They're True to Their Roots : The Dave & Deke Combo mixes down-home charm with a vintage sound that eschews the modern style of many country and rockabilly artists.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Latch on, brother!"

That's the countrified, slap-on-the-back-sit-right-down-and-have-yourself-a-beer-on-me invitation the Dave & Deke Combo extends to would-be listeners of their first album, "Moonshine Melodies."

It's a call to action that few of their faithful fans and recent converts have been able to resist. The rootsy, country-billy quartet's British label, No Hit Records, made a third pressing of their debut CD from 1993, and singles of "Chrome Dome," hair-challenged Deke Dickerson's signature song, are swift sellers at their international appearances.

Showcase regulars at Ronnie Mack's Barn Dance at the Palomino in North Hollywood over the past few years, the Dave & Deke Combo returns Saturday as headliners.

Their hayseed originals pay homage to the twangy music of country greats from the 1940s, '50s and '60s: artists such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Louvin Brothers and Speedy West. Their inspired covers of yesteryear's hillbilly hits are played on vintage instruments and amplifiers, and performed with an archaic style that eschews the modern flavor of many contemporary country and rockabilly artists.

"It's just music done authentically without making a point of being a museum piece or a carbon copy," says singer and guitarist Dave Stuckey, 35, of Hollywood. "My personal hatred is bands who play a '50s-influenced kind of music, but they have a heavy metal drummer or a hippie bass player. I like music really pure."

"There's been enough mixing," agrees Dickerson, 26, of Burbank, who frosts the bands songs with lickety-split guitar leads reminiscent of flashy plectrum-pushers Joe Maphis and Merle Travis.

Stuckey and Dickerson, who refer to each other as "cousin" on stage, both hail from Missouri, where they played separately in a variety of roots music bands. Dickerson found cult success after making a handful of recordings with the Columbia, Mo., surf band The Untamed Youth; Stuckey sang harmonies in the folksy L. A.-based Birddogs.

But neither could sate an appetite for what Stuckey calls honest, traditional music until they hooked up in California in 1991, recruited a bassist and drummer Lance Soliday, now 27, from San Diego's The Gigantics, and started playing around Los Angeles with local rockabilly bands such as Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys and The Lonesome Strangers. Upright bassist Brian (Shorty) Poole, 25, of San Bernardino is the group's newest addition, replacing Lloyd (Lucky) Martin.

The members of the Dave & Deke Combo see their music as more than just a rehash of a nearly forgotten niche in American popular music. They say the emotional content of their songs, whether about having a good time or suffering through lost love, addresses the issues people care about.

"Part of being a hillbilly was just having a really rough life, and it just goes to follow that part of it--a lot of it--is gonna be about drinking and dying and shooting," Dickerson says. "It's your basic Appalachian counterpart to rappers from South-Central today."

But a sense of humor tempers most of the band's sorrowful tunes, including "Chrome Dome," in which Dickerson bemoans "the thinning of the old cranium."

I tried to wear a hat, but that just made me itch

I tried to wear a wig, but it just blew off in a ditch

I tried that stuff on TV, that funny smelling foam

None of that stuff worked . . . guess I'll stay the old chrome dome.

That kind of down-home charm, coupled with a talent for turning a simple rhythm into an irresistible boogie stomp, is part of the reason a Dave & Deke show attracts dozens of young people dressed in period '50s country-swing attire, spinning and dipping with dizzying, joyous elan.

It has also attracted attention at radio stations across the country.

" 'Moonshine Melodies' was my favorite new release from last year," said deejay Craig Maki, host of "The Rockabilly Show" on WCBN at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "I like playing 'Baby, You Ain't as Dumb as You Look.' I get calls for that one. I suspect that if they get out this way soon, they'll have an even larger following than they do from my radio shows."

In Europe, the music has earned them fanatical admirers. They found adulation in the eyes of the 3,000 people who came to see them and other rockabilly acts at the Hemsby Rock 'n' Roll weekend held near London, and they've completed four European tours.

"You feel like real rock stars when you go over there," says Stuckey, remembering the pleasure of opening the band's first piece of fan mail from Croatia. "That stuff (rockabilly) is medicine for them on a whole different level. Boy, do they live for that music."

While regular touring jaunts to Europe and the Bay Area have bolstered the ranks of Dave & Deke fans, the band's record sales (one CD, one 45 r.p.m. single and one seven-inch EP) have consistently leveled out at about the 2,500 mark. They may not be mega-selling platinum country stars like Garth Brooks (whom the band despises anyway), but their sales figures are respectable for a band whose records have to be special-ordered from most record stores or sought out in the mail-order classifieds of roots-music fanzines. Their next single, "Chew Tobacco Rag" and "Twin Guitar Twist," will be released this spring on Goofin' Records, a label based in Helsinki, Finland.

Band members say the demand for their brand of hillbilly music is growing--as evidenced by new roots-music radio shows in far-flung places like Ann Arbor and Salt Lake City, Utah--and not just among rockabilly scenesters and aficionados of retro fashion.

"There are a lot of people that aren't into the fashion now, who are just into the music," Soliday says.

"You don't have to have a Size 10 pompadour to enjoy it," Poole adds.

WHERE AND WHEN)

Who: Dave & Deke Combo.

Location: The Palomino, 6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 9 p.m. Saturday.

Price: $5; no minimum.

Call: (818) 764-4010.

Also: The combo's recordings may be obtained at Aron's Records in Hollywood or the Virgin Megastore in West Hollywood, or by writing to Dave & Deke Combo, P.O. Box 29104, Los Angeles, CA 90029.

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