November 30, 1995 * Vol. 5, No. 37
A little bit boozy and a whole lotta bluesy, Crawdaddy may just be the busiest band in town
by Mike Gibson
You couldn't call Crawdaddy a blues band, at least not from a purist's perspective. For one thing, their torrid sets are laced with too many neo-hippie nods and classic rock, soul, and reggae allusions to satisfy true Delta (or even Chicago) fundamentalists.
Aside from that, their chops are just too damn good. Check out singer-harmonica player Mike Crawley's leather-lunged harp squall, or watch guitarist "Detroit" Dave splatter manic triplets at the climax of a particularly rapturous solo, his ham-hock forearms pumping like a piston on Quaaludes. Nope, these guy have practiced a little too much to merit real blues credentials.
But even if Crawdaddy doesn't always march a perfect 12-bar cadence, there's an almost mystic essence, something intrinsic to the nature of Blues, lingering like so much resonant bottle-neck blare in the smoke-filled air at every Crawdaddy show.
When drummer Steve brown and bassist Rick Wolfe are locked in and kicking out that barnstorming four-on-the-floor groove; when Crawley lewdly drapes his microphone cord across the silken shoulders of a comely female patron, singing and grinding cheek-to-cheek and loin-to-loin; when half the room is on its feet, eyes closed and butts shaking in to that ineffable Crawdaddy mojo... Well, suffice it to say that you almost forget that you're in a Knoxville fern bar and not in a Mississippi juke joint, that you're surrounded by goateed frat boys and not sharecroppers.
"We know we're playing okay if there's at least five girls dancing up front," says Brown. "I think one of the reasons we have that effect is because we're not strictly a blues band, because we bring in a little ska, a little R & B, or even a little jazz."
Detroit Dave agrees. "We feel like we have the freedom to let the songs evolve and go where they will," he says. "We can let loose, and the song will hunt for the right groove.'
Stirred up from the still-smoldering ashes of Bluefish, Crawdaddy started playing Knoxville clubs about three years ago when Brown and Dave tapped Crawley's frayed nasal rasp and blitzkrieg harp howl for a project that at the outset was supposed to be "strictly R&B." Wolfe, Brown's rhythm partner in several other local bands, soon joined on bass.
"Part of what made us what we are is that we've got two virtuoso musicians, Mike and Dave," says Brown.
"We all bring a little different seasoning to the pot," Crawley offers. "These guys have an endless amount of music knowledge. Steve knows a million rhythms and Dave knows a million chords."
Although the band's collective virtuosity and often eclectic taste eventually broadened their set list's stylistic range, their sound has remain singularly Crawdaddy--a little boozy, very bluesy, and possessed of an insatiable rhythmic flair.
Today, you're likely to hear them dust off a Tyrone Davis R&B classic, showcase an obscure rock nugget from Tom Waits or slide guitarist David Lindley, and cover the latest Blues Traveler tune, all within the space of a single set.
They also toss in a gaggle of originals, just in case they ever get the urge to reproduce their swampy hoodoo stomp in studio captivity. "We're working on a lot of new stuff," Wolfe says. "We've got years of cocktail napkins full of lyrics we're still trying to piece together."
"Our originals are bluesy," says Crawley. "We just do whatever comes, whatever feels right. But whatever we start with, we can eventually punch it up and put the right feel to it."
In the meantime, these battle-scarred thirtysomethings aren't mooning around with any pie-in-the-sky visions of stardom. They seem content keeping daytime jobs (Wolfe and Brown work in music stores, Crawley is a waiter and harmonica teacher) and playing nighttime gigs.
Which isn't to say that Crawdaddy doesn't stay busy. With three or four local shows scheduled in an average week, they might just be Knoxville's most in-demand band. And if that wasn't enough, they just added an acoustic sidelight, dubbed "Crawbaby," for gigs that call for something a little less plugged in.
"We call it 'songs we don't know,'" Wolfe chuckles. "Someone will yell out a song and we'll try it. If it works, we'll keep it."
"It's basically just an acoustic version of what we do as Crawdaddy," Crawley says. "We're just trying to have fun, doing whatever it takes. We're all kind of making out way and following a strange dream."
© Metro Pulse