Rob Trucks’s “Possibly 4th Street” expositions, in which he invites musicians he likes to perform live and impromptu somewhere in New York City, run frequently here at the Voice music blog. This week’s Deadstring Brothers installment took place when we were still shooting with a Fisher Price digicam. Consider the dateline for this issue BC (Before Camera).
photo by Doug Coombe
Volume I, Issue Eight (Part One)
by Rob Trucks
If ever one band embodied a singularly iconic, angry ‘70s classic rock album it would be Detroit’s Deadstring Brothers. Kick Out The Jams, you venture? Fun House, you guess? No. The Nuge’s Catscratch Fever or Double Live Gonzo? Not even close. And no Seeger, Suzi Quatro (though that might be interesting), Motown or Mitch Ryder either. Nope, the Deadstring Brothers heartily eschew their Midwestern roots (well, the Midwestern roots of singer, songwriter and head Deadstring Kurt Marschke) by copping a close, respectful feel of the Stones’ Exile on Main St.
I am not the first music writer-type to point this out. I may not even be in the first fifty music writer-types to point this out. In fact, you may safely say that, on this point (that is, the Deadstring Brothers sounding like the Stones’ Exile on Main St.), there is an undeniable consensus. (If only gun control, abortion rights, stem cell research and universal health care were this easy).
Even Marschke and his partner and fellow band member, Masha Marijeh, agree.
“It’s obvious,” says Masha. She laughs warmly as she cuts in front of Marschke (who has a mouth full of Doritos) to answer a question so blatant it might as well be rhetorical.
Late (late) on a Saturday afternoon, the ‘Strings have completed a long drive (from State College, PA), loaded their gear (including an electric organ that appears hernia heavy) into the Mercury Lounge, and laid claim to a parking spot (no small feat that) to rest their exhausted van and trailer.
Waiting for the delivery of two acoustic guitars (so we can, you know, do this thang) is an interval seemingly made for junk food ingestion. At least for road weary musicians. Music writer-types pass the time hoping the sun doesn’t vanish completely before the guitars arrive.
While confined to backup duty on earlier releases, on the ‘Strings third and most recent album Silver Mountain (Bloodshot), Masha not only sings more, she sings more out front. Which makes the whole Exile comparison a little less of an issue since Nellcôte didn’t host what you would call a strong female presence.
So when Masha sings lead, like on disc starter “Ain’t No Hidin’ Love,” the similarity of sound between Exile and their kindred Deadstrings does not immediately reach out, punch you in the face and take your lunch money.
This is not the case with Starving Winter Report, Silver Mountain’s predecessor and the band’s first record for Midwestern indie Bloodshot. At the same place (disc starter “Sacred Heart”) just one album prior, Kurt’s vocals, Kurt’s guitar, indeed, the overarching ambiance of “who gives a fuck? let’s play” (maybe that’s what Detroit offers) has reared back, let loose a host of haymakers, and pummeled its prey into an aggressive acquiescence.
Here Marschke (now Dorito-free) does not exactly concur.
“I think it sounds like a really wimpy version of it,” says the surpassingly self-deprecating Kurt of Winter Report’s commute to Main St. “I thought it was kind of Stones Lite, personally.”
Nevertheless, his vision, as it were, for the Deadstrings’ sound has remained constant.
“It was conscious ever since we started the band,” he says. “It was Dylan, the Stones and Willie Nelson. The outlaw movement and that late sixties country rock movement was basically all I really wanted to represent with this band.”
“I think you can write better songs, and you can get better at songwriting but I don’t really want to do anything musically that much different with this band. I kind of like what we’re doing, the way it sounds.”
But is it a problem, a dangerous dalliance with derivation perhaps, when your band is recognized for its strikingly similar sound to a record that just celebrated the 35th anniversary of its release?
“I don’t mind being compared to that,” Kurt says with a smile. “I have no problem with it at all. I just wish we did a better job at it.”
photo by Rob Trucks
Volume I, Issue Eight (Part Two)
by Rob Trucks
Today the part of ‘videographer’ will be played by Karan Rinaldo
Who: The Deadstring Brothers. All six of ‘em. Kurt, Masha, E. Travis Harrett, Jeff Cullum, Spencer Cullum and Pat Kenneally.
When: Just before that time of night when it’s just too dark to see the ball anymore and mothers across America call their children home using their full and proper names.
Where: The Southwest corner of Ludlow and Stanton
Doritos consumed at: Hot Bagels & Pizza, Houston St.
Something Kurt Marschke, the youngest of seven children, has done once and one time only:
“I only played hockey once. But I can ice-skate.
“When I was young we didn’t have any place to skate even though we grew up in Michigan. We skated, but nobody ever played hockey. And then I played hockey once and got the shit kicked out of me, and I figured, ‘Well, maybe that’s why I don’t play hockey.’”
A short reminiscence regarding growing up the youngest of seven in a house full of music:
“I was like five years old when I actually put a needle on a turntable. You know, I was really young. That wasn’t because I was passionate about music. It was because I wanted to do what everyone else in the house was doing. They were putting records on and shit.”
Two things Marschke, a right-handed guitarist, does left-handed:
“I shoot pool left-handed. I skateboard left-footed, too. My friends, when I was a little kid, used to say, ‘You’re goofy-footed.’ I’d say, ‘What the fuck is goofy-footed?’ I don’t know. Skateboarding is something else I sucked at.”
The album he’s listened to more than any other in his life:
“Do I have to admit Exile on Main St.?”
Kurt’s favorite Stones albums (in chronological order):
“Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile.”
Six by Dylan:
“Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks and Desire are my favorite Dylan records.”
We might as well close this trinity and talk about Willie Nelson:
“Shotgun Willie was my favorite early ‘70s studio record that he did. Willie and Family Live is one of the best records, I think, ever made. Those versions of those songs live are better than the studio recordings.”
Kurt’s one previous busking experience:
“I used to stay in D.C. My sister works at a hotel there, and I used to walk down to Dupont Circle from the hotel a lot. And this dude was always playing Hendrix songs on his guitar. He was there all the time. Every night I’d walk by and he’d be playing his guitar. He had this battery-powered amplifier and this really cheap electric guitar. And I’d sit there and talk to him, and he’d ask me, ‘Hey, do you want to sit up and play some tunes.’ And so I’d sit up there and play. And so that was me busking.
“All he played was Hendrix songs. That’s all he played was Jimi Hendrix. And the guy believed that he was somehow cosmically related to Jimi. It was kind of a strange thing. He was a sweetheart of a guy. He kind of even looked like him a little bit. A little heavier. But he told me that he thought that he and Jimi shared relations somehow.
“He used to take the bus there. He used to live in Southeast, which is not a very nice part of D.C. And he’d take the bus to Dupont and play his guitar and sing. He didn’t do drugs either. He seemed like a pretty straight up guy. He seemed like a good guy. I hope he’s doing all right.”
photo by Rob Trucks