Spotlight On: Bodeco

By Cary Stemle

When discussing the Louisville band Bodeco, the logical place to begin is with the band's leader, Ricky Feather. After all, the 33-year-old Louisville native is the group's lead vocalist, spokesman, chief songwriter and, it seems, the embodiment of Bodeco.

Bodeco and friend outside the Bar With No Name (now Moriarty's) after a recent appearance. Photo by Rob Gamage

But Feather shuns the spotlight as much as he basks in it. To him, music is not about personalities, it's about having fun and getting in touch with some very basic feelings. Feather often refers to the music as primal, or tribal, and he does possess a shaman-like presence. In keeping with that, Feather does his best to foster a communal spirit.

The audience is an integral part of Bodeco's live act. "Do not attempt to change your dial," he told a recent Saturday night crowd at Moriarty's (formerly the Bar With No Name on Frankfort Avenue) "You're all prisoners."

Feather would seem to be the proverbial "prisoner of rock 'n' roll," with his semi-crouch, tapping left foot, fuzzy Danelectro guitar and stark black attire. The band plumbs the music of Bo Diddley, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Howlin Wolf, and all of the great one-hit road bands of the late 1950s. With plenty of smoke, grungy guitar and Diddleyesque drums, Bodeco instantly assaults the listener's most base instincts.

Feather is a paradox. He comes across as rudimentary and unpolished, but talking with him reveals a thoughtful, articulate person with solid ideas and a clear awareness of what goes on around him. Feather knows his crowd, and he knows people. His music is not overly political by any means. In fact, he says, his politics largely boil down to one idea. "Have a good time."

It's not that he doesn't care, he adds. "It's just that there is so much to think about, that people need a break from that stuff.

L to R, Ricky Feather, Jimmy Brown, Brian Berkett, Wink O'Bannon. Photo by Rob Gamage

The band takes its name from an affection for Bo Diddley (Feather's) and zydeco drummer Robert St. Judy (drummer Brian Burkett's). The resulting hybrid -- Bodeco -- has been with Feather and Burkett for the last eight years.

They began modestly, and remain largely that way today. The band tries not to play too many gigs to avoid saturation. They have recorded enough songs for an album, but Feather wants to remix some of the tracks. Their goals are modest. "I'd like to make my $300 a week -- or more," he grins. "And to make one great album, where every song is good."

Bodeco travels light, with a stage setup that's as stripped down as it gets. Drummer Burkett manically slaps the jungle beats out on a six-piece drum kit. Guitarist Wink O'Bannon, on hiatus from Eleventh Dream Day, provides screaming Stratocaster fills over Feather's staccato strum, while bassist Jimmy Brown joins Burkett's cadence. There is no pretension. If they don't find the groove, Feather will halt the song and start again. Sometimes, he said, "It takes someone to say something like 'Play one your know,' or something to get us to tighten things up a bit."

That irreverence fits Feather's credo that music is more about feeling than about thinking, an idea he picked up from reading Keith Richards interviews in Rolling Stone magazine. "He talked about stripping the music down to its bare essentials, and that's what we try to do," he says. Those ideas prompted Feather to become something of a quasi-musicologist, endlessly searching for the essence of rock 'n' roll. What he has discovered so far is simple: "Find a groove and work it to death."

Feather began playing guitar almost accidentally. His girlfriend got a guitar, he learned to play, and he joined a band. In most of his early bands he was primarily a guitarist. It was only with Bodeco that he began to sing. His singing style could best be described as guttural, with a few howls and moans for good measure. Feather is also liable to toss out a crude remark or two to the crowd -- panties were a popular topic at Moriarty's. It's all in good fun, however, and the crowd eats it up.

Feather says that about 90 percent of Bodeco's songs are originals. He writes the lyrics and the band works out the music together. While they may seem to be engaging in parody, Feather says Bodeco's music is more of a tribute to their influences. While there is an intellectual component involved in the composition, the performance is all on a feeling level. "We play from the neck down," says Feather.

Future plans call for more studio work. Then, Feather says, the band would like to develop a tri-state circuit for touring. Whatever the case, Feather will continue his quest for the rock 'n' roll Holy Grail. Only one thing would make him happier than actually finding it. "I'd really like to play on the Belle of Louisville," he says. Maybe that would be just the ticket.