Spoth the ravin'

Mark Ridlen continues his sonic adventure

The taillight-yellow 10-inch vinyl disc starts out with an almost-ambient collection of various electronic noises--just what you'd expect from Spoth, a group that's a collaboration between Lithium Xmas alum Mark Ridlen (experimental musician and platterman-about-town when he assumes his DJ Rid identity) and Brian Peterman. Ridlen is credited as "conductor" and Peterman as "instrument." The album sounds pretty much like most electronic experimental efforts at first, and then the difference appears, tripping along in the gloppy, melted-caramel cadences of the spectacularly drunk.

As various machine-generated noises plink and spool along behind him, the speaker begins to stagger along a line that dissects some weighty philosophical matters. "There could be something out there that you don't know," he hypothesizes. "And you don't know, 'cause you don't KNOW." The matter seems to be of some anguished import to him; now his voice is more a wail. "You dunn knoh!"

"You're here," he exclaims, recognizing perhaps the profound displacement that modern life can bring, "and I'm there." You can almost hear the wheels turn as he pauses. Wait a sec; I'm here, they're there. There they're. Wha?

But he continues. "I don't know what the homosexuals are doing," he bravely admits. "They could be foolin' me...I bought toilet paper, and I respect my manager...you don't know."

The context of these tanked reveries is clearly that of an answering machine message, but it's easy to be suspicious: in order to get several nuggets like the toilet paper/management pairing, one usually has to sift through quite a bit of dreck. Is this yet another case of someone presenting a rehearsed bit as a found sound?

If only, Ridlen says with a laugh, identifying the caller on his machine as an old friend he'd prefer not to name. "We have hours of that kind of stuff," he says. "This guy would just get totally wasted and then call us, and sometimes he'd fill up a whole side of a cassette tape. Sometimes we'd just sit there and listen to it, and other times it'd be waiting for us when we got in."

Ridlen regards the disc's two pieces--"D.W. Eye" b/w "Pretend I'm Not You," released on local imprint Honey Records--as composing "a very funny, odd little comedy album, kind of like Foster Brooks on PCP. It's really just sort of a collection of all these things that have just been floating around out there--the answering machine tapes, the picture on the back of the album, which is Bob Moog--the guy who invented the moog synthesizer--at SMU demonstrating one of his machines a long time ago."

Although at first Spoth seems a novelty act, more depth appears with repeated listens. "Man, I worked harder on this than any other project I've ever done in my life!" Ridlen exclaims, pointing out with pride his theremin-through-a-wah-wah-pedal part.

All of this is just another way for Ridlen to scratch his music-making itch. In addition to Spoth, he has plans to start his own label and release a new Lithium Xmas album, which he says is almost ready. "We're just waiting on [Greg] Synodis [another Lithium Xmas member] to come back in town and finish one song," he explains, adding that as far as music goes, "I just want to get shit out there."

The Spoth 10-inch is currently available at Pagan Rhythms and Forbidden Books.

Perusin' the blues
If you were in the African American Museum on Saturday, January 24, you may have encountered two men who were obviously in cahoots.

One was Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, a label revered for recording such Texas blues elders as Lightin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Whistlin' Alex Moore. Strachwitz's stroll-mate was local historian Alan Govenar, and the object of their interest was Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound, an exhibition of photos by Govenar that's on view at the museum through March 20.

Included are photos of Moore, the Dallas piano patriarch, in his characteristically eye-popping shirts and plaid pants, in an Oak Cliff music store and hard at his passion--dominoes--at the MLK Center. There's the obscure Pops Overstreet with his off-brand guitar in his Houston living room. Behind his chair sits that consummate symbol of work-life--a two-wheel dolly--that evokes the tone of his existence more accurately than any costly props. There's South Dallas R&B overlord R.L. Griffin when he still had big hair, and shots of fiercely impassioned dancers at blues shows.

"My idea was an exhibit that gives a sense of the life of the blues--not focused on famous performers but on people," says Govenar. "Blues takes on a dynamic in a black club that it doesn't in a concert for a bunch of white college kids."

Govenar visited blues clubs in L.A. (an outpost of Texas blues since the '40s), Houston, and Dallas, snapping away with a camera and flash, too modest to change the tone of the scenes he captured. Besides, he points out, blues clubs have a long history of revelers photographing themselves or having others do so. He cites 1950s Dallas nightlife photog George Keaton, who'd snap shots of clubgoers, then dash out, jump on his motorcycle, and roar home to process the shots, which he'd then bring back to the club.

It's when Govenar describes Keaton that you recognize his thrill. Generally reserved in his demeanor, he gets animated when discussing any of the offbeat types that inhabit the blues. He and Strachwitz are unapologetically hooked on people's stories, and the chronicling of same. Although Strachwitz stopped releasing blues records years ago, he remains an active folklorist who has collaborated with Govenar on three films: Everything But the Squeak (about cajun fiddle-making), La Junta De Los Rios (Tex-Mex border music), and Sacred Steel (steel guitar in black Pentecostal churches).

While Govenar was researching his book Meeting the Blues (Taylor, 1988, reissued on Da Capo), he took his Nikon into the real homes of the blues, which are generally not in the parts of town the Gray Line tours visit. Yet Govenar was unhassled and even welcomed on his photo-treks: "If you move in worlds that mix," he explains, "if you're there for the right reasons, no one's ever gonna challenge you."

