words by Andy Turner
A new DM Bob & the Deficits album is always reason to beat on your bucket and rejoice, and their latest, the not-so-lost They Called Us Country, is certainly no exception. As always, the band, which has recorded for Crypt and Voodoo Rhythm Records among others, is loose and sloppy but with a driving swagger that hooks you and sends you swirling in trashy/fuzzy/sleazy goodness. The newly released recordings, which stem from around 1999-2002, burn the honky tonk down with revved up and refreshed covers of Buck Owens, Al Ferrier, and the Velvet Underground as a well as a handful of excellent originals including “Don’t Give Me Nothing” and the sequel to “Hooker Bones.” DM Bob (Bob Tooke), a transplanted Louisianan who also is noted for his paintings, recently took time to respond to respond to my questions from his home in Hamburg, Germany.
How did They Called Us Country come to be a “lost” album? How did it make its way to Germany’s Off Label Records?
At some point after the band broke up, I simply collected this group of songs that sort of fit together with our country side. Every now and then someone would call us a country band – hence the album title – later I started doing Sanford Clark’s version (kind of) of “They Call Me Country.” This LP isn’t really a lost record (those weren’t my words) – more like a dormant demo! A couple of years ago I got a single (vinyl 45!) of The Dead Horse Experience from Off Label in the mail (which was quite nice of ‘em). So then I offered Johnny Hanke the chance to listen to my dormant demo and he was kind enough to take the dare and put it out. Wonderful production on Johnny’s part!
The title comes from your excellent cover of the Sanford Clark obscurity “They Call Me Country” on the album. You have great taste in covers (Hasil Adkins’ “Yard Sale,” T-Rex’s “Jeepster,” Johnny Paycheck’s “Slide Off Your Satin Sheets,” Velvet Underground’s “Satellite of Love,” etc.) and deliver distinctly enjoyable interpretations. How would you describe your approach to picking and performing cover songs?
Thanks for this compliment-filled question! The way I see it it’s sort of traditional, respectful, R&R! and Fun! to do interpretations of other peoples’ tunes – it was certainly what I experienced growing up in south Louisiana. Anyway, I’ve never had any problem with it. I suppose “the art of covering” sort of solidified when the BushHogs were formed in 1986 (with Rick Olivier and Charles Franklin – the band still exists in New Orleans – we play once a year – only Red Deveca has been on bass since 1990). Rick and I would trade off on guitar and drums and both of us had this strong desire to play all this killer Louisiana music that we were constantly discovering (starting around 1977) – we sort of had this attitude toward not doing original stuff – not to say that all the great songs have been written – writing just seemed pointless to us back then – of course we took perhaps too much liberty with some tunes – but in general we were simply paying tribute to our mentors (the list is too infinite to mention). In the end, I’d say I’m simply indebted to recorded music.
I understand you are originally are from Louisiana. How did you end up living in Hamburg, Germany, and become DM Bob? Are there ever any “cultural misunderstandings” with fans or others there that like your music but maybe don’t get the references?
Yeah, I’m from Raceland, LA – 35 miles west southwest of New Orleans – supposedly there was once a horse racetrack in Raceland but I’ve always doubted this story – anyway yeah born on the bayou (we did have decent radio back then). How I ended up in Hamburg is “the same old story” – it was because of the love of a woman (I met my ex at a BushHogs thro-down in NO in ‘89). I moved to Hamburg in January ‘91- flew over on the very day the first Gulf War started. It was difficult at first, but in less than a year I found folks to make music with – Hamburg, like New Orleans, is a music city but of course I was confronted with a somewhat new take on things – different tastes, attitudes, styles etc. – lots of stuff I wouldn’t have experienced had I stayed in Louisiana ( perhaps I’m a white trash/euro trash combo).The Deutsch-Mark name story is too long to tell here, but basically it was suggested by the artist Todd Severson (a friend who like me ended up living in Germany – he also wrote the lyrics to Hooker Bones – 1 and 2) – anyway the name was suggested because of my hustling music and paintings plus my general interest in “political economy.” Yes, there were a few “cultural misunderstandings” especially playing some country stuff in Germany – we used to play Johnny Paycheck’s “Apt No 9” and this one for some reason left the audience consistently cold and playing in the former DDR and often left me saying “they don’t get it” after a show.
Your recent work has been with Jem Finer (a founding member of the Pogues) and the Watzloves, but you are still playing with the Deficits some, right? Any plans to come to the U.S. or to record new music?
Jem and I did two really special albums and a lot of shows in the UK and Germany, but he lives in London and is very busy with his multitude of art projects. I got the Deficits back together for a one-off record release party and we ended up doing two. I’m afraid the Deficits won’t turn into a regular touring band again unless we get a generous offer or play somewhere not too far away – we might yet make it to Berlin or Bremen – I hope so. The markets will decide I guess. The Watzloves are about to start making plans for some U.S. activity – it hasn’t been worked out yet but it would be in LA/TX – for the most part – “a gallery circuit” – basically doing as many gigs as we’re offered between NO and Marfra, TX. I’m now in the process of finishing up recordings of/by “DM Bob & Speedy Jake” – Jakobus (aka S Jake). He once played steel and trombone in the Watzloves. Anyway now he is a master of the tuba, which compliments my onemanband set up right on. We are finalizing recent recordings plus Silky has a big bag of killer tunes that will be attended to in winter. Yes! Always recording! (thinking about changing the name of the next combo to “Euro Bob and the Sea-Bells”)
You were on the John Peel show twice. He actually sang Merle Haggard’s “Lonesome Fugitive” with you on one of the appearances. What do you remember about that experience?
We did a Deficit session and I did one with Jem for J Peel. He also did a film for BBC TV called “On the Road with John Peel” and the Deficits were fortunate to be included (this was before our first JP Session). It was a stroke of luck that “Lonesome Fugitive” was one of his favorite songs – he said he used to sing this to his children when they were on the road. Maybe that’s why we got invited to Maida Vale (the amazing BBC recording facility)! Of course if I hadn’t moved to Germany I would have never met John – it was something very special and wonderful – he was a wonder to music. He told me during the “Lonesome Fugitive session” that he got his first real radio DJ gig in Dallas, TX! – “It was the 60’s and I had the accent.”
The Deficits are very much associated with Crypt Records. Do you keep up with label head Tim Warren, who now lives in Berlin?
I must say Tim Warren and Crypt Records are very “instrumental” for the Deficits – it was really by chance that we landed a contract with Crypt (and yes, he did it up proper) I am in contact – I usually see him when I go to Berlin – we met up just a few weeks ago at Silky Watzlove’s last exhibition – he was there with his dog Roky – he has a fantastic pad in Berlin – relatively happy – doing fantastic mastering and tending to his emporium.
Were you really sued for infringement by the company that owns the Bush Hog trademark after your Bush Hog’N Man album?
Well, we weren’t never sued – it was one of those “cease and desist” letters – I forgot the name of the corporation that owns the Bush Hog Co. but they didn’t have a case – but of course Tim became a bit nervous and asked me to write a “letter of defense.” Anyway, I explained that the phrase “bush hogging” has long been a euphemism for mowing in the south (even with a lawn mower!) and that actually I was paying tribute (in their letter they said that they didn’t find the song positive to their trade mark – what an insult!) I mean really! Are there any words one can’t use to write a song?! Seems safer to stick to the covers but the next letter might come from the corporate law firm of Lou Reed!