Heart Stoppin’ Jelly Roll: A Conversation With Boogaloosa Prayer

August 29, 2013
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Ohio has a knack of unearthing many ‘white-man’s-blues’ gems. Out of the ashes of infamous blues-rock outfit Henry & June, whose tune “Goin’ Back To Memphis” was famously covered by the White Stripes, comes Boogaloosa Prayer. (Half of Henry & June migrated to the Soledad Brothers).

The Prayer fuses authentic blues with rock ’n’ roll. This sounds nothing like other blues aficionados like the Black Keys or the Stripes though; lead singer and slide player Dooley Wilson runs his own authentic blues outfit The Staving Chain with Todd Albright. Of interest to Detroit fans, drumming is Todd Swalla, formerly of the Necros and the Laughing Hyenas, whose thunderous sounds peels off his skins. Completing the line-up is Jimmy Danger, formerly of Henry & June and The Young Lords, and Matt Ruch (The Ruchus), formally of the band Muschi. Boogaloosa currently has two full-length albums and one live album out on Danger Limited Sound Recording Company, Danger’s record label, in addition to one split single with Nashville band Ultras S/C.

We caught up with the band to get the lowdown.

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Boogaloosa is the first touring band you’ve been in where you had both lead vocals and lead guitar (if I’m correct). What was the first show like, showcasing yourself as a blues artist?
Dooley Wilson: there’s a lot of grey area, but technically, you may be correct.. I cultivated myself as a self-accompanied blues artist for some years before Boogaloosa came together, also played quasi-pro singing and playing (leads) in an acoustic traditional (Mississippi-styled blues outfit) after Henry & June dissolved. – This actually with Ben Swank & Todd Albright of Staving Chain.. I lived in New Orleans as a street performer in various contexts for the better part of a year well after.. Boogaloosa started as a Henry & June-fashioned trio w/ me, Jimmy, and a fellow named Keith DeStatte on drums (DeStatte saved my life, but that’s another story..), Booga was much more jammy and indulgent when we started years ago, ten-minute versions of “Still a Fool”, etc.. but we went over like hot tits at our first show (Frankie’s East Toledo) – I’ll try and dig that up and burn it for ya.

The Staving Chain is another blues band you play in, but with a different sound. How would you explain that differentiation?
DW: Staving Chain represents everything I always wanted to do: Pre- WWII acoustic Deep South (Mostly Mississippi Delta) Blues; none of us can plug in / they’re totally acoustic instruments, sounds like 1930.

You were in the Necros, which was a hardcore punk band. How did you make the transition from punk to blues, in the case of Boogaloosa Prayer?
Todd Swalla: I’ve been in a lot of bands since the Necros most notably the Laughing Hyenas which was a loosely blues based post punk band. Blues is one of the core roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll and punk of course is just raw rock ‘n’ roll taken to an extreme. I consider Boogaloosa to be punk rock blues. Were certainly loud and a bit more aggressive than your average blues band. In this case my transition into the band was seamless as I merely adjusted my playing to fit the songs being played.

Are there any interesting stories of Booga shows over the years? I know you’ve opened for some pretty high-profile bands.
TS: I have fond memories of all of our shows and we rarely have a dud. Perhaps opening for the Soledad Brothers in Toledo and then a month later in Detroit a few years back? Dooley was experimenting with sleep deprivation so both of these shows were particularly interesting! Blowing the Black Keys off the stage in Toledo a few years ago was also very exciting!

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How were you recruited to join Boogaloosa Prayer? The styles between your bands are radically different, so how did Jimmy Danger knew you would fit in?
TS: I was a big fan of Henry and June from the beginning which is how I met Jim and Dooley. Boogaloosa Prayer was formed with Keith playing drums after the Young Lords project had runs its course. Boogaloosa was already one of my favorite local bands and I had been booking shows at Mickey Finns in Toledo and the band was on one of my bills opening for another band of mine. Jimmy called me to ask if I could sit in for the show as Keith would not be able to make it due to a bachelor party he had to attend. We practiced a couple times and the show went off fine. A few weeks later he asked if I wanted to join and I jumped on the chance. A few years later, Jimmy recruited the Ruchus who had played guitar in my other band Muschi which resulted in our sound filling out more and freeing Jim up to play a more classic rhythm guitar rather than simply being the 6 string bass.

Tell me a bit about your record label, Danger Limited Sound, which boasts Boogaloosa Prayer as an act?
Jimmy Danger: Danger Limited Sound Recording Company is the label that myself and Erica Vance Hartmann own. We’ve recently partnered with Grim Tale Records to do some vinyl releases. It’s been a slow journey, but we have a ton of things coming up very soon. Erica and I also have a podcast called Don’t Worry It’s Not Loaded that we use to promote the label and also talk about things that interest us.

