, the debut disc from a band called the Now Time Delegation, was released earlier this year on the California label In the Red Records. Despite its recent born-on date, however, the album
recalls nothing so much as the legendary output of Stax, the long-gone Memphis label that rocketed Booker T. & the MG's, Otis Redding and many others into high orbit in the '60s. Explosive in spirit, tough as nails and cast in Stax's molten glow,
might be the finest soul record of the year.
Tim Kerr, an Austin, Texas, guitarist and all-around punk-rock institution, leads the Now Time Delegation. With a music career that began in 1978 with skate-funk monsters the Big Boys, Kerr has assembled a staggering résumé, playing in at least a half-dozen impressive bands and becoming a sought-after recording engineer.
Kerr intended the Now Time Delegation as the next phase of a project he started in 1996 with Detroit vocalist Mick Collins, an attempt to fuse the primal soul both had explored in previous efforts with cosmic jazz in the vein of Sun Ra. As years passed, Kerr found himself inspired to move the project toward roiling, straight-ahead soul driven by high-horsepower Hammond organ. In 1999, Collins proved "less than enthused" with this change of plans and left the band for good. Kerr solicited the services of Lisa Kekaula, singer for blazing California rock-'n'-soul street riot the BellRays, who traveled to Austin and sang all of Watch for Today in a single day.
This week, Kerr, a disarmingly sincere librarian-by-day, took an hour out of his busy schedule to talk about his life, the Now Time Delegation and how all good music is really soul music.
Willamette Week: You came up in the punk scene of the '80s. So why have you always gravitated to blues, R&B and funk in your music?
Tim Kerr: "Punk" in Texas was basically doing whatever you wanted to do. To play Kool and the Gang and Slave and Shotgun seemed to be just as cool as playing whatever else. That's what we were all listening to when we would skate. We weren't doing it to be different. We were doing it because that's what our hearts wanted us to do. To us, that was punk.
Through the bulk of your work there is a strong power-to-the-people sense of social immediacy. What's the message in the NTD?
Basically the same thing. I was completely taken the first time I went to a punk-rock show. The whole idea that the audience was as important as the band--sometimes more important--was such an amazing, great thing. The whole community spirit of it is why I got into this.
The original songs on Watch for Today sound like they could have been radio hits back in the '60s. Where does your familiarity with soul music come from?
I grew up with two older brothers, and the radio was always on. The oldest was always listening to soul music--Archie Bell and the Drells, the Impressions, all that. That was the kind of music I wanted to do on this record. To me, soul music is honest, real, timeless and relevant. That's why Black Flag, John Coltrane, Aaron Copland, Nick Drake and Sun Ra are all soul music to me. I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but it's now basically become a fairly spiritual thing for me to do this stuff. It's something that's inside that's real personal to me.
Were you trying to replicate a sound with the NTD?
No, not really. I just really love that music. Now when I listen to it, it really does sound like Stax. It's very down-home-sounding. Maybe it's because the bulk of NTD is from Texas.
What does Lisa bring to the band?
Soul. Mick has a real cool voice, he really does. But Lisa has something else going on, which to me is soul. There's more to it. There's something to it that just makes you go "holy shit." I knew that if she said "yeah" to doing the NTD, we were easily going to pull this off.
So the live show, I'm guessing, is pretty dynamic?
We have never, ever played live. Portland is going to be our very first show. See, I never expected us to play live. Now here we are, going on tour. Alex Cuervo, our bassist, thought it would be cool to just show up and play the whole album. That's what we're going to do in there. Bob Vennum, Lisa's husband who also plays in the Bellrays, is going to play guitar on some of the songs, and if he's moving around like he does, and Alex is moving around like he does, and I'm moving around like me, someone's probably going to get hurt. You'll see us either sink or swim in Portland.
125 NW 6th Ave., 243-2380
10 pm Tuesday, July 17
Kerr recently produced
, the forthcoming album by Portland's Fireballs of Freedom.
Kerr's goal: "To make my guitar sound like Pharaoh
h Sanders' sax when he's screaming into it and you hear all these different chords and notes and he's projecting feelings of joy and life and inspiration to get up and do something."
music writer John Graham's 1999 interview with NTD singer Lisa Kekaula, see www.wweek.com/html/musicb060999.html .