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Cave Catt Sammy: MacArthur High classmates linked by their love of roots music. Photo by Richard Agudelo
With its fourth CD, Cave Catt Sammy continues to stretch beyond its rockabilly base

Cave Catt Sammy plays the Cigar Club almost every Thursday night, but it's not really the foursome's standard gig.

This North Side bar, nestled in a chichi strip mall just outside the 1604 Loop, doesn't attract the pomade brigade of rockabilly disciples who routinely pack the band's shows at Casbeers or Sam's Burger Joint.

The Cigar Club has its own, more upscale sense of retro chic. Cigarettes and cerveza give way to humidors and cocktails. The crowd is small, resolutely laid-back and only intermittently focused on music. A splashy mural covers the back wall of the stage, depicting anonymous, silhouetted jazz musicians who look like they jumped right out of the 1920s Cotton Club. Carl Perkins might have twitched in his blue suedes at the prospect of playing in this environment.

Once Cave Catt Sammy hits the stage, though, it swiftly becomes obvious that they belong here. Behind the obvious rockabilly-revivalist hook that draws people to this combo, lurks a collective fascination with all forms of vintage American music. At the Cigar Club, their love of jazz steps to the fore, as hotshot guitarist Steve Scott peels off smooth licks that suggest Wes Montgomery as much as Ronnie Dawson.

Formed in 1997 by four MacArthur High School students drawn to roots music, this band has long been linked to the ever-present rockabilly subculture, but its musical interests can't be contained by one genre. Singer/bassist Beau Sample sees their stylistic base as "early rock 'n' roll, up to about August, 1962," but from that base they touch on everthing from country to blues to big-band swing.

Whiskey and the Devil, the group's recently released fourth CD, demonstrates the subtle growth that has occurred since Sample and Scott played their first adolescent gig together at a friend's house.

Tracks like "I Hate You Gin" and "April's Fools" are classic country laments, gussied up in Teddy Boy leather. They suggest that Sample feels comfortable venturing outside the stereotypical rockabilly terrain of hot rods and hotter babes. As Scott puts it, "We play traditional music, but Beau's not writing lyrics that are just like, 'Let's bop, let's bop.'"

"I try to write about stuff that I know about," Sample says. "I'm not going to write a blues song like Lonnie Johnson would play, because I don't know what he felt. I'm not trying to copy anyone. A lot of times I'll hear a song and think, 'That's great, but if someone wrote that today, it just wouldn't make sense.'

"Lately I've been trying not to confine myself, and just run with whatever it is. I think that's why we're getting more diverse as we go on. As an artist, I don't think you should say, 'I've got to write a song like this, because this is what the people want to hear.'"

The group also makes a habit of unearthing obscure old gems, such as Jerry Reed's hilariously rude "Your Money Makes You Purty," a mercenary anthem to match anything in the big-pimpin' hip-hop arsenal.

Thursday, September 11
Cigar Club
18730 Stone Oak Parkway
"There are so many great songs out there and everyone's doing the same ones, and there's nothing wrong with those songs," Sample says. "But who wants to hear the same golden oldies you've heard a thousand times, when there's millions of outstanding songs that no one's doing?

"I'd never heard anybody do 'Your Money Makes You Purty,' and we thought it was great. It was either that one, or 'You Make It, They Take It,' but the Paladins already did that."

Sample and Scott are the spokesmen of the band, taking turns making smart-ass addendums to each other's statements. They share an abiding love of country and early rock 'n' roll. Drummer Paul Ward, with his Buddy Holly glasses and dark, slicked-back hair, looks the most archetypal rockabilly in the band, but his interests are both older and newer than the group's music would indicate. He uses a Slingerland Radio King drum kit - just like his big-band heroes Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich - so old-school its bass drum doesn't have a hole in it. Yet, he also confesses to being a big Nirvana fan.

"It's weird being in our band, 'cause you hear all kinds of stuff," Sample says. Scott adds: "We get together when we're going on the road and it's like the showing of the CDs. We bring stuff for each other to hear. It's like, 'I don't like Sting, but thanks for bringing it for me.'"

The unlikely eclecticism of the group's taste allows them to strech out on something like Duke Ellington's standard "Duke's Place," shattering the superficial boundaries between jazz, blues, and rock 'n' roll.

"The best thing for me isn't with the people who come to see us, but the people who are looking at us all confused," Scott says. "They're like, 'What is this setup?' They think we're going to start juggling or doing Renaissance stuff, 'cause it's so old to them. But they end up liking it. They can't help but dance.

"There'll be someone sitting there with a sour face, but you look under the table and their foot is moving. I'm like, 'What's your deal, man?' I know it's not Jay-Z, but it's cool." •



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