How does Boogaloosa Prayer compare to your other outfit, Henry & June, and what gave you your background in blues, which seems to be a common theme among your bands?
JD: I have always said that Boogaloosa is Henry and June’s younger, larger, retarded brother. Our sound is just so big and loud and simple. Henry and June was so long ago, and as much as I loved that band, we were just trying to learn how to play. We wrote some great songs, but our sound was a bit all over the place. Boogaloosa is more of a central idea. We have a sound and we don’t try to stray too far from it. Dooley is gonna give you blues in anything he plays. What I’ve always tried to do is fuck with that and mix as much of other things in there. This has been the formula since the first time we played together. We have very different tastes, but for some reason it works. As far as commonality in the bands I’ve been in goes, there always seems to be a blues base to it. I like very raw music, so that is in there as well. My blues background started much like any other musicians. In high school I listened to classic rock and then it reached a point where I started noticing the song credits and realized that there was this whole other world of music I’d never heard. Being a huge Stones fan it’s hard to not explore those avenues. Once I started playing with Dooley he introduced me to a bunch of really old, obscure stuff. Once I heard Skip James my whole view on playing this type of music changed. Sometimes you just have to absorb the music instead of trying to ape it. There is no need for me to try and cover Skip James.

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You’re a bunch of white guys playing raw blues…how does that work at all? How does that seem natural?
Matt Ruch: The Blues can be appreciated on so many different levels and styles. I had been a huge fan of the band, like so many others. But even before Boogaloosa Prayer. A mutual friend told me about this dude who plays a solo gig at Mickey Finns Pubin Toledo on Wednesdays. I would frequent bars all by my lonesome just to broaden my music pallet. Well I had never heard anyone play Delta Blues right in front of my face before. I was not exposed to the legend of Henry and June or the Necros for that matter until I met Dooley. The songs he chose would become my instant favorites.
I had started to hear about stories of this dudes past bands. Shortly after I saw Boogaloosa Prayer play. I was blown away. At first, I asked, “why is there no bassist?” But it sounded great. I would go to every show. The punk element was especially intriguing to me. I mean blues is great, as well as punk. So for me, the 2 genres are amazingly similar. Of course my background is quite different than my buddies. This band was great for a good many years without a bassist. I was shocked the day I got a phone call at work from Jim stating, not asking, me to play bass for them. I mean, how do I not screw this beautiful thing up? But “NO” is not an acceptable answer.
But after a couple trial practices with Jim and Dooley, I became comfortable through one mantra: Rip Off John Paul Jones as much as possible!
Eventually I was able to find my own voice within this already massive sound.

But why it works is the best part! I’ve never had so much fun writing songs. With these guys it is amazing how fast
the turnaround on material happens. I owe that to Jim’s vision and great guitar style and tone. I owe it to Todd’s
near perfect recording prowess, I mean there’s no red light anxiety in this guy. And Dooley’s insane ability
to create on the spot, even in a pinch. A true artist with a passionate and courteous demeanor. But will scare you with his abilities. And he’s damn good looking.

What other bands have you been in besides Booga? I know you’re really involved in the local scene, and that’s how you got involved with Boogaloosa.
MR: I played with the same dudes (Sean Ruby/Ryan Grames) from 1995 until about 2002. My high school band doesn’t necessarily “count” because it was covers and some silly songs. The 1st band I took seriously was a band called Handsome Lake (spoiler alert- these are really terrible names). Tried for the trip-hop with live instruments thing.
Then the revolving door of singers happened. Eventually me and my buddies would go onto to form bands with different singers and styles. We were geared toward originality without losing sense of melody,
and the ability for music to be a tool for expanding perception, not necessarily altering it.

Yada yada yada, they pulled a we’re gonna quit and start a new band. Which meant “Us without YOU”.
This became my chance to meet new people and play other styles. That’s where one of the funnest bands
I’ve played with came in. Answered an ad about a band of complete strangers who just wanna play rock.
This band would become Animal Animal. We were getting pretty popular with the local “legends”, or so I like to believe because we’re all close friends now.

This lasted for a year until the singer stopped it so he wouldn’t get sick of music.
I got offers to join some bands. So I played in Science of Big Machines (an over the top
Devo meets Meatloaf at Queens house for pie and pity type of thing). Total fun.

Then I joined a really cool band called Che Guitarra’s Glamtasm which was a glam tribute band. Sweet/Slade/Kiss/Nick Gilder/etc. This was with a friend who played in The Sirens out of Detroit. His name is Miguel Oria and he has provided me with so much fun. Damn, so much fun.

And a band with Swalla and his girl Courtney called Muschi. Similar to Yo La Tengo which sounds like a broad net to describe it. But I’m in love and at home with The Prayer.

Boogaloosa Prayer appears at PJ’s Lager House this Saturday, along with the Zimmerman Twins and 7 Layers, at 9PM. $5.

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