These days, one could hardly be blamed for thinking "blues" means Mattel-made SRV imitators and faux jukehouses. The fact is, however, that while high-spoken intentions and government spending don't seem to faze color lines, modest ol' blues can offer access to "worlds that mix" and should be a lesson to us all. The Govenar exhibition is just such a lesson, and highly enjoyable to boot.

--Tim Schuller

Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound will be on display at the African American Museum (3536 Grand) through March 20. For more information call 565-9026.

Horstman goes national
She's played at the wedding of Roger Clinton--the brother who at least used to get in more trouble than Bill--and favorably impressed the First Family, but right now local harpist Cindy Horstman is even more excited about her first album for North Star Music, a small national label. The album, Out of the Blue, contains cuts from her previous, self-released albums Tutone (1997), Fretless (1995), and In Flight (1994), as well as some new material. "In Flight" and "Blue," off of Fretless, were completely re-cut, while the other songs were merely transferred to the new disc with a bit of tweaking by Horstman's longtime producer and bassist Mike Medina.

In addition, three new songs are found on Blue: "Perusia," by local musician Floyd Darling; "There Are No Words," by Andy Timmons; and "Farewell," the solo harp piece (all the other cuts are with a full band) that closes out the disc.

The new album is a good example of the benefits to be gained from a few years toiling in the local trenches: It has a subtle shine that her earlier efforts lack, and--with the exception of the new compositions by Timmons and Darling--contains all original material, without the standards that filled out her previous three releases. With North Star's increased efficiencies in distribution and promotion, this may be the album that finally breaks her unique pop-classical-jazz approach on a national level.

--Matt Weitz

S.P. Leary, 1930--1998
S.P. Leary was the exception to the blues rule about Texans migrating to California while Mississippians went to Chicago. Born in Dallas on June 6, 1930, Leary left Texas by train in 1949 and headed for Chicago to become one of the most respected drummers in that genre's history. He died there on Monday, January 23, of cancer.

Leary went to Dallas' Lincoln High, where he took band under J.R. "Uncle Dud" Miller, the legendarily two-fisted instructor who also mentored James Clay, David "Fathead" Newman, and Cedar Walton. Lloyd Jefferson and Doug Finnell were local lights Leary fondly remembered working with, but his favorite was T-Bone Walker, whom he referred to as "godfather." Bone liked a drummer who was good with brushes and encouraged Leary in that direction; even in his later years, he was The Man to any Chicago youngblood who wished to have lessons in brush technique.

Leary accompanied virtually every blues heavy in Chicago: Wolf, Mud, Spann, Big Walter--everyone. (A little documented delight of 1975 was Leary's duo dates at the club Elsewhere with pianist Erwin Helfer.) He was the prime minimalist, kit-wise. Though he owned rack toms, he never took them to dates, preferring to use only bass, snare, floor tom, and cymbals. With this sparse equipment, he achieved a propulsiveness that was the envy of every drummer who saw him when he was "on." Times were many, however, when he wasn't.

He laconically admitted to being an "ack-olic" unfit for touring, and insiders knew it was all too possible that he'd be boozed to the gills. Yet for a Blue Cat date he did here in '95 with Hash Brown (his first return since the '50s), Leary was "on," a triumphant homecoming that particularly delighted Texas drummer Jason Moeller, who regards Leary as his main influence.

Another drummer who learned from Leary is Mot Dutko, who visited him regularly at his home, and later at Chicago's Trinity Hospital. Ironically, Dutko was on his way home from Junior Wells' funeral when he decided to visit Leary--only hours before his passing. (They'd met back in the '70s, when Leary was on the road with Big Walter.) Dutko cites "No More Doggin'" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," from Biggest Thing Since Colossus (a 1969 Blue Horizon collaboration with Otis Spann and Fleetwood Mac) as object lessons for drummers who want to know just how magnificently Leary could juice a song with a five-stroke roll.

The beat goes on, one supposes, but sans Leary, it will continue with much less vigor.

--Tim Schuller

Scene, Heard
Local guitar hero Bugs Henderson celebrates the release of his new album Henderson and Jones on Saturday, February 21, at Poor David's Pub...There is now a newsgroup dedicated to the DFW-Denton music scene, dfw.music...Cold Blue Steel will be appearing at the Hole in the Wall on Friday, February 20...Daddy's Soul Donut has released Scarecrowes, its new album. Look for it at all Blockbuster and CD Source locations...Bill Shupp, formerly the drummer with Fletcher, is now pounding the skins for the Moon Festival. MF is promising a new album out soon...Hi-Fi Drowning is recording a four-song demo for an MCA tryout in Chicago, with Keith Cleversley (Mercury Rev, Hum, Spiritualized) producing...Stranger Than Fiction is at the Dark Room this Thursday, February 19...Jibe is looking for a new bass player...Transona Five will be appearing at the Barley House Friday, February 20, and reports that it will be putting the final touches on its next full-length album even as you read this...

Street Beat values your e-mail tips, commentary, elucidation, ranting, and white noise at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.

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