With the conclusion of the ANTiSEEN setlist and the storm lifting its grip on the Muddy Roots camp, an easy calm settled over what resembled a mud laden warzone somewhere between your last trench and the forthcoming no man’s land. Amidst the dampened carnage and ankle deep mud, the radiant glowing gold light of the fan’s enthusiasm sat one of Punk rock’s elite. Zander Schloss, the man quietly and solemnly a gentle giant in his calculating approval of providence watched from the side of the stage as Jeff Clayton, the Gooch, Sir Barry Hannibal and Mad Brother Ward gathered their assorted possessions and loaded out.
Zander dressed in a black sport coat and pants adorned with random white paint markings, suggested the upcoming show would deviate from his normal ventures with co – captain Sean Wheeler. Visibly full of boundless energy and excitement prior to their performance, Zander began to load in his gear with the assistance of the volunteer Music / Media Production students wearing the yellow shirts. I sat back and prepared myself and cameras for the Weirdos onslaught next. Occasionally glancing up from my equipment it was a pleasure to see the volunteers assisting true pioneers in this industry, young men and women literally paying their dues and in doing so, were doing it at the hands of such legendary role models. I must commend Jason Galaz and the Muddy Roots Organizational Committee on this point; there will come a day when we are long gone and those we teach today will carry the torch tomorrow.
As written in MTSU Sidelines (author: Meagan White)
“MTSU’s professional Mass Communications fraternity, Omega Delta Psi, camped out at the Junebug Boogie Ranch in Cookeville, Tennessee for the 5th annual Muddy Roots Music Festival. The 11 students bunkered down in cabins on the ranch property, dining on “hobo” meals between sets and learning what it’s like to work with professional musicians.
“The camping was a whole new experience” said ODP’s Vice President of Music Business Ashley King. “I’m not much of a camper, so I’m not used to the whole outdoors situation with portable toilets and communal showers.”
The group acclimated quickly and readily jumped into the festival rhythm. As volunteers, they were responsible for two of the three stages on the grounds. The group juggled various duties such as the load-in and load-out of band gear, retrieving necessary equipment and supplies, and keeping designated areas clear of people.
“My favorite job on the site was assisting the bands coming in with load-in and load-out,” King said. “We were able to meet some really cool and talented musicians and we had the best view in the house.”
Volunteering at the festival proved to be beneficial for the participating ODP members in more ways than one. It provided them with true hands-on experience and granted the students an opportunity to leave with better grasp of what potential future occupations may demand of them. Additionally, the participants were exposed to the unique enviornment created at music festivals, learning that there are a wide array of scenarios they need to be prepared to work in.
“I learned what running festival stages is like and how to handle and manage a ton of work in such little time,” said King. “Also, as a new executive in the organization, I learned how to adjust to a crazy situation and manage my volunteers.”
The opportunity to work at the festival arose when the previous ODP Vice President of Music Business, Katie Karrle, met Jason Galaz at the Folk Alliance Conference held in Kansas City last February. Galaz is the founder of Muddy Roots Records for whom the festival is named. King was put into contact with Galaz, and the partnership was formed. This was ODP’s first time working Muddy Roots, but the group hopes to continue their involvement for years to come.
“The last show of Friday night was The Monsters, and the sound engineers appreciated our help so much that they let us stand in the back of the stage,” said King. “Then they let us on the front of the stage during a crazy song, and two of my volunteers stage dove into the crowd!”
As the Weirdos made their way to the stage the wardrobe of Schloss and the Denney Brothers, Dix and John indicated this would be something beyond your conventional old school punk show. Days earlier in my adventures with Sean Wheeler I learned of the history of the Weirdos; Sean and I sat down to dinner in Hendsonville, TN after visiting the grave of Johnny Cash, Sean proceeded to unwrap the mystery of the Weirdos – this was a band that personified the institution of reclusiveness. Sean went on to describe that when the Weirdos play in Los Angeles or surrounding areas they still draw a crowd of the literal who’s who in today’s music industry as many of today’s key players list the Weirdos as their mentors and influences. Wheeler began a telling tale of the Weirdos early history; one such memory involved a young Denney brother dressing completely in tin foil and walking into a potential record label office and dropping of their demo tape. This is what screamed out blatantly that I needed to further research after our exchange; I had no idea as he rambled on in his graveled voice how prominent the Weirdos were and are in so iconic in shaping the history of what we have defined as a Punk in today’s marketplace.
