BOB LOG III
THE COACHWHIPS, HYDRO GURU
Crocodile Cafe, 206-441-5611, $8
9 p.m. Fri., Feb. 7
LET US DISPENSE WITH niceties: There is a certain type of blues fan who will never pick up on what Tucson, Ariz.'s Bob Log III is putting down.
There is a kind of listener whose collection consists solely of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Lang discs, who's never heard of Bukka White or R.L. Burnside or Luise Bogan and wouldn't care for them if he had. There is a type of suburban dude—he genuinely considers himself a true aficionado—who drives to his cubicle at the accounting firm each morning in his Lexus, blasting Eric Clapton's cover of "Motherless Children" on the five-CD changer with factory-installed subwoofers. Patting the steering wheel's textured leather hand guard in time to the music. Adjusting the climate control. Whistling.
Bob Log III's crowd—rather, the crowd Log's hoping to cultivate—isn't made up of that kind of blues fan. Bob Log III is going after the tit clappers and the boob scotchers, the boot shufflers and the booze guzzlers. And for all the theatricality surrounding Log's one-man-band stage act, replete with motorcycle helmet and a mike fashioned from a telephone handset, the one salient fact to consider above all others is just this: Bob Log III plays the hell out of a slide guitar.
That's a consideration you might miss, looking only at the surface, from which vantage point you'd see an enigmatic, rail-skinny guy, possibly mustached, tricked out in a bright blue motorcycle outfit. On his head, obscuring his face, you'd see a crash helmet with smoked visor, to which has been affixed a clunky black receiver from a rotary-dial phone. In concert, you'd see a man with his left foot on a kick cymbal, his right working a bass drum, maybe a girl from the audience perched on his knee, and both hands busily preoccupied with one of a series of pawn-shop f-hole acoustic guitars, rewired and outfitted with both electric and acoustic pickups. When he opened his mouth to sing, you'd hear songs with titles like "Boob Scotch," "Clap Your Tits," "Drunk Stripper," "Make You Say Wow!," "Wigglin' Room," "Wag Your Tail Like a Dog in the Back of a Truck," and so forth.
And when he opens his mouth to talk . . . well . . .
On the genesis of "Boob Scotch": "The idea came from 'boob water'—you know, the sweat that collects under the boob? Anyhow, I'm at a baseball game and it's really hot, and I said to the girl I was with, 'How about putting some of your boob water on the back of my neck?' And she says, 'I've got a better idea. Why don't I put my boob in your scotch?'"
On the deploying of "Boob Scotch" as an audience participation tool: "I'd recorded a song called 'Clap Your Tits' [on 1999's Trike] because I really like the sound of tits clapping together—male, female, doesn't matter; I'm not sexist—but in concert it was hard to get organized. I'd had this vision of masses of people clapping their tits to the music. Didn't happen. It took too long to explain. But the boob scotch is nice and simple."
True enough—witness this helpful directive from the song in question: "Pass my drink round the room!/Everybody stick in a boob!/Hold it in as long as you can!/Then put it back in Bob Log's hand!" Sort of a pervert's "Hokey Pokey," if you will.
The thing is, Bob Log III comes across as a sane, even charming, fella, when he's not patently bullshitting. To be sure, these moments are scarce: At various points in the conversation, he'll claim that (a) he has no legal objections to "Boob Scotch" being arranged for big-band performance, (b) his left foot is planning to record a solo album, and (c) he can't show his face on his Fat Possum records because he sold the rights to his face to another label. (Actually, word to aspiring young musicians, this last one is sort of plausible.)
Log's Barnum-esque showmanship is one thing, but you don't get props from an artist like Tom Waits—as Bob Log III did in a recent Time Out London interview—without packing fairly serious chops, as well. And on songs like "Put That There," "F-Hole Parade," and the speed-of-light instrumental workout "Slide Guitar Ride Junior," Log proves he can back up the mouth with the money.
START ASKING LOG about the particulars of his music, and the antic guitar hound suddenly turns dead professional, citing chapter and verse on his string sizes and the process by which old Silvertone acoustics with action as high as the ceiling become playable instruments.
The shift is jarring, but absolutely convincing; it soon becomes clear that Bob Log III, punk-junk-blues noisemaker though he may be, is aggressively schooled in the ways of his guitar heroes. Log's playing style is rooted in the percussive slide work of Furry Lewis and Blind Willie McTell, a flailing melodic attack that's resulted in trial-and-error modifications to his gear.
"I kept breaking strings," he says, "so I had to keep increasing my string gauge. But I tune really low, like an octave below standard, so even if there's an inch between the string and the fretboard, the strings don't waver."
Listening to Log Bomb, Bob Log's third full-length release for Epitaph/Fat Possum, you can believe it. Not for Bob Log the slow, plodding blues: The numbers on Log Bomb run the gamut from frantic to uncontrollable, or nearly uncontrollable. Even at his most manic, as on the whipsawing "Rattler," Log stays firmly at the helm, and the music never gets sloppy.
Bob Log III's blues are decidedly postmodern—he's not reinventing the wheel, and doesn't pretend to—but where soul mate Jon Spencer has made a career of playing up the genre's slow lyricism and riff-based melodies, Bob Log III has tapped into the juke-joint rave-up mentality of dirty preachers like Junior Kimbrough and cranked it up to 3,000 bpm. But he approaches it with such evident love of the genre, such clearly articulated respect for his heroes (like Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the above-mentioned Bukka White), that half the fun of listening comes from his own evident joy in playing.
And, of course, from the life lessons taught by the music.
"I've never had a drink," Log says solemnly, "that wasn't improved by a boob."