J.P. McDermott of  Western Bop
I spoke with J.P. McDermott at the Half Moon Barbecue on
Saturday, March 12, 2005.  The place was packed, the music was
hot, and the beer was cold.  J.P. plays DC rock and roll in the form
of Rockabilly -- straight up and red hot.  He also croons a mean
ballad. We got right down to our conversation during a set break...

JP:   Well, I think the sound of DC is where North Meets South.  I mean, when you
think about when it snows around here, the rain snow line always goes right through
the center of town. You can never tell what the weather is going to be. That's kind of
what it’s like here.  Think about WWII. You had all the northern intellectuals coming
to work in the brain trusts with FDR and then you had all southern people coming in
to fill all the jobs in the various government agencies, and all the construction
projects.  It's that mix of cultures that give the music here its sound.  I think that’s why
Rockabilly is so strong around here.

M:   I agree with you. It’s the north meets the south. It’s because of the Government.
The people were attracted to the area because the jobs were here.

JP:   Every town winds up getting defined by the local industry and who comes to
work in it.

M:   You have a unique sound.  It is truly a combination of the Hillbilly sound and
Blues sound.

JP:   I always thought the difference between rockabilly and rock and roll is that rock
and roll is the northern version. Its like Rhythm and Blues meets the Pop music of
the 50’s. That's the white meets black sort of thing that came to be rock and roll.  
Rockabilly is Country meets the Blues. That's the black and white southern music
coming together. In my music, I always try to find where the Blues are in the
rockabilly. Of course, we are not a Blues band, but Rockabilly to me is like the white
Blues. It’s the white southern working class music.

M:   Live music is so less excisable in DC today. I think by identifying the sound it will
give the music greater credibility

JP:   It’s a pity you have to label everything.

M:   I know. It is a sad thing. Part of the whole beauty of the music scene in DC, at
least in the 70’s and early 80’s, is that it was so wide open.

JP:   Right. Like a typical show would be a rockabilly band, a punk band and a sort of
indescribable sort of thing. The first show I ever snuck into was Root Boy Slim and
the Sex Change Band. I was 16 ½ or something.  Then the first show went to when I
was actually of age was DCeats, the Nurses and the Slickee Boys. It was straight
punk, this interesting angular stuff, and then the all out rock and roll assault by the
Slickee boys.   That was a great show. Then you’d see Martha Hull playing with Tex
Rubinowitz all the time.  There was a lot of crossover.

M:   Who were your earliest musical influences?

JP:   Well I listened to the usual stuff growing up but the person who really set me on
fire was Tex Rubinowitz.  You can probably tell.

M:   So where did you encounter him.

J. P. At the Psychedelly in Bethesda. Cordell Avenue was such a great place. Before
Bethesda  got the way it is today - well it was still the upper end, but it was more like
Silver Spring is right now... So you had the Psychedelly, you had HFS right across
the street in the Triangle Towers; you had a good record store down the street.  And
the Surf shop. It was a cool place. There were a lot of group houses in Bethesda.
That’s where it all happened for me. I was in the Psychedelly at least a couple of
nights a week for a number of years.  They always had great bands. I had a power-
pop band at the time. We always played the front room.   We could never get the
back room.  We finally did get booked in the back room for a Thursday night.  When
we showed up to load-in there was a padlock on the door -- the place closed that
day and was gone for good.   

M:   What was your Band?

JP:   It was called the Item.   We played songs by the Knack, the Beat, those sorts of
bands, but mostly all originals. There are only a couple of songs that I still do that
were in that band. -- A couple of Buddy Holly songs.

M:   Musically – did anyone in particular influence your Guitar playing?

JP:    The thing that really influenced my guitar playing is the Elvis ‘68 comeback
special. There is a spot in that show where he is just sitting around with the guys
who were on the Sun records with him -- not a big production, just sitting on the
stage. He’s just playing the guitar. He’s not doing much of anything. It’s just really
simple.  The first time I saw it really got me. Then I listened to that stuff latter on,
after I’d been playing guitar for a long time. I listened to those Sun records. He is
really driving the band with the acoustic guitar. He’s not playing anything fancy, but
that’s what is pushing the band. I couldn’t describe the technique, but I just sort of
got it all of a sudden.  That’s why I play acoustic in the band. Because it’s a certain
sound and a certain way of driving things that really seems right to me.  I think
Western Bop is mostly about the rhythm.   The slap bass, the drums and my
acoustic playing. It’s not like a heavily harmonized sort of thing.  It’s sort of like a
rhythmic bed, propulsive, keep things going.  All the musical stuff comes out in the
vocals. I sing the song; Then Bob Newscaster sings the song with the guitar.

