I find myself in an unenviable position this week, having been asked by my sadistic editors to pontificate on the weekend's upcoming HOOTENANNY FESTIVAL. And to tell you fully—right here—about the conflict of interest in doing that: not only is my band (we are, incidentally, the best jump blues band in the world, bar none) playing the fest (albeit billed so low that we get to scrub everyone else's freshly spackled dressing-room toilets after the show is over), but I'm also signed with Hootenanny Recordings, which, of course, is owned by the Hootenanny fest producers along with former Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker.
So imagine being asked to critique your employer or business partner in a public forum, and please, feel my pain. Hence, I must offer another bit of disclosure in preface: I fully confess to wussing out this time. I'm not going to tell you if I think anyone blows this week. I'm gonna be as sunny as Kathie Lee Gifford strutting a Branson stage with a brand-new pair of textured, deeply implanted ben-wa balls working their special magic.
But why wouldn't I be fuckin' delighted about this whole thing anyway, really? Fests like this one and the Viva Las Vegas fete offer wide-spectrum overviews of great American roots-music forms, inclusive of multiple generations and musical variations. This year's Hootenanny offers a jen-yew-wine founding father of rock & roll in BO DIDDLEY; punk/rockabilly/psychobilly/ whatever bigwigs MIKE NESS and the REVEREND HORTON HEAT; the band that was really the catalyst for the whole neo-swing movement, ROYAL CROWN REVUE; roots-rock veterans of the '80s who play across the stylistic board, like DAVE ALVIN, LEE ROCKER, THE PALADINS, JAMES INTVELD and that fat fuckin' loudmouth BUDDY BLUE; hellacious hillbilly revivalists DEKE DICKERSON and THE DERAILERS; reunited local legends THE CADILLAC TRAMPS; beloved rocka-R&B-calypso-lounge-billy-they're-too-weird-to-describe-you-just-gotta-see-'em-for-yourself band RUSSELL SCOTT & THE RED HOTS; plus RATTLED ROOSTERS, HELLBOUND HAYRIDE, HOT ROD LINCOLN, THE BLEEDERS, BASE BOARD HEATERS and CUSTOM MADE SCARE.
Personally, I would have liked to see more blues and at least some straight-ahead jazz represented at the Hootenanny (plus, they need Don & Dewey to get up there and sing "Mammer Jammer at the Hootenanny"!), but what am I supposed to do? Bitch about the guys who are responsible for getting my CDs into stores and paying me for them? Nuh-uhhh! Not me, Jack. I may be a blowhard, but I ain't stupid.
Yours truly is an inveterate geezer worshiper, so Bo Diddley will be the highlight of the Hootenanny for me, of course. Back in the '50s, Diddley took the old "shave-and-a-haircut" ham-bone beat, added tremolo-distorted guitar and an amusing predilection for self-referential braggadocio, thereby setting the pattern for an entire school of rock & roll voodoo rhythm. His huge catalog of tunes yielded dozens of hits for subsequent generations and still reverberates in pop to this day. Diddley also managed to wring a seemingly impossible array of melodic variations and hooks from that simple formula, producing a string of classics that spawned countless covers and/or imitations. Among the best known: "Bo Diddley," "I'm a Man," "You Don't Love Me," "Pretty Thing," "Diddy Wah Diddy," "Road Runner," "Diddley Daddy," "Who Do You Love," "Mona," "Say Man," "Before You Accuse Me," "Hush Your Mouth," "Ride on Josephine" and the sublime "500% More Man." Curiously, of this list, only 1958's "Say Man" ever had a serious run on the pop charts, meaning that Diddley's historic importance and influence on rock & roll have far outpaced his commercial success. But the spoken-word cutting contest "Say Man" (and its follow-ups, "Say Man, Back Again" and "Signifying Blues") also might represent the very first rap record ever produced, so Diddley must bear some burden of blame on his broad, brown shoulders for the so-called [ugh!] "hip-hop nation."
Other profiles in the conflict-of-interest sweepstakes: Dave Alvin represents another Hootenanny high point for me. Yes, yes, I freely admit that Alvin and I have been friends for an embarrassing number of years and he has played on two of my albums, but that has nothing to do with my opinion of his music. By any yardstick, Alvin's post-Blasters work has steadily evolved toward high-burnished notability, which became fully realized on last year's career-best Blackjack David album. Unlike many roots acts who merely ape archaic genres rather than adding anything of their own to the oeuvre, Alvin harvests little bits of country and Cajun here, picks some blues and folk influence there, adds a couple of shots of pure rock & roll energy, and finally emerges with a music all his own. His singing and songwriting skills improve with each subsequent CD release and tour, making Alvin one of the truly great (if underappreciated) acts of the '90s. I firmly believe that if he doesn't get the acclaim he deserves in this lifetime, Alvin's name will be mentioned alongside writers like John Fogerty, Randy Newman and John Prine when he's gone.
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Another fave is Lee Rocker, who . . . uhhh . . . well, yeah, actually, he's the one who signed me to Hootenanny. But look—seriously—I was telling Weekly readers that this guy was doing great work before I knew him or shared any business interests, so I ain't about to say he sucks now just to make myself appear beyond reproach. Or say nothing at all and let him labor wonderfully in anonymity. In fact, I've seen Rocker's act thrice in the past year, and it has improved each time. Rocker is clearly among the best, most aggressive upright bassists in the biz, he's a powerful singer, his band is graced by one mighty mite of a guitar god in Adrian Demain, and the group puts on an exciting, high-energy show. But most important, Rocker writes happening tunes like "Rumblin' Bass," "Miracle in Memphis" and "Love Me Good," which stay true to rockabilly without falling victim to its many clichs.
I'm also partial to Russell Scott & the Red Hots, who have the audacity to cover Gene Vincent, the Beatles, Harry Belafonte, Clyde McPhatter and Frank Sinatra, all in the course of a single evening. I saw the group recently—right before Gene the guitarist left the fold—so I cannot comment on what they sound like now beyond happily reporting that Scott's lovely, flexible voice seemed fully recovered from the disturbing rasp that plagued it last year. I should also report that, uhhh . . . Scott is a Hootenanny Records label mate of mine. BUT I LIKED HIM BEFORE THAT!
Hey, you know what? I'm tired of shrinking away from a personal association with Hootenanny, which is cool enough to put on this hot-shit fest every year and sign up great acts like Russell Scott, the Paladins and ME! HOOTENANNY KICKS ASS, DOOD! And that's just how things are.
Hootenanny at Oak Canyon Ranch, 5305 Santiago Canyon Rd., Irvine, (714) 991-2055. Sat., 11 a.m. $32.50. All ages.