By ROCKO JEROME
Last summer I made a return to Chicago after a several year absence, made the scene at The Big C Jamboree for the first night of three checking out The Bellfuries as they stormed the Windy City for a big weekend. With most bands I'm a one-and-done, certainly not into 3 nights in a row. But The Bellfuries are in that executive class, and I could've seen them every night for another solid week.
It had been over 10 years since I saw them last, the ascendent new group on the scene at the insane Green Bay event of 2002, which I dubbed Rockabilly Ragnarok for it's status as a final big bash for many luminous original greats like Billy Lee Riley and Ronnie Dawson toward the ends of their lives, as well as a return to rare form for High Noon and Big Sandy, who brought the Fly Rite Trio back together again for the event. I was proud of the crowd that the Bellfuries amassed that day, to see and hear them play, in the smallest of three spots simultaneously rocking a huge casino. The in-crowd knew that where they were playing was the place to be. I'll always remember that Deke Dickerson filmed their set with a camcorder. They were the next big thing; with literate lyrics, a Poppy sensibility, and a Soul twist, it felt like the Bellfuries were set to take over the world.
It was fantastic to see the band again these years later, and main man Joey Simeone was in high spirits. JD McPherson's cover of Your Love (Is All That I'm Missing) has been a smash, the Kickstarter financed re-release of the killer record Just Plain Lonesome was a success, and my beloved sterling Rockabilly Scene of Chicago was in full swing, rolling out a heroes welcome. Joey remembered my smiling mug from a long ago show that went sideways here in my hometown of Louisville, and he, being a man of like mind, agreed to an interview. This was conducted a few months ago, and there's a real bombshell at the end.
Rocko: Death Of An Idol, if it's taken literally, seems to be about a specific unnamed musician who changed your life.
Joey: Death of an Idol is basically a composite. The title actually came to me after two of my favorite bands released records that I was very disappointed with. I said to my buddy, "Well..thats a death of another idol for me.." I liked the title, so I formulated a story around it. At what point did you know that you would become a musician? Joey: When I was growing up,I knew I was more passionate about music than any kid my age, at least it seemed that way. I had other hobbies and interests as well (football,bmx,etc), but music has dominated my life from as early as I can remember.
Rocko: You're sometimes likened to Dylan, but I hear a lot of Costello and Squeeze in your aural DNA.
Joey: The Bob Dylan comparison was a bit of a joke. I think that was just a compliment that was perhaps referencing the fact that some Bellfuries songs have lyrics with a bit more substance to them, at least in comparison to other modern rockabilly bands/songs. There's room for all types of course. For me the wordy stuff holds the same weight as 'a wop bop a loo bop woo lop bam boom." Whatever moves ya baby!
Rocko: Who were your biggest influences when Just Plain Lonesome was being written?
Joey: The list of stuff that influenced JPL is vast and random, from Slayer to Dion. During that particular time, I was mainly listening to old country and was obsessed with Sam Cooke. I was meeting people (many of them whom became lifelong friends or band-mates)who hipped me to obscure country records that completely blew me away. It was such an exciting time for me. I wanted to write You Send Me part 2..it turned out to be Just Plain Lonesome. I wanted to write Move it On Over..it turned out to be Hey Mr. Locomotive. Wasted on Him was my attempt at Cathy's Clown , etc. What are you into right now? Joey: My favorite modern songwriter is Ron Sexsmith. I rediscovered The Cramps while in Portland on our West Coast tour and must have listened to Garbage Man about 80 times.."You ain't no punk, you punk..you wanna talk about the real junk?" ..fucking amazing. We've been listening to a lot of Black Sabbath in the van, and Mike brought Dark Side of The Moon on this last tour. I love Us and Them. James Hand, Doug Wilshire, Johnny Horton.
Rocko: It seems odd that playing Beatles songs could ever be a subversive act, but doing so for some Rockabilly audiences qualifies. Which came first for you, The Beatles or "Roots Music," and you see much of a distinction?
Joey: The anti-Beatles stance that many rockabillies take was always odd to me. For god sakes, pick on somebody else. The Beatles came first for me. I was born in '71, so when I began to get into music at three or four years old, the "Re-unite The Beatles" thing was still in full swing. I don't see much of a distinction, at least not until mid-period Beatles when the psychedelic elements started to show. Its still guitar driven rock and roll to me. When I listen to I Saw Her Standing There and Jailhouse Rock, they both kick me in the ass! I honestly don't give a shit about genres, play me a song with a strong melody or a cool chord progression and I'll probably dig it.
Rocko: What's next for you?
Joey: We're recording our next record in December at Hi-Style Studio with Jimmy Sutton and Alex Hall . We have lots of different kinds of songs, so it will be interesting to see what angle those guys choose to take with regards to making sense of it all and producing a cohesive album. I'm excited to let go of some of the control this time around.
The Bellfuries are playing this Friday, July 11th, at Third Street Dive. They start at 9 p.m. You should be there.