M:   It showcases your voice and it showcases Bobby’s guitar playing.

JP:   It’s not exactly a conscious thing, but it is the way I think of the song.  We never
play in places with a spotlight, but it’s kind of like I’m in the spotlight, then I step away
and let Bob have the spotlight.

M:   It makes it more interesting to listen to that way.

JP:   Yea, It gives it some dynamic and some interchange and interplay.

M:   Your band is great.

JP:   Thanks, I love working with these guys.   This is the most stable band that I've
had.  I took a hiatus, of about15 years,  from playing music. Got married, had kids,
all that kind of stuff. Then I got the bug and got back into it. I realized the only way I’d
get back into it was to take any gig I can, and then find people to play. And over the
course of the years I have been able to sort out the right people to be to be in the
band who wanted to play when I wanted to play and the sorts of places I wanted to
play. Me and Bob have been playing together pretty solid for about 2 ½ years ,
Louie's been in the band for about 2 years and Tom hooked up with us last year. It's
really started to come together.

M:   Yea, you guys are really right on it. I like your mics too.

JP:    Thanks, There’re modern mics with a vintage style case. But the case gives it a
different sound. What you put the mic capsule in makes a difference, and you
interact with the microphone differently because of the shape. I really enjoy it. There
are real nice mics. I take mine with me where ever I go.

M:   We talked a bit about the sound of DC. I talked to Bobby Newscaster a while ago
at another job he was doing, and the thing is everyone seems to know what the
sound is, they can describe it, but it is not something that has been labeled or
defined. The people who play and the people who understand it. There is a definite
need for a name. For where ever it is going to go.

JP:   I think it has something to do with the approach to the beat. The Washington
sound is right on top of the beat. If you think about New Orleans the beat is laid-back
and lazy. It’s behind the beat. But Washington music, the real Washington sound, is
right on top. I think of BeBop Jazz almost.

M:   That’s one of the main influences in DC the Jazz stuff.

JP:    It’s that specific sort of 50’s BeBop that's very aggressive with the beat. You
don’t lay behind it, you get right on top -- and that is what propels it and makes it so
compelling - that is what draws me into it.  It is not a reserved sort of thing.  People in
Washington are very reserved. So the music is the outlet. The music is not reserved.
The music is very assertive.

This is the North meets South thing again -- Washington music feels to me like it's
Southern soulfulness meeting Northern urgency and assertiveness.

M:   I talked to Joe Lee about this earlier. He was very admit about the 50’s being the
time when the sound really started to develop.  People moved hear in the 40’s and
50’s. Had kids, and the kids really started to develop the sound. You grew up in DC
area, right?

JP:   Yea. My mothers, mother’s people have been in Maryland since 1645.

M:   Me too. Not 1645, but since the mid 1700’s. So I can understand your feeling of
connection to the area.

M:  I hear you're working on a CD...

JP:  Yes -- I've been working on it a long time now.  It's going to be called "Last Fool
Here" after one of the original tunes.  The release date is up in the air, but I'm
hoping to get it out by Summer.

M:  Who's on the record with you?

JP:  Lots of great players.  Several of the songs feature the original Tennessee
Rockets -- Bobby Newscaster of course, Jeff Lodsun on drums, and Bryan Smith on
upright bass.  These guys are great.  It was kind of crazy working with them.  
They've known each other so long, and have a way of fighting with each other that
goes back years and years.  It can get tense in the studio, but it makes for exciting
tracks.  I also have Andy Rutherford playing guitar on a number of tracks.  He's a
great Tele player, really twangy in the Bill Kirchen tradition.  He's also a monster on
the baritone.  There's some killer slap bass from Eric Shramek.  And of course, the
current edition of Western Bop...

M:  How many cuts?  What type of stuff?

JP:  There are 13 tracks right now -- I might add one more.  There's some straight-
up Rockabilly ravers, a big Roy Orbion-type ballad, a waltz, a honky tonk shuffle or
two.  It's kind of like the live show --   a real mix, but it all goes together.  6 or 7 of the
tunes are originals.  I wrote some, Bob wrote some, and we wrote some together.  

M:  How can people find out where to see you, and get more info on the band?

JP:  Well, you can always stop by the Half Moon the second Saturday of the month --
we have a standing gig.   We're playing somewhere 5 to 8 times a month.  

M:  Thanks very much for talking with me...

JP:  Thank you.  It's been a pleasure!
J.P. McDermott
discussing  DC music
Psychedelly as it is today
Triangle towers - former  home of
Bobby Newscaster
J.P. Playing a
selection from his
up coming CD