset punks or rockabillys.

And it comes with its own art project music video that, if it didn’t make MTV, surely was a hit on local cable access. Where Screamin’ Jay had a macabre personality and stage coffins, the Harman band had a straitjacket, foam in the mouth and silent film star Michael Mann as … Hollywood Fats.

So where does Lester come in?

We’ve not heard any version of “Frenzy” by the Blue Shadows or Red Devils, nothing on “King King” tapes. But it is not hard to imagine that both Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and James Harman records were being spun at house parties, at set breaks and on boom boxes. And, it’s kind of an unforgettable cut.

In a 2011 interview with NoFightin.com, 13 guitarist Alex Schultz talked about how the songs were crafted for the “13” record. The vocals were overdubbed, which gave the band the musical license to do whatever was called for at the moment, and let Lester find his vocal themes later. Schultz even said he didn’t know what the songs were about until he finally heard them with Butler’s lyrics.

For instance: Here is an alternate take of the song that would become “Plague of Madness” — what sounds like the same backing track, a different guitar track or mix, and extemporaneous “Frenzy” lyrics:

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James Harman needs our help. (Icepick’s Story 2021)

Posted in related music with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2021 by J.J.

In a parallel universe, James Harman is a superstar.

An in-demand artiste who plays command performances for kings and queens. A poet laureate whose lyrics are studied in college courses. A giving mentor and bandleader whose roots have grown the fruits of generations of musicians. A vocalist whose records stop all diner conversation when the needle hits his latest song.

But in this here-and-now, James Harman — blues raconteur extraordinaire — is 74, without the means to earn a living, and beginning chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer.

Harman is not a household name — unless your household is real hip. Those who know, know.

To the true believers of “The Red Devils, Lester Butler and California’s (and beyond’s) blues, rock and roots music,” James Harman is the Godfather.

Some of this is by talent, and some of it is by proximity. Harman is one of those threads of connective cool from his native Alabama, to the post-Woodstock Canned Heat California scene, to Big Joe Turner, Hollywood Fats, MTV, ZZ Top and a touring schedule in the 1990s that rivaled any act on the planet (“She wrapped my sandwich, boy, in an old road map”).

Harman has always surrounded himself with whipcrack musicians, and entire James Harman Band lineups have gone on to form or evolve into other killer bands, from The Blasters (Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman were early bandmates, as was Gene Taylor), to The Fabulous Thunderbirds (whose early ‘90s incarnation was a literal James Harman Band with Kim Wilson) to Lester Butler’s various 13s.

His most well-known ensemble was the early 1980s version of the James Harman Band … Those Dangerous Gentlemens: Hollywood Fats, Kid Ramos, Willie J. Campbell and the incomparable Stephen Hodges on drums (you might know Hodges from the Tom Waits band). Yes, Hollywood Fats and Kid Ramos in one lineup, under the direction of one James Harman.

Recommended: Extra Napkins, Strictly Live … in ’85!, Thank You Baby, Those Dangerous Gentlemens

James Harman, The Blasters, X, The (original) Red Devils, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Canned Heat, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Waits, Los Lobos and many others shared common DNA, even if each leaned on nurture more than nature (punk rockabilly, experimental roots … or “American music”).

Harman would tell you (and has told me and my pals) that he is not a harmonica player. He is a singer and a songwriter who uses the harmonica when needed to tell his stories. And those stories are clever and compact in a way that demonstrates the craft and care he puts into his art. His musical ethos align more closely with artists and outsiders such as Waits and Los Lobos than the average “Tuesday bluesday” crowd — even though he gets the job done down behind that city dump, presiding over a real blues party.

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Red Devils & ZZ Top fans: Welcome to nofightin.com

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by J.J.

For ZZ Top fans and those just discovering The Red Devils for the first time, we’re glad you could make it to nofightin.com. What took you so long?

We’ve been here since 2009, cataloging the music and stories of The Red Devils and the late, great Lester Butler.

Wander around and find rare music, videos and reviews from the Devils’ heyday, and meet other fans — and some of the musicians who made the records we love so much. Later this month, we will be in Europe for several Red Devils shows, so watch for nofightin.com exclusives.
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Start here with some of the most popular and essential posts and pages on nofightin.com:

Reunion tour: Keep up with the 2017 reunion tour here.

Lyrics: You will want to start a band. Learn the lyrics to “Automatic,” “She’s Dangerous,” “Devil Woman” and everything on “King King,” most of “13,” live stuff and more.

