The Jitterbug Vipers sing

27 Aug

While Slim Richey may look older than Santa Claus, complete with white hair and a gray beard, the big guy never looked as hip.  The 75-year-old lead guitarist for the Jitterbug Vipers, aka: “Most Dangerous Guitar Player in Texas” on stage wears a rock lobster bowling shirt embroidered with guitars on each breast, white plaid beach shorts and red Converse tennis shoes.

Richey often dons a Fedora with a white feather plume stuck into its leopard print hatband while he plays his Sunburst 1937 Gibson L-4 or an Arbor White Falcon copy guitar on stage.

His band performs regularly at the Elephant Room, or Lambert’s or the Continental Club, in Austin. They also perform the second Monday of each month at noon live on the Internet streaming from  www.lunchwithmasumi.com. The band also heads west and to the Pacific Northwest this fall to play in  Eugene, OR, Seattle, WA, and Hollywood, CA before taking off for a European tour in November through December.

Instrumentally their music sounds vintage, a fusion of styles from the 1930s and ‘40s that began with early swing jazz ensembles, but their edgy lyrics blur contemporary lines – on topics of drugs and sex. An open SKB equipment case complete with flashing holiday lights displays the Jitterbug Viper’s quirky name at the front of the stage wherever they perform. It also serves as a nice depository for cash donations.

The rest of his band members call themselves the “Hidee Hidee Hos” including: vocalist and co-songwriter Sarah Sharp, his bassist wife Francie Meaux Jeaux and drummer Masumi Jones.  The band’s visual authenticity and original music allows its members to wave that ethereal “Keep Austin Weird” flag where ever they go.

As Jitterbug Vipers’ lead vocalist, Sharp has drawn a lot of attention to the band since she began performing with them four years ago this November. Today the petite and blonde model-thin singer and mother of three elementary age children disarms her audience with her liquid jazz voice alone.

When she first started singing with the band, Sharp wore a body sling and nursed her son, Angus, on stage. Angus attended more than 100 gigs in utero and just as many Jitterbug Viper gigs on stage from the time he was only three and a half weeks old until he turned six months old, Sharp said.

“It was a 99 percent positive reaction. He was too little not to have with me. If he needed to nurse, I nursed him inside the sling. It wasn’t an exhibition. The only people who noticed what was going on were other moms,” Sharp said.

“I made a big point of making it obvious that he was wearing special earplugs. We have a very quiet stage volume, but if I was watching a baby on stage, I would be worried about their ears.”

Angus had a stage presence and he absorbed the music, she said.

“He has the music in him. The first time he made any sort of fuss was around three and a half  months old when he started steering me toward whatever he wanted to see. Some nights he was all about Slim’s hands, some nights he needed to watch the drums.  I often had to turn and sing over my shoulder so he could be content watching the drums.  He definitely let me know.”

Meaux Jeaux used to sometimes shout on stage: “Slim, turn around; he can’t see your hands!” if Angus started to fuss. That always settled Angus back down, Sharp said.

These days, Angus and his two siblings: Alistair, 6, and Stella, 5, stay at home nights with their dad, British-born Andy Sharp, a guitar player who has a day gig working as a software developer.  His stage name is “Buffalo Speedway.” The couple has been married 15 years. When the Jitterbug Vipers performed at Hyde Park Grill South, the whole Sharp clan turned out in attendance.

“I haven’t played there in a while, but we get a lot of jitterbug and lindy hop dancers and they all understand the cultural significance of the songs. That’s one of the gigs where I often brought my whole family,” Sharp said.

Some of the lyrics to the Jitterbug Viper songs do not necessary convey family friendly themes and discuss “smoking” and “getting high.” One song “Stuff It” Sharp co-wrote with Elizabeth McQueen of The Asleep at The Wheel band.

“(McQueen’s) a momma too. We laughed the entire two and a half hours it took to write that song. It’s probably getting the most national airplay of all the new songs,” Sharp said.

The song provides plenty of double entendres. Even the name “Vipers” comes from a sub-genre of cannabis culture that associates itself with those who make hissing sounds like snakes when they smoke.

“Viper music is a sub-genre of 1930’s and 40’s jazz, mostly party songs like (Cab Calloway’s 1931) ‘Minnie the Moocher.’ Back then, drinking and gambling were illegal, drugs were not. It’s akin to beer drinking songs today.  The new album is mostly originals, inspired by that genre,” Sharp said.

