Rooster RA

Rooster RA

 Oxnard, California, USA
BandAmericanaFolk

psycho hillybilly ditch jazz from Oxnard, CA

Band Press

Rooster RA Arrives - Psycho Hillbilly Ditch Jazz Duo – Easy Reader/Beach Magazine

Rooster Ra Arrives

Psycho hillbilly ditch jazz duo does Cafe' Boogaloo

by Mark McDermott

This is the story of Rooster RA.

It’s also a tale concerning ditches, ditchism, a grandpappy, a rodent, a quarter century conversation and the music that emanates from unexpected, all-terrain detours.

It begins with a punch in the belly.

Bassist Scott Hughes readily acknowledges the fisticuffs involved a crying 12-year-old girl. Guitarist Ray Waggoner stresses that his future bass player was laughing. Both agree the punch had surprisingly little effect (apparently, bass players have rather staunch bellies, even at a young age). The incident occurred 27 years ago in Oxnard, the very first time the artists to be known known as Rooster RA encountered one another.

As Hughes recalls it, a girl who was his second cousin threw a party the summer before eighth grade. When he arrived he realized that there were seven boys and seven girls. It was “a set-up” party. He promptly headed for a couch to kiss “this girl I used to call my girlfriend – we’d meet to make out and we’d never talk.” He didn’t know Waggoner but met him while playing spin the bottle and whatnot and noted he was paired with a certain girl “who always bugged the hell out of me.” But later, as Hughes became ensconced in his make-out session, he heard somebody call his name.
“It’s this Ray guy,” he recalled. “He called me up ‘Get over here, man.’ I get up, I walk over to him. ‘What’s up, man?’ And he’s like, ‘You are just sitting there like making out, man, having a good time, but now everybody is set up with someone and I was set up with [this girl] and didn’t want to be with her and now she is in the backyard crying…’ And I looked at him. ‘She is in backyard crying?’ And I said it with a little chuckle under my breath. I was bad, man. I feel bad about it now, some little girl crying...He looked at me frustrated and next thing I know he punched me in the stomach, and then he went storming off. And he didn’t knock the wind out of me, I just kind of looked at him like, ‘What the hell, man?’ and then I went back over to the girl on the couch and started making out again.”

“I hit him because he was laughing,” Waggoner said. “We we didn’t know each other, and I slugged him.”

Thus a bass player met a guitar player – for once in the annals of music making, the bass player got the girl – and began a relationship that would span three decades, two bands, several styles and eventually culminate this year in the emergence of the utterly original and oddly beautiful sound known as Rooster RA.

The duo – who play Thursday night at Café Boogaloo in support of Katie Costello – may have just created a new genre, something they have dubbed psycho hillbilly ditch jazz.

They aren’t exaggerating. If music provides a soundtrack for life, then the songs of Rooster RA are built for those ragged and dicey but unexpectedly beautiful road trips. Their music careens around some of the corners music tends to avoid – songs sung from ditches about ditches and encompassing what might be called the philosophy of ditchism. We all, after all, have our ditches to contend with.
“Places,” Waggoner said, “where we fall in.”
“I’ve dug quite a few of them,” Hughes said. “Whether you are digging them or falling in or driving into them…”

Hughes plays upright bass and Waggoner a rare 1942 National archtop guitar. It’s a jazzy instrumentation, to be sure, but what courses through the duo’s combined musicality brings to mind what writer Greil Marcus – in describing the old folk recordings collected by anthologist Harry Smith – called “old, weird America.” It’s an old weird country that persists and is inhabited by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Tom Waits, as well as filmmakers such as Jim Jarmush and the Coen brothers. There is something vaguely Appalachian going on here – particularly in the duo’s swooning, keening harmonies – albeit filtered through Oxnard.

“You know, I’ve tried to explain our music, and I find myself saying we are kind of like Tom Waits, but not,” Waggoner said. “We don’t sound like Tom Waits, but there is a similar strain of roots. We are just presenting in a different way.”

The similarity is also Rooster RA’s off-the-hook creativity and dead-on musicianship. Lyrically, the Rooster RA canon is comprised of poetically fractured hard luck tales of surviving hard love and tough knocks through grit and beauty and pure contrariness. Take, for example, the song “Oxnard,” a Rooster RA ode to their place of origin: “I was born down in Oxnard/Where the plain is/that fed most the U.S.A./Where my Grandpappy/lost his virginity/In a shack /down by the railroad track/In Oxnard…”

Oxnard is rarely the stuff of song. But Rooster RA, as is their wont, use whatever they have at their disposal. The song arose from a jam session during which Waggoner suddenly started crowing, “I was born, down in Oxnard…” and Waggoner remembered something his grandfather told him. “I started thinking about this story that my granddad told me about the first time he got laid,” Waggoner said. “He didn’t tell me a whole lot about it but he told me it was this old black lady that I guess had this shack down by the tracks in Oxnard…”

“I’m sure he’d be proud,” he added, giggling.
Then there is their statement of intent, the song “Ditch” (“Throw a ditch over it…”) and the absurdist blues of “Rodent” (“I’m coming home now/the hawk is swooping down/my heart is being torn wide open, loud…”), which, Waggoner notes, is “a little bit of a gospel kind of thing. I’m coming home now. It’s a little concrete, but the name of song is ‘Rodent’ and it kind of minimizes the grandiosity the idea we are being ….split right open.”

Or take “Shiny Diamonds,” a song about shorn love – as well as the diamond trade – and catching a glimpse of beauty while taking a hard fall: “You cut me down/As you held my hand so tightly/With an Axe so cold/I never felt the ground/And I fell/And I saw the Shiny diamonds/Painted by blood/Saw you twirling your hair…”

If you really want to get down to it, what Rooster RA are is one startlingly strange, good groove – the kind of thing that can only come from musicians who have known each other deep down a long time. In fact, their musical partnership began not long after the 12-year-old girl punch-in-the-gut incident and has never ceased. Over decades, sometimes from different states, the pair would continue their conversation – and play each other’s music – via phone or in bands or on visits. They have always clearly both loved and irritated the hell out of one another – “He’s always been the high strung one among us, that’s for sure,” Hughes said of Waggoner – but when they are together, music has always resulted. You can hear it in the call of Rooster RA.

“You know,” Waggoner said, “that is always what we did from day one: write tunes. And we bonded. Almost overnight, it seemed like the natural thing.”