Indie Rockers Play the Blues

It’s certainly more fiction than fact that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to Devil for the chance of being the

king of the Delta blues singers, able to play, sing, and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard,

The 1930’s were far grimmer times for both Robert Johnson and the country and the blues certainly mirrored those times. We live in much softer times and the blues have now been sanitized

through the efforts of high-profile technicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray

Perhaps in reaction to the softening and sanitization of the blues, or perhaps in reaction to the glut of Indie Rock that followed in the wake of Nirvana some indie groups chose to take a different path and decided to see if they could play the blues.

Red Red Meat formed from the Chicago folk-punk outfit Friends of Betty in 1990. The original group consisted of Tim Rutili (vocals, guitars) and Glynis Johnson (bass, vocals), both founding members of Friends of Betty, and Crows guitarist Glenn Girard and drummer Brian Deck.

In it’s original configuration Red Red Meat provided

a stunning counterpoint to the windy city’s popular Material Issue/Urge Overkill glam-informed swagger.

Released in 1992, on their own Perishable Records label, their eponymous debut LP, a blast of Stones-inspired roots rock helped the band generate steady gigs and

heighten their profile in the chaotic, Nirvana-incited underground feeding frenzy of the early ’90s.

In the summer of 1992 the group was the opening act on a ten-day tour for the then up and coming Chicago band the Smashing Pumpkins. For Glynis Johnson, already in failing health before the tour, the tour only exacerbated her condition, and further strained her eight-year musical and romantic relationship with Rutili. 

Oblivious to the severity of her illness and obliging her repeated requests, Rutili kicked her out of the band. Just a couple of months later, the 32-year-old Johnson died of AIDS.

Soldiering on the group added ex- lawyer Tim Hurley (at six-foot-five he provided a nice bookend for six-foot-nine guitarist Glenn Girard) as the bands new bassist in the winter of 1992.

Initially released as a 7” single in 1993 on Sub Pop Records, the song “Flank,” enjoyed such popularity that the label would release the group’s next three albums.

Their debut album for Sub Pop, 1993’s Jimmywine Majestic,

could best be described as Exile On Main St.-era Rolling Stones on downers.

Jimmywine Majestic opens with the “gnarled Stones riff” “Flank,” but combined with gloomy acoustic numbers like “Smokey” and “Rusted Water,” the mopey “Stained & Lit,” the swing of “Smokey Mountain Dbl. Dip,” and Tim Rutili’s often mumbled lyrics the album takes on a decided rustic sound.

It was an almost entirely a new band that went into the studio to record their sophomore LP for Sub Pop, 1995’s Bunny Gets Paid. Glenn Girard left in 1994, and Hurley had switched from bass to guitar, while old Friends of Betty drummer Ben Massarella had joined for the recording sessions. For this album they turned down the fuzz-laden guitars  and introduced other instruments, notably the Moog synthesizer and viola. 

The band self produced and recorded, 1997’s There’s A Star Above The Manger Tonight, which was their final record for Sub Pop. Engineered by drummer Brian Deck it can best be described as meandering, as the album was an attempt

to “synthesize a field recording with a Can aesthetic… incorporating organs and all manner of effects and machinery into the avant-blues rags

A year after the release of There’s A Star Above The Manger the band unofficially disbanded.

Thought Red Red Meat is unofficially disbanded over the course of the last twelve years Rutili, Massarella, Deck and a rotating cast of members from Eleventh Dream Day, Tortoise, and the Fruit Bats have continued to record as Califone.  Since 1998 the group has released nine albums. The first, in 1998, was the self-titled Califone and the last is 2009’s All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.

Red Red Meat

Red Red Meat Discography


Hot Nikkety Trunk Monkey (7″) (Perishable Records) 1990
Snowball (7″) (Dead Bird) 1991
Red Red Meat (CD) (Perishable Records) 1992
Flank (7″) (Sub Pop Records) 1993
Jimmywine Majestic (Cass, CD, LP, MP3) (Sub Pop Records U.S. & Germany) 1993
Idiot Son/Gauze (7″) (Sub Pop Records) 1994
Idiot Son (10″) (Sub Pop Records Germany) 1994
Bunny Gets Paid (CD, LP) (Sub Pop Records) 1995
Oxtail (7″) (Sub Pop Records) 1995
Red Red Meat/Number One Cup (7″) (Flydaddy Records) 1996
Listening Now/Polara (7″) (Generator) 1996
There’s A Star Above The Manger Tonight/Welcome Christmas (7″) (Sub Pop Records) 1996
There’s A Star Above The Manger Tonight (CD, MP3) (Sub Pop Records) 1997

Tracks Appear On:

“FlossieAbsolute Middle Of Nowhere Volume 17 (CD) (Limited Potential Records) 1992
“Make You Gone” Hey Drag City (CD) (Drag City, Domino Recording Company) 1994
“Make You Gone” Hey Drag City (2xLP) (Drag City) 1994
“I’m Not In Love” Star Power! (CD) (Pravda Records) 1995

“I’m Not In Love” Super Fantastic Mega Smash Hits! (Cass, CD) (Scotti Bros.) 1995
“Chain Chain Chain” That Virtua Feeling – Sub Pop And Sega Get Together (CD)      (Sub Pop Records) 1995
“Sad Peter PanSweet Relief II: Gravity Of The Situation (The Songs Of Vic Chesnutt)  (Cass, CD) (Columbia) 1996
“Taxiwise”  Vandal (12″) (Organico) 1996
“Airstream Driver” Spring Lineup – A Compilation Of Sub Pop’s Heavy Hitters (CD)   (Sub Pop Records) 1997
“Stained & Lit” Rough Trade Shops – Rock And Roll 1 (2xCD) (Mute Records Ltd.)     2002

