Slavens to the rhythm

As he works his way through a crowded Denton bar on a Thursday night, Paul Slavens looks like a regular guy in his white T-shirt and jeans and brown hiking boots. But when the shaved-headed Slavens takes a seat at the keyboard and opens his mouth to sing, the voice of an old jazz singer comes out. It's not the old jazzer's voice every comedian and uncle thinks they can do -- think Jimmy Durante or Louis Armstrong, all growls and grins. It sounds like the real thing. That may be odd, but that's not the half of it. When he asks the audience for requests and someone shouts "Sympathy for the Devil," Slavens decides to forego the Rolling Stones cover and launches instead into his own story about the plight of the devil. The rest of the Texclectic Unsemble (Reggie Rueffer on violin, Gary Muller on Chapman stick, and drummer Pete Young) joins the former Ten Hands frontman, adding a jazzy, Tin Pan Alley soundtrack to the comic story Slavens is laying out.

Besides performing improvised songs and such covers as "Afternoon Delight," the Unsemble plays originals that sound like Anne Dudley's theme for Jeeves and Wooster -- that is, if Jeeves and Wooster had been drunken sailors instead of a valet and a rich British twit. "The Von Slobbish Tango" and "So Long, Chumley" aren't the kinds of songs one would expect college kids to drink to on a Thursday night, but these songs and the Unsemble itself weren't designed for Dan's Bar, or for any club for that matter. Slavens created the group to provide the music for Dr. Paul Slavens' Texclectic Radio Hour (And a Half), but the Unsemble's popularity (and almost cult-like following) brings it to Dan's every first Monday and Club Dada every last Thursday.

Part old-time radio show, part improv comedy, part jazz concert, The Texclectic Radio Hour features an emcee, a stage manager, The Texclectic Unsemble, and a cast of improvisers who perform both written sketches and impromptu setups. The 60 on-air minutes are "the radio show," with the comedy routines and music, including eight songs by The Texclectic Unsemble. Four songs are originals; the other four are improvised from audience suggestions drawn from a bucket by the emcee. To make sure there is no cheating, the emcee makes the title's author stand up in the audience. There's also a guest -- such as Little Jack Melody, Corn Mo, or Jeffrey Barnes from Brave Combo -- who performs three songs during the show.

Each Texclectic show is recorded on an eight-track, and the off-air parts (such as when the titles are drawn and the stage is readied for the comedy sections) are edited out to make an hourlong radio show with an introduction, a theme song, performances, even commercials. Recently, Slavens mixed the recordings of the past year's shows in Los Angeles. Eventually, he will post some of the edited radio shows on the Texclectic Web site and release CDs.

Meanwhile, the radio show's future is uncertain. Radio Hour (And a Half) played regularly at Fort Worth's Caravan of Dreams until, according to Slavens, the venue began questioning the future of the downstairs area where the show was performed. So Slavens decided to bring a "loose" version of the radio-show format to Club Dada, but since the show was designed for a theater's lighting and stage setup, he says he's still working out the kinks. Of course, improv is working the kinks out as they come; meaning, give Slavens the title "Iron Man," he'll likely give you the story of a horseshoe-maker set to the tune of "Oh Susanna."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Shannon Sutlief

Latest Stories