|Interview with Jam Messengers in which Rob K mentions Jon Spencer, The Workdogs, Gibson Bros. and much of his musical history.
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Rob K from Workdogs doing outrageous yoga blues backed
by Marco of Brazil’s Thee Butcher’s Orchestra… not to be missed!
To me, Rob K & the Workdogs are legendary if only for their Roberta album and the collaborative album they did with the Gibson Brothers- Punk Rock Truck Driving Song Of A Gun. Although the Workdogs have split up and Rob K now resides in Volcano, Hawaii, he’s teamed up with Marco Butcher of Sao Paolo’s Thee Butcher’s Orchestra as a two-man blues juggernaut spreading the gospel across the USA.
To get a little background, we did a short chat with Marco & Rob at the Goner store in advance of their gig…
The players: Goner=Eric, RK= Rob Kennedy aka Rob K, MB= Marco Butcher
Goner: We’re here with Rob K & Marco Butcher on tour with the Jam Messengers, coming back to Memphis, TN on the 12th, to play at Goner Records.
Goner: So. you guys started in New Orleans, coming North?
RK: Well, we’re traveling with Slate Dump, who’s a one-man band from West Virginia, so we’re going up there with him. A lot of this is kinda to show Marco a lot of blues country, so we’ve been hitting a lot of history sites, cause coming from Brazil it’s nice to see this for him. He’s a Delta player, he’s a slide man, you know, and it’s nice to do that with Jason from Slate Dump. And then when we get done with that we head off to my old stomping grounds & hit Philly, New York & DC and do the Northeast thing. And when we get done with that, beeline back to New Orleans to drop off the rental car back but stopping here in Memphis to do the show.
Goner: Marco, you’re all the way from Brazil, have you been playing in the States before?
MB: Yeah, I did. Around 2005 I lived around Knoxville, played a couple of shows around there, got to Nashville and a really little city, Pigeon Forge? Then after that I went to New York City, played a couple of shows there.
Goner: You had a band in Sao Paolo…
MB: Yeah, Thee Butcher’s Orchestra, it was my main band for like 14 years, before I started working with Rob.
RK: They’re really big down there. They’re really great band, too. They’re… excuse me friends. but Thee Butcher’s Orchestra is one of the great electric rock n roll bands that you’ve never heard of. I’m not shitting you.
Thee Butchers’ Orchestra – 99 from Jean de Oliveira on Vimeo.
Goner: Still going?
MB: Well we’ll occasionally do reunions & stuff but it hasn’t existed since 2004.
Goner: You had records on Estrus…
MB: Voodoo Rhythm label had a couple of records, Estrus, No Fun from Detroit, some Japanese labels…
Goner: So how did you hook up with Rob K?
MB: Well I wrote Rob like 15 years ago. I used to do this fanzine thing, way before the internet… so I wrote Rob trying to get a Workdogs interview for the fanzine. He wrote me back, we started talking, then lost contact. I found Rob on Myspace, and we just got together again and at the time we were both without bands so we said “let’s do it.” So I sent Rob a track via mp3 and four hours later he sent the track done – vocals, backing vocals and all that. And I said “yeah that’s cool.” And then I started a process, where every single day I have a new song, that’s why we called the first record 24 Hours…
RK: …the problem, as you probably know, with doing shit over the net is how to make it sound spontaneous & raw – it’s so easy to think about digital shit too much. So when the first one went that good that fast I kind of made a self-imposed rule, where I might listen to the stuff for a day or two before I started working on it but once I started working on it I’d have to complete it in 24 hours. So that I wouldn’t get lost in thinking about it so I could really go off the top of my head. Of course that’s why they’re all about sex, too! Cause when you try to contain something off the top of your head your first thought is always nookie, I guess.
Goner: So, a little bit of history, you were in the Workdogs and before that…
RK: I started out DC in ’75 with a band called the Chumps that kinda later went on to be the core of Half Japanese besides Jad & David Fair. That happened kinda after I left of town. I got restless, DC was a hard place for me, so I went on to LA, and those guys went on with Half Jap. I eventually made my way back to New York, and after a couple years of hanging out with the drummer that ended up being the other half of the Workdogs, we were working together doing construction, listening to a lot of blues and just decided “Man, let’s do that” instead of the punk rock that we’d been playing. And happily right around the same time there were two or three other people doing interesting shit like Panther Burns & Gibson Brothers and shit like that, and so we were able to connect with the Gibsons and Scott toured with the Tav as a drummer for a while. It was real small at first, the people that were into this kind of stuff.
Goner: I guess there was the Cramps up there…
RK: Well the Cramps had left New York, they were long gone, they were I think in LA by then. We all loved Psychedelic Jungle and everything but they were already gone from New York. I don’t even think that had been recorded in New York. I had been watching the Cramps from right at the front end of punk rock. In fact I interviewed them for a fanzine I worked on in DC and I got heaved out of- what was ultimately the 9:30 -but the Atlantis club and I was banned there for eons because of Lux & Ivy and the smack we talked about the club and stuff in the fanzine. I loved them, but again- I’m an old man – I was at Woodstock. So I came to punk rock kinda late anyway, and I had been all about blues while I was waiting for rock n roll to get interesting again. After the initial push of the cool bands in the 60s I’d been listening to John Lee Hooker & Elmore James & all that shit anyway, so to me, punk was like “whoah that’s a nice kick in the ass” but I was still listening to a lot of blues.
