A Blurb About the Band
J.P. McDermott and Western Bop play rockabilly, ballads and drinking songs. When they do, people dance. They just can’t help it. With a fun, fresh mix of great songs by the likes of Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Roy Orbison, plus a bunch of fine original tunes in the same vein, a good time is guaranteed. But you never know what you’ll hear -- rockabilly influenced everybody from The Beatles to T-Rex to Led Zepellin to Elvis Costello and beyond. This is no oldies act -- it’s live and vital and rockin’ and real. Back before folks knew it was Rock and Roll they called it Western Bop.
A Little Biographical Info About JP
J.P. McDermott is a native Washingtonian, and has been singing most of his life -- everything from church choirs to musical comedy to the new wave scene of the late 1970s. But he is most at home behind the microphone singing some rockabilly or vintage honky tonk. J.P. has been named the Country Vocalist of the Year several times by the Washington Area Music Association, and has sung the National Anthem a capella at Camden Yards in front of 49,000 people.
He has recently relocated to Orange County, California, and is having a blast playing music on the West Coast.
JP Attempts to Explain a Whole Bunch of Stuff
The band name comes right from Buddy Holly's earliest business card—"Buddy and Bob, Western & Bop". Buddy was trying to make a living as a musician, so he'd play the country & western tunes of the day, and also the R&B stuff that white teenagers were just getting tuned in to. I play a mix of vintage honky-tonk and rockabilly, so I wanted a name that covered all that territory.
"Western Bop" was also one of the earliest names for rock 'n' roll. The term "rock 'n' roll" took a while to gain universal acceptance, and in the meantime there were all these attempts to describe what was going on. When Elvis toured Texas in 1955 he was billed alternately as "The Hill Billy Cat" and "The King of Western Bop"
Our sound is pretty straight ahead and unpremeditated. I think we keep things pretty close to the feel of the old records. The feel, not the sound. I think you can really wring all the life out of a song if you try to slavishly imitate a particular recording. Great rockabilly records were generally made by a bunch of drunk guys raising hell in the studio. They didn't really know what they were doing, but they were having so much fun doing it that everything just worked.
Our sound is like that. We're not going to win any prizes for delicacy of interpretation, but we have a good time and set up a good rhythm for dancing. In a good rockabilly band, the acoustic guitar is the real driver. I noticed this many years ago watching a tape of Elvis' '68 comeback special. There’s a long segment where he's sitting around with the band just tearing up a bunch of the Sun Records tracks. He's not doing anything fancy, but the way he's beating on that guitar is the engine that moves the song. Everything else locks in with that and lets the vocals soar. That's what I like and how I want to play.
Musically, it’s just what you might expect. Buddy Holly for the great songs and the great sounding records. Ray Price is one of the greatest singers ever, and really delivers the song. Warren Smith for the pure power of rockabilly. He’s also one of my favorite honky tonk singers for all his Liberty recordings in the 1960s. There are really too many to mention.
The biggest influence on me as a live performer, without question, is Tex Rubinowitz. A lot of people have heard his records on Ripsaw, but to see one of his shows back in the late-'70s or early '80s — that was a real life-changing experience. Tex took command of any room he was in, and just set the place on fire. He always had a great band with him. One of my favorite shows ever was Tex, who was somewhere in his thirties at the time, backed up by this band of eighteen year old punk kids, which was pretty rare in those days. It was amazingly powerful and tons of fun. Tex recorded his big hits with the Tennessee Rockets—Bob Newscaster, Jeff Lodsun, and Bryan Smith. I had the pleasure of working with these guys on my record. Of course Bob was my guitar player for a long time and rocked harder than anybody around. After that Tex had Switchblade—Ratso, Eddie Angel (now with Los Straitjackets), Johnny Castle, and Scotty Flowers—which was one of the consistently best live shows in town. Seeing all those shows gave me a taste of the power of rockabilly, and a desire to front a band of top-notch players. Tex sang all kinds of songs over the course of the night, and really built the shows to a fever pitch. It's a high mark to hit, but that's what I aspire to.
