Friday, 21 August 2015

One More River

The youngest son of Grace and Robert Wauhob Sr., Ted Wauhob was taught how to play banjo by his father, a guitarist who also served as a minister at the World of Gospel Temple in Sioux City, Iowa.

There were a lot of Wauhobs: Grace and Robert had six sons and a daughter. Sadly their baby girl and one brother, Daniel, died in infancy. With the addition of Ted’s brother Thomas (on drums) and, occasional, their older brother Robert Jr. (who fancied himself as a vocalist), the Wauhobs began performing primitive, almost Shaggs-like gospel music at the World of Gospel Temple: it’s still there, on South Irene Street. 

Ted’s big dream was to make the Wauhob's music available to the world. So, in the early 1980s the group - Ted, Thomas, momma Grace (also a singer) and their father (nicknamed ‘Pop’) – started rehearsals in the basement recording studio of local music store Flood Music.

"At a time when everybody was playing big hair music, the Wauhobs were playing music that would have even been out of step 50 years before, yet alone in the 1980s," Tom Kingsbury, longtime owner of Flood Music, told Earl Horlyk of the Sioux City Journal in 2012.

"They were just dripping in kindness," he recalled. In no time at all the Wauhob Family recorded enough material for four self-produced albums of gospel standards, although only one appears to have seen the light of day. In 1984 the family issued Country Style Revival; Bob Darden, the gospel music editor for Billboard magazine, reviewed the album for the satirical Christian magazine Wittenburg Door. Here’s that review in full:

‘Once in a generation, an artist or band comes along that totally disrupts the fabric of the popular music universe: a band confident enough, gutsy enough to shatter preconceptions, artificial restraints and arbitrary rules. Such a group is, thus, able to extend harmonic boundaries for all time. Beethoven was such an artist; Stockhausen was another; Coltrane and Charlie Parker two more.

In the contemporary Christian music constellation, let me add one more such star, the Wauhob family of Sioux City, Iowa (apparently an undiscovered hotbed of avant garde music and free-form jazz). What makes the Wauhobs so amazing - so revolutionary - is that they work in a previously unmined context for serious jazz explorations: Southern Gospel music. Using, as a starting point, a startling array of old-fashioned, almost over-familiar Gospel tunes, the Wauhobs turn the melodies inside out, distort the tempos, and sometimes abandon the melody line altogether. This is adventuresome, cutting edge stuff: discordant, abrasive, and absolutely brilliant in application.

The heart of the band is vocalist/banjo player Ted Wauhob. Ted fiercely makes every song his own, reducing even the most difficult melody line to a monotone, setting up a hypnotic drone not unlike a Hindu mantra. Ted slurs the words and sometimes, as is the case on Put Your Hand In The Hand, improvises the lyrics altogether - thereby freeing himself from the tyranny of conventional rhyme, meter, and iambic pentameter.

Ted is a master of the rare, one-chord banjo, methodically strumming the instrument at the same tempo, generally on the same chord, during every song. It's an instinctive feat of audacious minimalism, recalling the droning electronic pulses of Robert Wilson, John Cage and Brian Eno. Pay particular attention to the inspired modal improvisations on Put Your Hand In The Hand.

The solos for the Wauhobs are, generally, provided by the patriarch of this awesome musical aggregation - Robert Wauhob, Sr. The elder Wauhob plays a variety of electric guitars in a bewildering array of obscure tunings and keys - sometimes on the same song. Robert listens intently to music he hears only in his head and, generally, ranges freely across the musical spectrum with every tune. His thick, oblique chords are closer to tape loops than recognizable progressions; he uses them for emphasis against the lighter banjo chords of son Ted. On something like One More River, he fights a snarling one-man duel with the rest of the band. This is dangerous stuff. Be sure to listen for the wickedly inventive chords on their anthemic version of Andre Crouch's Through It All.

The band is centered around the expressive drumming of Thomas Wauhob, a wildly original percussionist in the mode of an Elvin Jones, a Billy Cobham or a John Candy. Thomas thumps along at a deceptively slow beat, alternating between the snare drum and the floor tom-tom until you think he's lost the beat altogether. Then, suddenly, in a burst of spastic, unchanneled energy he forges ahead, catches the beat, and makes up for lost time by double-timing the tempo. All of this in a space of a single bar, no less. Incredible! Be sure and listen to his urgent stop and start rhythms on One More River, as he uses the flashy ploy of dropping a drumstick and fearlessly starting over (seemingly oblivious to the beat).

That brings us to the soul of the Wauhob family, mother Grace Wauhob. Mrs. Wauhob's influences are obvious throughout Country Style Revival. Here's a snatch of Yoko Ono and other Primal Scream therapists; there's a snippet from the Bee Gee School of Heavenly Castrati. She launches her high-pitched, harmony vocals into the stratosphere on many cho-ruses, setting up an unearthly keening that owes much to the ritual Wailing Wall tradition of certain Jewish widows. Her tour-de-force and, indeed, the entire album's highlight, is a boldly expressive version of Build My Mansion Next Door To Jesus, wherein the entire band tears into a magnificent array of varying tempos, keys, pitches and chord changes - soloing all at the same time. It's a powerful cathartic moment, unlike anything in recent memory from Christian music.

The Wauhob Family's Country Style Revial. It's music you've never heard before - nor are you likely to hear again.’

Darden originally thought that Country Style Revial was a joke. "I assumed it was someone's idea of being ironic," he said. "Then I came to realise no, this was a real family who may have been naively confident in their abilities but were true believers in their music. As a gospel music critic, I'd receive dozens of recording that I didn't want to listen to once. But with the Wauhobs, I actually wanted to listen to them over and over again."

The Wauhobs embarked on a concert tour which included bookings at Disneyland, but success proved short-lived and the family returned home to Sioux City. "The Wauhob Family didn't record music to become stars," Kingsbury told Earl Horlyk. "They recorded to share their faith and preserve their music."

Robert Wauhob Sr. died in 1996 and Grace joined him on December 29, 1998 after a long illness. The brothers continued to perform music sporadically, with Ted juggling his stage career with his day job: he spent 44 years working as a hospital dishwasher, retiring in 2012.

Here are a couple of tracks from the brilliant Country Style Revival: He Looked Beyond My Fault, and The Baptism of Jesse Taylor. If you like this, the whole album is available at Mr Weird and Wacky

Enjoy!






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