From the way JOHN BATES sounds over the phone, you'd never guess that this guy would be capable of the raucous, hair-raising, spine-tingling, flame-throwing brand of rock and roll for which he is known. He's polite and articulate with hardly a trace of attitude. In fact, this Vancouver, B.C., rockabilly prince's demeanor seems more compatible with his button-down day job secret identity (the nature of which I've sworn not to divulge) than with his hell-raiser-with-a-six-string alter ego. Or is it the other way around? Who is the real Big John Bates? Hint: He and his band are heading our way for a gig at Ichabod's this Saturday.
Bates says that, according to his mom (a reliable source if there ever was one), he was profoundly transformed by early exposure to rock music -- the hard stuff.
"My mother told me when I was 15, I was on my way to buy tickets to some concert on my bicycle. I guess I tried to jump off the curb and my forks broke so I drove my face right into the ground. I was actually hospitalized in a coma for a little while."
All for the love of rock and roll.
"Yeah, I was all excited to go to my first concert. Whoo hoo! Thunk."
But don't get all weepy just yet -- this heartbreaker has a happy ending. He was released from the hospital in time to make the show. And Bates soon discovered a healthy and socially acceptable (for the most part) method of expression.
Even his mom could see the change.
"She always tells me, 'You've been different ever since. You weren't put right. You were put wrong.' "
After years of experimenting with sounds from metal to punk, Bates fell in love with the primal throb, treble-y twang and maniacal howl of the Cramps and the psychobilly of the Reverend Horton Heat. Thus he embarked on his own re-interpretation of the rockabilly aesthetic, brewing up a B-movie-inspired brand of raunch and roll that would make Lux and the Rev proud. With song titles such as "Kitten With a Whip," "Voodoo Bar-B-Q" and "Devil Tail Sauce," the point is driven home.
"It's nice because it's the exact opposite of all that shit you hear on MTV, right? It's not Britney Spears. It's a whole other side. It's like, here's three people sweating it out in a room together at the same time."
Has modern rock and pop lost its vitality?
"A lot of it has, yeah. But that's kind of good. It gives us a reason to exist."
Bates' current band is a study in instrumental understatement, comprised of Brian Irwin on drum kit, Caroline on hollow-body stand-up bass and Big John, of course, on guitar and vocals.
And for you lo-fi tech heads out there, you'll be pleased as heck with the warm, dirty sound of Big John Bates' self-titled, self-produced debut disc. As the album's liner notes proudly states, the "greasy little number" was recorded live using the most primitive gear Big John and the band could lay their hands on.
"We used old two-inch machines in this studio with some real wicked old stuff. Instead of a reverb box, they've got a room with this gold plate. Plate reverb. The real deal. We had all analog compressors and some ancient mixing board."
As revved up and grimy as Bates and his disciples sound on their longplayer, it's nothing compared to the mayhem of a live Big John Bates experience. Aside from the antics of the three principals, there are the provocative, slinky maneuvers of dual go-go dancers -- the Voodoo Dolls -- to contend with.
"They're something else," says Bates. "We have two girls, and they're each six feet tall. We do a little fire show, too, which is kind of fun."
Fire? Suddenly, I remember seeing flames leaping up from the stage in a live clip on the band's Web site www.bigjohnbates.com.
"No, that was us setting the drums on fire," laughs Bates. "Yeah, we like to use it. Some places we can and some places we can't. I think we can at Ichabod's. Then we're playing Bert's Tiki Lounge in Salt Lake and they have a palm frond ceiling so..."
He laughs again.
"I don't know. That might go up."
Big John Bates performs with Loaded and DQYDJ on Saturday, March 10, at 8 pm at Ichabod's. Cover: $7. Call: 328-5720.
Speaking of secret identities, just who in blazes is JOMBO SCHLONDORF? Maybe a better question would be, what in blazes is Jombo Schlondorf? I received a J.S. CD recently with an enigmatic stick man on the cover. I could swear he was sort of leering at me. I had to get to the bottom of this. So I made some calls.
"It's the name of a band, and it's also the name of a wood sculpture that I made," explains Patrick Klausen, the creative force behind both entities.
Ah, but which came first?
"The wood sculpture. As for the band, I had written all these tunes that I've wanted to record for a long time. I finally finished that project last summer and needed a name for it. So I just kind of threw it together. I've been in music long enough to know that in order to get any satisfaction out of playing music, you have to kind of have fun with it. And be really visible, too."
Jombo Schlondorf the band will be performing at Hastings on North Division Friday night at 7 pm. The group is an amalgam of local talent, their sound characterized by eclecticism and variety. The album, written and produced by Klausen, incorporates folk, blues, pop, rock and alternative styles. The band members include Klausen (who by day is production director for KPBX) on bass, guitar and vocals, Carlos Alden (one of the Celtic Nots) on guitar, bass, mandolin and cittern, Michael Moon Bear on percussion and Rory Marrero (of Charlie Butts and the Filtertips) on keyboards.
But what of Jombo Schlondorf the sculpture?
"Jombo Schlondorf is also going to be the band's mascot," says Klausen. "He will be at all of our shows. I've been working on him in my basement for the last couple of weeks, just making sure that he's strong enough to go with us. He stands on three legs basically, and if he falls over, his face gets all munched."
& & & lt;i & Jombo Schlondorf performs at the North Division Hastings on Friday, March 9, at 7 pm. Free. Call: 483-2154. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &