Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps’ Cabinet of Curiosities
The folk music world has always been known for its collection of eccentric personalities, but few folk musicians are more deranged than Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps. Stampfel’s known, of course, as one of the Holy Modal Rounders, a seminal psychedelic folk duo that somehow managed to turn the most mundane of American folk songs into otherworldly trips of the mind. Baby Gramps is a beloved folk music figure in the Northwest and beyond, renowned not only for his huge knowledge of old vaudeville and hokum blues songs, but also for his long, rambling versions of these same songs and his ability to naturally work throat singing into the idiom. Plus his scrotum song has to be heard (and seen) to be believed. Individually, both Stampfel and Gramps have spotty outputs. They’re truly best live, and this doesn’t always translate to great albums for listening. They’re always creative and fascinating, of course, but some of their albums seem a bit too helter-skelter. But somehow bringing these two scatter-brain geniuses together has enabled them to balance each other out, and their 2010 duet album, Outertainment, is a wonderfully insane romp through the trash-strewn back alleys of Americana. It works great, with Gramps gravelly voice switching off with Stampfel’s nearly indescribable vocals, and their always-on-the-edge picking somehow teeters along the edge of total collapse without ever falling, kinda like a drunken kung fu master.
Together, Gramps & Stampfel revel in a dumpster-diving collection of the gross and bizarre. “Bar Bar” is a merry little ditty about getting drunk at bars and starting fights, then barfing everywhere, and “The Puppy Song” is a great folk number about the rather disgusting things puppies get up to, and how cute it is. These are the songs they’ve written, but they’ve also sourced songs from pretty interesting places. The truly wonderful vaudeville delight “Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga” came to Stampfel from “Leave it to Beaver,” evidently. Other songs come to them from Grandpa Jones, a killer sea chanty comes from Laurence Welk, surprisingly, and they’ve even got an evil cover of “Heigh Ho” from Disney’s Snow White. Yow! There’s even a crazy version of the all-time classic “Surfin’ Bird.”
Stampfel and Gramps’ duet album is a like a cabinet of curiosities. It’s just chock full of strange discoveries and bizarre little oddities. But with characters this interesting, you just can’t look away (or stop listening in this case). It’s a helluva lot of fun to poke around the dusty cupboards of these guys’ brains. This is definitely fractured folk music of the highest order!