With a name like the Suffering Fuckheads, you're bound to make some people unhappy.
The Suffering Fuckheads Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave., 206-784-4880, www.sunsettavern.com. $5. 9 p.m. Sundays.
"My mom hates it," laughs drummer Mike Peterson. "She's like, 'Why do you always have to have these damn vulgar names?'"
But music fans who drop by the Sunset Tavern in Ballard on Sunday nights—where the Fuckheads have had a weekly residence for the past nine months—will almost certainly be happy to catch one of Seattle's most unique, talented, and irreverent groups. What you'll see is the burly, bald, bushy-bearded Peterson, 39, pounding away on his kit on one side of the tiny stage; slight-of-build, beret-wearing beatnik Ron Weinstein, 58, hunched over his Hammond B3 organ on the other side of the stage; and between them a couple of the city's most skilled horn players, and perhaps also an upright bassist or a guitarist or whoever else decides to spontaneously drop by that night. What you'll hear is a killer combination of bebop, metal, R&B, funk, and skronk—or "jazz-punk," as it's frequently termed. The Sunset's deep red lighting lends a devilish air to the proceedings, as does the musicians' brazen attitude—as their press materials state, "They are not going to play your wedding, but they might do your divorce."
Weinstein, an N.Y.C. native inspired by Booker T. and the MG's, began playing Farfisa organ in high-school garage bands. He joined the hippie migration to San Francisco in the late '60s, then spent a year or so enjoying drug-fueled adventures in Europe, Lebanon, and Egypt. Returning to California, he played organ in a string of blues bands until deciding to leave in 1987.
"I was down to my last gig in an empty bar, so I split. I had friends in Seattle, and I had planned to stop here briefly while trying to figure out which warm-weather city to go to . . . but then I got here and I started getting gigs right away, and I just met too many good musicians and was really starting to learn jazz, so I stayed."
At that time, Peterson was just beginning his now-20-year drumming career, which has included stints in numerous local metal and punk bands (he currently plays in the Accused). Around 1994, Peterson started getting into Miles Davis and listened to nothing but jazz, subsequently joining various avant-jazz outfits, which led to him and Weinstein crossing paths in 1999. The pair hit it off, and formed the Suffering Fuckheads the following year.
"I could tell from the beginning that his mind was super open to all kinds of stuff, so I was like, fuck it, let's try some crazy shit," says Peterson. "So we'll be kinda traditional, and then we'll get massively loud and out there in parts. It's exciting, and it's pretty fun because we're always flipping each other off and shit; it's great."
As with many jazz combos, the Fuckheads have seen a number of players come and go over the years. "I think we probably wear people out and they get sick of us, cause we're kinda obnoxious," Weinstein laughs. "They can't take it anymore."
Not so (at least not yet) for two musicians most regularly spotted onstage with the Fuckheads these days: saxophonist/ clarinetist Craig Flory, who leads his own group, Combo Craig, and has played with Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet; and trumpeter Tom Marriott, a renowned solo artist and onetime member of the Maynard Ferguson Big Band who's also in the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.
Together, their three-hour sets feature a handful of original compositions, such as Weinstein's "Bar Slut," and a bevy of jazz standards and obscurities—from "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" to John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," Cedar Walton's "Bolivia," and Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil"—all given a Fuckheads kinda spin.
Noting that the group is planning to record an album in the fall, Weinstein acknowledges the Fuckheads moniker might cause some problems. Still, he laughs, "I made it up and I'm gonna stand by it; I'm gonna be the captain going down with the ship! . . . I suppose the name might be limiting in the sense that a bunch of places can't put it on the marquee; even the Ballard Chamber of Commerce said we can't put it on the sign outside the Sunset. But I think the worst thing about the name is that it seems a bit ostentatious or might be hard to live up to. If you have a name like the Suffering Fuckheads, you'd better be good!"