Sunday Spin: Root Boy Slim


"They got a name for the winners in the world/ I want a name when I lose." Steely Dan uttered those words in 1977, which was the same year Donald Fagen discovered a winning loser named Foster MacKenzie III, better known, if he's known at all, as Root Boy Slim. While visiting Washington D.C., Fagen heard the band doing Albert King's "Laundromat Blues" on the radio. He returned to the West Coast with a copy of the song, which he gave to Dan producer Gary Katz, who got the band signed to Warner Brothers and produced their 1978 debut, Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band. Inflammatory, piss drunk and powered by Root Boy's good time Beefheart, the album is pure punk aesthetics saddled to a strong boogie bronco.

Likely the most off-putting blues effort since 1969's notorious Snatch & The Poontangs - a piece of brilliantly encrusted filth by a fictitious ensemble featuring Johnny and Shuggie Otis and vocalist Delmar "Mighty Mouth" Evans - Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band comes on like NRBQ marinated in LSD. Getting loaded and diddlin' the opposite sex have rarely been embraced more vigorously. While perfect fuel for a kegger, the band, like Steely Dan, floated some crazy, disturbing shit right below most folk's radar. Cut the same year the Asheville, North Carolina born Slim graduated from Yale, their debut, and the five albums that followed, was peppered with social and political commentary sauced up well enough you might miss the polemics as they slid down your gullet.

There's also the creepy dirty old man tunes that justifiably stop you in your tracks. "I'm Not Too Old For You" woos, "When you turn seventeen / I'll just be 32," and "My Wig Fell Off" finds a balding, toothless middle-age man at a disco "trying to pass for 18." It's part and parcel for the era but a lot less nuanced than Fagen and Becker. But, if we can forgive Jerry Lee his teenage skirt chasing we should also throw Slim a bone, so to speak.

While essentially solid bar band music, what's made this album a cult favorite is the whacked mindset behind every move. Whether running down Spiro Agnew with an ice cream truck on "I Used To Be A Radical" or "using a feedbag for a bed" in "Country Love," Root Boy and his Sex Changers possessed a rangy, untamable spark that's been largely lost in the intervening years. As much fun as it sounds, it still takes courage to lift your middle finger to the powers that be. Foster MacKenzie III passed away on June 8, 1993. He spent his life in music flipping the bird to a lot of worthy targets. There wasn't much coin or fame to be had doing it but that never seemed to stop ol' Root Boy.

Track listing:

1. Boogie 'Til You Puke
2. I'm Not Too Old for You
3. I Used to Be a Radical
4. Heartbreak of Psoriasis
5. I Want It Now
6. Mood Ring
7. Too Sick to Reggae
8. My Wig Fell Off
9. Country Love
10. In Jail in Jacksonville
11. You Can't Quit My Club

We send you off into this good night with a lovingly created fan video for "Boogie 'Til You Puke."

[Published on: 6/8/08]

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dreadyknowsbest starstarstarstarstar Sun 6/8/2008 06:49PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
jgtwentysix starstarstarstar Sun 6/8/2008 09:40PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Not tonight, my friend. Beat L.A.!!

acpjxm starstarstarstar Mon 6/9/2008 11:33AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I saw Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band many times at a club at Nebraska & Wisconsin Aves. in DC (can't remember the name of the place, though). I still have a copy of the debut album, signed by the Root himself at an in-store appearance at Kemp Mill Records in Wheaton, MD. Root Boy was definitely one-of-a-kind.