By Jim Schutze
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Slavens' first audition was for the Lotto spots, and he got a gig right then, playing an insane pirate. Since then, he's done a number of spots as well as voice-overs for popular electronic games like Doom.
"They usually hire me because I can do...um...those things," Slavens speculates, referring to the eye-popping, face-morphing theatrics familiar to Ten Hands friends and detractors alike. "It's perfect for a musician," he says of the acting. "You put in not a lot of time--except for auditions, really--and then you usually just work a day; the paychecks last much longer."
When not spazzing out in the name of legalized gambling, Slavens continues work on the Green Romance Orchestra, his project with Abbruzzese, and his "Freak Show."
"What I'd like to do is get something going that's regular, that people might want to go to more than once," he says of the please-use-yer-coasters-cabaret-from-hell concept of "Freak Show," "and then have guests, so that it's different enough that they can go to more than one show."
The one-man-show philosophy behind "Freak Show" is a bit of a departure for Slavens. "When I was in Ten Hands, I thought the secret was to play, play, play, play," Slavens admits. "That just isn't the case anymore; I think you're just as well off sitting by yourself, working on your own thing."
Rat pack come home
The Red Jacket--current cool spot that got quite a bit of ink when it opened at the site of the old Fish Dance on Lower Greenville Avenue, putting the former danceteria's 20-times-life-size James Brown to sleep beneath a blanket of midnight blue paint--has gotten into the lounge revival with a summerlong series featuring noted Fort Worth saxman Johnny Reno.
Reno, who has spent the last several years touring with Chris Isaak, first got interested in older, smoother musical forms through friends with Los Angeles swing revivalists Royal Crown Revue. "They had this thing called the Royal Crown Trio, which was more stripped down and had more Sinatra-style crooning," Reno recalls. "I remembered when that was what I wanted to do, so I started looking into it." Last year Reno hung out in San Francisco with Jimmy Pugh, Robert Cray's Hammond organ player. "We both liked that old Jimmy Smith stuff...We were talking about making an album, but we just ended up jamming."
When Reno returned to Texas, he brought his new interest with him. It wasn't just a matter of putting together a band and buying a cool jacket from the Salvation Army, though. "It's more of a personal thing, more up close, and there was no place around here where you could pull it off."
John Kenyon, longtime area club impresario, co-owns the Red Jacket and provided most of the inspiration and guidance for the club's design, basing it on a notorious mixed-race bar by the same name that was across Maple Avenue from the Stoneleigh Hotel in the late '50s and '60s. An underage Kenyon used to sneak into the old Red Jacket--also patronized by Jack Ruby--savoring its air of danger, once dashing out the back door as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission came in the front.
Kenyon commissioned old friend, West-textured musician and artist Terry Allen, to design the club's interior, telling him tales of his boyhood haunt and even making a tape of cool bar scenes from favorite movies. The result is a dark space, multileveled and red-lit, punctuated with go-go platforms and other touchstones of '60s nightclub cheese.
"I love designing and building spaces," Kenyon says. "I've always liked movies, and that idea of entering an entire other world; I think you can get that when you walk in a club, too, if you do it right. I pride myself on having dance clubs that don't insult your intelligence...and I don't really have any word biases--a disco to me is a music club, a place to dance."
"The Red Jacket was perfect," Reno says, recalling his first reaction to seeing the new space. "I knew (Kenyon) was looking for live music, so I approached him, told him that his club would be ideal for some sort of lounge thing, that we could work in some acid jazz, B-3 stuff, and everything. He said 'yes'; not many club owners would have the vision or be willing to take the chance on a whole summer series, but he did."
The closer, more personal vibe is still paramount. "When you come to the club, you'll notice that I don't set up on the dance floor, I set up around the corner, among the tables, where you can see the looks on people's faces," Reno explains. "I really dig this stuff, and it's a challenge to try to learn how to play a certain way; I want to work in some jazz and just generally explore. A lot of the music is really cool and sophisticated. I don't want to be so campy, like a lot of these guys are...I want the artists and the audience to take it seriously." Backing Reno up will be Paul Boll on guitar, drummer Jeff Howe, and Eric 'Scorch' Scortia on the Hammond B-3; they'll perform every Thursday evening this summer.