Transport bawdy country blues interpreter Scott Biram back to the early 17th century to meet John Donne and the metaphysical poet might have changed his tune. No man is an island, entire of itself? Watch.
“I always had a picture in my head of a big wall of beat-up amps behind me and a lot of junk on the stage,” says Biram, 29. “I found all the outlets — my foot, a harmonica, the guitar, and any gimmick I could find, like yodeling or playing slide. The only way I can make a living doing this is by not having to split the money with a band.”
Biram’s concept is starting to do more than just pay rent. His barbarous exorcism of Depression-era blues — with a bedrock of frantic flatpicking, foot stomps into a floor mike, and guttural growls through a distortion mike — has made Biram a rising star in Austin. Earlier this year he gained national exposure supporting Hank III on a 37-city loop from San Francisco to Baltimore.
Biram’s one-man-band sonic hurricane substantiates his stature. “I think a lot of people playing music these days are too white or something, man; they try to sing too proper,” he asserts. “You’ve gotta be sloppy and raunchy; that gets the point across. Like the distortion mike: It makes it sound old, but also it’s distorted enough and I’m loud enough to make it sound more like rock than folk music. It makes it sound like my old Black Flag records.”
Evidence of this transformation appears on Biram’s debut disc Lo-Fi Mojo. He lays waste to misogynist husbands on Rose Maddox’s “Single Girl”, soaks Mance Lipscomb’s “Blues In The Bottle” with satanic swagger, and gives Big Joe Williams’ Saturday night party tune “Throw A Boogie” legs that dance until Tuesday sunrise, all the while showing enough respect to keep the originals’ integrity intact. The disc closes with two Woody Guthrie numbers and the traditional tune “We Shall Be Free”.
“I personally like those old songs better than I like my own songs,” Biram admits. “I just feel like most of what can be said has already been said. And a lot of people haven’t heard those old blues songs that I play, so might as well try to educate them.”
That said, Biram plans to record mostly original material for his next album, due later this year. He might be wise to put careful consideration into song titles; the two original songs on Lo-Fi Mojo, “Wreck My Car” and “Truckdriver”, combined to foreshadow a disastrous last year. In March 2003, a head-on collision with a hurtling tractor-trailer left Biram with mangled limbs, a crushed foot and a stretch of lower intestine ripped from his colon, just to begin the list.
His ongoing recovery — much of which has been captured by a Los Angeles film production company called Gallos Diablos for an in-progress documentary tentatively titled Lost Case Of Being Found (after one of Biram’s songs) — has included thirteen surgeries, four months in a wheelchair, and countless plates and rods keeping his insides intact. Injuries kept him from walking unaided for most of the year, but it didn’t keep him from the stage.
“I played a show a week after I got out of the hospital in a wheelchair with an IV in my arm just to show everybody I was still gonna do this shit,” he says defiantly. “Even if I couldn’t play, I’d find another outlet for all this angst inside me.”