Ratliff Dean
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Ratliff Dean

Fort Worth, Texas, United States | INDIE

Fort Worth, Texas, United States | INDIE
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After a Decade of the Roamin' Blues,
The MoJoDeans Return

by Leah Williams Wright

Bands come and bands go, but several factors have helped one regional blast from the past come back for an encore.

The reunion dates for the fast actin', hard drivin', honky tonkin' MoJoDeans are slated for Friday, October 3 at John Brown's on the Square in Marion and Saturday, October 4 at PK's.

A regular on the local-music scene in the late 1990s, the MoJoDeans (Joe Swank, Ratliff Dean Thiebaud, Chad Shaffer, Chris McKinley, Joe Beck, and Steve Byrd) frequented many area establishments, including the Copper Dragon, Hangar 9, and PK's.

Nightlife recently traded email with cofounder, vocalist, and guitarist Joe Swank about the reunion that has been nearly a decade in the making.

You state how fate, proximity, tragedy, timing, and the Amtrak have all played a part in the reunion for the band. What's the story on how you all got together again?

I've been living in North Carolina for the last seven years working for Yep Roc Records. I was hired away by Bloodshot Records, which is located in Chicago. It all happened very fast and I really found myself in Chicago before I knew what was going on.

I don't believe I'd even been here for a week when I was contacted by several mutual friends to inform me that [longtime friend and Nightlife employee] Kendra [Gordon]'s little girl Rosie had been mauled pretty badly. Within what seems like a very short time to me, I was contacted by some folks about participating in a benefit to help defray some of the expenses.

I'm sure, had I been in North Carolina, I'd have had a bit longer hesitation in saying yes, due to the difficulties in getting out of town around all the schedules and on such short notice... but since I was in Chicago and it's pretty easy to get from here to there, I knew I could pull it off in some form or another.

I've been playing with my North Carolina band the Zen Pirates for about six years now-- as a matter of fact, we did a two-day recording session literally the day before I left town for Chicago, oddly enough with Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids, who are at the Hangar the night I arrive [on] October 2-- and Dean has been with the Woodbox Gang for nearly that long, so it was kind of ironic that we both found ourselves with the time to deal with another project at this particular juncture in our lives after lengthy tenures in other bands.

The train from Chicago to Carbondale is cheaper than paying gas from Chicago to Carbondale, runs every day, and drops me on the Strip. Couldn't be a better scenario for getting back and forth between the two... unless someone comes up with a teleporter or hover car.

How did you become involved with Rock out for Rosie?

I've known Kendra almost as long as anybody I know in Carbondale, and she was always a dear friend. I would do anything for her. All anyone had to do was ask. I was invited as a solo performer, as was Dean, but the cats I knew that were in town and might be available were the MoJoDeans. I put the word out to Dean and Dean got hold of Chad and Little Joe. No one hesitated, so we dove in after a single, yet typical MoJoDeans practice... involving massive consumption.

How does it feel to be back with the MoJoDeans?

Like we never stopped. We rarely practiced anyways so this was nothing that unusual.

I am currently performing with three different bands, all with a different style. The MoJoDeans feels like home. Comfortable, loose, and easy.

What led to the breakup of the band in 1998?

Variety of things, but predominantly Dean decided to move to North Carolina... and after he left there but before he ever found his way through the path back to Carbondale, I decided to move to North Carolina with my then girlfriend Lily. Mostly restless-gypsy syndrome on both our parts, I guess.

Many of you guys went on to be successful in other projects. Did you keep in touch with each other during MoJoDeans hiatus?

As much as possible. There were no hard feelings with anyone, just not anywhere near each other. Email and MySpace makes it a hell of a lot easier to keep tabs on folks and communicate without a dozen calls. I still stay in touch with my North Carolina band that way, as well as my current Chicago outlet, the Bicycle Club with Dave Schultz [another former Carbondale musician].

Are there any plans for a reunion album?

Well... I am finishing up an album with the Zen Pirates and Dean is starting work on an album with the Ratliff Dean Trio, so if anything did come about, it'd be a ways down the line... and probably have to be financed by someone else. None of us are driving Suburbans and swimming in gasoline. Costs too much money to be an "artist" these days. For now it's just gonna be some guerilla honky-tonkin' where they'll have us. Never say never.

What are some of your favorite memories both past and present with the MoJoDeans?

We did several shows with the Drive-By Truckers, here and in North Carolina and Athens/Atlanta areas, and slept in a lot of places stacked like cord wood, but those were always great times cause the ten or so of us always seemed to pass the time between shows in an entertaining manner. Plus [Mike] Cooley and Patterson [Hood, both from the Drive-By Truckers] are the Abbot and Costello of sodomy jokes. As for the present, I'm hoping this weekend will make it into the pantheon of great gig weekends. It's been a long time since we had to fill up two or three hours with our antics. Marion is my hometown, and as for Carbondale... I just finished cleaning my PK's mug for activity.

Do you plan on working together again after next weekend?

Absolutely. We're going to start planning some shows together and see where this thing goes. [Former Carbondale musician] Shawn Dawson just bought a bar in Sullivan, Illinois, so I'd wager we'll be playing up at the Red Dragon Inn very soon.

- Carbondale Nightlife


Silver Tongue Devils Got Nothing to Lose

words by T.J. Jones
pictures by Alex Brahler

Ratliff Dean Thiebaud has spent the greater part of his life playing guitar with the kind of skill that makes listeners wonder if he's ever met up with anyone at a crossroads to make devilish deals about guitar playing and soul-selling. As a part of alt-country rockers the MoJoDeans and trashcan Americans the Woodbox Gang, Thiebaud has towered over Southern Illinois both musically and physically for quite some years. On Tuesday, February 24 at Tres Hombres, Thiebaud will showcase his new band, Silver Tongue Devils. The group will then perform Saturday, March 14 at Rustle Hill Winery.

