The Man Who Rode The Mule Around The World – John Schooley (Voodoo Rhythm)
Austin, Texas, resident John Schooley was a substantial blip on the I-94 Bar radar in the mid-1990s when Australian label Dropkick put out one of his records (“ You Won't Like It ... 'Cuz It's Rockn'Roll!”) with his band The Hard Feelings.
Here was a guy who crunched rootsy Americano with raucous garage grit in the most emphatic fashion. “You Won’t Like It...” even scored a write-up in Rolling Stone - but died a comercial death when the label head was struck down with cancer and couldn’t press up any more copies. Thankfully, he recovered - and Schooley, too, is still kicking. Like a mule.
And how. After a storied career with The Revelators, South Filthy and One Man Band, and as a sideman for Hasil Adkins and RL Burnside, Schooley is now on primal Swiss garage-roots label Voodoo Rhythm with his second album, “The Man Who Rode The Mule Around The World.” He’s billed as himself and, once again, is a one-man band. Hey, it makes band rehearsals easier.
There are two kinds of songs on “The Man...”: those with vocals and those without. Most of them lean towards a hybrid of bluegrass shuffles and barnstorming garage boogie with banjo front-and-centre for much of the time. Walter Daniels adds some damned sharp harp.
If you think the banjo isn’t a “punk” instrument, give yourself a slap around the head and open your ears. Schooley alternates between that instrument and a dual-neck guitar (which must be a bastard to carry around, let alone entrust to an uncaring airline’s baggage handlers while on tour.) He simultaneously stomps on foot-propelled drums and squeezes sounds out of a harmonica while grinding out alternately rich or gritty vocals. It makes for an arresting record of garage-blues.
If you think the “one-man band” descriptor infers something that falls short in the horsepower department, think again (again.) This stuff is tougher than your mother-in-law’s cooking after she’s been let loose with steaks on the barbecue grill. Unlike charred meat, Schooley’s trademark intensity bleeds through most, if not all, of the songs. The title track - it ends up as a cacophony of layered sounds that grind like shifting Pacific Rim tectonic plates –is a case in point.
Footnote: Schooley hasn’t given up his day job. He’s an engineer who designs waterslides and you can see one of his projects here.
Footnote: The above might not be true.