By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Naomi's is absolutely my favorite place in the world to play," says roots-country hotshot Mary Cutrufello about her return to the club December 14--her first visit since June. "The people there are really salt-of-the-earth types, and I'd do anything to help them out."
Cutrufello has a brilliant new album out--Who to Love and When to Leave--on which she combines the rumble-twang of Bill Kirchen, the soul of Buck Owens, and the edge of Steve Earle, so expect a crush at the little honky-tonk.
It's quite a change from the old days--before Cutrufello went on the road as lead guitarist with space cowboy-cosmic poet Jimmie Dale Gilmore--when she and the Havoline Supremes would draw a half-dozen folks in Deep Ellum. "I remember those nights," Cutrufello says. "There were a lot more of them than you'd think."
With the Southern-rock storytelling of Fever in the Funkhouse this weekend, three of the most popular bands during the late-'80s resurgence of Deep Ellum will have performed this year as if at some surreal music-scene class reunion. Core members of Edie Brickell and New Bohemians continued as the Slip after a jam at Club Dada in March. The original Ten Hands had such a past-blast at the club's 10-year anniversary in September that the (slightly altered) lineup played again in Denton. The Fever will again break where it began this Saturday, December 14.
Fever started when DeSoto teens Nick Brisco (the singer who now fronts Pluto's Winter Review) and Bryan Wakeland (the drummer who this year left Tripping Daisy to join Brisco in PWR) played in cover hair bands with guitarist Chris Claridy (now a sideman for Country Jack Ingram) of rural Red Oak. They later recruited bass player Jim Holbrook (current apex of Fort Worth grunge-pop triangle Eunice) after seeing his ad on the phone pole in front of--Where else?--Club Dada in 1988. Inspired by the Bo's "class act doing their own music," says Brisco, the twentysomethings moved into an Ellum "funkhouse."
Booked by Ten Hands manager Tony Johnson, Fever became the weekly house band at now-cooked 500 Cafe, headlining over Elluments such as Goodfoot and Mildred. Fever opened for national acts such as Lou Ann Barton, and finally for slingshot superstars Edie B. and company at the Bronco Bowl in 1989, the same year the Fever tape Life Stories and Jam was released on Johnson's ESG label.
Courted by majors including RCA and Columbia after showcasing at the March, 1990, South by Southwest festival in Austin, Fever went for "the big money"--an unheard-of $75,000 developmental deal with Polygram. "Not the right door," Brisco says. Fever resented playing second fiddle to Ten Hands, and fired Johnson when he insisted the money machine "sign both bands or no band." After six months of managementless negotiations, Fever inked the deal; three days after that, signing agent Ann Katzenbach was canned by Polygram.
Fever rented a rehearsal space and "spent money like crazy living large," Brisco recalls. Polygram assigned Fever a new rep "who wasn't into us. It's taboo to pick up a band that somebody else discovered. The company would have looked bad because he kept his job and [Katzenbach] didn't." The replacement labelman bought Fever's farewell dinner.
The band resolicited RCA and Columbia. "But we had a four-song demo that would cost them $75,000," says Brisco. Unaware of attending scouts from Chrysalis and elsewhere, Brisco announced Fever's breakup during the band's 31U2 -hour swansong on March 1, 1991, at Trees. The label stress had exacerbated personal disagreements and overinflated egos. "We needed somebody to say 'Shut the fuck up [and] take a month off,'" Brisco says. He considered reconciling with his bandmates, but "things had been said [and] stuff had been printed.
"We hoped that we'd be successful in the way kids playing football dream of winning the Super Bowl," he adds. "Suddenly it's happening, and you see the betrayal." The sudden death was "disrespectful to the time we spent and to each other." Like a funeral, the reunion "is a way to atone for that."
Longtime Fever fans the Biggums (some of whom are Red Oak boys) will open, and Pluto's label Parallax will sell the all-new Fever CD, Then Again--rough old demos, recorded live-to-DAT--and "Finding Out" and "Don't Take It Like That," recorded at Inside Track by Brave Combo chief Carl Finch.
"Everybody's asking us...what'll happen after the show," says Brisco. "But if you plan it, it's gonna burn down."
"I just wanted to get a nice cross section of the kind of music that I enjoy and songs that would sound good together," explains Spanky Lofland, referring to his Dirty Dog Records compilation Texas Style, which features bands like Mean Mean Man, Pump 'N Ethyl, and Riot Squad. It sounds pretty punky, but Lofland "threw in a couple of songs that'll throw you off just when you think you can categorize things." The bands playing on the album are all from Texas, with one notable exception: Seattle group Zeke--principally survivors of Shark Chum--who contribute "The Lord Loves a Man Who Works," a song that clocks in at a peppy 1:20.
"They've got a good Texas following," Lofland says, explaining the presence of the Pacific Northwest interlopers. "They spent a week here this summer, staying with me, and they just went on and on about Texas, how great it is and how much they like it and how it was just not feasible for them to relocate." When asked to define "Texas Style," Lofland demurs. "Aw, I dunno," he says, agreeing that--like pornography--it's one of those things that you know when you hear, or see, or both. The album release party will be Friday, December 13, and should start around 10:30 p.m. Things are not yet firm, but Lofland expects "five or six" of the bands on the album to play. Admission is $1 for 21 and up, $5 for ages 18 to 20.