May Cover Story: Dead Kats, Issue 53

Cover Story: Dead Kats


So I’m going to do an interview with the Dead Kats, so simple. It’s not as if I don’t see them every other night here and there. The only challenge is getting them all together at once. But not a problem. Provided with a tape recorder and enough money to drink with, I ran down to Burt’s Tiki Lounge where every Thursday night they play to a laughing, stomping, stand-up crowd only. What I got was a lot of supportive drunken gibberish from the crowd, and one out of three Dead Kats, also interspersed with background gibberish. They disappear more quickly than they normally appear (seconds before they play.) What can you say, they’re great people who appropriately have lives.Dead Kats: Cover Story, May 1993

I took the gibberish and ran. After all, how often do you encounter forthcoming, relaxed, happy people after an overcrowded, smoky night. This is precisely what the Dead Kats are about. They’ve created a venue where none existed in the often all too serious underground life, where nothing is wrong with just having fun. Music to drink, talk, and have a good time to. Just watch Andy Belanger, (whacka whacka drums,) John Lundeen, (upright boom-boom bass,) and Kerry Pedersen, (six strings and vocals,) and you can see that they’re having a good time. By the third song you’d have to have incredible willpower to resist and not enjoy with them.

Now many of you are probably still shuddering over SLUG’s cover, and either you’re taking yourself way too seriously, already have the narrow definitions of someone babbling about the golden days when things were just, well, right, or defining rockabilly from a single hit you associate with the mid-eighties and the return of tattered poodle wear. Whatever the reason, you’re missing out on a type of music long missing from the scene. If you don’t believe me, just ask the many diverse people (some of whom normally wouldn’t be within a block of each other) who never miss a show.

Apparently Kerry and Johnny, both of the long-standing Gamma Rays, had talked about starting the band, when they met Andy who proved to be the catalyst. However don’t make the mistake of thinking the Dead Kats are just another Gamma Rays. Both cover some of the same songs, but the resemblance ends with the titles. Also, although there is a high level of reminiscent campiness, it never interferes with the quality of the music. Even an ardent detractor of rockabilly admitted that “they’re really tight musicians.” (He also couldn’t seem to leave and do all the shit he really had to do that night, or the next Thursday. A definite if backhanded compliment.) All three have a definite and very enjoyable stage presence. Johnny, with the only stand up bass I’ve seen in a very long time, is particularly noticeable. Kerry makes you feel immediately comfortable, flipping shit about everyone and everything better than anyone I know. It’s harder to glimpse Andy behind the rows of people, but if  you can catch a glimpse, it’s worth it just to see the enjoyment in every move he makes. It’s an all too rare sight.

The Dead Kats create an atmosphere of unpretentiousness that is refreshing, to say the least. There is no stage at Burt’s separating them from the crowd or putting them on a pedestal. During breaks, they drink and hang with everyone else, and remember your names. Nor do they seem to have an agenda, political, success-wise, economic etc. There is no soapbox anywhere to cry on. The fact that they simply play rockabilly and play it well is one key to their success. Says Andy, “I’m so sick of political and antagonistic music, I mean everywhere our lives are bombarded with political and social stigmata. I want to play music to drink to, have a good time to. [Consequently,] we don’t sing blues acid rock, metal etc. . . We play songs about having a good time and appreciating what you have.”

From the very articulate to the very drunk, everyone who talked to me emphasized a particular enjoyment of the Dead Kats because of their uniqueness. “It’s a mistake to compare them to other types of music and judge them on what they (other types) do for you. Music has many purposes, and they’re filling a gap and doing it well. ” said the most articulate of the crowd. Many also pointed out that rockabilly itself is a return to basic roots that are often forgotten. “Universal countrified rhythm and blues,” says Andy. “There are very few types of music that can combine hillbilly soul with the spirit of rock and’ roll. . . that strong steady driving rhythm. I love the rockabilly simply because of the ‘boom chucka boom chucka. I’m a drummer. That’s what I do.”

Lately most of the emphasis in music seems to be at pushing limits as far and as often as possible, and while it’s a great thing, too much of anything isn’t. The Dead Kats provide a welcome and needed change. Mark Conlan, owner of Burt’s Tiki Lounge, points out that many enjoy “the timeless quality of the Dead Kats, the reminder of a better time, the simplicity.”

Unfortunately, the Dead Kats will be away while Johnny roams around Europe for a bit. But keep checking SLUG, and watch for their return. (They normally play at Burt’s every Thursday night.) Next time you just need to relax (and who doesn’t), give the Dead Kats a try. No matter what happens you’re going to feel pretty damn good by the end of the night.

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
Cover Story: One Eye
Cover Story: A.U.