Interview in LO-FI-Easy Living for Cool Moderns
issue Number 4-1997
Smart, Sexy and Witty as Heck:Chicago's Three Blue Teardrops
by: Laura "Where Am I?" Kane
God that Chicago accent is sexy! Well, when it's coming from Three Blue Teardrops talented blue eyed bassist, Rick Uppling it is, anyway. Anyone even remotely familiar with the state of current rockabilly (that means YOU Conan O'Brian) knows guitarist Dave Sisson's two living legend classics, "Long Hard Night," and "Switchblade Pompadour." Merely three years old, these tunes are already covered to the point of nausea. You could almost say they're in stress rotation on the AAA rockabilly circuit. Instand classics aside, however, the Teardrops' greasy, Rust Belt-hillbilly rawhide sound is uparalleled among the many struggling three piece bands playing around today.
With the fastest mouth in the midwest, upstart Kevin Myers on drums, the Teardrops RULE! In other words, from a high uncrowded perch occupied only by their peers, The Belmont Playboys and the Frantic Flattops, It's the rockabilly trinity, if you will. With Simon Chardiet presiding as the mystical, omnipotent court jester, these boys are the fathers, sons and holy ghosts of the East Coast sound. You can decide who is which and let me know. I spoke to them at length in Indianapolis, Indian on November 9, 1996.
LK-Where'd the name of the band come from?
DS-It came out of a Daniel Clowes comic book called Lloyd Llewellyn. L.L. was like a '40s gumshoe detective guy. Sort of a Sam Spade, but we never really knew what decade he was living in...It was kinda like the 40's, 50's and 60's. There'd be Beatniks moving in and out of Hot Rod Gangs and all this fun wierd stuff. He'd meet aliens from outer space. In one episode of the comic book he had a cousin from the sticks named Floyd Llewellyn who was this hillbilly singer. He breaks up with his sweetheart and moves to the big city and becomes a hillbilly star and his big hit is this song "Three Blue Teardrops." He just happened to sing it at Lloyd's party and this record executive says, "I'm gonna make this boy a star!" and he puts out the record "Three Blue Teardrops," and it becomes this big mega-hit. Then his girl he lost and wrote the song about hears it and comes back to him which makes him so happy he can't sing the songs about heartbreak anymore, so the record label dumps him and then she dumps him again because she wanted to date a star.
So I was wondering what the song would sound like because there are only a few words and you have to imagine the rest. So I decided I could write a song to the words that were in the comic book. I had to add some more because there weren't enough, and I made a pretty cool song out of it. When I moved to Chicago and met Rick and our original drummer Randy, I played it for them and we tried to play the song but ended up taking the name because there were three of us.
LK-Do You still play the song?
DS-Yeah, sometimes we play it.
RU-And we can do it correctly now! We can do it justice. When we got together we were a punk rock band and we couldn't really do it.
LK-So you guys started out how long ago as a punk rock band?
RU-November of 1991. It was punk rockabilly, cowpunk. Our first stuff included "Cadillac Jack", "Rough and Tumble World," "Long Hard Night," and "Wanted Man" was the very first joint composition of 3BT.
DS-That was because we couldn't afford good guitars that sounded clean, and we still can't. They were recorded real raw, growly and mean. So at the time nobody really dug us because the Reverend Horton Heat hadn't made it "big" and everybody was listening to traditional stuff or '80's rockabilly like the Stray Cats and if you didn't sound like that you sucked.
RU-And we didn't do covers so everybody told us we weren't gonna go anywhere because nobody would have anything to identify with us. We couldn't really do covers because we sucked too bad. We tried to do "One Woman Man" by Johnny Horton but didn't even come close.
LK-How did you get your style?
DS-I was listening to whatever kids listen to, buying 8-track tapes in the late '70s. I saw Johnny Cash on the 4th of July once in black Jack boots and I thought that was the most punk rock thing I had ever seen. That's when I was listening to early punk and hardcore, like 1981 or '82.
LK-How old were you?
DS-I was thirteen or fourteen at the time. Before that I'd been listening to AC/DC and Van Halen 8-tracks and all that. I heard The Clash do "Brand New Cadillac" and I went "Oh, now THAT is a cool song!" I didn't even know it was an original rockabilly song. I sorta worked it through, same as alot of kids do, listening to music, figuring out who wrote what song and thinking, "Oh, I gotta find out what that guy did." You keep moving backwards until you get the whole picture, how it evolved. I was learning all that and trying to learn the guitar at the same time. It was real angry-rockabilly was the original punk rock and I liked punk rock and hardcore, so if you did punk rock with an upright bass, well now...that would be the baddest thing ever! That's what I thought.
