FOREWORD: Originally, drummer Will Rigby was in acclaimed ‘80s indie pop band, the DB’s (pictured below). Unlike most of his peers, he continued being a viable artist into the ‘90s and beyond (though I’m not sure what he’s been up from ’07 onward). Once married to topical songbird, Amy Rigby, he went on to release two solo albums. He has also been potent sideman for respected artists Steve Earle, Matthew Sweet, and Freedy Johnston.
A hilarious humorist when he wants to be, Rigby also has a tremendous knowledge of rock music’s past. An admitted Dylan fanatic, I interviewed him in ’02 to support his belated second LP, Paradoxaholic. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
When I initially met veteran North Carolina drummer-composer Will Rigby at the dank basement of Manhattan’s Avenue A club, Brownies, he was cracking up several people with dead-on imitations of marble-mouthed King Of The Hill cartoon character, Boomhauer.
Originally an integral part of the dB’s, a fabulous early-‘80s New York City-based underground rock combo, Rigby now handles drum chores for Country legend Steve Earle and was invited as guest musician for folk-roots troubadour Mike Ireland’s current tour.
Recently, he scrambled to assemble tracks for the fascinating, cynically humored solo endeavor, Paradoxaholic (Diesel Only), which he claims “reflects the gulf between the dual nature of sad and funny songs.”
A great historian of rock culture, collecting several thousand records (“though I haven’t followed new music in years”), Rigby expresses adoration for “Cadbury Chicken,” an obscure throwaway B-side to Ronnie Spector’s George Harrison-composed “Try Some, Buy Some.” In related news, Rigby once played the skins at a friends wedding behind Marshall Crenshaw, receiving a kiss from Spector after she sang an unrehearsed version of “Be My Baby.”
Back in ’85, Rigby released his debut, Sidekick Phenomenon, on Yo La Tengo’s boutique label, Egon, calling it “incompetent” even though said bands’ Ira Kaplan told me at a recent softball game he heartily enjoyed it. Nevertheless, Rigby’s seriously bent lyrical perspective could be favorably compared to former Playboy cartoonist/ novelty composer Shel Silverstien.
Scattered singles such as ‘96s “Red Bra And Panties” and “Ricky Skaggs Tonite” (re-done for Paradoxaholic) capture his incisive wit and loose-as-a-goose vernacular in a nasal drawl cross between acid-folk weirdo Peter Stampfel and wheelchair-bound singer-guitarist Vic Chesnutt.
He squeals like a mosquito on the insinuating “This Song Isn’t Even About You” and recalls a Countrified Dave Edmunds on the dismissive “Got You Up My Sleeve” (where he sings “you better have some onions if you wanna see my tears”). Elsewhere, the casually quipped fuck-off “The Jerks At Work,” the stammering fat-bottomed girl ode “Samamaranda,” and the quick li’l barbed ditty “Midas Biege” re-animate acquaintances with pinpoint accuracy. Whether he’s being tipped off by “Sensible Shoes,” “Leanin’ On Bob” for inspiration, or arriving in a “Wheelchair, Drunk,” Rigby may be the only full-time rock drummer besides Ringo Starr or Dennis Wilson to construct worthy solo projects.
Surrounded by experienced guitarists such as Jon Graboff (ex-Beat Rodeo), Bruce Bennett (A-Bones/ Action Swingers), and Dave Schramm (the Schramms), Rigby slips easily from pretty ballad “The Sweeter Thing You Do” (with ex-dBs bandmate Gene Holder handling bass) to hook-filled organ-doused religion-baiting polka “If I Can’t Be King.” Whether he’s playing the jealous fool on the twangy “Get Away Get Away” or being coy on the buzz-toned piano boogie “Flap Down,” this skinny, fifty-ish fiend leaves no doubt he’s more than just a self-described ‘sidekick phenom.’
Compare the belated Paradoxaholic to your ’85 solo debut.
WILL: Sidekick Phenomenon was totally incompetently recorded, but its value is its lo-fi charm. There’s a cover of Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Hold Myself In Line” which Johnny Paycheck had an ‘80s hit with, an obscure Maddox Brothers song, and Hank Williams’ “Set the Woods On Fire.” Georgia and Ira from Yo La Tengo put the homely record out, despite my misgivings.
WILL: My musical taste is greatly a part of ‘60s AM radio. Where I was in Winston-Salem, it included a smattering of Country, like Buck Owens’ “Tiger By the Tail,” Tammy Wynette’s “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.,” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” with a mishmash of Soul, garage-rock, the Beatles. It wasn’t compartmentalized like now. When I became an adult, I started paying attention to Country.
The wry lament, “Wheelchair, Drunk” has Southern folk roots.
I wrote that in the mid-‘90s about something that happened in the mid-‘70s. Some guy told me he’d drive me from Colorado to Carolina, but got to Florida and wouldn’t leave when I had a deadline in Carolina. He said, “I can’t leave today. I’m gonna get laid.” Anyway, I had a drunken night at a pool party. I knew no one but him, so I wandered off, passed out in a hospital parking lot, and woke up in a wheelchair being pushed into the hospital by a policeman. I yelled, “Am I under arrest!” way too loud for the middle of the night. The cop took me to the police station where they made fun of me and didn’t know what to do with me. The people I was staying with filed a missing person’s report. It was ridiculous.
What’s with the mockingly sarcastic “Ricky Skaggs Tonite”?
It’s just surrealistic. I could write absurdist numbers real well. It just channeled through me. I was reading about the (Apocalypse), the last book of the bible and its religious manifestations like the apparition of the Virgin Mary that appeared over this Egyptian Christian church. The gospel according to Thomas I took from that book. It’s not derogatory. I was a Ricky Skaggs fan in the ‘80s. I heard Ricky got a hold of the song and said, “could you all leave the room while I listen.” Some bluegrass guys like Jerry Douglas and Tim O’Brien are fans of the song.
Are you as Dylan-obsessed as “Leanin’ On Bob” suggests?
I’m not top-level Dylan-obsessed, but I’ve seen him 12 times and read 20 to 30 books on him. What inspired the song was when I first went on the internet and discovered massive information on Dylan. I wondered how people lived just following Bob around. Most of the imagery is about myself. If you went to see Dylan, you’d think he consciously went after that crowd. He asked to join the Dead in the late ‘80s, but either Weir or Lesh vetoed it. The story’s in Down the Highway. You could discern his ‘80s records lost touch with what was good about him, but thankfully he found it by Time Out Of Mind.
How’s life on the road with Steve Earle?
Pretty cushy. We just did three Scandinavian gigs and finished a new album with half-political songs. One’s about Johnny Walker Lindh. Steve’s a true leftist. His view the death penalty is radical.
Who are some drummers you admire?
Keith Moon was an influence when I played like that when I was young. A few people could pull it off, but I’m more of a backbeat person. Kenny Jones, Tom Mooney from Nazz, and Bill Buford of Yes… I was into Yes until Close To the Edge. Then they went too far over the top. Zig Modeliste of the Meters is probably my favorite. Jim Keltner is so obscenely good it pisses me off. Dave Maddox of Fairport Convention and B.J. Wilson from Procol Harum’s Broken Barricades…
What’s up with fellow former dB’s Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey?
Stamey lives in North Carolina and has a recording studio. He produced Whiskeytown and Alejandro Escovedo. Peter lives in New Orleans, but the Continental Drifters are in limbo. He’s going through a rough period and doesn’t know what to do musically. I hope to play drums on a few of his new songs.