Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jim Colegrove & the New Rough Riders of a Dirty Age's "3 Quarter Dime"

Ohio native Jim Colegrove started rockin' when I was still wearing triangular pants, and made his first record -- the muy collectable "Tomahawk," with Teddy and the Rough Riders -- the year Elvis went in the Army. By the end of the '60s, he'd made his way to Woodstock, where he made records with Cream producer Felix Pappalardi (Jim's fellow Ohio expat, drummer N.D. Smart II, played drums on Leslie West's Mountain album!) and played with Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia Tyson in their country-rock band the Great Speckled Bird (whose 1970 performance you can see in the Festival Express doco).

I first encountered Colegrove in 1978, when I moved to Fort Worth (where he'd relocated in the mid-'70s after meeting Stephen Bruton in Woodstock) and saw him playing a mixture of jump blues, rockabilly, and Louisiana swamp pop with the Juke Jumpers. Back then, Jim used to work at Slim Richey's record distributorship on Vickery Boulevard, where I used to see him whenever I went to trade albums with his coworker Jim Yanaway. For the past decade or so, I've followed the progress of Jim's band Lost Country, which is rootsy in a way that reflects his time in Woodstock (particularly in his songwriting and Levon Helm-esque vocalismo).

Imagine my surprise, then, when this CD arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Because 3 Quarter Dime, helpfully subtitled Rock 'n' Roll Instrumentals (truth in advertising!) is a throwback, all the way to the music Jim was playing at the beginning of his career. While his music has grown more song- and vocal-oriented over the years, this record is, quite simply, a love letter to the sound of the electric guitar. Susan Surftone's Shore, which I reviewed last year, reminded me of the continued vitality of this kind of music, as did the late Robin Sylar's Surfabilly project.

Colegrove's foray into the genre, recorded at home with help from estimable tub-thumper Linda Waring (who once shared stages at the notorious Cellar clubs with John Nitzinger and the late Bugs Henderson) and his Lost Country bandmates David McMillan (steel guitar) and Rob Caslin (bass), is a veritable primer of classic styles -- an interested person who's new to this could learn a lot by researching the list of guitarists Colegrove cites in his liner notes -- and heap big fun.

Opener "Chinese Launch" is a variation on the "What'd I Say" theme that's demented enough to have fit on Robin Sylar's decade-old Tricked Out disc. "Assisted Twister" features a wobbly whammy bar hook and dry-toned blues licks that hang ten on Ware's relentless rhythm, while the moody minor-key slow drag "Lost River" unfolds melodramatically, with a sinister-sounding undercurrent of baritone guitar. You can do the Pachuco hop to "Wooly Gully," of which Domingo Samudio would approve. On the title track, Caslin shadows Colegrove on the tortuous staccato line, then the leader overdubs a slower contrapuntal melody, while on "Bean Pot," Colegrove plays nifty harmonized lines that sound like the Allman Brothers' guitarists entertaining at a Gulf Coast Spring Break beach party over a beat that Ware borrowed from ZZ Top's "Under Pressure."

"Tree House Days" recycles the lush I-VI-IV-V chord progression from every song written between 1958 and 1962, with clouds of celestial steel courtesy of McMillan, leading into the hard-edged Freddy (not Freddie) King shuffle of "Blue Gin." "Vigilante Hoedown" has a bumpa-chicka beat worthy of Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two, but Colegrove plays a lot flashier than Luther Perkins ever thought about being. When the bari guitar comes in for the bridge, all bets are off. "Shadooka" almost sounds like a power pop song in search of a vocal; maybe Caslin could rework it for his other other band, Great American Novel?

3 Quarter Dime is heartily recommended to anyone who loves rock guitar and has an interest in what it sounded like before Mike Bloomfield and Jeff Beck showed up. In my perfect world that I know doesn't really exist, I'd love to see this band share a bill with Jim's Modern Art Museum coworker John Nuckels' dub outfit Wire Nest, or once-and-future-Nervebreaker Mike Haskins' like-minded Big Guns from Big D, or even young hotshots the Fungi Girls. Turn it up, open the windows, and who knows? You could get a party started.


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