Goner: A lot of people know about Memphis music now through Jeffrey Evans… how did you hook up with the Gibson Brothers?
RK: The Gibsons.. like I said we were running a sorta parallel path and – in Hoboken for a long time we had a really great record store Pier Platters and I used to hang out and know all the guys there- and they were like “you gotta hear this Gibson Brothers, it’s really cool- it’s like what you guys do” so they played it for me and I loved it, bought the record. Not too long after, the Gibsons came through and played at CB’s, and I think they were really nervous, it might have been one of their first New York shows, they got really fucking drunk and quite frankly they did play pretty badly, I will say. But on the other hand the energy was there and The Workdogs were all about getting loaded and having a great time- playing it perfectly wasn’t our priority, either, of course. So I loved it, I thought they were fucking fantastic and I told them so at the time, but I think Jeff and
Don were so loaded they didn’t even hear it. I got Build A Raft from them there and started listening to it and thought “Goddamn these guys are fucking great.” So basically I wrote ’em a note to say that and that I had seen ’em at CBs and Don wrote me back and was like “You’re like the only guy in the world who believes this so I think you’re great” or something like that. So we had a correspondence for a while and then started knocking around this idea of making this dirty blues compilation with the Gibsons and the Workdogs.
The Dogs used to do a lot of drugs. So we had gone down to Florida to dry out and make some money. Which we did. So we had money in the pocket, and we had made the arrangements. So we bounced up to Columbus and recorded at Mus-i-col with those guys and did the thing there. By the time we got up there, like, Don had one dirty song and I had one dirty song, but meanwhile Scott & I – while we had been driving in Florida and all over the highways – we had been listening to Red Sovine and stuff like that- so we decided “instead of doing the dirty record let’s make it a truck driving record instead.” So that’s what we ended up doing.
And then we gigged with them- a bunch of times – Maxwells & Pyramid club and this and that.
Jeff of course is brilliant, love him. He send me some stuff for Workdogs In Hell, which was a compilation thing I was doing. Don just recently me some stuff for the Purgatory one which I’ve been working on as a follow-up. He sent me some Wooden Tit.
We had a nice run with the Gibsons, and with Jon (Spencer), and there was a nice little incestuous circle with that for a while, too.
Goner: Workdogs had other records… The Roberta record is brilliant.
RK: Thanks, thanks. That was Okra Records, and then reissued on cd on Sympathy.
Goner: That song “Roberta” is epic.
RK: It is epic! (laughs) There’s all kinds of sick stories about it… when we remixed the fucker we stole the tapes back from Kramer and took ’em down to North Carolina where Scott was from, to mix ’em. We had this song (“Roberta”) we didn’t know what to do with, we didn’t really know how to cut tape, we had put all these people on it and shit. And we had multiple legal pad pages with all the mix moves we had to make and we were eating espresso beans and shit. It took us 24 hours to mix that one song. We were up for 24 hours.
We used to do that song live… We had a residency at Max Fish for five years, that’s when we stopped touring but we played every month, always with different sidemen every month. So like 50 of the greatest players in New York in a 5 year stretch.
Goner: So you ended up in Hawaii, so touring is not as frequent…
RK: It’s hard to make the nut to get airfare out of Hawaii, and as you know, Hawaii is not a really generous place to rock n roll. I love Hawaiian music and I jam with Grammy-award winning Hawaiian musicians, but I don’t sing with ’em, I just get to play bass. I can’t sing no falsetto, and this voice that I use doesn’t work with Hawaiian music!
I went out there ’cause there was a place in New York called the Love Club and it was run by a woman from Hawaii named Keiko Bonk, and for a while she was the highest-elected Green Party person in the United States, she was chair of the council on the Big Island and a real good friend. And so the Love Club was like one of our our homes away from home, we played there a lot, opened for a lot of people, Pontiac Brothers and a lot of interesting bands. The AIDS thing got really bad in New York and we lost a lot of friends during that time and Keiko kinda couldn’t really take it and moved back to Hawaii. And we started going back to visit her and realized that at the very least it was somewhere I wanted to end up.
When I went there I didn’t think it was gonna be so hard to turn my back on music, to tell you the truth. I was kinda sick of New York, sick of the music scene, the Workdogs had worked pretty hard for not much, to be honest, and it’s not like I’m in it for, you know, however much you might get, but the shit wears you the fuck out after a while. And so I thought I was in retirement and then Marco started sending me these songs and by the time we had recorded 6 or 8 of the 24 Hours he had sold it to a label, so now we needed 6 or 8 more. He was whipping it on me, so I whipped this shit out and then he was like “Now we gotta tour!”
The bottom line is he’s a really great riffmeister, Marco’s a total natural, doesn’t even know the names of his strings, he’s an ear player and a total bluesman, he really is. Being in Hawaii and hearing the worst of American rock if I even bothered to listen to the radio, it was great to hear this totally raw shit, and I got really inspired and it was really stimulating to be writing all these songs.
Marco, I go to his Myspace ’cause he was one of my first Myspace friends, and it’s all Burlesque girls and titty girls and I get this vision of Brazil as this martini & bikini place and I end up writing about this imaginary Brazil in my mind and then I get down there and find out it’s a little different…
It’s a little different but Brazil is awesome. Sao Paolo is probably one of the rockingest cities in the world, it’s still got a lot of that rock n roll spirit and you see kids on the subway with their guitars going to rehearsal spaces. You hardly see that in New York any more.