Members of Ron `Pate and the Debonairs include OmarBhag-dad-a, piano, organ; AbdulBen Camel,acoustic bass; Doc "Bob" Cashion, trombone; Cyd Cherise,guitar, plataphone, clarinet; Bill The KidDap, drums, marimba; ShepEstms drums, bongos; Johnny Fent-Listersaxophone; Dick Foote, saxophone; Asa Gaston, drums; Jane Hathaway flute, vocals; Motor Hobson, saxophone; Dimples LaCroix, vocals; Rev. Dr. Fred Lanevocals; Rip McBoutie, violin; Ron Pate, trombone, guitar; Danny Pla, saxophone; E. BaxterPut, bass, percussion; Dean Norman Scheidt,marimba; Don "Pretty Boy" Smith, piano, viola, cornet; BillStarsh, engineering; WhiteyStencil,clarinet. Addresses: Record company--Shimmy Disc, c/o Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, New York, NY 10013.
In 1988, a mysterious album appeared in record stores. At first glance, Car Radio Jerome was full of silly nonsense with songs like "Upper Lip Of A Nostril Man," "The Man With The Foldback Ears," and "Hittite Hot Shot." Listening to it though, one discovered darker undertones in songs like "White Woman," which became downright ominous in "Car Radio Jerome." By the time the album wrapped up, the "French Toast Man" was selling kids tasty goodies so rank that rats dragged it out of garbage pails and keeled over dead. In the last cut, a clinically depressed relative of Elvis croons his weepy ballad of woe "Pneumatic Eyes"--and blows himself up. The records ends with a hand grenade going off. Whether one loved, loathed or feared it, everyone had more or less the same question: What kind of human being had perpetrated Car Radio Jerome? It was attributed to Fred Lane and the Hittite Hot Shots. But who were they? No one had ever heard of the group. They never toured, never made videos, never once appeared on Johnny Carson.
In fact, the Reverend Fred Lane did make public appearances, though not many and none outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He first appeared at the Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue in 1975, a show mounted by Raudelunas, a group of artists in Tuscaloosa. The origins of their name is as obscure as those of Lane. According to Ron `Pate, the leader of the band the Debonairs which accompanied Lane at the Revue, "it was an Armenian family name meaning `moonlight' or `worship of the moon as a deity.'"
Fred Lane was called upon to emcee the Pataphysical Revue, which was a stage show held on the opening night of an exhibit of Raudelunas art at the University of Alabama. He took the stage in a form that would soon be familiar to a few friends and aficionados, if not the country at large: a snap-brim fedora, sunglasses, cut-away tux, boxer shorts, pink socks, and wing-tip brogues, all accented by a few Band-Aids on his face. Lane, backed by Ron `Pate and the Debonairs, opened the show with a swinging cover of "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)." After performances by the Blue Denim Deals Without the Sleeves, the Nubis Oxis Quarum doing the music of ancient Rome, the Captains of Industry all-appliance orchestra, and the world premier of Anne LeBaron's "Concerto for Active Frogs," Lane sang "Volare" to close the show.
A recording of the show, entitled Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue, was released on the local Say Day Bew label. Despite an original pressing of only 500 copies, the disc had a remarkably wide impact. It was picked up eventually by Recommended Records in England; their catalog read "Nothing I've ever heard is remotely like this." As a result Raudelunas Pataphysical Revuesold more in Europe than the United States. Ironically, most orders were from American customers. In 1998, The Wire, an English music magazine, named the Pataphysical Revue one of the "100 records that set the world on fire." The record has never been completely out-of-print--some 20 copies were still available in the summer of 1999--and tentative plans are afoot for a CD re-release.
The following year, in November of 1976, looking to outdo the Pataphysical Revue, the Raudelunatics staged From The One That Cut You, a show written by Fred Lane. Lane described it as "a more formal vaudeville of short comedy blackouts and congenial psychotic big band numbers." The inspiration for the show--"And this is actually true as opposed to some other things," Lane said--was a note a friend found that read in part "I hope the pain is through. This is the one that cut you." It was written on paper torn from a garbage bag, wrapped around a hunting knife and stashed under a 1950 Dodge panel truck.
