Front Page

The 'Zine

Sunsphere City

Bonus Track

Market Square

Contact us!
About the site


Back to the archive

January 27, 1994 * Vol. 4, No. 2

Black Velvet Dogs

by Mike Tatum

If you've ever been to Gryphon's to bask in the dim glow of the lone 40-watt "stage light" to watch a band, you'll know why the Black Velvet Dogs call it "the living room." Gryphon's—with its usual cast of the inebriated hollering out for "Hank" covers, bumming your cigarettes and drinking your beer—has become a comfortable place for the Dogs' music. The bar/laundromat's seediness seems to create the perfect backdrop for their "hillbilly blues."

BVD, the self-proclaimed "proud purveyors of stripped down, souped up, psychedelic blues," have their reasons for playing in places that don't lend themselves to the glamorous image of show business. Their presence and their music proudly says "Low Budget," but that doesn't mean you're going to get a no-frills show from the Dogs. Quite the contrary; lead vocalist Bill Irwin—armed with only a guitar and an attitude for the blues—growls and spits his way through the BVD repertoire, backed by a full complement of bass, drums, harp, and, uh, washboard.

Together, the group sounds like the engine of a '57 Chevy churning out blues gems from as far back as the '20s. Their typical set culls tunes from such blues masters as Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, and Andy Griffith. Andy Griffith? Yes, the 'Dogs take the innocuous, never-meant-to-harm-nobody "Crawdad Hole" and turn it into a swampy blues rant that would have scared the hell out of Opie.

"I came up with a guitar riff to sing those words to," says Irwin. "Afterward, I thought that it could be about junkies, or something dark and awful like that."

"We thought if we ever do a video, it would be to that song," bassist Tim Stamm adds. "And we'll do it where this junkie is shooting up to 'You'll get a line, I'll get a pole,' and another guy is buying drugs. In the end the song goes, 'What'cha gonna do when the well runs dry'—well, then the dealer gets busted."

Not all of Dog's songs conjure up such twisted visions of death and desperation, but don't expect "Don't Worry, Be Happy" songs from the band either. "If they don't want songs about booze, women or animals, then we just don't need to play," drummer Danny Wade says succinctly.

"It's a lot of attitude," comments Irwin. "For me personally, older blues has the same kind of attitude as hardcore and punk—aggressive, wild, asses-up-there-playing music." This isn't a hard comparison for Irwin to make, considering he played in an '80s-era Knoxville punk band that was more than a little well known for being wild: Teenage Love.

Another veteran in the band, harp player Doug Hemphill, has been playing in local bands since the '70s and holds the dubious distinction of having played the most gigs on Chapman Highway of any band member. But this is good because they have a regular gig at Daniel's Bar & Grill every month. "They really get down on the blues in there," says Stamm, "and they boogie and jitterbug. It's really a good place to play. Basically, our motto is we'll play anywhere for anybody."

With that motto in mind, the Dogs are looking to spread their twisted "roots" music everywhere they can, covering obscure blues songs from the '20s, '30s and '40s. "The reason we play it is because it's the real thing. It's the real basic building block of rock, blues and even country. It's timeless," says Hemphill.

Although the Dogs have taken their timeless tunes to more upscale surroundings (weathering the howls and cackles of the gold lamé crowd), it's the murky stage of Gryphon's where they feel most at home.

"We called up Gryphon's one night to see if we could play, and they said sure, come on down, they didn't have a band," says Stamm. "So, we went down there and had practice. It was great!"

"Yeah, this one old drunk guy was yelling, 'Play some Hank!' And every time we'd take a break he'd stagger up and say, 'Now you boys ain't doing too good.'

"It was fun."

© Metro Pulse