One-Man Band Series: Reverend Beat-Man’s Church of Rock’n’Roll
For some, rock’n’roll is a pastime, while for others it is a lifestyle. But for Swiss singer/songwriter and one-man band act Reverend Beat-Man it is nothing short of a religion.
With one foot planted firmly on each side of the line which separates heaven from hell, the saved from the damned, and the saints from the sinners, Reverend Beat-Man baptizes obscure music seekers in a river of sound wholly unique to him, offering his many listeners a sacrament of primitive rock’n’roll, gospel trash, surreal folk, and wild blues. To be sure, this scary-eyed fire and brimstone preacher of the Rock’n’Roll Word plays fiery rock guitar, works the drum kit with very capable feet, and pushes out gravelly vocals that sound almost like a combination of Depression-era bluesman Blind Willie Johnson and the singer/guitarist for the dark roots duo Those Poor Bastards, Lonesome Wyatt. The Reverend’s mission as a primitive rock and blues trash evangelist, it seems, is to show us the hell in his demented heart in order to bring us all to the light. I mean, with songs like Jesus Christ Twist, I’ve Got the Devil Inside, Come Back Lord, Save My Soul From Hell, Back in Hell, The Lord is Coming Back, Oh Lord!, and Fuck You Jesus Fuck You Oh Lord, how can we not assume as much?
It is evident that Reverend Beat-Man’s sound has captured the collective ear of the rock’n’roll underground, especially among one-man band enthusiasts. In addition to extensive touring and being featured on several compilations, the Reverend has released one album, “Apartment Wrestling Rock’n’Roll,” under his original moniker Lightning Beat-Man. After that, he went on to release two albums under the Reverend Beat-Man name, “Surreal Folk Blues Gospel Trash, Volumes I & II,” and then a third titled “Get On Your Knees.” Later, he went on to release an experimental album, “Your Favorite Position Is On Your Knees,” alongside the Swiss industrial analog electro group Herpes-o-Deluxe under the moniker Reverend Beat-Man & The Church of Herpes. This last recording was received with mixed opinions by fans and press alike. The Reverend’s faithful flock, most of them no doubt expecting more of the same, were thrown for a loop, as it were, and felt altogether removed from the highly processed sound and artificiality of it all. Of course, the Reverend Beat-Man & The Church of Herpes endeavor was not met with any apostasy…so far as I know, that is…and those in the loyal congregation of Reverend Beat-Man’s Church of Rock’n’Roll remain as such.
To follow-up his “Surreal Folk Blues Gospel Trash, Volumes I & II,” Reverend Beat-Man released a Volume III, only this time, rather than CD or vinyl format, it was an audio-visual piece on DVD. For the most part, the DVD’s content consists of video clips of several Beat-Man songs, each one shot and edited by a different filmmaker. There is also some rare live footage, and an unreleased bonus song included.
Quite simply, Reverend Beat-Man, with his black attire and priestly collar, is preaching to his audience not of going to hell but of his own experiences in hell, and his long and crazy road back to the light. These are strip club hymnals and whiskey and cigarette sermons he serves up to his listeners, at once both mad and sane, clear and confused, saved and damned, light and dark, good and evil, violent and gentle, feral and sophisticated—all the contraries that make most of us, for better or worse, human.
We keep listening to the music, which is seemingly designed for our generation, the Suicide Generation, the lost and doomed, following a trail of breadcrumbs to salvation, song by song. In the flesh we are not built for heaven, though. So we must resign ourselves to worldly living and worldly things, and being as far from heaven as human beings can possibly get. But maybe, just maybe, if we attend Reverend Beat-Man’s Church of Rock’n’Roll on a regular basis, we can all get just a tad bit closer in the meantime.