LK-So you were listening to punk rock and then you heard Johnny Cash...
DS-Johnny Cash meets The Clash
LK-So this was the first band you were in?
DS-No it wasn't. I was in a band called "Wreckin' Ball" back in Pittsburgh in the late 80's but it was short lived. I was in it with Les Martin on drums and the original bassist from Washington DC's "Atomics" Chris Freeman who's brother Brian Freeman was in DC's "Go Cat Go" with Darren Spears and the gang.
LK-Were you playing the same kind of music?
DS-An earlier version of it. I was playing mostly originals. Some of the songs we play: "Switchblade Pompadour" and "Three Blue Teardrops" I actually played with them a little bit. We did it for fun, but they didn't want to try to do it full time and I wanted to really play music. Still do. I ended up moving to Chicago because I knew there was a better musician pool and musical base there. I met Rick and our original drummer Randy and Carl Schreiber from the DuValls, and the four of us tried to put a band together.
RU-When Dave and I met we realized we had a ton in common as far as the type of music we wrote. It's funny because neither of us knew there was such a thing as Punk Rockabilly or "Psychobilly". It was just that we were rockabilly fans and punk rock fans and what we wrote came out to be kinda half and half. Dave leans a little bit more towards rockabilly and I leaned originally a little bit more toward punk rock. Together it just came out to like...
DS-be an amalgam of the two.
RU-We didn't know anything about the The Rev. I didn't know about any punk rockabilly bands at all.
DS-There were some band in England. I guess the Meteors or...
RU-I knew them guys
DS-I didn't. I knew it existed. I knew a label called Nervous Records-I'd seen their catalogue, existed. They called it psychobilly, but I didn't know what psychobilly was.
LK-This was back in '90 or '91?
LK- What about the song Cadillac Jack?
DS-Rick's brother is a crazy driver.
RU-He's Cadillac Jack.
DS-Rick had this idea to write this cool song about this crazy driver guy, and we went,"Oh, why don't you put him behind the wheel of a Cadillac?" and he went,"Cadillac Jack." So we wrote the song "Cadillac Jack" on the spot, made up the words. It ended up being totally wierd how it came out of nowhere. But the song tries to capture the frantic episodes of driving with Steve (Uppling).
LK-How does it feel to drive with Steve?
RU-Well to give you an idea, one time he had a Volkswagon Bug and it didn't have any brakes at all. He used to stop by just running into people.
RU-Well no, into their cars, on the expressway and all that stuff. He does like u-turns and accidentally brushes somebody's car with his own automobile, which is called a hit and run and just drives away and doesn't even think twice about it. He believes the more rust on your car the faster it is because of the relationship that occurs between vehicle body weight and the amount of horsepower. And the only thing that matters is getting going. Stopping doesn't matter.
LK-So what happened with the original drummer?
DS-When we first formed we played with Randy and we got along real great. We played only locally. That's about the time the Rev. started getting real popular and coming through town. We'd go check that out and the scene started growing. As a result our own fan base grew and we were ready to start going out of town. We bought a beat up old van and did regional shows. We had a demo tape and sent if off to Nervous Records and got a record deal out of that. It wasn't like we made any money or anything but it was a record and it was better than nothing.
LK-Your stuff was getting out.
DS-We went to England and Rick and Randy took their gals. It was pretty stressful with all those egos in one place traveling around day in and day out. When we got back home it was kinda rocky because some people had said some things they couldn't take back, but we worked through it. Then we decided to go on an east coast tour to promote the new CD.
LK-This was "One Part Fist"
DS-Yeah, so we went on the tour and we had some trouble getting along with one another. A little bit later when we got home he kinda got quiet and the political situation got wierd. We had no idea what was going on because Randy got a bit distant. At the time he was doing all the bookings and it was all a big bundle of nerves that finally broke. His wife was by then pregnant and he quit and they moved to Michigan. We had been like the three musketeers and Rick and I were just gonna break up and quit and say, "Well, that was fun. At least we did that when we were young," and "Wasn't that cool?" You know?
It turned out that Rick's day job was in a coffee shop and the dishwasher was Kevin. When Rick told the owner (who was a fan) we were gonna break up because we lost our drummer, his boss said,"Why don't you ask Kevin?"
