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In the bluesy cult duo called Doo Rag, Bob Log III handles guitar and vocal duties while his twisted partner, percussionist Thermos Malling, pounds on everything in sight. Malling, however, isn't part of Log's current solo tour--and Log admits that keeping a beat without him has proven to be a fairly difficult proposition.
In the beginning, Log says, "I just started putting my guitar case on the floor, and then I'd put a mike through it, turn it up and step on it. But I was going through, like, three guitar cases a week, so that wasn't working out so well." As a result, Log rigged himself up as a one-man band. "I got one bass drum on my foot, a button on my other foot, a slide on my finger and a motorcycle helmet on my head," he notes. "It's just what you can do with one man, a guitar and a foot."
School Bus, Log's solo debut on the Fat Possum imprint, is similarly unpretentious: One of the tracks on the album was laid down in the ladies' restroom of a movie house in Tucson, Arizona. Lyrically, Log doesn't take himself too seriously--titles such as "Big Ass Hard On" and "I Want Your Shit on My Leg" tell you everything you need to know about his approach--but his rural guitar style fits his strange ruminations perfectly. Add Log's singing (a distorted howl produced by telephone mikes built into his helmet), and the result is barnyard blues that would sound good in a perverse Russ Meyer film set in the backwoods South.
Log is no blues purist: Rather, his approach feeds the country blues through the postmodern punk aesthetic. He has great reverence for rootsy Delta blues artists such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, many of whose albums are also on Fat Possum, but he sees no reason to imitate them. "I guess I could get up and play R.L. songs note for note, but I really don't want to do that," he says. "I want to do something different.
"If you're up there playing 'Dust My Broom,' I don't know what the hell you think you're doing," he continues. "I probably wouldn't listen to it, but a lot of people like to listen to that crap--some I-IV-V that everybody knows. Every town is going to have their rockabilly cover band, their swing band, their blues band and their white-boy blues band. But if you want to try and take it somewhere, you're not going to play shit everybody knows. I know that's not what I'm doing. If someone can play any one of my songs, I'd like to see it. I'll pay money if people can play one of these fucking songs."
Doo Rag wasn't always so allergic to doing covers. When Log and Malling started performing together in 1991, they specialized in translating tunes by such blues legends as Sleepy John Estes and Lightnin' Hopkins for passersby on the streets of Tucson. "The hotdog guy hated us," Log remembers. "He was like, 'If you guys play that fucking song one more time, I'm going to come over there and ram these fucking tongs right up your fucking nostril.'"
In those days, the two considered themselves lucky to come away from a day of busking with enough money for cigarettes and cheap beer. But before long, they were winning praise for their unique sound--a bastard hybrid of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Captain Beefheart--and a wild stage show that they honed during their first American tour, a 1993 trip spent opening for Crash Worship. "It was the most insane summer camp I ever experienced," Log enthuses. "I would say it was one helluva way to see the country, since everyone was buck naked and lighting their clothes on fire. I mean, the first time I'd ever been to Minnesota, everybody was butt naked and lighting their fucking shit on fire--and the first time I went down to Mississippi, everybody was lighting their clothes on fire, too. America is a fucking weird place."
The band's travels helped it attract a diverse collection of fans, including Beck, the Jesus Lizard and the organizers of the Lollapalooza festival, who added Doo Rag to the fest's 1995 bill. "We had to be on by noon," Log says. "So we pretty much had to show up and drink beer by 11:30 and then hang out until 9:00. So after about six shows, we were pretty much pulling ourselves around by our lips." Doo Rag shared a tent for most of its Lollapalooza stint with musicians and hangers-on associated with rapper Coolio. The arrangement worked out for the most part, but Log recalls a notable exception. "I'd learned how to open beer bottles with my lighter. So one of Coolio's dudes shows up and sees that I'm showing off in front of all the ladies. I was like, 'Look at me, I open beer bottles.' He was like, 'Open one of these for me,' so I got down and I popped it open, and the motherfucking cap flew right into his eyeball--and we'd just met him. I was like, 'Fuck, I've been here ten minutes and I'm already in a fight with Coolio's crew.'"
Such shenanigans crop up frequently in Doo Rag's history. On one occasion, for instance, Log and Malling were briefly jailed after they successfully jammed German radio for over an hour with a noisy broadcast that sounded like the Butthole Surfers presiding over an orgy of young fräuleins. (The incident is documented on "Radio Free Hamburg," a cut from Doo Rag's 1995 full-length What We Do.) Still, the notoriety gained by such experiences didn't bring Doo Rag any closer to a record deal--which was fine by Log, who takes pride in the number of recordings he and Malling sold out of the back of their van. He was receptive, though, when Fat Possum's Matthew Johnson offered to ink him on the strength of solo shows he did alongside Burnside and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. At first Log wasn't sure he could go it alone, but, he says, "I started playing with my foot and it worked. I was like, 'Shit, I've got 28 songs here. I'll send out a few and see what happens.'"
The arrival of School Bus doesn't mean that Doo Rag is no more; in fact, Log hopes that Fat Possum will eventually put out discs by the group. But right now he's facing the challenge of establishing his identity beyond his work with Malling. In a slightly mocking tone, he declares that he's part of "the guitar tradition. I don't know if that puts me in with Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen, but I'll take them on. Come on, let's go. Put a trap and drums on that foot, motherfucker." Playing has "turned into a fucking sport for me," he goes on. "You don't even know. It's like I need a halftime. Sometimes it's more like sprinting, because a lot of them are fast songs. After sitting there and doing that for forty minutes, it feels good to get up and walk around."
Unfortunately, Log's exertions haven't always helped him broaden his audience. As an example, he cites a recent gig he shared with Ani DiFranco (or, as he calls her, "Anita Franco"). He concedes that DiFranco's fans were among the nicest he's ever met, but he complains that "I had to drink beer while hiding in the shower." He adds, "No one bought my tube tops, but they all went crazy for that Anita Franco shit."
Maybe Log will have better luck in Europe, where he says he's booked shows "with some circuses and some traveling bears." In the meantime, he's learning to appreciate having a percussionist at the end of his leg. After all, he points out, "my foot doesn't drink beer."
Bob Log III, with Lonesome Dan Kase. 9 p.m. Saturday, November 7, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $5, 303-572-0822.