BOB LOG III
by Cat Celebrezze
Bob Log III: Who is Bob Log III? Such a question is apt, since the man wears a motorcycle helmet retrofitted with a shaded face plate altered by an old rotary telephone receiver that doubles as his stage mic. But that question is off the mark. A better one to pose is, 'WHAT is Bob Log III?' The answer usually involves phrases like "one-man band" or "guitar party mess" or "cannonball suit." Even these descriptors pale when you consider what this musician offers to his loyal fans at live shows. Bob Log III is a multi-limbed instrumentalist of hootenanny incarnate, bringing a spaz-core version of Delta blues to audiences all the while wearing a brash variety of speed suits - the stylings of which are so star-spangled and shiny and outrageous, they could have sent Evel Knievel on a jealous fugue of such magnitude that the fountain at Ceasar's Palace would not have been a problem.
Bob Log's brand of blues comes from a long tradition of shot-gun, juke-joint entertainment that features fast fingers and a stage persona that somehow is both over-the-top and lo-fi (total aside: lo-fi is currently co-opted as a genre name for humorless, overproduced emo acts. Don't believe the whine!) And in an age where most acts have truckloads of production gear and an army of tech nerds that insure any malapropisms are auto-tuned away, Bob Log is a refreshing drink thrown in the face: bracing and not without its projectiles but it sure as hell will get you out of your malaise. His sets have him rocking out on a stool so that all appendages can attend to something. His right foot knocks on a kick drum while his left foot dodges between a floor stomp cymbal-tambourine and effect pedals for hand claps or distortion. His helmeted head swivels around like a carnival ride manned by a one-armed wino. His hands fly around on a Silvertone archtop guitar - the inexpensive Sears & Robuck hollow body brand that is sturdy enough to handle the rough edges psychobilly without flinching (though on occasion he'll bust out a a dainty little cigar box guitar that he calls Tami). And frequently, atop each of knee is perched a lady from the audience, invited onstage to enjoy being bounced around while he plays a song called "I Want Your Shit On My Leg." Many nightsm he arrives in an inflatable raft dragged by its tethers by whatever roadie is available. There is no arguing: Bob Log III is a showman.
So OK, sure, we're all whores for spectacle, but let's get to the music. If there ain't no motor, you can't call it a muscle car, right?
Log's sound can be called blues punk primitive, a howling hump and stomp, pick and strum that draws from the legacies of Big Mama Thorton, RL Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and Hasil Adkins. He delivers his lyrics in a voice that sounds like what a more deadpan Major Kong from Dr. Strangelove might sound, if heard singing in the shower through heavy transistor interference. And said lyrics are always generous with the uh huhs, awwwwws, yeahs, wooooos, uhs, and and oh-ah-oh-uhs - those grunty mainstays of the verboten and the funk. He's no stranger to a warped, crunkup slide guitar sensibility that sounds like a 78rpm of delta blues played at a devolving speed (ear up to "Stumbler" on Guitar Party Power). He also uses a lot of open pluckings on a low, loose E string and a thump-strumming technique that thwacks some good-god rhythms out the F-holes of that Acetone (give a listen to "String on a Stick" and "Do That Thing You Think You Did That Thing To"). Beyond the slide and thump strum, he's a master at shredding a banjo style picking sequence; fast furious, messy, and twang-a-lang uptempo. His use of distortion is always in the service of sounding down and dirty, an oscillating low growl that makes all the right parts vibrate.
Log's incubation came from the weird desert alluvial plane that is the Tucson, Arizona music scene - an eclectic and proud place to make and play music, in the same way that Cleveland and Detroit manages to keep a space carved out for its sonic freaks despite shitty economics and the influx of mass consumer entertainment. On YouTube, you can catch early community cable access channel recordings of Log performing with Mondo Guano, a much more traditional, four person psychobilly outfit a lá The Cramps ("Dodge Dart") that occasionally drifts into wild and creepy sound experiments ("Grease High Pt. 1"). Log's contribution to Mondo Guano is straightforward guitar and occasional vocals. The guitar ranges from spidery to a full on howl; the vocals are infrequent and Weird Al Yankovic-sounding (P. Strude did most of the singing). Mondo Guano is one of those bands that existed before social media and the MP3 revolution, so finding their music means having a way to play cassette tapes and 7 inches (or just remembering when you saw them playing at some basement party). You can find their album Jack Knife on Spotify and iTunes however, and it's worth a listen in the same way that Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, that early John Waters film, is worth a watch.
