Thursday, April 26, 2012
LITTLE ROCK Frontier Circus has begun rustling up a following around central Arkansas, and it’s only fitting that such an “old-style” outfit would start its recording career with an LP — one of those slabs of plastic. In this case, the plastic is orange.
The band’s first album, A Little Bit Psycho … A Little Bit Western, contains 15 examples of what can be done with (or at least to) such diverse musicians’ songs as Merle Haggard (“The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I Can’t Hold Myself in Line”), Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit”), The Velvet Underground (“Glorious Heroin”), Johnny Rivers (“Secret Agent Man”), America (“Horse With No Name” but retitled “Horse With No Water”) and The 13th Floor Elevators (“You’re Gonna Miss Me”).
Those puzzled about what it all means have only to consult central Arkansas radio veteran Flap Jones, whose show, Not Necessarily Bluegrass, on KUAR-FM, 89.1, is home to many an act with just the sort of pedigree as Frontier Circus.
“It’s as if Terry Allen and Frank Zappa had a baby,” Jones writes about the band. (Allen, not as well known as Zappa, is a Lubbock, Texas, native and a contemporary of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock.)
Danny Grace, a drama professor at Hendrix College in Conway and the warbling ringmaster (“Frontier Dan”) of Frontier Circus by night, is at it again, after first pursuing musical weirdness as the frontman, Rockin’ Dan, in The Rockin’ Guys. He’s the main singer (he also plays guitar and theremin) and rounded up some like-minded souls to ride herd with him: Daredevil Dan on drums, Lightnin’ Lou on bass and Victor El Valiente on guitar. (Valiente replaces “Red Neckerson,” the group’s original guitarist, who is pictured on the back of the band’s LP.)
“I like to have something to do in terms of a musical project,” Grace explains. “If there’s a place to play, just point me in that direction. We started playing several years ago, in the garage, just for fun. Country music is our focus, and our plan is to go out and play whenever we can convince someone to let us.
“We have gotten invited back to these places, so we must be doing something right. It’s not always easy to get everybody’s schedule in tune, since some of us have, uh, how you say, day jobs? And I’m mindful of our audience, so about six to eight shows a year is about what we can aim for, the way I have it figured.”
The group met with a curious reaction when it created a recording on the vinyl LP format, encountering those who did not know what it was, although most knew but volunteered that they had gotten rid of their turntables. Grace says he points out that the albums contain a download code so that the turntable-less fans can get the music moved to the medium of today’s digital world.
“We have some songs on YouTube, so people can see what we’re up to,” Grace says. “Making a vinyl album is really different from making a CD, which I had experience with in The Rockin’ Guys. When you transfer digital sound to vinyl, it’s full and real dynamic. I think vinyl is better. In fact, I long for those simpler times.”
Eventually, some original material may find its way into the Frontier Circus sets. Grace says there are some old Rockin’ Guys songs that were “too country” for that band that might get dusted off for Circus purposes, although for now, he’s content to indulge his love of old country sounds.
“I love Johnny Paycheck, and George Jones, and some of the ladies, like Wanda Jackson,” he says. “I have thought of doing a set of all-female songs, working up songs by Nancy Sinatra, Bobbie Gentry and Jeannie C. Riley.”
Opening act: Booyah! Dad 10 p.m. Saturday, White Water Tavern, West Seventh and Thayer streets, Little Rock Admission: $5 (501) 375-8400
Weekend, Pages 38 on 04/26/2012