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The Bruce Duff Factor

16 Oct

Bassist Bruce Duff has been working his twisted idea of rock music into the LA underground for a good 25 years now, and shows no signs of slowing in 2008. For beginners, there’s a great interview with the man himself here. I really don’t know a hell of a lot more about him, other than he is repeatedly attracted to the glammy, freak end of metaloid punk – you know, the end where theatre grease paint drips in bloody, clotted globules from an emaciated, hollow-cheeked singer impersonating a shrieking hyena. And while there’s no actual connection between the following EPs, Bruce Duff’s name does appear someplace on the back cover of each, guaranting they all exude an outsider weirdness consistent with those living/feeling/emoting space aliens who’ve sought to deliver their message via rock n roll. Grab a spacesuit and do step carefully into the airlock:

1. 45 GRAVEPhantoms EP (Enigma Records, 1983) – The difficult transition record between the unholy GERMS riffing of their amazing first “Black Cross” single, and the sorta lackluster, dead-on-a-platter metal pose of their Sleep In Safety LP. This was the only waxed evidence of Bruce’s tenure with the band, though apparently they recorded a full album’s worth of tunes at the time. Admittedly, the sound is ragged and the mix piss-poor, but the songs are loopy fun, Paul Cutler’s soloing weird-ass, and the sonic vibe altogether subterranean. With a few more rehearsals and some aural clarity, this particular GRAVE could’ve waxed a piece a heavenly hell. Hear it here.

2. THE WILDS/T EP (Erika Records, 1983) – To really appreciate this one, you’re gonna haveta read Sleazegrinder’s awesome write-up of it in Lovers, Buggers, & Thieves published by Headpress in 2005. These insane clowns were probably trippier to behold than actually listen to, but that don’t mean what they laid down was bad. Not in the slightest, and it smacks of little engineered Duffisms – particularly the spoken/sung vocals and oddball production with prominent, in-your-face gtrs – every which way you turn. And these WILD guys, talk about rarito. They just don’t give birth to em on this planet like they used to. Read more about and listen to this nutty artifact here.

3. THE JESTERS OF DESTINYIn a Nostalgic Mood EP (Metal Blade Records, 1987) – There’s a full-length CD by these guys now sadly out-of-print that all self-respecting freaks (that’s you) should own. None of these EP cuts made it on that, so completist fans (that’s me) need both. Here they give you doom rock – before the genre existed! – with a massive cover of SABBATH’s “Electric Funeral,” a heady and melodramatic take on CCR’s “Fortunate Son” with piano courtesy of DC3’s Paul Roessler, a totally fun butchering of HENDRIX’s “Foxy Lady”, and more. Bruce apparently doesn’t think too highly of these particular recordings, but me I love em. In the context of the mid/late 80’s LA metal underground, this musta seemed like the work of total nutcases. We approve, Bruce, we approve.

4. THE ULTRASComplete Handbook of Songwriting EP (XXX Records, 1991) – Bruce is only producing here, and since it was the early 90’s it’s suave, polished, and spit-shined. But the rocking is far more compelling that anything on the FASTER PUSSYCAT records I used to own, and the lyrics completely leftfield; no doubt THE ULTRAS are the only hair metal act ever to reference William S. Burroughs, Charles Manson, and Mel Lyman in their lyrics (see their “Tramp on the Road“). This is actually one of the oddest recordings to come outta the late LA glam daze, and a great one it was.

5. CIRCLEEarthworm EP (Ektro Records, 2006) – the only one of these even remotely in print. The guys in Finland’s CIRCLE put out the JESTERS OF DESTINY reissue CD a few years ago, and then thought so highly of Mr. Duff as to ask him to lend some of his vocal JESTERS to their 2006 recordings. And dammit if CIRCLE didn’t come up with what my ears call their best effort yet. I tend not to have alot of patience for what’s passed off in the name of “minimalism” these days, but these CIRCLE boys have a nifty way of grafting quite extreme, off-world elements (like Bruce!) atop their repetitive, circular riffing. Makes for some maximal enjoyment, me thinks.

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MySpace rumour has it that there’s a Bruce Duff/Mike Watt record in the works. Can this be true? Probably not, but an earthling can can hope.