Reverend Beat-Man also runs the Voodoo Rhythm record label, which is home to artists such as Elvis Pummel, King Automatic, The Dead Brothers, Hipbone Slim & The Knee Tremblers, John Schooley, and Reverend Beat-Man himself. Voodoo Rhythm is an independent label, as such things go, with a catalog of talented artists who represent the best of modern rock’n’roll and old rock’n’roll, adhering mainly to the garage, trash, rock’n’roll and blues fusion, and one-man band genres. And according to the Reverend, Voodoo Rhythm will soon be acquiring distribution here in the States, making their releases more readily available, finally, to those of us who seek them.
Recently I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Reverend Beat-Man. The interview went as follows…
The most obvious place to start, I suppose, is the beginning. As far as I know, you were referred to as Lightning Beat-Man before Reverend Beat-Man. Is it true that you were a wrestler and somehow managed to incorporate a rock’n’roll act into your matches, or visa versa? Can you tell us a little about the early days, and how you eventually came to be known as Reverend Beat-Man?
Before I was Lightning Beat-Man I had a one-man band under the name Taeb Zerfall (1984), which was a mix between Elvis Presley and die Einstürzende Neubauten. Then, in 1992, I changed my name to Lightning Beat-Man. I traveled through the US and stopped in Los Angeles, where I saw Lucha Libre for the first time. I came up with the idea of spicing up my one-man band act with wrestling, so I bought a Mil Mascaras Mask, a Dracula cape, and a pair of boxer shorts. The idea was to fight on stage against myself, sometimes me versus my guitar…and always win! Of course, I was one of the first one-man bands around here in Europa that wasn’t doing, like, mainstream dance polka music. It was very easy to find shows. Another idea was that I had to get a little more extreme with each show, and I had about 200 shows a year, which I think was the end of Lightning Beat-Man. It changed from a one-man show to a two-man show with a history about Lightning Beat-Man performed by Pantichrist (Robert Butler), then into a whole wrestling circus with other wrestlers, and and and… This wasn’t mainstream at all. We were fighting against everyone, and they were fighting against us. The last tour, in ’98, I think went too far. Pantichrist broke his fist. I broke my nose, cut my arms open, broke something in my back, and lost my voice for a year. I went to the doctor and he said, “Beat-Man, you have to stop it. It’s getting out of control.” And he was right. The mask took possession of my personality. When I wore it, I turned into a Lucha Libre monster. But, you know, I’m not Iggy Pop. I’m a bloddy record nerd, you know. Anyway, in a dust of pot and dreams I saw Robert Johnson and Screaming Jay Hawkins. They told me to go a different way, to preach the word. And that’s what I’m doing now. All the energy I had under the mask is not in my Reverend Beat-Man songs. It’s more dynamic now, and it’s fun. I’ve been doing the Reverend thing since 2000 now, I think. I went through hell, to heaven, and then back to hell again…three times…I saw the light and spells of the devil. I know what I’m talking about.
In addition to your one-man band and other endeavors, you played a large part in the Swiss rockabilly and garage band The Monsters. Did your time in that band play a large part in your decision to go from a component in a band lineup to a one-man preacher of primitive rock’n’roll and gospel blues trash?
Yeah, that was actually the reason I took things a step further with the one-man band in the early ‘90s. Before it was kind of a living room recording project with some little gigs for friends. But you have to know, The Monsters…well, it’s not just a band; we are a men’s club. When we do shows or tours, we don’t take The Monsters too seriously. It’s us as we truly are. We talk dirty about girls and drink and chill and just have fun. Only we men, without the girls (those we fuck in the hotel room). But it was the band democracy that turned me more and more from a side project with The Monsters to a one-man band. You are much quicker in writing songs that way, and in changing from one beat to another. To make it completely anarchistic I developed a set list of about six songs, and the other six I had to make new while live on stage…just being creative and putting together something new. Sometimes it was fantastic, sometimes it was complete crap. But I didn’t care at all. All in all, it was fun.
Your label, Voodoo Rhythm, seems to be the place-to-be for one-man bands, garage rockers, and blues trash outfits in Europe and the States alike. Was it your intention to provide a home label for one-man bands? Or was it merely your intention to release music by bands and singer/songwriters you felt were worthwhile?
