Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Colorblind James and the White Caps, Circa '78

When the White Caps first came into being, a typical night's songlist boasted a great smattering of covers such as Little Sheila, Be Bop a Lula, Ready Teddy, Money, All By Myself, Good Rockin' Tonight, Great Balls of Fire, Jambalaya, Iko-Iko, Little Queenie, Sea Cruise, etc. Along with that were Chuck's jugband songs like Do Women Have Souls?, Can't Stop Doing What I'm Doing, Blue Dog and If I Could Play the Tuba as well as his new rocknroll/rockabilly songs such as Sophisticated, I'm Still Dancing, After the Fox, Purple and Gold, Please Please Please, Don't You Believe in Me?, Crazy-O, Pay Up, You Need Somebody on Your Side, Water Street Stomp, Blind Girl and of course America, America. More comprehensive lists of covers and originals will appear later. For now, that's certainly enough. During a six-hour gig, the band might have played at the most two or three slow songs. The best of these was Chuck's ultra-spiritual pre-lounge-craze foxtrot "Diamond Mine":

Went to the diamond mine
And I grabbed a few
I grabbed a couple for me
I grabbed a couple for you
I grabbed a couple for me
I grabbed a couple for you
And don't you feel like a king
When you're visiting the Diamond Mine?

Chuck said he had written it while sitting on the steps of the Water Street Music Hall at about 3am. It was one of those songs that simply fell into his lap as he strummed his acoustic guitar. Chuck was a night owl and the staying up to the dreamy hours of early morning, he always felt more open to the grabbing songs from the cosmos. Each song was a diamond plucked from the diamond mine. And each song made him feel like a king with a place and purpose in the infinite cosmos.

Colorblind James

A musician, songwriter, poet and brother-in-law by the name of Chuck, aka Colorblind James, formed a band years ago called Colorblind James and the White Caps in Oswego, New York. They were as scrappy an outfit as you could imagine: among the five members, only one had any previous experience in a rocknroll band.

Kevin McDevitt, RIP, was the self-taught Bonzo-influenced, big time drinking drummer who ultimately discovered the beat Chuck had been looking for: the polka 2-beat. Terry O'Neil stared at his shoes and held the chaos together with his hollowbody electric bass. G. Elwyn Meixner slashed away at his vintage Telecaster locked on the treble pick-up. Colorblind James scrubbed the heavy guage strings of his 1960 Guild T-50 guitar like a hopped-up tenor banjo player in a 30's jugband. And Rush Tattered shimmied and swaggered and yelped his way through songs that Chuck had specifically written for him: "Sophisticated", "Too Hip to Praise the Port City" and "If I Could Play the Tuba".

The music was fast, fast, fast. The sets were neverending. The gigs sometimes started at midnight and ended around breakfast. Whoever was still at the club would join the band for eggs and coffee at Wade's diner as the sun would rise over Oswego, the Port City itself.

The music and the dancing was inspired by the punk/rockabilly movement of the mid/late 70's but it went beyond that, way beyond that. Looking cool was for NYC. The band and the dancers didn't give a rats ass how they looked. The playing was hard and intense and the dancers were tireless and drenched in sweat. It was absolutely awesome to experience or just to watch from the sidelines.

I would sit in periodically but my time was mostly spent with my sloppy, speed happy fusion band called the Generics: plain-label fusion music. No matter what I played, I knew I wanted to be a part of that crazy intensity that, to this day, no band has ever equalled.

Colorblind James and the White Caps put out one 45rpm record: America, America/Blind Girl. The songs were great. The recording? Awful! Chuck was ready to take all the copies and dump them into Lake Ontario. Fortunately he never did. They turn up every now and then. Ya gotta be pretty die-hard to want one, though.