The band was formed in 1976 by singer John Denney and his brother Dix on guitar, initially using the band names The Barbies and The Luxurious Adults. The Weirdos were originally an art rock band, antedating the Los Angeles punk rock scene, but were quickly enveloped in the Los Angeles punk maelstrom. While initially trying to distance themselves from the emerging genre, ultimately the band was, in the words of vocalist John Denney, “just kinda absorbed into punk rock and we kinda went along with it. They wore us down and we just said ‘OK, fine! We’re punk rock. Whatever you say.’
In a 1990 Flipside interview, John Denney listed the Ramones, New York Dolls, and Iggy Pop fundamental musical inspirations, adding:
“When we saw the Ramones, we were already playing in garages mostly, but those guys really made us decide to go for it. I really feel that the Pistols, The Damned, and The Clash were our peers. We had already had a set before we had even heard any of that stuff, before any of those albums were released. I always felt we were a true garage band…”
Denny claimed the band’s name dated from the early part of the 1970s and his counter-countercultural chopping off of his hair when long hair on men was the fashion of the day. “I looked like a lobotomy, people thought I was weird,” Denny said. “We were weird, we were considered weirdos.”
By the summer of 1977 the Weirdos were able to pack clubs such as The Masque and the Whisky a Go Go as a headlining band. The band helped shape the vigorous and experimental early Los Angeles scene and served as an inspiration to a crop of new bands.
John Denney recalled:
“We [Los Angeles] had our own look, our own sound. It was apart from New York or London…. We were staunchly against safety pins, we tried to parody punk rock at first. We had our happy faces, which was the exact opposite of swastikas. We were just thumbing our noses at everything. Everything was a joke; punk was a joke, we were a joke. Nonetheless, we were still serious about rocking.”
The band broke up in 1981, but reunited several times, recording 1990 album Condor. This was indeed a lengthy description of the true punk pedigree with the accompanying certificate of authenticity that stood before me tuning their guitars and prepping to take the Muddy Roots site by force. With Schloss armed with his bass guitar and Dix Denney armed with his guitar, John Denney erupted onto the stage in an air traffic controllers reflective vest his tall lanky frame capped with a vintage pilots hat.
Watching the Weirdos was to see the origins of what has formed and shaped a musical generation that has encompassed the world; after all this is the band who were headlined when a new wave digital punk fivesome from Ohio would open with their manifesto of D-evolution. Without missing a single beat all four members rocketed through a lengthy set list as the fans in attendance stomped and paraded through the thick greasy red Tennessee mud and cool evening breeze.
John Denney with his onstage personae is a hybrid creation of Iggy Pop, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Captain Sensible of the Damned. His crowd interactions are legendary as are his inexplicable contortions and gesticulations; as a part of a Weirdos show John Denney has the ability to involve the listener and take them on a transformative tour back in time to the late 1970’s / early 1980’s punk scene.
Brother Dix Denney is a complex compilation of a lesser known underbelly of punk rock guitar stylings, Dix Denney is steeped in artistic merit and is the model of a truly independent punk guitar legend. His Keith Richards – like visual appearance is that of a man who has walked many steps in a journey which has long since been validated in his heart and reconciled by the mind.
To round out the brotherly duo and their wild antics is the fevered bass line of Zander Schloss. Zander is a very stable, genuine and above all else good person who has lived a life many of us would not have returned from unscathed. Up until the Weirdos set I was eagerly anticipating Zander to put down his treasured Bazooki from his work with Sean Wheeler and pick up his electric bass and show us the way like a prophet leading his flock. I’m reminded of the Muddy Roots recording “Punk Rock Saved My Life”, what about that one night we jackknifed on the turnpike ? The Weirdos got ahold of me ?
If I were to have taken anything from the Weirdos performance; I would be remiss if I said anything other than never fear the unknown. Be proud to be weird, the unconventional and often uncomfortable is often what leads us to find comfort. It was heartwarming to see the audience members, band members and stage volunteers working seamlessly together for nothing more than the music. This is the raw essence of has given way to legendary iconic bands like the Weirdos, we must celebrate these pioneers and seek new and innovative ways to move against the grain and build bridges to those people living in isolation who do not understand anything beyond “mainstream music”. Lastly the Weirdos set left me feeling at peace knowing the legendary guidance and mentorship was passed on to a new generation to once again give way to something completely organic and new much the same as the initial new wave punk so many years ago. . .thank you John, Dix and Zander – truly Punk Rock Saved My Life; but it almost killed me.