"If this place is purgatory, I'll take hell instead," sings Jackie Lee in a hushed and tormented tone that could give Nick Cave and 16 Horsepower the shivers.
Lee is half of the generally itinerant but currently Kansas-based Lee Baby Sims Show, whose songs are replete with memorable original lines ("I have yet to see my good old days") plus the obligatory references to train whistles and killing floors.
But unlike so many neo-blues duos who've come along in the wake of the White Stripes, neither Lee nor cohort Sims Murphy plays drums. "Yeah, we base what we do on the originators, not the imitators," says Lee, who figures there's enough percussion in the two guitarists' "violent playing style" already. "People like Son House, Skip James and Blind Lemon Jefferson none of them ever used a drummer in their life."
Even so, Lee expects it will be an augmented Lee Baby Sims Show making the 16-hour round-trip trek from Lawrence, Kan., to Colorado Springs.
"When we started the band three years ago, we said we were never going to bring a drummer in," says Lee. "But then we started listening to people like R.L. Burnside, Robert Balfour and Junior Kimbrough, who have been able to incorporate drums and maintain that original Delta feel. So the creative core of our band is still Sims and me, but we've got all of the peripheral characters in the band, and I think we're bringing the whole group out with us." (As Lee describes it, the full group includes a bassist and several people who like to hit things.)
Having grown up in Tupelo, Miss., Lee says his "earliest memories in life are sitting out in my grandpa's warehouse; he was playing his Son House records while I was sitting in the shadows. And I just never got past that."
Lee (who sings and plays slide guitar, harmonica and accordion) first met up with Atlanta native Murphy (guitar, piano and vocals) in Springfield, Mo., a town the duo vacated as soon as possible.
"We spent most of the last three years just kind of wandering through the South, and we never stayed anywhere for more than a month or two," says Lee. "We've only been here about six months, but Lawrence, Kansas, has the best music scene, at least in the Midwest, that we've seen for folk, bluegrass and the kind of blues we play."
The band's name, meanwhile, is an obscure nod to the DJ/convict that Tom Waits played in Down By Law. Although surprised to hear that a Portland, Ore., band is named after the same movie character, Lee feels certain his band can kick their ass.
"We're a couple of corn-fed farm boys," he says. "Kicking ass is what we do. Unless you meant can we kick their ass musically, in which case I can't really make that assumption."
After hearing both bands, I'd say it's a safe bet they can.