"There's still a stigma attached to the South," says Chet "the Cheetah" Weise, one-fifth of the Alabama-based guitar army known as the Quadrajets. "We're doing what we can to wake people up to that and convince them that this stigma isn't necessarily true. I mean, there's a lot more going on down here than the charge of General Lee and Bo and Luke Duke."
Weise is living proof of that. Sporting a slick, stringy coif and bristling mutton chops the size of T-bones, the Cheetah may bear all the physical characteristics of a wild-eyed Dixie renegade, but a backwoods rube he ain't. Rather, this 28-year-old guitarist/vocalist is a thoughtful, well-read raconteur capable of discussing with equal vigor the ramifications of Roosevelt's New Deal monetary system (he recently received his master's degree in economics from Auburn University), the militant manifestos of Eldridge Cleaver and the mechanical intricacies of his '67 Pontiac GTO.
And lest it be forgotten, he is also an amp-smashin' rock-and-roller of the highest order. For the past five years, he and his fellow 'Jets--currently, guitarist/vocalist Jerome J. Jerome, guitarist/vocalist Mr. Hardwick, bassist J.T. Sharp and drummer J.R. Collins--have been banging out some of the wiliest whiskey-drenched babble on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. Pay the Deuce, the group's new salvo on Estrus Records, continues in this proud tradition. Produced by garage-rock guru Tim Kerr (Big Boys, Poison 13, Lord High Fixers), the disc is a 35-minute slab of clamorous boogie during which the quintet distills the misanthropic thump of the Stooges, the dope-clouded politics of the MC5 and the ghostly delta growl of John Lee Hooker into a ten-gallon tub of rebel whoop-ass that even Granny Clampett would have enjoyed guzzling.
Many of the CD's twelve tunes have a punk-rock core that hearkens back to the band's days with the noted indie Sympathy for the Record Industry. "Punkinheaded Motherfucker," "61 Blues" and "Rich Man's War," in particular, pack enough firepower to level anything on the Saints' first platter. Yet Deuce also boasts an undeniably bluesy edge: "Ten High," Deuce's last track, could almost pass for an old Mountain outtake, while the band's cover of "Going Down," penned by the late, great Stax artist Don Nix, is as soulful as it is bombastic. Weise, an avid album collector, says he wanted to dust the latter tune off and revamp it for the Nineties. "That song has been around forever," he explains. "The earliest version that I know is the one recorded by Freddy King. That's where we first learned of it. But I've read that Led Zeppelin used to play it live from time to time. It was a pretty standard rock and blues cover for a few years, and then it just sort of dropped off. So we thought we'd bring it back and torque it up a little. It worked out real well."
In addition to these influences, Pay the Deuce possesses a decidedly Southern-rock feel. Such a description is apt to send most hipsters running for their Makers LPs. But instead of rejecting the tag, the Cheetah embraces it.
"Absolutely we're a Southern-rock band," he declares. "In fact, we've been talking to a friend of ours who works at Capricorn Records, the label that handles the new reunion lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd, because we've been trying to pass on some of our records to those guys. I was telling this fella that whether they like us or not, they should know that we're their bastard offspring. I mean, we're writing the rock tunes with the three guitars blazing. The only difference is they were around in the early Seventies, so they took their cues from bluegrass and the Rolling Stones and some of the blues down here.
"But we're twenty years after that," he goes on. "The whole punk thing has hit America two or three times, along with heavy metal and everything else. So we have, of course, incorporated all that into our music, too. There's just as much Black Sabbath in our music as Lynyrd Skynyrd."
Unfortunately, the Quadrajets have something else in common with Lynyrd Skynyrd: personal tragedy. Last November, barely twenty years after Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant died in a plane crash, Quadrajets drummer Kevin Young, aka K.Y. Van Zant, was driving to a club with a friend when the vehicle they were in was broadsided by an oncoming dump truck. Young's friend walked away from the accident unharmed, but Young suffered a broken backbone that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. "It's a rough thing, but he's doing okay now," Weise reports about the drummer. "He gets around in a wheelchair using a joystick. He's staying with his family and he's planning on staying involved with music through computers and things like that. Actually, we're recording a new record at the end of the year, and he's going to help us with the production and mixing, because he's still got his ears, and he's got about the best sense of tempo and rhythm of anybody I know. He doesn't have to worry about practicing anymore. He can just tell us when we're fucking up and keep us in line.
"As far as the band goes, we want people to know he's doing all right," he says. "But we don't want to make an issue of it. We don't want people to be thinking of Kevin as the guy in the Quadrajets who met with tragedy. We want people to remember him as a wonderful drummer who put out a kick-ass record with us."
Plans are in the works to release an anthology of Young's work with the Quadrajets. In the meantime, the band is putting the final touches on a new single to be released on Denver's own 360 Twist! imprint. "The A-side will be 'I Wanna Be Yer Zombie,' from Deuce," Weise reveals. "It features Tim [Kerr] playing a little slide guitar. The B-side will be our first-ever live cut. It's a cover of the Who's 'The Seeker.'"
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The combo will also be making an appearance at Treble Fest, a three-day garage-rock bash organized by 360 Twist! bossman Mike Gilligan. The event features noteworthy garage-rock auteurs from all over the country, but none of them break the style's four-chord mold as radically as the Quadrajets. This point hasn't been lost on Weise. As he puts it, "We're into a lot of stuff that I guess falls into the garage-rock genre. We're into the Sonics and that whole Sixties Detroit-rock scene, and we've got all the Back From the Grave compilations records. But we try not to limit ourselves to one particular era in musical history. I think the whole garage-punk thing was sort of a reaction to some of the horrible music that's been going on. It was a let's-get-back-to-the-roots-again type thing. But then I think getting back to the roots may have gotten a little carried away. I think the more you open yourself up to other influences, the more places you can go with rock and roll.
"We're getting back to the roots, too" he concedes, laughing. "But I guess you could say that we're adding some different roots other than the standard ones."
Treble Fest '98, with Boss 302, Frigg A-Go-Go, Sugar Shack, the Quadrajets and the Swingin' Neckbreakers. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 1, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax, $12, 322-2308 or 975-1080. The Quadrajets, with the Ray-Ons and the What 4? 9 p.m. Monday, August 3, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $5, 572-0822.