David Rhodes Brown and Warsaw Falcons must feel as though they’re in some bizarre nexus of the Bermuda Triangle and the Hot Tub Time Machine.
On one hand, the Greater Cincinnati band (featuring guitarist/vocalist Brown, bassist John Schmidt and drummer Doug Waggoner) has reunited after a “hiatus” of two and a half decades, and is playing gigs with an unbelievable amount of passion and purpose. On the other hand, the band is trawling its extensive archive for material from its ’80s heyday — the first being the band’s imminent Live at Dollar Bill’s, 1986.
There’s a wonderful dedication on the back of the disc: “Special thanks to the fans who made the Warsaw Falcons indestructible.” Anyone who witnessed the band’s take-no-prisoners approach back then knows the full extent of the Falcons’ durability — multiple sets per night, multiple nights per week, all performed with a fury typically reserved for criminal activity or war.
With the Falcons’ return 28 years after its last gig in this form, the musicians are maneuver ing around work schedules, other band commitments and the various physical issues that plague men of a certain age. But none of that matters when they suit up and plug in.
“I’ve got that rehearsal time, which is fun hanging out with those guys, then I’ve got these shows. There’s not that many of them, but they’re enough to look forward to,” Brown says from his compound on the outskirts of Rabbit Hash, Ky. “I don’t know I have anything wrong with me when I’m on stage, I’m so out of body. It’s a cure. I’m pain-free. On the breaks, not so much. (Reuniting) is very refreshing and unexpected. We’re incredibly grateful that we’re allowed to do this.”
Live from Dollar Bill’s, 1986 is a very-few-warts-and-all album, a straight live recording with a bit of expert mastering to bring the guitar up to the front of the mix. Of equal interest is that this trio version of the Falcons formed just three weeks before the Dollar Bill’s taping.
“We started (the trio) St. Paddy’s Day, and I want to say this gig was early April,” Brown says with a wry smile. “We were serious about how we were going to mess this thing up.”
Brown’s voyage through music and life is a veritable Homerian epic of direct hits, near-misses, triumph and tragedy, all too voluminous to squeeze even a condensed version into this tight space. Suffice it to say the Falcons survived Brown’s relocations to Texas and Nashville, which led to a string of local successes for Brown, including roles in established bands (Magnolia Mountain, 500 Miles to Memphis) and a newfound interest in clawhammer banjo and old-time Country/Bluegrass music.
Last November, on the occasion of Brown’s 50th anniversary of professionally gigging, his longtime partner Bobbi Kayser and local scene mover/shaker Kelly Thomas organized a roast/toast event at Newport’s Southgate House Revival. The celebration became the catalyst for the Falcons’ unplanned return.
“Kelly didn’t give me any information about the bands that were going to play or who was roasting,” Brown says. “All she told me was the songs that were going to be played, and she said, ‘I suggest you put together some semblance of the Warsaw Falcons. That might be a good idea.’ So I called up John and Doug and we went for it. We did four or five songs that night and we looked at each other and went, ‘We could just go ahead and keep doing this.’ ”
Since then, the Falcons have opened shows for 500 Miles to Memphis, and their Woodward Theater appearance in April was one of the best local shows in the venue’s short history. Although the band members’ lives and other musical pursuits keep them busy, the trio makes time for as many Falcons activities as possible, particularly semi-regular slots at Fries Café in Clifton.
“Dollar Bill’s (which was on Short Vine) was where we made our bones, and when (it) changed hands, all the regulars went to Fries Café, so it was like our Dollar Bill’s people were still waiting there,” Brown says. “So we brought in everybody — old fans and bands that used to warm up for me. There were already 90-120 people there, and most of them were dancing, and then these college kids came in and they’d never seen this band. And a party breeds a party — they were invigorated by the reaction of the crowd, and a couple of them bought some merch and said, ‘We never heard of this band but we liked these songs right away … so give me a T-shirt.’ We were amazed.”
The Falcons plan to hit the studio for fresh recordings — the band’s only studio full-length, 2003’s Right It on the Rock Wall, featured legendary Rolling Stones sax man Bobby Keys — but the trio is also lining up more archival releases, including a live set with Keys and a recording of the Falcons serving as Blues/Rock icon Bo Diddley’s backing band. Brown’s motivation for the Didley release isn’t in what he can get out of it, but what can be given back.
“I’m going to give that money to Guitars for Vets. They started out small, but there’s like 52 chapters. They teach guitar down at the VA Hospital and it’s helped these guys immensely,” says Brown, himself a Navy veteran. “Most guys with PTSD will tell you, ‘Give me a guitar and a joint, and I’m a whole lot better.’ They can function, because they know they can always come back to their happy spot. Guitars for Vets buys guitars and sets up guitar teachers, and it’s growing. I told the director it’s not going to be a lot of money, and he said, ‘It’s not about the money, it’s about the ideas.’ ”
It might seem like it takes brass cojones to release scorching material that was recorded by raging young men and then promote that recording with performances by those men more than 25 years after the fact. Brown doesn’t see any of what’s going on now from that perspective. He’s not pretending 28 years didn’t happen — the band is merely stepping back while presenting the Warsaw Falcons of now.
“There’s a thing called maturity, and the buying public has more maturity now. They were younger, they could drink longer, they had more energy, they could stay up all night and they can’t anymore,” Brown says. “We’re reminding you of those years, and we’re giving you those years in your fucking ear. If someone had told me I ought to do this, I would have fought the idea. John wanted to do a reunion, and I said, ‘I’m writing these Folk songs and I just want to do new material. I don’t want to go back.’ But I’m glad I got talked into it. It really is a life-changer.”
WARSAW FALCONS play a free show Saturday at Fries Café. More info: facebook.com/warsawfalcons.