The show featured nearly 20 sketches, which frequently concluded with a death. The Four Dons, a musical group, would then come on stage, put the body into a box and carry it away. A special guest appearance was made by Bill Yeast in a coma. An apparently lifeless body was set on stage and introduced by Lane: "Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome Bill Yeast! In a coma!" Yeast was left to lie on the stage "two minutes probably," `Pate recalled, "but that seemed like a long time!" Later in the show Yeast was brought back onstage as the Debonairs played "Open Up Them Pearly Gates."
Lane composed four original songs for From The One That Cut You. The title tune was a demented country-western number. "Oatmeal" was a proto-sea shanty sung during a puppet show. "Danger Is My Beer" was a garage band instrumental led by the Debonairs inimitable guitarist, Cyd Charisse. At the end of the show, Lane encounters `Pate on a street corner, begging and selling gum balls. The good Reverend beats him up and takes his gum balls. But when he turns his back, `Pate shoots him. The Debonairs break into the finale, "Fun In The Fundus," one of Lane's "congenial, psychotic big band numbers," Fred sings, and the curtain falls.
Fred Lane wrote another play around the same time, I Talk To My Haircut. It was never staged but the songs Lane wrote were released along with those from the earlier show in 1983 on a Say Day Bew album, From The One That Cut You. The story of I Talk To My Haircut--what folks remembered of it more than 20 years later--took place in a hotel and involved the bellhop in the title song. That song and "Rubber Room" are two of the most remarkable big band arrangements on vinyl. The first features a brilliant Dick Foote solo, described by `Pate as "the sound of a tenor sax being strangled." "Rubber Room," a Lane masterpiece, opens with the Reverend crooning over a lounge piano, before he starts to swing: "I'm sick of my job/I'm sick of my wife/I'm sick of your face/I'm sick of this life/Gonna go to the store/Buy me some hardware, my dear." Lane sings of his plans for the hardware while`Pate and the Debonairs vamp like an asylum orchestra. For a moment one hears people laughing, glasses tinkling, like there's a party going on. Lane doesn't notice it; he's too busy singing off the contents of his shopping bag, or his mind, who knows which. The Debs slide down a few ragged glissandi and Lane wraps up it up: "I'm a happy, sappy son-of-a-gun/Living in a rubber room!" The Debonairs bray out one final blast.
Lane's last record, Car Radio Jerome, was recorded in December of 1985, using the core of the Debonairs, including Cyd Charisse, Don "Pretty Boy" Smith, and Dick Foote, performing as the Hittite Hot Shots. There was no show, no art exhibition behind the album. "We were just trying to get a record company to sign us up," Lane said. It must have worked. Shimmy Disc released it in 1988 and followed it up with the re-release of From The One That Cut You the next year. Car Radio Jerome was a catalog of styles: big band, country, kid songs, free jazz, spaghetti western, and a little musique concrte.
In the summer of 1999, Lane had laid his own basic tracks for a new album to be called Ice Pick To The Moon. He had finished about 12 songs for the record, including a gospel number entitled "I'm Gonna Go To Hell When I Die," and he writes new pieces regularly. Asked what his message would be to the youth of America, Lane thought for a moment. "I guess it's like the French Toast Man said," he answered, "evacuate your bowels, eat a hot lunch, and don't be late for school."
by Gerald E. Brennan
Fred Lane's Career
Emceed and performed at Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue, 1975; wrote From The One That Cut You and I Talk To My Haircut, 1975-76; released From The One That Cut Youon Day Bew Records, 1983; recorded Car Radio Jerome, 1985; Car Radio Jerome released on Shimmy Disc 1988; From The One That Cut You, released on Shimmy Disc 1989.
- Selected discography
- Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue , Say Day Bew Records, 1975.
- From the One That Cut You , Say Day Bew Records, 1983; reissued on Shimmy Disc, 1989.
- Car Radio Jerome , Shimmy Disc, 1988.
- Telephone interviews with Ron `Pate and Fred Lane, July-August 1999.