SCRUFFY & THE JANITORS
photo by Fred Byrd
by Danny Phillips
The blues, as a genre knows no class, color or upbringing dividing line. It's haunting is not prejudiced, it has eaten at men's souls since he first dragged himself from the ooze and discovered woman & life, both impossible puzzles to crack. The blues grows in your very soul, relentlessly like a dog with a soup bone; some are driven to the edge by its power, driven to drink, driven to the abyss. Others, thankfully, are driven by it to music, to exorcise themselves, to kill their demons if they can.
For St. Joseph, Missouri garage blues trio Scruffy and the Janitors, the blues are there to help them explore the world musically, to break free from their small-ish town, to show audiences that not everyone in music today have to be pop auto-tuned or bearded with a banjo to get noticed, to claw into their niche in the world.
Some bands still love rock n roll, some can tell stories, still believe in amps, distortion pedals and volume. Scruffy's name, taken from a seldom-seen, gruff maintenance man on Matt Groening's series Futurama, is the only thing cartoonish about the three-piece. The young trio's (the oldest is 20) blend of electric blues, punk, ‘90's alternative and ‘60's garage rock have made them a must-see in the area surrounding St. Joseph, a city whose music scene over the past few years has grown by leaps and bounds, staking a claim for itself as a city that welcomes all kinds of music exploration. Rap, country, bluegrass, indie rock, blues and metal all live there.
The town where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended has spawned such diverse acts as The Souveneers, Dsoedean, Radkey (a current darling in England), the freak rock of Cupcake, singer-songwriter Matthew Coman, sleaze country act Missouri Homegrown and countless others. Scruffy (brother Teriq and Trevin Newton, friend/bassist/lead vocalist Steven Foster) aren't legally allowed to buy a drink after a set but their grasp of the blues and music in general is extraordinary. Drawing from influences as wide as Ragtime King Scott Joplin, blues masters from Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Johnson to Dr. John, as well as Mudhoney, Nirvana, The Stooges, The White Stripes and The Arctic Monkeys, they are limited to three chords/three minutes. But with this wide palate, they have built a sound that's fresh and familiar, recognizable and all their own. Lead guitarist Teriq's playing is both nuanced and relentless; he can melt his amp one minute and, with a slide, make his guitar whisper the next. Bassist/vocalist Foster is an animal unclassified. The voice does match his appearance- the beard and long hair mask the smoky, textured voice that lies beneath. And that brings us drummer Trevin- he beats the drum set like a rented mule after a drunken Saturday night.
Last year's decidedly lo-fi self-produced debut Pino was a triumph in spite of itself. There was no money, no label backing, and no studio and yet despite dodgy sound at times, it is a gem with none of the inexperience in their young lives coming through to weigh down the songs with cliché. From the power driven "Use Me Up," a song influenced strongly by Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones, to the lament and longing of Foster, alone with a guitar on "Rosie," Pino shows a band with all the tools needed to make their mark on the world, to make a truly great record, to kick the doors in.
Since the release of Pino last year, Scruffy has gained some much-welcomed experience. They have shared the stages with J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Gringo Star and grabbed a prime spot on the annual Lawrence Field Day Fest in Lawrence, KS. On November 30th, they played St. Louis for the first time at The Heavy Anchor and their current single "Shake It Off" from the EP Anglo is getting strong play on Kansas City's 96.5 The Buzz, which is the city's most popular and most listened to alternative-rock station. This fall, Scruffy will release the first in a series of EP's from local label This Tall Records, ran by Dsoedean frontman Zale Bledsoe. A 45 rpm to be pressed on blue vinyl, much to the joy of record junkies like me, will feature the single "Shake It Off" and the B-side, a slower burner called "Low Belly" formerly known lovingly as "Blue Balls."
If it seems as though Scruffy loves their hometown (going with a local label and using local producer Kiley Bodenhamer to record their EP's), and that is not a coincidence as they are truly a St. Joe band. As lead guitarist Teriq once told me, "We are from St. Joe, we would never turn our backs on the city or talk shit on its scene. I don't care if, God willing, we're travelling the world, playing stadiums, we'll always come home, always come back to the people that have supported us."
Scruffy and the Janitors believe in their town, believe in the scene that has supported them and in the music that has turned them onto a whole world of possibilities. Their wild stage performances don't jive with the boys that, when instruments are set away, are as shy as virgins at a school dance. The stage is where they find comfort, in front of an audience is home. Unlike their namesake, I do not think Scruffy and The Janitors will be fringe players for long.
See more about Scruffy and the Janitors on their Facebook page
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