Thursday, April 19, 2007


I once remarked in the early 90s that if I ever had to rip off the record, film and pop culture ephemera collection of one single individual, I’d have chosen Larry Hardy’s – Larry of course being the wunderkind behind IN THE RED RECORDS, for many, many years one of the world’s finest rock and roll record labels (still is to this day). I said this not because Larry’s vast holdings were necessarily more valuable than anyone else’s (of course I’d truly go into Joe Bussard’s basement first), but because he seemed to have every cool record that I wanted that had just gone out of print, and because he always seemed to get that edition-of-100 7” single that I always found out about one minute too late (from people like Larry).

Naturally it was Larry who turned me onto this 1986 scorcher from THE WORKDOGS on “King Dog Bisquet” records. This two-man, lo-fidelity, crazed blues/comedy band have played with many heavyweights over the years, but back in ’86 they were just starting to build their mythos and put their raw sounds out directly to the people. “Funny $” has a riff that will claw its way into your cranial lobes and never leave, which I assure you will be crazy-making for most folks, but me, I’m happy to have it bouncing around in there. It’s a marathon workout by “garage punk” standards, too – at least six or seven minutes, right? For fun, here’s the phonus-balonus liner notes they included with the single way back then:

The Workdogs are the hot, new blues sensation that has all of New York on it's ear. A two man rhythm unit employing the services of a third - replacable - instrumentalist, the Workdogs have cut a wide swathe across the contemporary music scene. Equally versed in rock, jazz, trash and noise as well as their acknowledged mastry of the blues idiom; the 'dogs are in high demand - not only for their legendary live performances but also as New York's premier rhythm section for hire.

In spite of the Workdogs' phenominal popularity, little is actually known about Robert "HiRex" Kennedy. His name appears on the 1980 census three times - aged twenty seven - residing in Los Angeles, New York and Helena, Arkansas. Sources in these cities describe him variously and contradictorily.

It is thought that Kennedy spent his teen years following the fabled "Dumb" John Gomer (Cosmar) who apparently was his first and only teacher. Gomer would play the blues but he would (or could) not sing them; perhaps this accounts for "hiRex's" idiosyncratic vocal techniques. Likewise his lyricism, in which verses have little logical sequence and may - as rumour has it - flow directly from his subconscious mind. Besides these many intangible nuances his work is spiked with vocal asides, topical references and other special effects that suggest the buffoonery of the Workdogs' live performance.

Of Scott Jarvis we know considerably more. Jarvis' North Carolina Piedmont background is well documented. He himself often speaks fondly of his maternal great grandfather who is still something of a Piedmont legend for his drumming at most major local sporting events - especially baseball games. This, apparently, is the inspiration for Jarvis' sobriquet: "Blind Frothin' Baseball."

Sometime during his twenties, "Frothin" became acquainted with J.F. "Peck" Curtis and subsequently taught him everything he knew: the "controlled skid", the "hesitation recovery", the "stop immediately" and the "blues waltz" to name a few. Listening to his playing, one might think that he had set out deliberately to develop a style that could never be reproduced by machine - an all too common practice at the time. in fact, first person accounts confirm Frothin' Baseball's obsessive - some say superstitious - distrust of the newfangled technology.
Perhaps this explains the Workdogs' shunning the recording studio in favor of live performance. It is said that the 'dogs will set up anywhere, anytime and do virtually anything to hold an audience's attention. Numerous stories and hundreds of "bootleg" tapes attest to this fact. Yet these two sides are currently the only Workdogs material available anywhere in print, a sorry situation that King Dog Bisquet hopes to soon rectify.

Play or Download THE WORKDOGS – “Funny $” 45

1 comment:

J Neo Marvin said...

Rob Kennedy is still at it. Here's a link to a show we taped at the Undisclosed Location, where he's backed by the Contractions: