BIG EARS 09: Shaking Ray Levis

The Shaking Ray Levis bridge the gap between folk art and folks

The Chattanooga-based Shaking Ray Levi Society and the performing duo The Shaking Ray Levis (drummer Bob Stagner and keyboardist/vocal artist Dennis Palmer) have been making a joyful noise just over the hill and occasionally here in Knoxville for going on 25 years. Their music will speak for itself this weekend. Rather than submit you to a bunch of bad analogies and lame comparisons, allow us to share some recent correspondence from Mr. Palmer. (Chris Barrett)

• Ashley was the first to present our Trio with Derek Bailey way back in the '80s. We both have a history now and it's rarely recognized that we all have been creating and presenting "music outside the big-city marketplace" for nearly 25 years!

• We're envisioning a set something akin to the sound of a horde of positively dangerous songbirds with a dab of low-end frequency that will bring yer favorite inanimate objects to life.

• Our dear Rev. Howard Finster used to say to us, "Boys, don't ever stop making your music—eventually people will realize that y'all are playing folk art!"

• For us it's an aural folk art from the dad-blame heart! It's making music with anything and everything from an old coat hanger stuck inside a Styrofoam cup to a "hot-rodded" bent-circuit Casio keyboard.  

• We like to play around with something we call the "old-timey avant-garde" as a way to trouble the static and closed perception people tend to have about challenging music. And interestingly, the same rigid stereotypes that folks have about the "avant-garde" are similar to the stereotypes they have about the South. 

• The work of the Shaking Ray Levi Society has been to build a strong improvisational community in the South, which for some seems, at first glance, improbable and absurd. The South is seen as a region characterized by tradition and stasis—but really we have had to work the hardest against reductive, rigid, unimaginative, and really just lazy stereotypes about Southerners that deny the South's emergent and strikingly original creativity. We'll explain our thoughts on these concepts in a workshop at Big Ears on Sunday, called, in fact, "Old-Timey Avant-Garde in the New South."