Twenty Miles – Blues Explosion Guitarist Sings The Blues… (PRESS, US)

24 May 1997 MTV
Interview with Judah Bauer for the album Twenty Miles & RL Boyce, Othar Turner Fife and Drum Spam.

“Blues Explosion Guitarist Sings The Blues Guitarist Judah Bauer butts heads with legends Boyce, Turner and some guy named “Spam.” by Chris Nelson

Sometimes it’s a fine line to tread between respect for elder musicians and responsibility to your art–especially when you’ve got a whole record to make and only one week to make it in.

That’s what Jon Spencer Blues Explosion guitarist Judah Bauer found out last fall when he trekked to Holly Springs, Mississippi to record an album with local blues legends. Drummer R.L. Boyce, fife master Othar Turner and his drum corps, and a man known only as “Spam” all turn up on the new album Bauer recorded with his brother Donovan under the name Twenty Miles. But the real story is in how they got there.

“They would say, ‘We’re coming by at four–meet me outside the grocery store’, ” Bauer said of the older blues men, his voice a combination of frustration and deference. “I’d go to the grocery store, and no one’s here. We’d go back and hang out and maybe they’d show up the next day. They’d come in the door and be like, ‘I guess you’re ready to play now.’ So we’d play. Then they’d get too drunk to play, and they couldn’t fuckin’ play.

Bauer hooked up with the musicians indirectly through R.L. Burnside, with whom the Blues Explosion recorded an album last year. Burnside records for the Fat Possum label, who put Bauer in touch with the locals.

The result of their sessions are the 10 raw, blues-infected cuts that make up Twenty Miles, released this month jointly by Fat Possum and Epitaph. Bauer calls the disc, most of which was captured on first take, a “sloppy” record. “All the songs I had written before I went down there,” he said, “but they’re all real loose. Because I knew it was going to be an experiment from the get go. I had to figure out how to do the song when I met them, and what they could deal with.

Among his not-so-fond memories of the experience, the guitarist recalls that octogenarian fife player Othar Turner showed up with his drum corps to record at midnight, three days late. Turner’s corps consists of several men, each of whom plays a single percussion piece. “Othar leads them into what to play,” said Bauer, “and when they get in a groove, he starts playing fife. Usually he didn’t feel like playing it ’cause he thought I was too loud. He’s into blues music and he didn’t like what I was doing. Toward the end he started having fun, he started getting into it.

Listeners can hear Tuner blow his pipe twice on Twenty Miles, on the songs “I’m Not A Man” and “Mississippi Bolero.

Bauer said he came to know drummer R.L. Boyce from his work on Feelin’ Good an album by Jessie Mae Hemphill.

Though now a construction worker who concentrates on his guitar chops, Boyce agreed to take part in the sessions with Twenty Miles.

“He kind of wanders over the drums,” said Bauer. “It’s not like a straight riff. He’ll play on the snare, and then he’ll go over to the high hat. On that song ‘She Don’t Know’ you really get to hear that kind of style. He’s just a beautiful, strange cat. I never heard anyone play drums like that.

Also taking a turn behind the kit is Spam, soon to be known for his skills on the debut album by T-Model Ford, Pee-Wee Get My Gun. According to Bauer, Spam is something of a marathon man with the sticks. “If he starts playing, he’ll play all night, for like 10 hours. He’s the best boogie drummer I’ve played with. He’s really hard-hittin’.

Although the Bauer Bros. will be touring as Twenty Miles after the Blues Explosion does its summer stint with the Lollapalooza festival, Judah doesn’t expect his Mississippi cohorts to join them. “I don’t expect these guys to totally jive with what I’m doing,” he said, “because I’m playing white punk and Link Wray, and they’re pretty hard core Delta blues musicians. Othar doesn’t even like playing with electric instruments.

Asked if he plans to record with the crew again, Bauer replies without hesitation, “No, no. Uh-Uh. I’m done. I had my trip, I fought the war. And I paid up front.”