After Mondo Guano, Log could be found in the cult-fave duo, Doo Rag, which included Log doing much of what he does now, and Thermos Malling, a percussionist and circuit bender of the rummaged electronics school, using mostly found objects like cheese graters and cardboard boxes and employing creative microphone set ups involving hair dryers and vacuums. They had a successful six-year run together during that last great hurrah of authentic lo-fi music - the 1990's - and toured with the alternative industry elite of the time: Beck, Sonic Youth and the John Spencer Blues Explosion. They also got on with that King of gritty blues, RL Burnside, touring with him in 1996. Their end came as abruptly as one of their songs, when a road-weary Malling left the tour they were on at the time with the kings of random, Ween. Doo Rag's music is hard to find - at least by the standards we've all grown accustom to in the age of instant digital satisfaction. Spotify and iTunes only has a self-titled 7 inch with three songs, but you can definitely find their CDs and 7 inches at brick-n-mortar survivors like Amoeba Music and Zia Records Exchange. For a visual, watch a video that looks it its director was a being that is the result of combining Mike Kelley and Devo into Tetsuo the Ironman.
Since birthing the helmeted persona and forging out on his own, Log's discography includes three released on Fat Possum Records - School Bus (1998), Trike (1999), and Log Bomb (2003). He also has releases of My Shit is Perfect (2009, Voodoo Rhythm Records), and some seemingly digital only release on Bloat Records, Bump and Meow, Vol. 1 (2016), and Guitar Party Power (2016). The arc of these albums is interesting to note and exhibit performances of someone both ernest and absurd about their curiosity for the infinite spectrum of sounds that can get wanged out of a guitar. School Bus and Trike find Log doing his best impression of sparse, Delta-blues indecipherable lyrics amid mostly instrumental, tempo-shifting tracks with names that gesture toward a Rabelaisian streak ("Big Ass Hard On," "Ass Computer"). Tracks have lots of percussive rhythms coming from both guitar and kick drum and other objects, like popping balloons ("stomping on balloons is better than coffee!"2). These albums are like being in an alternate corn-pone reality where time speeds up and slows down and amphetamines replace jug whiskey as the blues player's escape of choice.
With his Fat Possum Records release Log Bomb, the banjo picking stylings take a back seat to rockabilly roadhouse rhythms with a lot of raw, low end and the risqúe titles expand into full on sets of bawdy lyrics that tell stories of what can only be described as those hyper and hazy fever dreams found in the hookup hunt at a bar's closing time (see "Wigglin' Room"). It is on this album that you will find what unofficially is the Bob Log III Anthem: "Boob Scotch." Now "Boob Scotch" is either very funny or very offensive, depending on what kind of life experiences you've had. This author has definitely been out on the town and found sex organs of either gender flung into libations and usually it's good story-making. Don't be distracted by slightly misleading gatefold of Log Bomb that features a lady's good-looking, unclothed torso with Bob reaching for a scotch that sits balanced on her sternum (wouldn't that be a "Scotch Boob"?). "Boob Scotch" is a fantastic homage to night life forged from the mind of the man that has given serious musical consideration to what "tit clapping" sounds like (a percussion concept, Log claims in an 2008 interview, that came to him like most of his ideas "in panic" when bombing in front of a crowd of lesbians)1. Regardless of your judgement, whenever this song is performed live, there is no shortage of individuals willing to get up on stage and follow the lyrics to a T. And with its catchy, two-word octave dive that goes from a falsetto "boooooob" to the low-scale "scotch!" it's hard not to sing along.
Later releases are no less rockin'. My Shit Is Perfect goes back the corn-pone way with the addition of some echolocation, sci-fi experimentation ("Manipulate Your Figments"). But the album not to miss is his latest, the 2016 release of Guitar Party Power. It is by far the most cohesive presentation of what can be considered his fortés: speedball finger-picking, chord-bending slide, dirty honky-tonk low end and 4/4 stomp rhythms. There is also good use of clap and snap tracks, a randomly placed whistle, and beats emphasized with the sound of a balloon exploding under foot. His lyrics (though not as extant) are no less irreverent, his picking no less flamboyant, and his tempo swings no less dizzying to the point of warped delight. From the lightening speed opening of "String Flinger" to the ho-down punch up of "Move It Wrong" to the phenomenal heavy hitting "Riversider" bump and grind, Guitar Party Power delivers what all good blues performers aspire to: giving the crowd a wailing good time.
Mr. Bob Log III is certainly not going for perfection, but in fact, as he has told us, his shit is perfect. As of this writing, he is on tour in Europe and Japan. The guy is working hard. If comes to your town, get on out there and vie for a place on his knee. Do a YouTube search or head over to his site and buy the German documentary on him called Slide Guitar Ride to get a visual taste of the hootenanny incarnate. At the very least, give his recordings an ear for listening and you'll find yourself speeding along on that hot asphalt road that is great blues guitar playing in a muscle car driven by a guy in a motorcycle helmet and singing through a telephone.
1. video from Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. July 28th, 2008: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMUIg46zUtY
2. Video of Bob Log III - Dino's bar
Also hear Cat Celebrezze's band Yvonne Champagne album Murder Winds on Spotify
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