Blues Brothers : L.A. bar band has been lifted into the big time by independent label god Rick Rubin. They will play the Ventura Theatre.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, rock stars, you're at the Big Gig but the drummer is late because he had to have his foofoo haircut sandblasted. There's no dream date in the crowd and now the substitute bartender wants you to pay for beer.

Then you start to play, and half the crowd leaves and the other half starts playing pool--what could be worse? Your mother-in-law with a subpoena? But wait--at this point, in walks Mr. Big from This Week's Nirvana Record Company. You get signed and live rock 'n' roll dreams happily ever after.

It happens. Really. Just ask the Red Devils out of Los Angeles. It happened to them when maverick independent label owner Rick Rubin cruised into the King King, a club in L.A., a few years ago. He signed the Red Devils to his Def American label.

Now these rootsy blues rockers have an album that is collecting swell compliments from the critics as it cruises through the charts with the power of a Chrysler heading down the Conejo Grade in overdrive with the windows down, the stereo blaring and no cops in sight. Now the Red Devils know lots of celebrities and have recorded an as-yet-unreleased album with Mick Jagger.

Roots blues rock is the stuff that never quite hits it big, yet never goes away.

In the '60s, when the white guys finally discovered what all those black blues dudes had been doing for years, there was a blues explosion. In America, we got the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Blues Project, while in merry olde England, it seemed like every band was a blues band, from the Rolling Stones to Fleetwood Mac.

In the '70s, the Fabulous Thunderbirds were the next big thing, then the Blasters in the early '80s. Even our own local maniacs, Raging Arb & the Redheads, do the rockin' blues thing.

The Red Devils, now in Colorado, will be on the bill at the venerable Ventura Theatre on Saturday night with the Texas Tornados and local rockers the Convertibles.

Blasters fans will know the drummer, Bill Bateman. Paul Size and Mike Flannagan are the guitar players with Jonny Ray Bartel on bass. Naturally, the guy with the shades is singer/harmonica player Lester Butler, who was turned on to the old blues guys by the late guitarist Hollywood Fats.

Lester recently discussed his favorite band:

*

So you guys are skiing in Colorado. Do you have too much money?

No man, we're snowed in here in Breckinridge. There was a big blizzard, plus we got a half-price deal on lift tickets. These are two of the most fun things in life, skiing and music. Skiing is a sport where you can be creative; same thing for music.

*

Roots rock never seems to make it big but it never seems to go away. Where do the Red Devils fit in?

The blues is a live art form, I guess, but I sit up every night and think about this. We do basically Chicago blues--Slim Harpo kind of stuff jammed up and a little electrified. It's raw, house-rockin' blues. We're just like a steak and a potato on a plate, no carrots, nothin' else.

*

But why the blues?

I've been playing the harmonica since I was a little kid. The first time I ever heard blues on the radio, I dug it. When I was 12, 13, 14 years old, I'd get acoustic guitar guys to hammer out the melodies, and I just naturally knew where every sound was. I was just a harp hippie hanging out on Venice Beach. One day I hooked up with Hollywood Fats. He turned me on to Little Walter and all the hard-core Chess blues guys.

*

So are you guys on the road as much as the traditional blues guys?

We'll know more about that by the end of next summer. Lately, we've done 35 gigs in 90 days. We're all hard-core road dogs, anyway. Especially Bill Bateman. At 42, he's the veteran. He's like a Marine drill sergeant. He'll make any gig, drive all night, do sound check, drink beer all night, play, sleep two hours, eat at Denny's, then drive all night again.

*

None of Rick Rubin's other bands sound like you guys. How did you guys get signed?

He came into the King King club one night and became a fan. He must've seen us 60 times now. I sort of see him as a friend. He just got to the point where he can just do what he wants--that's his whole thing. He brought Mick Jagger to our show, a couple of the Black Crowes, some of the Chili Peppers, Brian May from Queen, Lenny Kravitz--I can't remember them all.

*

Is your album with Mick Jagger going to be released?

I can only hope and pray.

*

Can music make a difference?

Music really saved my life when I was at rock-bottom because of drugs. I used to think, "Hey, let's get some cocaine and some hookers and party for a couple of days." I still have an addictive personality, but somehow, music stops me from even thinking about that stuff anymore.

*

So rock 'n' roll has killed everybody, but somehow saved you?

That's it.

*

What's next for the Red Devils?

We're a blues bar band signed to a major independent label. I can't believe we stumbled into the most unbelievable dream come true. After Colorado, we're gonna go back home and record a demo for Def American.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°