Redneck at the Gates of Dawn

How Luther Wright found a bluegrass album buried in a prog-rock classic.



Crocodile Cafe, 441-5611, $8

9 p.m. Fri., Aug. 9

Luther Wright was a man with a vision. A vision and a sackful of sprayed dope.

Just kidding. The truth—at least to hear him tell it—is that Wright was cold sober when he started goofing around with his acoustic guitar in the van, playing along with the radio, and what came out was a country version of “Another Brick in the Wall, pt. 2.”

“It started off as a joke,” he says, from somewhere on the road to Edmonton, Alberta. “But the longer I played around with it, I thought, ‘Man, this is a great country song.’ And I discovered that a lot of the songs on The Wall lent themselves to that style—there are a lot of C to F to G progressions, and the whole thing’s about broken hearts, anyway.”

From little nuts do mighty oaks grow. And last fall, Canadian alt-bluegrass combo Luther Wright and the Wrongs scored the season’s sleeper hit when Rebuild the Wall—a full-length country rearrangement of Pink Floyd’s The Wall—dropped, like a chicken flung from a grain silo, on an unsuspecting public.

Previously available only as an import, the album finally received a U.S. release on Back Porch records in July. And before you ask: Yes, it works.

If anything, Rebuild the Wall is even cooler than it sounds on paper. Done with an absolutely straight face but filled with poignant humor and shit-kicking merriment, Rebuild the Wall manages to take one of rock’s most familiar, unrelentingly dour prog albums and turn it into something fresh and flatly remarkable.

“We took our time with it,” Wright insists. “The thing is, it was always intended to be serious. I mean, it’s bizarre, too, simply because it is what it is. But the album wasn’t ever envisioned as a joke. The songs on The Wall are really great pieces of music.”

Luther Wright and the Wrongs, it should be noted, are consummate musicians—a project like this doesn’t fly if it isn’t buoyed by solid talent. But perhaps because Wright and company took their task to heart, Rebuild the Wall‘s finest moments are those subtle changes through which Roger Waters’ vision of stadium-rock excess becomes a tale of regular old, dollar-draft-soaked heartache.

Pink takes the young groupie back to his hotel room, between “Young Lust” and “One of My Turns”: “Goll-lee!” she drawls. “What a spread! Are all them your git-tars?” “Comfortably Numb” opens with a booming, heartfelt “Howdy!” instead of Dave Gilmour’s breathy “Hellooo. . . . ” And the many WWII soundscapes on the original album are rescored to sound like an old Western movie, with shots ricocheting off distant rocks and throaty “yee-HAH!’s” replacing the plane engines and explosions of the canonical version.

(It works, we tell you. Honest to god, it does.)

Once they’d decided to go at it whole hog—”You can’t half-do a thing like this,” says Wright—the band set about doing their homework.

“We started by listening to the whole album start to finish and playing along with it. And we got the parts worked out—slowly. By the time we went into the studio to record it, we knew pretty much where it was going, but we still ended up doing several takes and rerecording parts many times over. The whole thing took about six months to put together. We wanted to make it as perfect as we could before we sent the disc off to Roger Waters.”

Wright and the Wrongs—whose first album, oddly enough, was titled Roger’s Waltz—shipped an early pressing of the album to Waters, who responded like a perfect gentleman.

“He said he really liked it; he even wished us luck with it.”

When Wright first felt the stirrings of Rebuild the Wall, he was touring with Weeping Tile, an alt-rock combo whose idiom ran closer to the Replacements than Webb Pierce. A brief hiatus from Weeping Tile allowed Wright and the Wrongs to concentrate on their own neo-country sound, and gave them the time to record Rebuild the Wall. Strangely, in fact, all the Weeping Tile members’ side projects have become so successful that the band’s future remains up in the air.

“We’ve been getting a lot of invitations to go to festivals, to play for kids,” says Wright. “The kids—oh, man, the kids are the most terrifying. They don’t have to be polite at all. If they think you suck, they’ll just get up and leave.

“But we’ve had a lot of fun, helping out in workshops and so on,” adds Wright—who, even as we speak, is on his way to a country music festival in Edmonton.

“We’re going to be around some of the top people in country music,” he laughs nervously. “Toby Keith’s going to be there. And me with my pink hair.”