Not at all. I never wanted a label as a one-man band label or rock’n’roll label or crap like that. It’s just that there are special things only a one-man band can do. If you want to be interesting or do an interesting record, you have to be creative, very creative, and that’s what I’m searching for in the music I’m putting out. Music that takes you further in your life, brightening your horizon, guiding you to the light, or whatever you want to call it…and there are a lot of one-man bands that can do that. You are only one person. The problem is that all the songs could sound the same, and that’s the problem with 99% of all one-man bands. But if you have a good one-man band—like King Automatic, for example—then you hear how he works on an idea, being a one-man band and putting on an interesting show. But of course there are also full bands which, without the chemical reaction between the different band members, would fail to produce the very specific sound they have. For me, when I record in a studio, I never record as a one-man band. I employ musicians and try to export my one-man band songs into band songs. That is also a very interesting process—to see where the song goes. Live, I play mostly as a one-man band. If the fee is good enough I come with a full band, though.
Recently I stumbled upon Reverend Beat-Man’s “Dusty Record Cabinet”…or at least mention of it. What is that all about?
I’m a complete music fan and record junkie. I buy so many records, trade them, and even have my own label to produce more records. Plus I am so bored with the radio programs in Europe. I like a lot of different styles of music: blues, hip hop, dirty funk, classical music, chain songs, Italian folk, death metal, rock’n’roll, new wave…and and and…zillions of styles. I think 99% of all music in every style is crap and 1% is the shit. So that’s what I am searching for. The good stuff. That’s why I’m doing this Podcast. I like to broadcast it worldwide, and I hope one day a good radio station is interested and takes me on their schedule. We’ll see where the show goes.
From what I hear, you have a rather attractive woman dancing during your sets at live shows—Scarlet Fever, or some such stage name. I have also noticed the women on your album covers. What’s the story behind that…other than the obvious fact that you appreciate beautiful women as much as the next man?
I love women…and not just how they look, either. I love everything about them. I collect faces as well. Scarlet Fever is an LA dancer. She and I even have a child together—my beautiful daughter Coco. The model on the album cover is a Bernese girl called Lucy Ferrette. She’s a professor of psychology…no joke. For my shows I make it known beforehand that I need two to three girls (the hottest in town) that are stripping their clothes off from a nun to a dirty, whiskey-drinkin’, cirgarette-smokin’ devil. Doesn’t work in every town, though…ha ha ha. Ahhh, I love those girls. They kill me every time I fall in love with them, but I still go for it again and again and again.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a singer/songwriter and live performer?
Those questions I never can answer. There are a lot! Come to my next show.
Do you have anything lined up for your own music and/or Voodoo Rhythm releases, etc?
Yes. It’s a constantly working organic project, the label. Right now we are releasing new albums from London’s rockabilly beat band Hipbone Slim & The Knee Shakers, New Zealand one-man band Delaney Davidson’s, and The Dead Brothers. We are working on releases by Urban Junior (electro-clash one-man band from Switzerland), the Sixtyniners (a southern trucker rock and raw blues punk duo from the Netherlands, and and and. We are producing clothing as well—jackets, baby bibs, panties, t-shirts, and and and…and right now we are working on a record player, a Voodoo Rhythm record player.
What artists, bands and/or singer/songwriters have you been most influenced by over the years?
There are too many, you know. Howlin’ Wolf and Hasil Adkins, for sure. But then a million more. I am a music fan. I hate mainstream. I hate mainstream rock’n’roll the most. I hate top 100 music. I can’t stand that corrupt crap anymore.
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover, please, by all means, feel free to add whatever you’d like here. The floor’s all yours, Rev.
I think we need a change, a big change, not just in taxes or the school system, but a complete change. In our heads, we have to throw out a million years of human history and start over again. People say that war is a natural thing, that human beings have done it since they were Neanderthals, always fighting with each other to get something. I think that needs to change. Why not just fuck with everybody? Why not just have sex and blow cocks and eat pussy all day? I think we should change into that. What do you think?