2 Meter Sessies: In lieu of a second Red Devils record, this live radio set from 1993 can fill the void.

“Lester’s Legendary Last Gig”: Full coverage of the DVD release of 13’s classic 1998 Moulin Blues performance.

“Lousiana Blues”: The story behind one of the most rare songs in the Devils’ discography, released on a promo tape before “King King” came out in ’92.
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Eyewitness: Blue Shadows “deadly serious” at the King King

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by J.J.


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.
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Meet Mr. Uninhibited Wild Cat

Posted in 13, lester butler with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2017 by J.J.

Reporters never knew what they were going to get during a Lester Butler interview, as this Aug. 8, 1997, piece by Randy Cordova for the Arizona Republic shows.

Chief among the surprises are some hotel hi-jinks between Les Butler and another guest, the unfortunately named Wes Butler.

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Rainy Detroit night 1992, club date + 3 rare cuts

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2017 by J.J.

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Tapes don’t often circulate of The Red Devils during their 1992 U.S. club tour, but guitarist Mike Flanigin passed one from his collection to nofightin.com.

Not only is it a representation of 4/5 of the band that will be on tour this summer, but it is the closest I’ll ever get to The Red Devils just as I heard them almost 25 years ago.

Flanigin’s tape was not labeled, so no clear info on date or location. But he recollects it was from that fall 1992 club tour. From there, two other clues: an emcee, just before the encore, beckons the crowd, “I don’t know Detroit, do you want to hear one more?” And Butler thanks the crowd for coming out on a rainy night.

Sully’s Blues Bar in Dearborn, Mich., is essentially adjacent to Detroit. And, on Oct. 14, 1992, according to Weather Underground, Dearborn saw just more than half an inch of rain.

The relatively short show — 11 songs in the set, plus three in the encore, about an hour and 35 minutes time — lines up with a listing in the Oct. 13, 1992, Detroit Free Press:

RED DEVILS, blues from LA, 8:30 and 10 p.m. Wed., 4758 Greenfield [Sully’s], Dearborn. 846-1920

Two shows.

So, this gig took place the night after I saw them at Jake’s in Bloomington, Ind., about five-and-a-half hours away.
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Zach Zunis on brush with Cash

Posted in red devils, related music with tags , , on February 25, 2017 by J.J.

Since our last post, we have been thinking about guitarist Zach Zunis. Like Mike Flanigin, Zunis could be a mere footnote in the Devils’ story despite filling a critical role in the band for several months.

And let’s be clear: For some people, the Zach Zunis version of the band was the one they saw live, and is the one they probably still talk about.

Zunis was featured earlier this month in a story in the East Hampton Star, focused around his Grammy nom with singer Janiva Magness. There were a couple of Devils-related comments, including passing by the late, great Johnny Cash:

The late Lester Butler, another harmonica player and singer, was often in the audience at Mr. (William) Clarke’s concerts — “Clarke was the man to see,” Mr. Zunis said. Mr. Butler signed with Def American Recordings, the label founded by the producer and music executive Rick Rubin, and asked Mr. Zunis to join his band, the Red Devils.

The group recorded at the famed Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, the former United Recording, where legends including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, and Michael Jackson had cut classic tracks before them. “As we were walking through the door, I heard this ominous sound,” Mr. Zunis said. The sound was the inimitable voice of Johnny Cash. “We walked in the control room, and there was Rick Rubin recording Johnny Cash,” he said. “They finished their session, and we started ours. We got to meet him — it was so cool.”

Read more here.

1993 tour contracts show work behind Holland tour

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by J.J.

As the reunited Red Devils prepare to return to Europe for the first time in almost 25 years, a series of contracts, riders and correspondence show just how much work it took to get the band on the road in 1993.

The documents are primarily between concert promoters and booking agents for the band’s 14-date Nov. 14-29, 1993, tour of Holland (some details redacted by nofightin.com):

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1. This document, from Sept. 10, 1993, details a proposed itinerary for the band for two weeks in Holland. Of interest are protential gigs that didn’t seem to materialize, such as on Nov. 16, 19 and 24.

2. The band’s tour rider, dated Oct. 9, 1993, breaks down what The Red Devils needed to stay on the road. Soundcheck, security, billing requirements and backline (the kind of gear the venues or promoters would provide for the band) were all outlined. If you wanted to know what amps the band was using, this document lays it out.

Most folks will be interested in the last page: What the band required in their dressing rooms. Nothing fancy — beer, soda, water, sandwiches. And a bottle of Jack and two packs of Winston 100s.

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