The band’s original songs with titles from Phoebe’s Dream CD have received less local radio air play: “When You’re High,” written by Sharp and Kristopher Lee Wade and “Dangerous,” by Sharp and Katie Holmes, and “Viper Moon,” written by Sharp and Slim Richey.

Cover songs off their previous 2012 CD, Tell ‘em Joe Sent You, included Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” as well as Buck Washington’s 1944 “Save the Roach for Me,” and the Ink Spots’ 1944 “That Cat is High.”

Sharp found her niche in 2009 with the Jitterbug Vipers by filling in and substituting for the band whenever former lead vocalists Kat Edmonson of Houston and Emily Gimble, grand-daughter of legendary Johnny Gimble, couldn’t make a gig. Emily Gimble now performs with the Marshall Ford Swing Band. She also recently performed on Three for the Road, a CD by Warren Hood produced by Charlie Sexton.

“The (Jitterbug Vipers) used to play everywhere all of the time and I knew who they were. I used to play as a singer/songwriter alone, but I couldn’t be on the road anymore. Things started slowing down for me when I got pregnant. I saw playing with them several nights a week as a solution to being on the road,” Sharp said.

Sharp’s pitch bending and expressive phrasing leads the band’s melody in each song including “Phoebe’s Dream,” the title cut off the band’s newest CD. The song has received more local radio air play than any other Jitterbug Vipers songs to date. Her distinctive voice makes every bit a signature statement for the band as guitarist Slim Richey’s riffs.

She also maintains a musical singing duo separately with Andrea Perry, called Kaliyo; the two have co-written and performed one song per week since last October.

“I’ve never fully figured out why, but jazz comes out of me differently than pop music. It sounds different. It’s often more versatile voice and I tend to never sing a song the exact same way twice,” Sharp said.

Though neither knew one another at the time, both Sharp and Jones attended Berklee College of Music in Boston about the same time.

Jones has lived in Austin a little more than five years after coming to town from New York and prior to that from Japan. She has two sons, Lewis, 14, and Kai, 13.

She discovered the Jitterbug Vipers, one night while attending a “Ham Jam” house party for professional musicians hosted by host Daren Appelt, who lives in North Hills subdivision of Austin.

“He used to put on these house parties for professional musicians to jam all night long. He served free alcohol and ham.  I went to jam there, but drummers were not allowed to play because of the noise ordinance – neighbors complained,” Jones said.

“Slim came up to me and asked me ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ When I told him, he offered me a gig. It was such a ‘Dangerous’ decision to make since he had never heard me perform.”

Masumi, who had previously performed with big bands in Japan, these days plays the hi-hat cymbal with brushes like feathers and keeps a subtle swing pulse on the base drum. She emphasizes a fluid rocking momentum at the far ends of each instrumental song, creating a relaxed feel.

The small ensemble, minus showmanship, creates a calming, unhurried feel to the Jitterbug Vipers’ music. Jones together with Meaux Jeaux, the bassist, occasionally screams or yells in the background during a few of the up-tempo songs like “Stuff It.” Although, Sharp’s solo voice for the most part remains unhindered on stage.

Meaux Jeaux’s timing and her two and four beat plucks and pulls on her upright bass strings, lock in well with Masumi’s sweeping drum movements.

Somewhat awkwardly, by appearances, Meaux Jeaux keeps her back to the audience while performing on stage, to focus on Masumi.  Their combined musicianship creates a quintessential basic rhythm section sound for the band.

“It was perfect the first time we played together; it was ‘I want your babies; I want to lock you in my closet,’” Meaux Jeaux said of Jones.

Meaux Jeaux, Richey’s wife, may be 61, but her young spirit appears personified by her punk hairstyle complete with streaks of red and blue hair dyes. She also wears giant oversized white frame sunglasses sometimes on stage.

She said she remembers the first time she and Richey played together some 27 years ago. They have been married for 25 years and have celebrated their union in 15 separate weddings. They were first “spiritually” married Aug. 15, 1988 in Copper Canyon and then legally Jan. 1, 1989 in Dallas.

When the two began performing together on stage, Meaux Jeaux could only play electric bass. She had to teach herself to play an upright bass.

Richey improvises instrumentally in the Jitterbug Vipers’ song sets by providing riffs one or two measures at a time and colors the musical score behind Sharp’s unaffected voice. He also provides some 3 and 4 quarter note rhythms in a down stroke with a loose wrist.  He sometimes gently picks the strings by playing half notes and whole notes while he keeps his amplifier boosted to medium volume.

