A couple of months ago I was on Youtube (you know, this little website bought for a symbolic sum by Google) looking for some videos by Deke Dickerson. Of course I found some and on one of them there was this guest guitar slinger playing "Flight Of The Bumble Bee Twist" and to say the least I was amazed ! Crazy Joe was his name. I made some more research and ended on Atom records, the label that issued his albums as well as Nicky Kay and His Fabulous Kay-tones, a band Joe plays guitar with. Two songs later I was hooked like I rarely was and ordered the cd's that same day. "Chopped, Slammed & Twangin'" was great - with a slight Reverend Horton Heat feel in it - but "Sweatin' Bullets Over You" left me speechless. A faultless five song ep that could stand near your Deke Dickerson's albums without be ashamed, for me it was an instant classic (I wont review it again, take a look at the review section to read more) and I said to myself "I'd love to interview to this guy". This is what I finally did for my great pleasure and I hope for yours too...

by Fred "Virgil" Turgis

 
   
 
Until very recently, to my great shame, the name of Crazy Joe was unknown to me. Could you tell me where do you come from and what’s your background?

I’m from the great state of Ohio - born in Columbus in 1979, grew up in a little town called Granville, and then moved with my parents to Enon in 1995, which is in the Miami Valley near Dayton. I’ve stayed in that area ever since.

What led you to pick the guitar? Did some specific player have an impact on you?
Yeah, my dad! He played in bands in high school and college, and I suppose seeing him play around the house when I was a small kid made me want my own guitar. When I was four, I begged my mom to get me one, which she did for Christmas - a plastic guitar from Big Bear with a picture of Willie Nelson! My folks still have it.

What did you grow up listening to?
My dad’s records, which were mostly from the mid- to late-60’s. He had everything from the Beach Boys and the Beatles to the Who, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, you name it. He liked everything, so I also got to hear Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, all kinds of good stuff. And of course oldies radio, back when they actually played music from the 1950’s and 1960’s.
But then there were also his mother’s records, which would later have a bigger impact than I realized at the time. Nanny was a country fan, so I heard Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, the Statler Brothers, Eddy Arnold, Roy Clark. She had the “Roy Clark Guitar Spectacular” LP which I only very recently realized must have influenced me subconsciously.

How and when did you form Crazy Joe & The Mad River Outlaws and is this your first band?
I started my first band when I was 12, called Wasted Energy. We played late-60’s cover songs, but never had any real gigs. I was the youngest guy in the group; the other guys were all 15 or 16 years old and in high school. Then in high school I played in different bands with my buddies and did a lot of home recording, playing all the instruments myself; I suppose kind of like Les Paul, but this was still mainly 60’s music.
I started Crazy Joe and the Mad River Outlaws in the spring of 2000. I was in my third year in college and happened to run into a guy I went to high school with on my way to class. By that time I had become totally addicted to the Reverend Horton Heat and had “accidentally” seen the Amazing Royal Crowns twice…the first time was a life-changing experience. I mean, I’d heard music from the 1950’s off and on my entire life, and even played some of it in high school, but suddenly it seemed like the most exciting music I’d ever heard. So I asked the guy, who later turned out to be “Hep Cat” Matt Duffey, if he wanted to start a 50’s-style rockabilly band. He looked at me like I was crazy but shrugged his shoulders and said “all right.” Two summers before that, I played drums in a punkabilly band called Switchblade Serenade. It was fun, but never amounted to anything.

You sometimes refer to the band as "nerdabilly". How would you define that?
Well, you’d have to ask Deke Dickerson; he’s the one who came up with it. I guess the name “Crazy Joe” is somewhat ironic, because I’m not exactly a wild and crazy guy. I have a master’s degree in electrical engineering and I spend an awful lot of my free time designing hi-fi and recording equipment and tinkering with stuff. I couldn’t be a dangerous rock rebel if my life depended on it. But hey, at least I’m not trying to fool anybody.

The new EP “Sweatin’ Bullets...” is different and shows more variety in the styles approached, with a rock’n’roll tune with sax, a Bakersfield type song, a Joe Maphis-Les Paul instro and a ballad ala Elvis. A word about that.
Well, thanks for comparing me to my heroes! I guess I just like a lot of different stuff. I go through phases where I’m obsessed with a particular artist, and I’m sure that has something to do with it. Merle Travis, Les Paul, Little Richard, the Collins Kids, Johnny Horton, the Comets, you get the idea.

Another change to the sound was Matt who now plays electric bass. Why did he switch and does he still play the slap bass?
Oh yes, he still plays slap bass; he reminds me every day. I was looking for a deeper, more penetrating bass sound like some of the later rock & roll records and 60’s country. Think of “Somethin’ Else” by Eddie Cochran - that’s a fantastic sound.

What about the other two, Rob and Brian?
I’m very lucky to have these guys in the band. Brian Hoeflich is a great drummer who has actually played this kind of music for a long time, even did a pick-up gig with Deke several years ago. That’s very difficult to find around Dayton, OH, trust me! While I was “between drummers” I cut the EP with two different session guys I knew, and they did an admirable job. But with Brian I won’t hesitate to take the band as-is and record, which we’re planning to do as soon as I get off the road with Deke in December. I’m doing his fall tour, which I’m very excited about.

