Gloria Swanson said it’s all in the eyes. And the Lovemasters’ front man, Bootsey X, has a smoldering, albeit hazy, pair of ’em. They’re half-fanatical, equal parts frantic and lonely, cheerful, and, still, full of mirthful rock ’n’ roll hope.
It’s Wednesday night and we’re draining Labatt after Labatt at the Attic in Hamtramck. Record Graveyard DJs blare “Kung Fu Fighting” through the PA, and Bootsey X (aka Bob Mulrooney) is throwing dance floor Fu moves effortlessly. Trolling feet manage a soft shoe between David Carradine-cum-James Brown kicks. He drops to bended knee, writhes and spins, and arches in a manner that defies backbone logic. A bar chair doubles as a dance partner and X swings it about his torso with the tumbling grace of Hal Skelly. The fixture becomes a sexual accoutrement, something to grasp, something to love. X is the lone dancer on the floor and his winsome strut is as strikingly odd as it is comedic.
X is certainly agile, with a swimmer’s build, in Cuban heels, snug jeans and a Demolition Doll Rods T-shirt. He teems with animated youthful ferocity atypical of anyone who’s been playing bars since the year Damned Damned Damned hit the bins. Now he’s a Detroit legend of sorts, a vagrant rock ’n’ roll sentry. And he’s played with everyone from the Mutants to Rocket 455 to Andre Williams.
Kim Fowley — the oddball muso svengali who, among other things, gave us the Runaways — once described him as, “Iggy-‘Memphis Soul Stew’ on a Leon Haywood level.”
On stage, X is the bastard offspring of Iggy and James Brown, but his singing voice is closer to Mink DeVille — pleasingly coarse and peppered with pitched yelps.
The DeVille comparison has him snorting. “Mink DeVille? Really? I never liked that guy.”
In person, X is a wonderfully messy mix of Hunter S. Thompson myth and old-school Iggy gesticulations. We learn in one breath that X has played drums on Fowley’s underground classic Michigan Babylon and he hung with Lester Bangs at the old Creem house in Birmingham.
“Playing with Kim Fowley was one of the highlights of my life,” he says with arms akimbo.
X came up as a drummer and played in a handful of no-name kid bands until punk rock burst out in the mid-’70s. He joined the Ramrods, an unkempt and popular Detroit punk band immortalized on Motor City’s Burning Vol. 1.
Despite interest from Sire records and Ramones manager Danny Fields, the Ramrods imploded in 1978. His post-Ramrods ensemble, Coldcock (“I had nothing to do with the name”), did a single that now fetches more than $100 on Ebay.
In the early 1980s, X worked up the nerve to be a front man and formed the shtick-ready Bootsey and the Banshees. When the popularity of said band rose, X changed its moniker to the Lovemasters.
In the mid-1980s, the Lovemasters packed 300-seat venues and released a soul-damaged cassette called Strip Music for the Suburbs. In the ensuing years, band member permanence gave way to a revolving door of musicians. 1997 saw the release of the Lovemasters’ sole full-length disc, Pusherman of Love.
A walk into X’s Hamtramck flat is like an outrageous treasure hunt. The interior is riotous mix of rock ’n’ roll and funk nostalgia, milk crates, a beat stereo and a priceless collection of antiquated rock magazines and vinyl, which are slowly going up the Ebay flue and into the pocket of his landlord.
“Some of the records that I’ve sold have been hard to let go of,” he shrugs. “Shit, one record and it’s two or three bucks for gas.”
The onetime cosmetologist has an undying passion for the beat. The beat that pumps through the hearts of Parliament, the Stooges, John Mendelssohn, through Nick Cohn stories and Screaming Lord Sutch albums, through Andre Williams, Spinal Tap and Tyrone Davis, and tattered war stories of gnarled musicians and cock-eyed drug dealers.
Etched into X’s face are lines born of decades of Detroit rock ’n’ roll underground. He has had his share of both circumstantial and self-inflicted setbacks, and he describes with candor a skeleton-rattling drug history. “Once a whole cast got addicted, I wanted no part of it,” he cracks.
Through it all, X understands the downside to a habit of bitterness as much as he does self-abuse. He never talks in terms of a never-was, or a coulda/shoulda.
“I have no control over the business,” he says with nary a trace of irony. “I ain’t gonna be jumping on a fad. Never have. People like me who have experience can make music that can be really damn valid. We’re not trying to relive past glories. We’re doing it because we love it.” He pauses. His floorboard-shaking baritone lets loose a deep guffaw, and he says, “I guess I gotta get a job.”
The upside to this is there is one Bootsey X fan in every American city. Laugh at him, love him, hate him or fan him, Detroit would be a lesser town without him. Now drink up, kids.
Bootsey X and the Lovemasters will perform Friday, March 7 at Paychecks Lounge (2932 Caniff, Hamtramck). For information, call 313-368-8192. Brian Smith is the Metro Times music editor. E-mail [email protected]