You could say that the members of roots-rock trio HeadCat got together to pay tribute to the King. But instead of the baby Jesus of Bethlehem, these three wise men -bassist/singer Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), drummer Slim Jim Phantom (ex-Stray Cats), and guitarist/pianist Danny B. Harvey (ex-Lonesome Spurs, Rockats) - were honoring Elvis Presley of Memphis.
All three contributed tracks to the 2000 Elvis tribute record Swing Cats, and found themselves jamming on old tunes by the likes of Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly. The ad hoc group released the record Lemmy, Slim Jim, and Danny B the same year (later reissued as Fool's Paradise in 2006), have gigged through the years, and then released a live DVD in 2007.
By now christened HeadCat (an amalgamation of their other band names), the group has just released Walk the Walk...Talk the Talk (Niji Entertainment), 10 covers of songs by Cochran ("Something Else"), Berry ("Let it Rock"), The Beatles ("You Can't Do That"), Robert Johnson ("Crossroads"), Johnny Kidd and the Pirate ("Shakin' All Over"), Larry Williams ("Bad Boy") and two originals.
Rocks Off recently spoke with Austin resident Harvey - who is also currently working on a solo record and film scores - about the record, cowbells and Lemmy's reading habits.
Rocks Off: Some have referred to you as this new group, but the three of you have been playing together on and off for more than a decade.
Danny B. Harvey: After we reissued the second record, we started playing more shows, like 20 a year. And the band has become tighter, so we're excited about going into the studio. We're just a really loud rock and roll trio, and we interpret the older songs our own way, with as much punk and metal influence as rockabilly.
RO: Listening to the new record, it struck me that you do most of the heavy lifting musically with the guitar and piano solos. Is it just fun to let it rip like that?
DH: Yeah! We cut most of it live, including a lot of the solos. And for the two originals, one is just a really fast Yardbirds-type song and one is a slower blues one. The three of us wrote "American Beat" in about 15 minutes, and we had the basic track in a half an hour.
RO: How did you decide which covers to tackle?
DH: Most of them are already in our live set, except "I Ain't Never," which we [listened to] the Dave Edmunds cover, and "You Can't Do That" by the Beatles. And we've always closed our set with [Robert Johnson's] "Crossroads."
RO: Yeah, when John Lennon sings "you can't do that," it's an admonishment. When Lemmy sings it, it's downright scary!
DH: (laughs) Yea! When I went to do the guitar solo, I didn't want to do it just like George Harrison, so I changed it around a bit. The original record had a cowbell, and we wanted to make it even bigger. So we're going "More cowbell! More cowbell!"
RO: With Lemmy and Slim Jim coming from such recognizable groups, do you sometimes get referred to as "the other guy?"
DH: Not really. I've known Lemmy since I was in the Rockats in the early '80s, and Slim Jim since he was 17, the second day he arrived in London because I played briefly with Brian Setzer and [Brian's] brother, Gary. I also produced Wanda Jackson, the record she did before the one with Jack White. I'm playing with her at ACL this year.
RO: Any specific memories of playing Houston?
DH: I used to be in a country duo called The Lonesome Spurs, and we played the Continental Club a lot. I'm friend with [Houston roots-rock promoter/scenester] Big E, and we also played the Big Top. Plus all of Wanda Jackson's birthday shows.
RO: Do you see yourself as kind of a musical history teacher, like someone will hear HeadCat's cover of a song and then go seek the original?
DH: I hadn't thought of that, but yeah, probably. These are the songs that Lemmy heard as a kid and are our inspiration. [As a teen], he would go to this appliance store that also sold record players, and they sold records. But our versions are more aggressive.
RO: What are the plans for live dates?
DH: Well, because of Motörhead's [recording and touring] schedule, January through April or May is pretty much HeadCat's time. We're playing London in October, then Berlin, because he's got a few days off between festival dates for Motörhead! Then HeadCat will do the U.S. early next year.
RO: Finally, can you tell me one thing about Lemmy's personality that even his diehard fans might find surprising?
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DH: Lemmy is a very smart and philosophical person, so intelligent. He knows so much about history, way back to ancient times with the details he knows. And on the tour bus, pretty much all we watch is The History Channel, and he'll correct a lot of things in the documentaries!
There's one part of his apartment that is nothing but historical books stacked from floor to ceiling. And he'll tell you things and then go find the exact book he's looking for, pull it out, and know what chapter and page he's looking for!