“You just make it up as you go – it’s usually not written down,” Richey said. “I don’t sight read or anything like that. I just play it until I remember it. I played a three-part song in a dream one time and I could remember it when I woke up with great clarity, but it was way too hard to play. I wouldn’t eat or sleep until I learned to play it. Otherwise it would have evaporated from memory.”

Richey hails from Atlanta, Texas where he performed with his high school jazz band. In 1952 he became a guitarist for the “Black Bayou Buckaroos.” After graduation, he played started a band called the Cass County Coon Hunters.  The band campaigned with Ralph Yarborough when he ran against Pappy Lee O’Daniels and Price Daniels for the governor of Texas. He attended the University of Oklahoma in Norman where he played with various jazz bands such as The Lime Lighters, The Ramblers, and The Contemporaries. He majored first in petroleum engineering, then business, and philosophy before he finally graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.

He moved to Seattle from Oklahoma in 1965. Richey played only two gigs in Washington before other career interests distracted him.

“I went off the musical path for a while,” Richey said. “I had a booking agency, then stores, then a recording studio. I quit playing for 25 years.”

In 1972 he was awarded the title of “outstanding soloist” at the Oklahoma University Jazz Festival judged by Leonard Feather and Buddy DeFranco, with whom he jammed with on stage. He doesn’t sing anymore; he has a gravely spoken voice since undergoing two surgeries on his vocal cords.

In 1984 he played fiddle with renowned composer and symphony conductor David Amram at the Kerrville Folk Festival where Richey regained his taste for playing.

“He (Amram) never heard me play guitar, but he recommended me for house guitarist for a jazz festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I bought a $125 electric guitar to play that gig,” Richey said.

After returning home to Fort Worth, he joined a “bebop” rehearsal group at the famous jazz venue, The Caravan of Dreams. With picking partner, Dave Lincoln, together they started a Tuesday night jazz jam at The Hop, in town.

“My music is influenced by jazz, but I’ve played pop music, hillbilly, country, and swing. My influences were Billy Holiday, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, and Stuff Smith,” Richey said.

Richey moved to Austin and performed with the Jazz Pharaohs for 16 years off and on. In 1996 he went on tour with Don Mcalister Jr.’s band to Europe, traveling throughout Switzerland, Italy and Sicily.

Richey met Meaux Jeaux at a party in Fort Worth and the two moved to Driftwood in Hays County in 1992. Soon afterwards, he formed his “dream ensemble,” which he first called The Cat’s Meow band with Edmondson and Gimble, before Sharp joined.

Richey fathered 12 children and married twice before Meaux Jeaux. The couple has two children: Sara and Jordan Baxter, 33-year-old twins, of Austin. Most of his other 12 children live in California along with his ex-wives. However, his 42-year son, Tom Richey, a guitarist like his father, lives in Arlington.

In March, The Jitterbug Vipers won the “fourth best performing jazz band in Austin,” according to The Austin Chronicle’s Music Awards.  Jones took ninth place on drums in the same poll.

In 2011 The Jitterbug Vipers  won second best performing jazz band in the same music poll. Meaux Jeaux took eighth place on bass, and Sharp won seventh place in vocals, while Richey took sixth place in the city as a guitarist.

~   Jitterbug Viper schedule of performances ~  

WEDNESDAY August 28, 2013

7 — 9:30 p.m.

Lamberts, 401 W 2nd Street. Austin, TX. (512) 494-1500

http://www.lambertsaustin.com No cover.

SATURDAY August 31, 2013

7 – 10 p.m.

TAG’s 5th Anniversary Party (Texan’s for Accountable Government.) Anderson Mill Tavern, 10401 Anderson Mill Road, Suite #121, Austin, TX. $20 cover.

WEDNESDAY September 4, 2013

7 — 9:30 p.m.

Lamberts, 401 W 2nd Street. Austin, TX.  Phone: 494-1500

http://www.lambertsaustin.com  No cover.

THURSDAY September 5, 2013

6 —  8 p.m.

The Elephant Room, 315 North Congress, Austin, TX.  (512) 473-2279.

http://www.elephantroom.com  No cover.

FRIDAY September 6, 2013

6:30 — 8:30 p.m.

