Real rock & roll hasn’t changed much since Chuck Berry more or less invented it by speeding up the blues all those years ago, and while Tulsa-based rockers The Rollin’ Phattys aren’t exactly making new waves in that sea of sound, they are making international impressions with their new album, “Red Hot Joe.”
The Rollin’ Phattys – Ken ‘Cooter’ Helton on lead vocals and guitar, Jeff Parker on lead guitar and vocals, John Buckner on bass and Dixie Weathers on drums – play rock & roll in the truest sense. Many reviewers and even the band itself refers to their style as “Southern rock” – a label often decried by authentic southern rockers – but rock & roll is, by its very nature, a southern phenomenon, and the new disk incorporates elements of the southern sound from Piedmont and Georgia to Memphis and the Louisiana Bayou. The Tulsa sound is there, too, of course, and the Texas blues are also well-represented. In fact, there’s nothing New York or Philly about these Phattys.
The band’s name is not a drug reference; it actually speaks of fat-boy Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and these bandmates have rolled together in various bands for years. Helton, Parker and Buckner earned their chops in Stillwater-based bands including $2 Bill, The Hickodelics and The Loaded Jodies; two years ago, Parker and Buckner formed the new group with Helton and original drummer Damon Daniel. Default drummer Weathers has a full plate of extracurricular activities – she guested on Artimus Pyle’s solo album – and other drummers often fill in for her.
Helton is blessed with a powerful voice and has obviously worked hard to develop his skills to their full potential. He growls and shouts the blues, throwing in gutteral delta laughter – but he can still melt hearts with a gentle ballad. Helton does all that a frontman is supposed to do, connecting with the audience and making sure everyone’s having a good time.
Guitarists can play for decades and not develop the technique Parker exhibited in his twenties, when he played with regional legends Xebec. With his obvious influences including Billy Gibbons, Duane Allman and Ed King, he once started a set at Blues City with a dazzling-yet-inventive five-minute guitar solo and created sounds ranging from liquid, Hendrix-style chords to Marshall stack-shaking sequences that could shatter the rafters at the Royal Albert Hall. Though such inborn dexterity is rare and puts him in the top tier of world-class rock guitarists, Parker does not suffer from any bloated ego; it’s just something he’s able to do, and he considers it a gift.
But two extraordinary frontmen alone cannot make a band, and John Buckner’s basswork is the gravity that bolts the sound to the slab of the building – one gets the sense that he could do structural damage, if he was so inclined, but he knows he’s there to make the groove. He and Weathers both have opportunities to solo and prove they’re more than just a formidable rhythm section.
“Red Hot Joe” was tracked at Parker’s Tahlequah studio, and Parker has recorded for Rita Coolidge, many Native American projects, soundtracks for public television documentaries – and he’s produced three world-music CDs under the Coyote Zen banner.
“I was playing here in Tahlequah with Tom Skinner and Bob Childers, who I was co-producing for Binky Records,” said Parker. “I had a serious injury to my fretting hand and a severed tendon group on the top of my thumb – which could have ended my performing career – but it healed back 99 percent. It made me realize I needed to utilize the gift I’ve been given and that’s when John and I started putting the new band together.”
On “Red Hot Joe,” Zydeco great Chubby Carrier plays on the track ‘Cochon de Lait (Down on the Bayou)’, further enhancing the band’s music and their credibility.
Some of the proceeds from the CD will go toward the Jeff Meyers Journalism Scholarship Fund at the University of Oklahoma. The former lead singer of Xebec, Meyers’ life was cut short just as he retired from a career at CBS News.
The Phattys’ brand is American roots music, and Europeans are huge fans of it. Old-time bluesmen like Luther Allison often moved to Europe because they could make a better living there. Catch this band as they play around the region, and pick up “Red Hot Joe” – even the artwork is impressive. In fact, do it now, before those pesky Europeans steal them away from us.
Check out these other links for more on The Rollin’ Phattys: www.cimsound.com/phattys; www.myspace.com/rollinphattys; www.sonicbids.com/RollinPhattys; and firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author:
A working Tulsa musician and writer Jim Downing has often been featured in Tulsa Today. To see all of his work, use the site search feature by entering Downing. (Ok, so some Downing Street political stuff may display, but ignore that – we’re talking music here.) Downing’s columns have included his discovery of the first place Bob Wills played in Tulsa, “Musical Hallowed Ground Found” and a series on Tulsa’s unique historic contributions to the international music scene and a tribute to Rockin’ John Henry.