RU-And I said,"Gee, I didn't even think of that!" Kevin had brought two pairs of jeans and his drum kit up from Georgia, and was basically living in the street, and what Dave and I were driving around talking about and sitting in pubs and drinking and talking about was, "I know we could go forward if we got a kid who didn't want anything else but to travel around and see the country and play the shit out of his drums the way we want to play it."
DS-He was so good, I mean, naturally good and confident. He didn't know the songs but he was hitting harder than a son of a bitch and he had good chops. You could just tell. We were standing there smiling and laughing and looking at each other going, "Look at this little guy go!" It's not that he's that little, he's wiry, and he was just wailing on his kit and trying to learn the songs and we're smiling and he's like,"What are you smiling at you fucking assholes? I suck that bad?" We were laughing because we knew right then and there our little trio didn't have to die and if this guy wanted to drum with us, which it seemed like he did, we would be glad to have him.
RU-For the first time in the life of the band people were coming up to us and saying,"Man...your drummer rules!" We're like, "What are we chopped liver? Can't I play bass anymore?"
LK-So how did you feel about that?
KM-They told me I could get girls and drugs and all that stuff.
RU-We lied to him.
DS-...drive around in a limo...We had a show in Columbia, Missouri and Kevin said he'd would try it. We'd already been there a couple times. We went there and the girl who'd set up the show gave us a great guarantee, got us hotel rooms, set up a promotional radio appearance, fed us free food and drinks. This is Kevin's first gig in the band, first show, first time playing in front of an audience with us-we'd been together for like a week. He goes down there, he gets on radio, he's interviewed over the airwaves, they play our recordings on the air. We get a good crowd, we make a ton of money, all the free beer he can drink, everybody loves it. We have hotel rooms and he ends up meeting some cool girls and...ahem...whatever. He's only in the band for two seconds and he's treated like a king and he's like,"Man, this is pretty cool!"
Rick and I were laughing because we were thinking, "When we're stranded in the desert he's gonna be saying,'What the fuck was I thinkin'?'"
LK-How long ago did he join?
DS-Two years ago in January. We've really actually done more in these two years than we did in the three years with Randy. We've been through some good times and bad and yet we still haven't released a CD with Kevin. When we were going out the second time we thought we needed something with Kevin on it so the fans'd know that this is what Three Blue Teardrops is: that he's not like some fill in session or tour guy. He's full blooded...You know? So we put that little 4 song blue vinyl record out.
LK-Is that still availabile?
DS-You can still get it in some places but it's not in stores. We sell it at our shows mostly.
KM-We have a rich history, this band, and it's only really just started.
DS-One of the best things that happened ironically was the first drummer quitting us. At the time it seemed like the worst thing in the world. Interesting that...
LK-Have you ever played with anyone you just couldn't even believe you got to be on a bill with?
DS-Yeah, "Useless Playboys" from Richmond, VA. "Usless Playboys" are one of the greatest bands that ever existed. Too bad they broke up. Everytime I see "High Noon" I get blown away. "The Paladins" are one of my favorite bands to play with. I sometimes think, "God...I'm hanging out with all these talented people!!!"
LK-You're one of them, come on. So your fan base has continued to increase over the years and people are more open minded about psychobilly. Do you feel you're on the way?
DS-We're on the way to the end of our road...wherever that goes. I will not predict that far ahead. To say I wouldn't like to go and be booked in Las Vegas for twelve nights straight would be bullshit. That'd be cool. But if I am forced to play honkytonk roadhouses by myself with a beat up old six string guitar I'll do that too...if that's the way it's meant to be.
LK-You have written the rockabilly anthem, "Switchblade Pompadour." How do you feel about that?
DS-That'll probably haunt me for the rest of my life...especially if I go bald! I like playing it but sometimes it's hard to find the original anger with which I wrote it...but I'd like to know that after I'm gone it might be on a jukebox somewhere. I don't know if it ever will but that'd be cool.
RU-Our desire is to have our music turn into Muzak.
DS-Until we've made it in elevators we really HAVEN'T made it. When I hear a little xylophone doing the intro to "Switchblade Pompadour" and maybe a full sting section in the background doing the bass notes...on the cello-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m...
LK-So, Do you have another album in the works?
DS-Actually, Teen Rebel wants to have it out by February. But it'll probably get pushed back because that's the way it works.
LK-So you're in the studio now? It's all written?
DS-We're going in. Yeah.
LK-Who's producing you these days?
DS-Ourselves and Chuck Uchida-same guy we did the first recordings with because he's kick ass. He's a super nice guy, has a good ear for music and likes what we do. I think and hope it'll be even better, and some of the songs are pretty damn funny