"You gotta ask yourself this question: can a man ...sleeping in a hut so lowly that the rats was hunchback be my redeemer? I gotta say, 'well, maybe yes and maybe no.' But I gotta go somewhere, and that somewhere might well be church."
It's the night after the dark miracle: the freak March snowstorm that turned Chicago into a gridlock of despair. It's time to worship at the altar of groove. There are not many of the converted on the floor tonight at Metro. But those that have heard the words of the Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love and his cohort and head priest of the mic, Larry Love, are in a faux religious fervor. Feet pumping, bodies moving. It's a rock 'n' roll revival; a travelling pulpit of The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis The Divine (U.K.). On one side of the stage The Spirit, wearing a faded Elvis t-shirt, looks like a whitewashed Nick Rhodes (sans makeup) as he adds techno keyboard throbs to the earthy mix provided by the blackclad, cowboy hat-wearing guitar and harmonica team of The Mountain of Love and Mississippi Guitar Man Love. Other guests stroll on and off the center ring, but the focus is always on the shade-wearing D. Wayne Love and Larry — two lanky white guys from England who sound like a couple of Southern Alabama black preachers. With penchants for Jack Daniels.
Cut to the Metro dressing rooms an hour later, and half the scant audience seem to have gotten backstage passes for an autograph session. The band is happy to do it; the night before in St. Louis they didn't even get to play their scheduled show; instead they did an impromptu set at a tiny bar for 20 people because their own show had been cancelled. In parts of Europe they can draw more than a thousand people to a club, and as the U.S. openers for Chumbawamba, they have a guaranteed audience, but as headliners in the states....let's just say salvation is a long, lonely road.
In The Beginning Was The Word
D. Wayne Love sits down after the fans are satisfied (one followed the band all the way from St. Louis) and now the southern accent is gone. In its place is a thick British brogue that sometimes leads me to almost ask him to sing the answers to interview questions. But accents and national borders and even religious creeds are false divisions, according to Love.
"The whole thing of identity is so sacrosanct, but really national cultural identity is a fucking fallacy. London is just like any American big city. The people are all the same. That's why we wanted to do this thing as straight as could be. We are as authentic as Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. We come from diverse backgrounds, but we can all play the blues."
Like a couple of latter day Blues Brothers, The Loves don the personas of the delta circuit, sing about whiskey, women and salvation, and do it all atop a contemporary funky techno backbeat. Americans might take umbrage at the culture heist, but Love reasons that the emotions and "feel" of the blues and slide guitar country are property of everyone.
"We were aware that some people might be offended when we put together the group. But the reason we can do reasonable parodies is because we love it. You're not able to take the eyes out of something you don't have reverence for."
And as kitschy as some of it might be, A3 (Alabama 3 across the water) do love Americana's blues, gospel, country and western — they digest it all and spit it back out atop infectious techno beats and synth bleeps.
"Pop music takes all those things and makes them something else. We're not really playing the blues or country or gospel or songs that are pure acid house. We're not up there doing cover versions of Robert Johnson. We're using those styles to do our own thing."
The Calling of the Three
It all started as a bit of a lark between two London DJs almost a decade ago. They played house music and sometimes, dropped in country and blues melodies over the top.
And it worked.
The characters of D. Wayne Love and Larry developed as part of the fun, and the two played bars and bistros with friends in Italy and then London. Their first release was for a British house label covering Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."
"At the turntables we were playing house music and we were singing country melodies over the top instead of toasting or rapping. And that was in time — you just extend the melody."
Alms at the Church
It's not lost on them that their undersold show at Metro happens to be in a city that's a capital of the blues.
"Chicago is the most influential musical city in our lives. I was shiteing myself playing here."
One wonders at that. D. Wayne Love doesn't seem afraid to trod over sacred cows. Look at the foundation of his "church."
"I was looking at all the literature that's around about the idea of the Divinity of Elvis. Some American academics are taking the divinity of Elvis very seriously."
And hence, tongue in cheek, the First Presleyterian Church was born.
Spreading the Gospel
"Our mission with this album is to make as many people hear it as possible. Especially kids. When I was a kid and heard names of people like Robert Johnson in songs...I would go find out who those people were. So I believe very much that if we're going to be in the public eye, we're going to push what we like..."
As A3 pushes its own idols on a populace that mostly finds them "uncool," the band also hopes to restore some interest and humanity in techno music.
"We're determined not to do the ordinary. No one really wants to stand and look at shadows wandering around the stage. No one really wants to look at a bank of computers and equipment and lights. That's mystifying, whereas the rock and roll form is engaging. and comprehendable to people — people can look at a rock 'n' roll show and say 'yes, I can do that.'"
Transcending the mainline
Next time around the band wants to get explore the musical merging of some of their other heroes, like Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus.
"We're going to investigate jazz some. We could have four to five different horn sections going off at different times just in one sampler."
A3 has already learned that it's not as easy to find live horn sections that are quite as versatile.
"There's this reciprocity of expectations — if you were to come to England, you'd expect everybody to know the royal family...well we expect everybody here to be able to play like John Coltrane. But we've found that's not the case!"
"People here are just the same as anyplace else. Some people put Union Jacks on their guitars 'because Britain makes the best pop'...what a lot of shite. Rubbish. Anyone can play pop music. We always lay it on really thick with the southern accents because we know how 'uncool' it is. That's why we do it. These musical forms are brilliant in themselves but people have attached these negative images to them. You should be focussing on other things."
Like goin' to church. Just as long as D. Wayne Love is your minister.
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