Rockabilly is country music, so some songs are about cheating, some are about drinking, and some are about drinking and cheating.
One night at a song swap I did a few of my originals, and one of the other guys said, "I liked your set — I do loneliness songs, too". I hadn't really given it that much thought, but there is a loneliness theme running through there.
RECORDING “LAST FOOL HERE”
I worked on the record for a very long time and finally decided I'd better go ahead and get it out there. I recorded 32 tracks or so over the course of five years, and then cut it down to the best 12 — half originals and half covers, though nothing on the record is overly familiar to most folks. “Cry Cry Cry” and “Blue Days Black Nights” were the earliest things recorded for the project.
Putting the record together was quite a process. I worked with Philip Stevenson at Scary Clown Studios in Bethesda. Philip has great analog gear — nice tube mikes and old radio compressors and that sort of thing. It's all done on 4- and 8-track magnetic tape — no hard drives. During the time we were making the record, the last two companies making tape went out of business – first BASF, then Quantegy. We really had to scramble towards the end to get tape so that we’d be able to do the final mix. We also bought enough tape to do another record…
A lot of the recording was done with all of us in the same room banging away at the same time—drums, guitars, vocals, bass, and all. The tracks are tough to mix that way — the drums bleed into every mike — but the feel is great, so it's worth it. And yes, we really did use the shower in the studio bathroom to get a the vocal sound on some of the tracks.
I worked with lots of great players. Several of the songs feature the original Tennessee Rockets -- Bobby Newscaster of course, Jeff Lodsun on drums, and Bryan Smith on upright bass. These guys are great. It was kind of crazy working with them. They've known each other so long, and have a way of fighting with each other that goes back years and years. It can get tense in the studio, but it makes for exciting tracks. I also have Andy Rutherford playing guitar on a number of tracks. He's a great Tele player, really twangy in the Bill Kirchen tradition. He's also a monster on the baritone. There's some killer slap bass from Eric Shramek. And of course, the current edition of Western Bop...
PUTTING THE BAND TOGETHER
I took a hiatus of about 15 years from playing music. Got married, had kids, all that kind of stuff. Then I got the bug and had to get back into it. I realized the only way I could make it work was to book any gig I could, and then find the sidemen. It took me a while to get a stable band. I played with a lot of different musicians — you were never really sure who you'd see if you came to one of the gigs. There wasn't really much in the way of arrangements beyond "this one's in E”. At one point I was going to call the band "J.P. McDermott and Just Wing It." The lineup has been stable at times, but we add new songs pretty much every week, so we still do a lot of winging it.
Over the course of the years I have been able to sort out the right people to be in the band -- people who wanted to play when and where I wanted to play. Bob Newscaster and I started playing together pretty steadily in 2002 and kept on until he got sick in 2009. He will always be my number 1 guy, even if he never gigs again. Louie Newmyer joined up to play upright for us just a little later, and Tom Bowes hooked up with me as the drummer in late 2004. We play a lot of gigs, so we’ve really gotten pretty tuned into each other. There are a lot of great players in DC, and I've played with most of them at one time or another.
Here in Orange County I've finally found some great people to play with too, and it's definitely rocking, though there is still a good bit of "this one's in E"...
I've had the chance to play some great festivals over the years. I particularly remember my first big car show – and the lineup was incredible. Rosie Flores, The Rockats, Sleepy LaBeef, Deke Dickerson, and Big Sandy all on the same bill. That was a lot of fun
The biggest highpoint was when I got to sing the Star-Spangled Banner in front of 49,000 people at an Orioles game. There was no accompaniment, just me and the microphone and the stadium echo. It was a very emotional minute and fourteen seconds. It took me about a week to get down from the adrenaline rush. You don't go into this business for the money, because there isn't much. You go into it for moments like that.