In addition to Thiebaud on guitar and vocals, Silver Tongue Devils consist of Mike Alderfer on bass and Steve Byrd on drums and vocals. Friends since childhood, Thiebaud and Byrd share a bond that is special among musicians, and rare among bands that are just starting out.

"[My friendship with Steve] gives us more of a telepathic dimension musically," says Thiebaud. "We don't have to say so much stuff to each other. We know each other's style and it makes for more fluid playing, I think. You can tell him anything you feel like telling him."

Whereas the Woodbox Gang's insurgent-Americana style, described as trashcan Americana, puts a mixture of folk, country, bluegrass, rock, and a pinch of punk into the pot, Thiebaud and his devils are going down a more traditional route. As a lifelong fan of Texas country giants Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, the Texan giant Thiebaud is more comfortable in his own element.

"[Silver Tongue Devils] is a straight rock 'n' roll band with a country accent, rather than the Woodbox Gang, [which is] its own entity," says Thiebaud. "I still like [the Woodbox Gang] and talk to [the guys] every now and then. I just needed to play more of my [kind of] music."

Silver Tongue Devils have played about twenty shows so far, and although in their infancy, by the sound of a half-dozen live tracks on the band's MySpace page, these devils know their details and they don't disappoint. While free live demo CDs are sometimes available at live shows, Thiebaud hopes sometime in the future the band can produce a studio album that shares the enthusiasm of their live shows.

"[Silver Tongue Devils] are in the embryonic stage," he says. "We're getting really tight. I found from being in the Woodbox Gang for so long that if you wait to record when you know the songs better, it is a much smoother time in the studio."

With a few songs Thiebaud wrote as a member of the Woodbox Gang, including "Train Back to Texas," and a few covers of songs by Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, and Kris Kristofferson, the Silver Tongue Devils play true and bluesy roadhouse Southern rock.

"I like to think we put our own interpretation [into] the songs we cover, because I'm gonna to do them my own way," says Thiebaud. "It's all open to interpretation. We kind of beef them up a little bit, put more of a rock 'n' roll twist on them."

With the Silver Tongue Devils, Thiebaud's new outlook on playing music is the healthiest kind an artist of any kind can have-- it's freedom.

"[Silver Tongue Devils] is more of my goal," says Thiebaud. "The Woodbox Gang was Hugh [DeNeal] and Alex [Kirt's] vision. I put in songs here and there that I thought would go well with what they did. But this is more of where I am at [musically]. It's definitely more personal to me."

Like all his previous collaborators, Thiebaud and his Silver Tongue Devils aim to keep the party going, which is all you can really ask of rock 'n' roll. "It's a rocking good time," says Thiebaud. "It's all about havin' fun, movin' around, talkin' to people."

For more information, including performance schedules and MP3s, visit <http://www.myspace.com/RatliffDean>.

- Nightlife/Thomas Publishing


Discography

MojoDeans (self titled album available on itunes)
Played and wrote songs on "Drunk as Dragons","Born With a Tail","Legend of Charlie Birger","Showdown" all full length releases by former band "Woodbox Gang" and also available on itunes
Jason Ringenberg's (Best Tracks and Sidetracks 1979-2007)
Bucky Dome (A tribute to Buckminster Fuller, featuring Randy Crouch and Vince Herman of Great American Taxi)
Mountain Sprout ("Into The Sun", "One More For The Ditch") Ratliff makes regular appearances with this band in which his younger brother, Blayne Thiebaud, plays fiddle.

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Bio

Born in Amarillo and raised in Odessa TX, predominantly by the Ratliff branch of the family, Big Dean was inspired by what inspired most of the Texas youth in his day Waylon, Willie and the boys, Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Commander Cody and a slew of other folks who crossed his ears in those formative years.

Former Woodbox Gang guitarist & vocalist Ratliff Dean Thiebaud is a striking image towering before you with guitar in hand. 6’7” Thiebaud has been traversing the country in a gypsie-like fashion since he was still in grade school.

Thiebaud recalls, “I moved to Houston in the fourth grade, and to Beverly Hills CA in The fifth grade and grew up mostly between TX and CA. Being a beach bum most of the year and working on the ranch in the summertime. The best of both worlds. I ran away from home when I was sixteen and hitched around and had many adventures. Learning and writing songs. Ending up in Southern IL in 1992.”

As a lengthy touring and recording member of the Woodbox Gang, Thiebaud also can be found as half of the late 90’s Alternative Country group The MoJoDeans (co-singer & co-writer on the self-titled disc) as well as on the Mountain Sprout disc, Charlie Birger Documentary sound track, Buckminster Fuller Tribute album and several Randy Crouch titles.

Dean has had the honor of performing at the Kennedy Center with the Woodbox Gang and has performed shows with the Drive By Truckers, Jason & The Scorchers (as well as Jason Ringenberg solo shows), Slobberbone, Junior Brown, Robert Earl Keen, Vince Herman, Charlie Robison, Truckstop Honeymoon, Jason Boland, Randy Crouch, Hank 3, David Allen Coe, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice and Peter Rowan…just to name a few.

After a long absence from his home state of Texas, Ratliff Dean has finally come home to do what he loves best... Rockin' some country blues in every honky tonk in Texas!!