I suppose having Rob on the rhythm guitar allows you more freedom on your guitar playing than the trio line-up?
Oh, you have no idea. And acoustic guitar is something I’ve always wanted in the group, but couldn’t find. And he’s a great singer, too! He can do a surprisingly accurate Johnny Cash vocal, and that lower range sounds really good on vocal harmonies, it compliments my range nicely. Again, I will not hesitate to record these guys as-is, they’re great. And the best part is that there are no jerks in the band. We all get along great. I didn’t realize how valuable that is until now.

Talking about guitar, what is the brand of the one you have on the cover of ‘Sweatin’? It looks like a Bigsby model.
That guitar is a Casey Simmons Custom “Triphonic.” Casey is an old buddy of mine; I met him about seven years ago when I put a Hammond M-3 organ up for sale in the newspaper. He was only in high school then. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years when he called me one day in 2004 asking for help wiring a guitar he’d built. I knew he had built guitars before, mostly from pre-made parts, but the one he brought over was stunning. Entirely hand-made from scratch, it was beautiful. I told him his next guitar would have my name on it. So I came up with the design and we co-engineered its construction. It’s made of solid Korina, white Limba for the body and black Limba for the neck, which runs all the way through the guitar. Critical to the sound are the three G&L pickups, which I think are the best available. I have several G&L guitars, and they’re great; they’re all I used before Casey built me the 12-lb. monster. I’ve never owned a better guitar in my life. It’s hell on my back, but worth it.

You’ve played at The Deke’s Guitar Geek, are you, like Deke, crazy about guitars?
Well, sort of. Back when I started the group I lusted after a 50’s Gretsch Round Up like Conway Twitty had back then, but the vintage guitar scene has gotten too rich for my blood. I decided that I wanted something different, and boy, did I get that. I toyed with the idea of a doubleneck for a while, because I sometimes play this thing I call an “electric ukulele” that I built in eighth-grade shop class; it’s really just an octave-up six-string guitar. You can hear it on “Electric Ukulele Rag” on the new EP. But I decided that the doubleneck is really Deke’s territory, so I wouldn’t touch one with a ten-foot pole.

You recently toured with him, how was it?
Oh, it was great! Deke’s a GREAT guy to work for, a true professional who’s also really fun to hang out with. He’s really kind of taken me under his wing and helped get me out there, which means a lot more to me than I could probably ever tell him. Deke has been an enormous influence on me, as if you couldn’t tell! I mean, Crazy Joe and the Mad River Outlaws had been around a while before I ever heard of Deke. I had written most of the songs on “Chopped, Slammed, & Twangin’,” we had a bit of a fan base going, and I thought I was pretty good. Then I heard Deke and thought, “uh oh, I’ve got a lot of work to do.” I told him this story recently and he said, “well quit working, ‘cause you’re already better than me!” Obviously not even remotely true. Deke’s like the cool older brother I never had.

You’re booked to play the Green Bay festival in 2007. Do you plan to meet some legends there?
Well, Little Richard is my idol. I’d give all ten fingers to be able to sing like that. And you know who I really love? Joe Clay! I played rhythm guitar behind him at the Ponderosa Stomp in Memphis last May, and he scared me to death. You know how sometimes these old guys play and you think, “wow, for an old guy, he sure has a lot of energy.” Well, not Joe Clay…he’s more energetic than I am at 27! And his singing is just ridiculously great. I love the sides he cut in 1956.

Do you have a day job or are you a full time musician?
By day, I’m an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Wright State University currently working on my doctorate. I know, not very rock & roll, is it? The good thing is that I can take a quarter off to tour with Deke Dickerson and get away with it. I don’t make squat for someone with a MSEE degree, but being able to play music more than makes up for it. I’m extremely lucky.

A last word?
Three years ago, if someone had told me I’d soon be playing festivals in Las Vegas, Seattle, and Green Bay, touring across the country in Deke Dickerson’s band and backing up Herb Remington in Memphis, I would’ve said “no way.” I’m very fortunate.

   
 
 
   

  Sweatin’ Bullets Over You
Atom Records –Atom1006
Behind this look of Nasa engineer escaped from “The Right Stuff” hides one of the best new talent I’ve heard for years. “No prisonner! seems to be Crazy Joe’s anthem on this EP as they open with two wild rockers that knock your socks off.with brilliant guitar work and screamin’ sax on “Yak Yak Yak” (Larry Williams and Little Richard are not far). “Electric Ukulele” Rag is actuallythe classic “Steel Guitar Rag” but think about it played by Joe Maphis with the help of Les Paul and a bit of Tiny Moore and you’ll have an idea of the talent of this young (but crazy) guy. It’s time to solw down a bit and the Bakersfield styled “Baby’s behind” is perfect for that. Once again great musical skill and funny lyrics. This fine but short EP ends with “Sweatin’ Bullets Over You” a nice slow song reminiscent of “Trying To Get To You”. Now think about it : guitar wizard, eclectism, funny lyrics… Didn’t you use this words for someone else before? Yes, Crazy Joe is made of the same stuff Deke Dickerson is : the right stuff of course !