“Braindead” Mojo Presents: Sub Pop 300! (CD) (Mojo Magazine) 2008
“GauzeSub Pop: Amazon Sampler (Digital Download) (Sub Pop Records) 2009

“Robo Sleep”, “Stare Box” Perishable Records Sampler Volume 1 (CD)          (Perishable Records)

Red Red Meat – Jimmywine Majestic (1993)

Playing Time: 56 minutes 29 seconds

Red Red Meat - Jimmywine Majestic

       1. Flank (4:39)
2. Stained & Lit (5:00)
3. Braindead (5:13)
4. Smokey Mountain Dbl Dip (3:30)
5. Moon Calf Tripe (6:46)
6. Cillamange (2:43)
7. Ball (4:46)
8. Lather (3:02)
9. Rusted Water (3:31)
10. Gorshin (4:45)
11. Dowser (3:28)
12. Comes (2:59)
13. Roses (6:07)

Originally a duo, Railroad Jerk was formed in 1989 by Marcellus Hall (guitar/vocals) and Tony Lee (bass/vocals), but by 1990 they had expanded to a quartet with the addition of Jez Aspinall (drums) and Chris Muller (guitar).

Part of New York City’s noise rock scene of the early 1990’s they were in many ways similar to groups like Royal Trux, Pavement and Sebadoh. Unlike those groups their music was a sonic stew, a combination of traditional Irish folk, barroom jazz, Delta blues, ’60s psychedelia, and roots rock 

Recorded in two days and produced by Wharton Tiers the self-titled first album is

a Northern punk distortion of Southern rural blues… and pits Minnesota native Marcellus Hall’s voice, electric guitar and harmonica against a lurching rhythm section

Very much reminiscent of the Stones’ earliest records there are times when you  might wonder, most notably on the intro to “Talking RR Jerk Blues”,  if you aren’t  listening to a 1930’s Alan Lomax’s field recording from the Mississippi delta.

The release of 1992’s Raise The Plow found only Marcellus Hall and Tony Lee remaining from the original line-up. With the addition of Steven Cerio and various guests, including Uncle Wiggly guitarist William Berger the group manages to deconstruct Bukka White”s “Fixin’ to Die” and Creedence Clearwater’s “Call Me the Son,” while also summoning

up visions of Gary Lucas’ cerebral guitar work for Captain Beefheart in the edgy “During the War.

The musicianship on 1993’s We Understand has been described as

at times, Railroad Jerk sounds like four unrelated musicians randomly in search of a parallel finish line

which is understandable because once again only Hall and Lee remained from the original group. Steven Cerio had left and the bands new additions were guitarist Alec Stephen and drummer Dave Varenka.

With the same line-up that had recorded We Understand, 1995’s One Track Mind, never settles on any one defined sound. Sounding at times like “a post-punk resurrection of the Band,” the album includes a Beck-style “Maggie’s Farm” rap variation (“Bang the Drum”) “while in the next breathe rolls Tom Verlaine in an alley and dumps him and his weird guitar playing in a swamp.” (“Riverboat”).

Railroad Jerk

Railroad Jerk Discography


Railroad Jerk (Cass, CD, LP) (Matador) 1990
Younger Than You / Ballard of Jim White (7″) (Matador) 1991
Raise The Plow (Cass, CD, LP) (Matador) 1992
02.20.93 (7″, EP) (Walt Records) 1993
Milk The Cow (2×7″) (PCP Entertainment) 1993
We Understand (2×7″, CD-EP) (Matador) 1993
One Track Mind (Cass, CD, LP, MP3) (Matador) 1995
Bang the Drum (7″)  (Matador) 1995
Third Rail (CD, LP, MP3) (Matador) 1996
Sauberes Hemd (CD, LP) (Matador) 1997
2001 (7″) (Sub Pop) 2000

Tracks Appear On:

“From The Pavement”  New York Eye And Ear Control (CD, LP) (Matador) 1990
“Bang The Drum”  Extra Cheese (CD) (Matador) 1995
“I Wanna Kick Myself For You” Lo-Fi – ~Electric Acoustic & Radical~ (CD) (Meldac Corporation) 1995
“Ordinary Nights” PCP Generics (CD) (PCP Entertainment) 1995
“Wedding Song” The Wedding Record (7″) (Walt Records) 1995
“Clean Shirt” Rock Sound Volume 3 (CD) (Rock Sound) 1996
“Clean Shirt” Virtually Alternative, Volume 74 (2 x CD)
“Natalie” Betong Vår -97 (CD) (Not On Label) 1997
“Bang The Drum”, “One Step Forward” What’s Up Matador (2xCD, 2xLP, MP3) (Matador) 1997
“Rollercoaster”  Everything Is Nice – The Matador Records 10th Anniversary Anthology (DVD) (Matador) 1999

Railroad Jerk – Railroad Jerk (1990)

Playing Time: 39 minutes 7 seconds

Railroad Jerk

        1. Don’t Be Jealous (3:01)
2. Old Mill Stream (3:21)
3. Glamorous Bitch (4:08)
4. Krismus Time (2:14)
5. Talking RR Jerk Blues (6:13)
6. In My Face (3:02)
7. Participant (3:59)
8. Ninety Nine Miles (3:40)
9. Carnival (3:40)
10. I’m Not Mad (5:49)

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6 responses to “Indie Rockers Play the Blues

  1. I am unable to listen to your Red Red Meat post. The RAR I downloaded requires a password to extract the encrypted mp3’s. Could you forward me (or post) the password(s)? Thanks for your great blog!

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