The Elephant Room, 315 North Congress, Austin, TX. (512) 473-2279.

http://www.elephantroom.com  No cover.

MONDAY September 9, 2013

Noon

The Internet show, “Vipers At Noon”, Internet streaming LIVE show.

Streams live from Sarah’s living room the second Monday of every month.

Live in Asia, Europe, Eurasia, Africa, South America, and North America.

http://lunchwithmasumi.com

WEDNESDAY September 11, 2013

Time TBA

Aqua Serene, 2836 W. 11th, Eugene, OR. (541) 302-9073

THURSDAY (September 12. 2013)

noon — 1 p.m.

Aqua Serene, 2836 W. 11th, Eugene, OR. (541) 302-9073

THURSDAY September 12. 2013

2:40 p.m.

Jitterbug Vipers LIVE radio performance in-studio:

at KLCC, 89.7 FM Eugene, OR.

www.klcc.org

THURSDAY September 12, 2013

Evening time TBA

Jazz Station, 124 W. Broadway, Eugene, OR.

http://thejazzstation.org/ $10 cover

SATURDAY September 14, 2013

9 p.m.

Alhambra Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR

http://www.alhambrapdx.com/  503-360-1450 . $8 ticket.

http://www.ticketfly.com/venue/7815-alhambra-theatre/ 

WEDNESDAY  September 18, 2013.

6:30 — 9 p.m.

The Continental Club. Austin, TX.

1315 South Congress. 441-2444.

www.continentalclub.com/austin.html  No cover.

SATURDAY September 21, 2013

7 – 10 p.m.

Ino’z Brew and Chew.

14004 Ranch Road 12, Wimberley, TX. (512) 847-6060

http://www.inozrestaurant.com No cover.

MONDAY  September 23, 2013

6:30 —  8:30 p.m.

at the Elephant Room,

315 North Congress, Austin, TX.  (512) 473-2279.

http://www.elephantroom.com  No cover.

TUESDAY September 24, 2013

5 p.m.

8th Annual HAAM Benefit Day.

Maria’s Taco Express, 2529 S Lamar Blvd  Austin, TX. (512) 444-0261 http://www.myhaam.org/hbd/

Many Great bands: The Shoulders, The Wild Seeds, The American People, The Painted Redstarts, Finley Sexton, Grace London, Gypsy, Johnny Goudie, Ariel Herrera, and Skyline!

Free concert. Donations.

WEDNESDAY September 25, 2013

9:30 a.m.

Good Day Austin

KTBC  Fox 7 TV station

WEDNESDAY September 25, 2013

6:30 — 9 p.m.

The Continental Club

The Jitterbug Vipers with the keyboardist Connor Forsyth.

1315 South Congress. 441-2444

www.continentalclub.com/austin.html  No cover.

FRIDAY September 27, 2013

9 — 12 noon

17th annual Texas Heritage Music Day,

at the Robbins-Lewis Pavilion at Schreiner University campus

in Kerrville, 2100 Memorial Blvd (HWY-27)

http://www.texasheritagemusic.org/ Free.

FRIDAY September 27, 2013

6 – 8 p.m.

at the Elephant Room, 315 North Congress, Austin, TX. 512 473-2279.

http://www.elephantroom.com   No cover.

WEDNESDAY October 2, 2013

 6:30 – 9 p.m.

The Continental Club., 1315 South Congress. (512) 441-2444.

With keyboardist Connor Forsyth.

www.continentalclub.com/austin.html No cover.

TUESDAY October 22, 2013

7 — 7:45 p.m.

Hotel Café, 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd. Hollywood, CA

www.hotelcafe.com  (323) 461-2040, Cover $10 

WEDNESDAY October 30, 2013

6:30 — 9 p.m.

The Continental Club, 1315 South Congress. (512) 441-2444.

with the keyboardist Connor Forsyth.

www.continentalclub.com/austin.html  No cover

SATURDAY November 9, 2013

Time TBA

10th Annual Rice Festival presented by Cabin 10

held in Fischer Hall, downtown Fischer, Texas.

http://www.cabin10.com/riceFestival_schedule.htm

EUROPE TOUR

November 28 Through the first week in December, The Jitterbug Vipers will tour England, then Italy.

JitterbugVipersband

Published on Austin Fusion magazine at http://austinfusionmagazine.com/2013/10/08/jitterbug-vipers-keeping-austin-vintage-and-weird/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: