Friday, February 26, 2010

Root Boy Slim (music)

Root Boy dares you to be fat
Wikipedia Entry
Official Website

For years, I used to subscribe to the National Lampoon. A favorite feature was their "True Facts," which would report the type of news stories that would now be shown on One particular item was discussing how some officials in the Jimmy Carter White House were spending time going to concerts by a group with the bizarre name of "Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band."

Not long afterwards, I actually heard their music.  My opinion of the Carter White House improved immensely.

Root Boy Slim was born with the decidedly un-rockstar name of Foster McKenzie III.  He grew up in North Carolina and, after attending Yale,* moved to the Washington DC area**, where he started the Sex Change Band, which played in bars in the area.  It was a quintessential party band and Root Boy was the life of the party.  The band recorded a couple of demos, one of which, "Christmas at Kmart" caught the ears of executives at Warner Brothers***, who signed him to a contract.

"Christmas as Kmart" was a funny antidote to the more serious songs of the season as Root Boy sings of the "joys" of spending the time in a downscale department store.

Their album was filled with similar songs -- blatantly juvenile humor cheerfully sung in Root Boy's Captain Beefheart-like growl**** "Boogie 'Til You Puke" was a jaundiced look at the disco scene (and also Root Boy's own party heritage), while "Dare to Be Fat" dealt with Root Boy's own weight.

The album created some buzz, but was passed off as a comedy album and didn't sell all that well.  Warner Brothers dropped them, and the group broke up.

Root Boy continued to tour, though with different lineups.*****  He continued to record on various independent labels, but pretty much vanished outside of the DC area.  The band played live gigs though the mid-80s but slowly faded away, dying in 1993.

While Root Boy and the band are certainly not big name rock stars, they are the foremost band in their particular niche of wacky bar bands.


*As a frat brother of George W. Bush.  Bush later banned the group from campus after a particularly rowdy party.

**And was diagnosed with schizophrenia, something he battled all his life.

***Reportedly brought to them by Donald Fagin of Steely Dan.

****Beefheart was, of course, a greater talent by far, but there were certain similarities in their voices and the fact that both bands had members using bizarre pseudonyms.  But the Captain was an avant garde absurdist, while Root Boy was only out for a good time.

*****He once did a gig here in the Albany, NY, area as "Root Boy Slim and the Black Silk Stockings."

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