Gary Floyd – We’re an American band — just ask the Germans
Gravel-throated growler Gary Floyd was quite a fixture on the San Francisco — make that American — rock scene for several years, first with his Texas-transplant punk juggernaut the Dicks, later with the idiosyncratic Sister Double Happiness. When the husky singer stepped up to the mike, he commanded immediate attention, immediate awe — for he sang every word with a bracing emotional urgency that was impossible to ignore.
Post-SDH, Floyd followed his instincts and formed the Gary Floyd Band, a loosely structured ensemble dedicated to primal blues and backwoods folk and country, but you can count their hometown concerts on one hand, much less their national appearances. “We’d call up U.S. booking agents and say the Gary Floyd Band wants to tour,” recalls the typically jovial Floyd, sipping coffee in his bay-windowed living room, “and the bookers would be, like, ‘So? So why are you calling us?'”
This gets him chuckling. In Europe, you see, it’s quite a different story: Floyd and his band have toured extensively overseas and have four albums out on thriving German indie label Glitterhouse (a fifth disc was released on England’s Rough Trade Records).
Back in the States, Bay Area label Innerstate Records has just issued Back Door Preacher Man, an anthology of the Floyd Band’s four Glitterhouse releases. It’s a gutsy collection that finds Floyd tornadoing through swampy originals co-written with longtime guitarist/sidekick Danny Roman, as well as blues/country classics such as Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee”, the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger”, and Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground”. For fans who have traditionally thought of Floyd as a punk belter, this softer side of his talent might come as a shock. But according to the artist, the roots thing was “always there.
“Even if you listen to the first live album that the Dicks did back in 1980, there were a few songs on that which had bluesy motifs,” he says. “I love blues music — my mother was a big blues fan, so it’s constantly been just there. And by the time Sister Double Happiness broke up, we were even dabbling in it. We did a few acoustic shows, and we really liked doing that.” So the Glitterhouse projects, he says, “didn’t feel like I was jumping into it — they seemed like a natural progression.”
When the label invited Floyd to record anything he wanted to, it felt to the frontman like a finite — or at least artistically limited — kind of deal. “I thought it would just be one record, one time only, so I did all this bluesy and country stuff. But the album had gotten pretty popular over there, this World Of Trouble record, and the guy said ‘Why don’t you do another one?’ So this time around, we went all-out and did a country thing, and the next one after that wound up being all-acoustic.”
Soon Floyd was touring Europe to a riotous reception. “I was a bit worried about touring over there at first, because we were doing pretty countrified stuff,” Floyd sighs. “But they jumped right into it and really liked it. There were Sister fans there, all kindsa people, from Mohawks to old gray-haired folks. We ended up doing three huge tours there. We’d just tour and bring back barrels full of money!”
Floyd is chortling again; it’s another deadpan joke. And Roman — seated on the couch opposite his chum — keeps the gag going. “Do you need some Deutschmarks?” he asks innocently. “‘Cause I’ve got, like, suitcases full!” Floyd decides to bring the conversation back down to Earth. “We did make some money there, but it wasn’t like we ever did it for the money. It was just because our music was much more accepted in Germany and it was actually fun to tour — it was less of a hassle to do it there than here.”
Even now, Roman chips in, “we can make a couple of calls to some booking agents that we use overseas and say ‘We’re the Gary Floyd Band and we wanna do a tour over there,’ and they’d instantly book us a tour through Europe.” Currently, he and Floyd are playing in a more rock-oriented milieu, as Black Kali Ma, a name inspired by Floyd’s ongoing fascination with Eastern religions. The Floyd Band hasn’t gone the way of Sister Double Happiness, however; they could reunite for a roots-righteous hoedown at any point in time, warns Floyd.
Why? Because it’s a swell time for all concerned, he replies. “That’s one of the reasons the Gary Floyd Band stayed together as long as it did. Like I said, it was just gonna be this one-album thing, but then it became fun and neat, because we were avoiding the whole Stateside music business that had made the last few years of Sister less than fun.”
Indeed. What could be better, Floyd would really like to know, than a record company whittling a contract down to this simple query: “‘You wanna put a record out? Okay — here’s some money!'”