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Tucson Weekly Playing Possum

Blues meets punk in the most irascible record label to come along in a 'coon's age.

By Dave McElfresh

MARCH 2, 1998:  FAT POSSUM RECORDS hails from Oxford, Mississippi. They record blues musicians. In fact, they claim to be the only legit blues label in existence. Label owner Matthew Johnson would strangle a blond, white blues poseur like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, maybe even Stevie Ray himself, if his neck were still available.

The label sampler, entitled Not The Same Old Blues Crap, contains a CD stamped with the message, "Music so strong it'll pull panties off a nun." The first sentence of Johnson's liner notes bitches about the previous three years of distribution through Capricorn Records (home of the Allman Brothers) as being hell.

Freedom, praise Jesus, came in the form of California punk label Epitaph agreeing to fling Fat Possums all across this blues-needy land of ours.

Fat Possum asks us to fill out that mailing-list postcard, the one addressed in the Addams Family font and offering a blank box where you're requested to trace your house key. (Fat Possum assures you that they'll have none of this recycling shit, and guarantee that they only print on brand new paper.)

If you've already established contact, you received their Christmas postcard: a picture of Possum artist T Model Ford waving a pistol--actually a slightly less confrontive visual than depicted on his label debut, Pee Wee Get My Gun, where a pre-teen Southern punk aims a revolver directly at your left ear. On the disc, Ford and his drummer, Spam, slowly increase the tension of "I'm Insane" by more emphatically emphasizing how far Mr. T Model is going to stick his foot up somebody's ass.

The rest of the label's roster of raw and raspy bluesmen wouldn't fare much better on mental health tests.

A recent release by rockabilly wacko Hasil Adkins is called What The Hell Was I Thinking, referring to the singer/writer/guitarist/drummer/etc.'s mistaken belief as a child that all the instrumentation on a Hank Williams' single was supplied, live no less, by HW himself. Adkins, as a result, became a one-man band, and remains so at age 62 on inspirational Fat Possum cuts like "Ugly Woman" and "Up On Mars."

A new release by Elmo Williams introduces the artist to blues crowds by explaining, "When not in church praying or playing guitar, Elmo mostly enjoys staying out of trouble. Drummer/harpist Early loves bustin' big ol' deer damn straight dead with his rifle...if he's really bored he might eat some of it."

The label's most pensive artist, the late Junior Kimbrough, sings of his fear that he might "Burn In Hell" on the raw album Most Things Haven't Worked Out. Fellow Possumite and guitarist/singer R.L. Burnside, inclined to wear a Sun Ra-like, pod-people helmet, easily dismisses his sordid past by explaining, "I didn't mean to kill anybody, I just shot him in the head." Lovely buncha guys.

But not all Fat Possum Artists are old blues guys: The punkish group Twenty Miles is comprised of brothers Donovan and Judah Bauer, only a third as old as their labelmates, if the shadowy picture of them leaning against the filthy urinals is an accurate indication. And the Neckbones, though the woman on the cover of their Souls On Fire release portrays the pathetically dated sexuality of our parents, prove they're as current as the latest 60 Minutes lowdown with their romantic ballad, "Crack Whore Blues."

No doubt that logo picturing a fat possum sniffing the contents of a garbage can is meant to say it all: No other label is interested in blues this unpolished, and no record exec wants to throw his weight in the direction of some old fuck or young punk who thinks that completing a recording session means showing up sometime during the same month it was scheduled.

Too bad for those silk-tied losers--and, until now, too bad for blues fans who've waited for someone like Matthew Johnson and his Fat Possum bunch to meet the living blues, bottle in hand, wherever they goddamn need to be met. Fat Possum has yanked out of dirty Mississippi ground artists that meet and often surpass the impact of solid blues figures like Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, while also becoming the first label to make the blues sound as irascible as the punk thrashing that appears on the label distributing it. For that alone, they deserve big trophies for all the label's weirdos to sit alongside their raspy, twenty-buck amps.

And if World Federated Wrestling ever throws John Lydon or Iggy Pop in the ring against Hasil Adkins or T Model Ford, best take the long shot and bet that the purse goes to the possum.

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