The Looney Wails

By Darrell Ray Elmore

Confidence is important for a band. It takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of people and try to entertain them. Take The Looney Wails . . . they got nerve. In fact, their press package states quite boldly that they have taken a "virtually left for dead music form like rock and roll" and have made it into a "vital, vigorous, and fresh new sound."

Wow. All this and they still haven't even produced an album yet.

The Looney Wails, L to R: Dale S. Higdon, Woody Mauldin and Tim Conaway

A trio of left-handers, the band was formed in June of '93 at the Good Neighbor Co-Op, and consists of Woody Mauldin on bass, Dale Higdon on drums and Tim Conaway on guitar. Woody, you may recall, used to play with the quite popular Tempus Fugit, though he now seems more enthusiastic about the Wails.

This band is new and, unfortunately, it kinda shows. They are graduates of Artist Night at Uncle Pleasant's, and have now moved on to paying gigs. The night I saw them, they were opening for Steve Ferguson & His Midwest Creole Ensemble at Phoenix Hill Tavern.

There was a problem at the door. Evidently the guys forgot to put me on the guest list . . . oh well, I have had worse things happen. I bulled my way in, and hoofed on up to the roof garden to see why I had been overlooked.

Sure enough, the band was there setting up. I recognized the guitar player, Tim, (even though I had only spoken to him on the phone before this. Weird, huh?) and said, "Smooth move, forgetting to put me on the list." I guess he didn't hear me clearly (or just didn't care) because his reply was "Hey, man, no problem!"

Okay, now I liked them. Only a real musician would be self-absorbed enough to readily believe that whatever it was they had done, it was the right thing to do. I admire this kind of attitude, and it always knocks my socks off when I see it put to good use.

The band kicked off at about 9:30 to a light crowd. They didn't seem too nervous, but I could sense a little Big-Room First-Time Blues in the air. They had the look: not exactly grunge but more of an informal bad private-detective style. You know, Hawaiian tourist shirts and sandals. Unpretentious kinda stoner types, straight out of Dazed and Confused.

The Wails' music is a rambling, kinda nonsensical jazz/blues (or is it blues/jazz?) rock exploration. Or maybe it's more of an infusion-based, surreal, rock and roll/hysteria. Naw, I think it's more like if you stuck a bunch of different musical instruments in a pressure cooker and then stepped out for a quick tanning session. 'Course, the Velvet Underground started out like this, but then again, they had Mo Tucker on drums. . . .

Not to disparage Mr. Higdon's drumming. He seems quite dexterous at keeping the beat, nothing short of miraculous given the Wails' leanings toward songs that have three or four tempo changes.

Woody Mauldin's voice started out kinda weak, but by the fourth or fifth song it came on strong, and was perhaps the best instrument wielded the night I saw 'em. (I hear he does an excellent Jerry Garcia impersonation.)

The only thing I can say about Mr. Conaway's guitar playing is that I think he relies a little too much on his effects pedals.

What this band needs (more than anything) is time and experience. After they have played a hundred shows, I think they will settle in and hit a groove. A few more Artist Nights would probably have helped, but since they are already out there, in the trenches, we can only hope that they will learn from their mistakes, keep on keeping on, and eventually become the band they deserve to be.