Vancouver’s Bughouse 5 taps Darryl Neudorf’s talent on Bull Mercury

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 14, 2000

If you so much as glanced at either of Vancouver’s English-language dailies last year, you probably spotted the frequent front-page coverage of the trial wherein local musician Darryl Neudorf accused Sarah McLachlan of not paying him enough for his creative participation in a number of her songs. When McLachlan and her high-priced lawyers won the case, big colour pictures of the superstar vocalist’s happy face were used to help sell even more papers for Conrad Black and Co. Recently, the chrome-domed Neudorf’s own sombre-looking visage returned to the pages of the Sun, along with stories of his impending bankruptcy after he was ordered to cover his opponent’s legal fees.

Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down!

Neudorf might be balancing on the edge of financial oblivion, but—if the new Bughouse 5 CD, Bull Mercury, is any indication—don’t feel too sorry for him, ’cause at least he’s still helping to make good records. Neudorf produced the disc with the band, and as vocalist Butch Murphy explains when he drops by the Straight offices with guitarist Scott Smith, the loser in court is a winner at the console.

“He’s just a really positive guy to work with,” claims Murphy, “and him being a drummer helped a lot when we were putting the rhythm tracks down. He really immersed himself in it, and spent a lot of time in mixing, too.” (In reference to Neudorf’s headline-making legal battle, the shit-disturbing Smith injects, “Yeah, and he actually wrote all the songs.”)

Truth be told, Murphy composed most of the tunes on Bull Mercury, with the odd songwriting contribution from Smith, bassist Jeremy Holmes, and drummer Taylor Little. The music ranges from the swinging blues-rock of “Trouble Baby” to the country twang of “It’s Not Too Late” to the shuffling rockabilly of “Drinking With the Legends”, the latter inspired by Murphy’s having downed a few with the likes of the late, great Country Dick Montana and the just plain great Dave Alvin. Two tracks on the CD—the Van Morrison–inspired “Back in the Game” and the gospel-tinged “Save a Soul Tonight”—feature the B5 Gospel Choir, which includes local crooners Robyn Carrigan, Janice Dunbar, Robyn Pollack, Anna Bon Bon, and Barb Wilkins. “We’ve known Robyn Carrigan for quite a few years,” notes Murphy, “and the other women are all people that have come to the jam that I host at the Railway Club.”

Butch Murphy’s Rockabilly Roots Jam has been on hiatus for the last six weeks but starts up again this Saturday (September 16). “It used to be pretty much strictly rockabilly, and there’s still plenty of that, but I opened it up a little more,” notes Murphy. “I encourage blues, of course, and jazz players, ya know. All roots.”

When he isn’t organizing jams at the Railway, Murphy keeps his vocal chops honed via regular Bughouse 5 gigs, like those at the Silvertone Tavern this Friday (September 15) and the Pic Pub next Saturday (September 23). While he doesn’t think that there are enough great venues for live music in Vancouver, Murphy figures that the scene has progressed somewhat in recent years. “People are working together more again,” he says, “doing a lot more of the grassroots-level thing, and putting on their own events at places like the WISE Hall. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and if people want to play bad enough—and they usually do—they’ll do whatever they have to to get out there and play.”

Formed in 1991 by members of the Nervous Fellas, the Rocking Edsels, and Art Bergmann’s band, the Bughouse 5 released two rockabilly-based albums before settling on their current lineup and branching out stylistically with Everything Must Go, one of this scribbler’s fave local discs of ’98. The band released a video for “The Other One (Kitty)”, directed by Marcus Rogers of Coal, and scored a bit of airplay on MuchMusic, but didn’t get snapped up by a major label and turned into the next big thing. That’s okay by Murphy, who’s content with gradually building up the group’s considerable following. Although roots rock has gone in and out of fashion a few times since his band got together, the 35-year-old rocker believes the genre will always enjoy at least a modicum of popularity.

“It’s not a music I’d feel foolish doing when I’m, like, 50 or 60,” he says, “whereas there’s certain types of music that I might start to feel a bit Spinal Tap–like doing. But when you’re dealing with stuff that’s rooted in such old traditions, there aren’t any sort of limits on what age you have to be. And there’s always a fan base for it, whether they’re calling stuff ‘alt-country’ or whatever. There are people that aren’t fickle, that are always there, and that’s sorta what the Railway jam is like. People that generally go to those type of events will always be into roots-based music.”

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