Better Red Than Dead
"My balls are smokin', my ass is on fire," sings ex-Throttlemen leader Rex Moser, who's fronting a new band, Jetredball. "Hot chili, it's you I desire."
If the first image this lyrical slice from the song "Hot Chili" arouses in you is a smiling portrait of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover that Moser, electric bassist Marty Parrot and drummer Tim Kaesmacher (once the timekeeper for the Jinns and the Hillbilly Hellcats) support poetry like this with a special blend of clean, rockabilly-and-surf-inspired instrumentation. But mention this observation to Moser at your peril. In his opinion, Jetredball isn't a rockabilly band.
"A lot of people think true rockabilly is no drums, stand-up bass, rhythm guitar and that's it," he says. "The rockabilly insiders in Denver--they're purists. They hate the kind of music I play. They hated the Throttlemen...I think it's the drums."
This reaction is one of the primary reasons Moser has gone to such pains to invent his own label for Jetredball's style: "psychobilly surf punk." Unfortunately, many listeners won't find the term an adequate, or accurate, designation. After all, more than half of Jetredball's songs would better accompany a refreshing glass of lemonade than they would a bottle of Mad Dog. If you listen to "Hillbilly Girl," a typical tune, you'll find yourself making comparisons to early Elvis, not the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
However, calling Jetredball "surf punk" would be an even bigger mistake. Although Moser successfully transmits a greater quantity of "surf" through Jetredball than he ever did in the Throttlemen or the Flatlanders, another previous project, the "punk" descriptor just doesn't stick to these cats. When Moser backs away from the microphone to let his guitar take over on "Half Pipe," you won't hear Man or Astroman-style wildness. Rather, the results suggest the more polished sounds of the Ventures or Satan's Pilgrims, whose carefully articulated notes flow like a fast stream of honey from the players' Fender amplifiers.
"Rockabillies don't like surf," complains Moser, who's still struggling to find a niche audience for Jetredball's vintage mix. "They'll say, 'You just played a surf song! What the fuck?'"
Moser's experience in Denver rock and roll adds to his eclecticism. "I carry some of my songs over from previous bands," he admits. "If I get my notes out, I've probably got a hundred songs or more. I'll teach these guys [Parrot and Kaesmacher] about fifty of them, and then we'll be able to play a completely different set over the course of two or three different gigs. Or we'll play all night, which I haven't done in a while. We used to do that in the Flatlanders."
Those lucky listeners who've already discovered Jetredball would surely jump at the chance to see such a marathon concert. Many members of the roots-music scene play a monotonous stream of interchangeable songs, but the average Jetredball set brims with the unexpected. Before the night is done, fans who started out dancing to rockabilly will have drowned their sorrows to a slow country ballad, hung ten with Moser and his surf guitar, or sucked down several Camel Lights during a Muddy Waters-esque blues number.
"I've been mixing it up," Moser concedes. "I take the song list to the gig and pretty much decide right before what songs we want to play. But I'm getting to the point now where I'm going to quit doing that and just take my master list up and pick them off that, just to be more spontaneous."
The primary elements that make this varied repertoire work are Moser's voice--a deep Presley-meets-Clapton megaphone--and his guitar playing, which has won him a towering reputation among local ax slingers. Moser is characteristically modest about the compliments he receives. "I don't know," he mutters. "I think I'm a hack. I think I just play good enough to write my songs." Also key is the assistance of Kaesmacher, who rules his sticks with an air of royalty, and Parrot, whose sense of rhythm is immaculate.
Parrot's preference for an electric instrument bewilders some followers of the Throttlemen, an act that employed a stand-up bass. Why the switch? "I can't find a stand-up bass player in Denver," Moser claims. "There's nobody that can do it. It's a real endurance instrument. Even to finish a song, it takes a lot of endurance. And then if you've got to play a whole set like that, you have to have a guy who's really dedicated."
In fact, Moser admits, a conflict with bass fiddler Craig Barry had everything to do with the break up of the Throttlemen and the formation of Jetredball. But Moser says problems like these don't faze him for long. "Sometimes I think I should be worried about having steady players and rehearsing them. But then I'm like, 'Man, I'm not even worried about that. If I get a gig, you know, and these guys decide they don't want to play, then I'll just get somebody else.'"
According to Moser, his main motivation isn't a desire for fame and fortune: It's songwriting. "What I like are songs," he stresses, "and my favorite songs can vary from day to day. Right now my favorite song is 'The Chicken Girl' by Fritz Fuller. Who is he? He's nowhere, man!"
And if people are saying the same thing about Moser twenty years from now? Well, that would be just fine with him.
Jetredball, with the Damn Shambles. 10:30 p.m. Friday, September 6, Seven South, 7 South Broadway, 744-0513.
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