Its the Soul, Baby!

Hitch a ride with the Flash Express

Photo by James BunoanYou meet a guy like Brian Waters, you let him introduce himself—out of respect, out of deference, out of the hope he'll cadge you a free drink. And when you write about a guy like Brian Waters and his band the Flash Express, you let them introduce themselves, too, just like they do onstage: with guitar lines as thick and sinuous as just-fed pythons and a wall of Brian roaring out their theme song. And this is how it goes:

"Lance Porter on the drums! Tommy Branch on the bass! And I'm gonna play my gee-tar and shove this microphone right in your face!"

Usually, he does. Sometimes his guitar breaks, and he concentrates solely on mic shoving. Sometimes his mic breaks, and he sings right into the guitar pickups. Sometimes—lots of times—he'll notice people he knows in the crowd and draw out the breaks for them ("Jorge from the Red Onions! You looking GOOD tonight! I work for YOU!"). Tommy and Lance never ever miss a beat (more reputable ears than ours fete them as the best rhythm section in LA), and it all supercollides into no less than the album God and the law prevented Iggy Pop and James Brown from Frankensteining together: ladies and Germs fans, we give you the Flash Express with Funhouse! Live at the Apollo!

"That's pretty much it," says Waters—Mars from the Fuse! calls him "Dirty" Waters, usually pretty loudly, which seems appropriate. "This is my vision, and it's perfect."

A little egoistic, yeah. But who wants a rock hero to be humble? Waters' kick-out-the-jams personality radiates dangerous levels of energy like a busted Russian sub; the guy sweats out hustle (they've got two albums recorded that probably aren't coming out, but they got a new one they're working on for ZERO DOLLARS DOWN!) and handshakes as persuasively as anybody who ever gave Robert Johnson a guitar lesson (actually, Waters does give guitar lessons—if you DARE). And while the Flash Express doesn't always attract good luck, you can bet they're always attracting something.

Cody Chesnutt—you know, "Look Good In Leather"—grabbed Waters on Cahuenga and started singing to him; the two have been friends ever since. "I was like, 'I gotta hang out with you forever!'" Waters says. Rudy Ray Moore—you know, Dolemite—waited in his black Cadillac or possibly just his black Lincoln Town Car—until they were almost finished playing, and then he glided through the crowd for an improvised grand finale onstage (later, he'd display questionable bathroom manners in their practice space—but that's not as uplifting a story). And Andre Williams—you know, "Shake a Tail Feather"—got the Flash Express their start, taking them on tour as his backing band after they'd played only one or two local LA shows. Jesus, we ask, how do you guys make that shit happen?

"It's the soul, baby!" beams Waters. "The soul!"

And it seems so biblically true—not just because we're two waffles and a breast into dinner at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles or because Waters has his shirt unbuttoned just enough to show off his gold chain, though, yes, that certainly adds to the effect. It's because these guys have ground up so much bullshit between them—worked it (ask Waters about his career as a gay phone-sex operator—it did wonders for his voice!), talked it, slept in it, slept with it, played it (ask Porter about his bewigged metal-for-cash career or his stint with the Dixie Chicks—in France!), seasoned it with a little hot sauce and ate it for dinner and woke up still tasting it stuck to their gums—that they've broken through to the mythical other side. Dues paid, lessons learned, ladies lost forever. Add it up, and the Flash Express have chops and charisma way, way, way beyond their years.

"We're not art-school kids," Waters says. "We never went to college—I dunno about these guys, but I dropped out of high school. The only thing that ever stuck with me is music, and everyone in the band is the same way."

Now we're leaving a bar—the Frolic Room, where Waters sometimes likes to hang out during the day—after taking a few photos for this article. The bartender is intrigued. He has watched them the whole time, a couple of dudes drinking Black Label and wearing a little bit of leather (the rocker kind, not the metalhead or BDSM kind—as far as we know).

"You a band?" he finally asks.

Waters nods.

"Rock & roll?"

Waters smiles broadly, sliding a tip across the bar. "Strictly, son."

The Flash Express performs with Modey Lemon, the Vexers and the Rolling Blackouts at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292. March 22, 9 p.m. Call for cover. 21+.
 
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