Friday, April 20, 2012

BB Blackdog on Tour in Steampunk Land

Left to Right - John, Dale and Axel of BBB

I recently had the privilege of meeting the members of a really interesting, bluesy,  and  soulful band called BB Blackdog at the new Steampmunk and Paranormal Convention “The Nightmare Machine” presented by the Steampunk Illumination Society of Texas.  The band members include:  Axel Boldt, on Drums, John Ferguson, Rhythm Bass, and Dale Rowles, Lead Bass and Vocals.  That’s right, both guitarists like bass, so they simply don’t use a guitar in this band.   Believe  me, it works well for them!   One plays a higher range bass and the other a lower range bass resulting in a very deep throated and emotionally deep sound. 

At the show, they played quite a variety of styles, even asking the audience to choose the type of the next song such as “more Bluesy or more Funky” and then pulled from their extensive repertoire one to fit.  This worked so well for the audience, that even after 3 other bands had preceded them, BB Blackdog could still make the dancers in the audience find it impossible to sit still and had everyone getting down in various ways to the warm and funky feel of the music.

On first glance, you can tell, these boys aren’t new to the game.  They remind me of veryself confident, but laid back, musicians from the 60s, but are definitely quite serious about their music.  Their skill is unmistakable, but their personalities are very easy going, friendly, and humorous.  I had arranged to interview them in advance, but honestly, they were so friendly and fun to talk to, I simply took mental notes, and waited until I had a good feel for them before trying to ask any leading questions.  I think they are so similar in some ways, yet so different in others, that I will discuss them separately.

Dale is definitely the chatty one, and very funny as well, though I think if the listener spoke German a bit better than I do, Axel might well talk even more.  Axel understands English fairly well and has quite interesting and insightful things to say about the band and life in general, but speaks less at first as his English is not quite as smooth as that of his comrades.

Dale talked about playing for a great number of bands and studio gigs supporting other bands, but he really only made good money when he turned to selling financial investments.  He said he did that quite well for years, but finally decided he had enough of making money and being unhappy, so he went back to being a happy starving artist instead.  

The most notable quote from him was several variations of “If you just take a man by the hand, look him in the eye, and really listen to what he says, you can get a real feel for the man in front of you and relate to them better, or words to that effect.  (He has some very socially progressive views and observations about the state of the world that kept leading back to this.)  He basically wants to use music and open honest communication to improve understanding and make the world a better and more fun place to live in.

Dale also tells a lot of jokes, especially in the middle of Tea Dueling, which he was nice enough to formally introduce to Steampunks int his part of the country.  It seems that Tea Dueling, is a new non-violent way, to show up your rival and demonstrate your steady nerve, without anyone actually getting shot.  Instead when the referee directs the combatants to "choose their weapon" they must carefully select an English Biscuit (aka cookie) from the plate before them, then, on command, dunk it for the prescribed number of seconds in a cup of "proper tea" at which point they remove the biscuit and see which combatant can hold the cookie steady enough to last longer than their opponent.  

It's rather like a game of chicken with wet, crumbling cookies.  At the end, you quickly, but very carefully, eat the wet cookie, hopefully before some of it oozes off onto the table, yet try to have the steadiness of nerve to do so later than your opponent.   The jokes come in both to try to break their nerve and make them go for it too soon, or to make them laugh, thus shaking the cookie dangerously.  If you wait too long, naturally the cookie comes tumbling down, and you lose, but if your opponent can wait one second longer than you to eat, without it falling, he wins bragging rights to a steadier hand and nerve.

Axel is quite a character.  He always loved drums and had gotten so good at them, that friends kept suggesting one band or another to try out with, but until he met BB Blackdog, he didn’t feel he really wanted to become closely tied to any one group.  No he says “You only really love once…After that, it’s never quite the same.  If I had to give up playing with BB Blackdog, I’d just go back to playing at home for fun.
Axel has quite a lot to say, once you get to know him a bit, mostly about how people ought to care more about each other and the world at large instead of personal ego and national pride.  

About his drums, he said he traveled so much, under such difficult conditions, while touring with the band, that he looked for a small enough drum kit that he could fit the entire kit in a large rolling suitcase.  He finally found one, but it was bright pink!  He didn’t care.  It had a good sound and worked well for him. 

Over time, fans began bringing him pink hats, pink goggles, etc. and he eventually wound up telling people, I’m not a Steampunk, I’m Steam Pink!  Does this mean pink is really a favorite color for him?  Not really, but it looks so outrageous on this extremely tall German Drummer, and is so unexpected, that it suits his taste for non-violent rebellion.  He just likes being an Iconoclast, so Pink has become a favorite wardrobe theme for him on tour. 

As for John, well … he’s the quiet one.  He does most of his talking with his Bass, but when he does so, he speaks quite eloquently indeed.  Dale pointed out that John had played, pretty much forever, and was an amazing musician, but just not much of a talker, to which John just nodded and said something like “Yeah, that’s about it.”

If you ever get the chance to make it to one of their shows, be sure to treat yourself to some really down home Blues, from some very Steam friendly Punks from Britain and Germany.  BB Blackdog!

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