Eldorado Del Rey, aka Mic Walker, the mutton-chopped leader of The Ruckus, likes living downtown. He likes the pedestrian life. He likes buying his groceries at funky markets along the Main Street mall. But mostly, the longtime Sun Studio employee likes the fact that he's still living in the city that rock built.
"I'd just gotten to this point when I really thought it might be time for me to find another city," Del Rey says, his resigned voice heavy with the unmistakable tone of hard luck, Memphis-style.
"And then I moved downtown," he says, "and it was like I was living in a completely different city."
The singer, songwriter, and guitar player takes off his black, gold-trimmed sunglasses and replaces them with a pair of black gold-trimmed prescription glasses. "I have some rules," he says. "I don't go out [downtown] on the weekends ... too many people mess with me."
There can be no doubt, Eldorado Del Rey stands out in a crowd. Gangly, hairy, dressed in the immaculately considered wardrobe of a garage-rock hero, and riding a pimped-out single-speed bike with ape hangers and flames, he looks like a cross between Viva L'American Death Ray's Nick Diablo and a Mojo Nixon impersonator: charming, self-effacing, and self-consciously absurd.
"I know why you're here," says an old codger entering The Green Beetle, a sports bar on South Main, and making a beeline for our table. "You're here for Elvis week, ain'tcha?"
"No, I live here," Del Rey answers politely, grinning and shaking his head as if to say, "See what I mean?"
In 2003, it was Del Rey's fusion of Delta blues and indie rock that caught the ear of Joe Perry. The Aerosmith guitar player was attracted to Del Rey's bluesy grit and signed The Porch Ghouls, Del Rey's pre-Ruckus group, to be the first band on his new Roman Records label. Unfortunately, the Ghouls' album, Bluff City Ruckus, didn't perform particularly well, and while on tour with Kiss and Aerosmith, the Porch Ghouls fell to pieces. Shortly thereafter, much of Del Rey's life followed suit. His marriage dissolved and old friends wouldn't give him the time of day. Since then, he's been tinkering with his sound, trying to keep a band together, and moving further and further from the blues.
"I've always just wanted to play rock-and-roll," he says in defense of the Ruckus' latest, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which reaches back to the Delta for a few numbers but is built around electronic beats and futuristic lyrics.
After the Porch Ghouls broke up, Del Rey recorded the first Ruckus album, Planet of the Vampires, backed by The Immortal Lee County Killers. It was Del Rey's trashiest, raunchiest effort to date, more in the spirit of The Oblivians than the Porch Ghouls. But the Killers had other gigs to play and couldn't get too tied up in a side project.
Del Rey started jamming with natural-born bluesman Jason Freeman, who cut his teeth fronting The Bluff City Backsliders.
"We were working together at Sun, so we started talking, and we were both into the exact same music," Del Rey says. But after playing for a while with the Ruckus, Freeman joined up with Amy LaVere in Amy & the Tramps.
Today, the Ruckus is a three-piece featuring the inventive guitar leads of a youngster who calls himself Matt Danger and beats dropped by DJ Natty Batty.
"I was always having trouble finding a drummer, and I always thought it would be cool to have a pretty girl up there with us cueing samples," Del Rey says.
As one might expect, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? sounds like a record made by an artist in transition. It lacks the aggression of Del Rey's previous roots efforts, but it never quite embraces its gothic potential either. However, the band has never been tighter or more original, Del Rey's voice has never sounded more confident, and fans of Phillip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard will certainly appreciate this homage to the masters of smart sci-fi.
"I like transitions," Del Rey says. "A lot of times, it's the transitions that really stand out, like with the Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver. I'm not comparing myself to the Beatles. I'm just saying that sometimes transitions can be a good thing."
El Dorado & the Ruckus play a CD-release party for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Friday, August 25th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Doors open at 9 p.m.; admission is $5.