“And then there’s this guy named Bob Log, you ever heard of him? He’s this little kid — nobody even knows how old he is — wears a motorcycle helmet and he has a microphone inside of it and he puts the glass over the front so you can’t see his face, and plays slide guitar. It’s just the loudest strangest stuff you’ve ever heard. You don’t understand one word he’s saying. I like people who glue macaroni on to a piece of cardboard and paint it gold. That’s what I aspire to basically.” – Tom Waits
I’ve been moderately obsessed with Bob Log III ever since I found myself at a show of his several years ago. I had seen some live footage and maybe heard a song or two, but is was not until I felt the full brunt of his live show did I become a full fledged devotee of the man. His sound is raw, primal, and ugly as all hell. Yet he wields the undeniable power to make the whole world dance.
I didn’t know if you’re looking for a new hero, but I sure as hell found you one.
Hailing from Tucson, Arizona, Bob was once the singing and slinging half of Doo Rag, a duo that paired him with friend and junk band troubadour Thermos Malling. The frantic guitar and distorted vocals of Log, coupled with the smashing and crashing of the improvised percussion section made Doo Rag a beloved sideshow attraction in their heyday, opening for the likes of Beck, The Cramps, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. A fallout with Thermos mid-way into a tour opening for Ween forced Bob to adapt quickly to the sudden loss of fifty percent of his band, and like all great decisions born of desperation, it would be this sudden emergence as a one man band that would eventually lead Log to truly finding his voice. Luckily for the rest of us, that voice speaks through a crash helmet with a phone glued to it.
Since then, as a one man band Log has released four albums, toured the world relentlessly, and left a long trail of dropped jaws in his wake. Adding to the fury of his playing are his beloved and infamous ‘audience participation exercises’, such as inviting two women to sit on his knees while he plays, climb into a single person dingy and raft the crowd, and, most notoriously, presenting a scotch on the rocks to the crowd and politely requesting the crowd to dip their boobs in his drink. The drink, and the act, have been immortalized by what many have called his magnum opus, “Boob Scotch”.
I got the chance to sit down with Bob, (sans-helmet), to talk about his love of performing, his artful dodging of Interpol, and the skills one needs to acquire to gracefully play guitar while dodging low hanging ceiling fans.
(FULL DISCLOSURE! This interview is a few years old, transcribed from an audio interview I did with Bob before a show in Toronto in 2011. I had just purchased my recorder, and barely knew how to operate it. The audio from that session is pretty much unlistenable. However, most of what was said still applies today. He’s still amazing, he’s still on tour, Winnipeg is still confusing, etcetera, and so forth…)
J.D. RENAUD – I guess this is kind of foreign, holding your own microphone.
BOB LOG III – Yeah, I never hold microphones. I’ll do my best.
J.D. – There is a record store in Toronto, Rotate This, that has a super old Doo Rag poster on their wall. I asked the guy at the counter if it was for sale, and he just shot me this stone cold look. He told me “This store could burn to the ground and I could lose everything, but the only thing I’d be really pissed about losing is that poster”.
BOB LOG III – Aw, man! I need to go say hi to that guy! I was just remembering the first time I went to Toronto. It was when Doo Rag was opening for Beck on the Loser tour. I can’t remember the name of the venue. It was big. It might not be there anymore. There was a bunch of kids there, a lot of 14 year old girls, and they were all passing out while we were playing and being handed over the guardrails. Little girls passing out. That was my entrance into Toronto. Beck also let us crash in his hotel room, which was really nice of him.
J.D. – The guy at Rotate This told me that he saw you guys completely blind, and was blown away. He now has a personal attachment to that poster, that night, and in a weird way to you. I had a similar experience the first time I saw you a few years ago. Do you ever perform with that thought in the back of your head, that someone might be in the crowd who has no idea what you are about? Do you want to leave an impression on people who don’t know what they are in for?
BOB LOG III – I wouldn’t say I think like that. In a way I do. I just try my hardest every fuckin’ night. It’s definitely music, but it’s also a sport. It’s this game I’ve invented, and every night I can win. I’ve always got to try hard. I don’t think “Oh, there might be people here who don’t know me, I’ve got to impress them”, I think “I’m going to play songs I love as good as I can, and as hard as I can, until it hurts”. That’s every night. There could be five people there, or five thousand people there, does not matter.
J.D. – Tell me about the “rafting incident”.
BOB LOG III – I don’t know when it started, maybe 2004 or 2005, but I started riding in a boat on top of people. It’s all because of Belingham Washington. This club was closing, and I was like “I’ve got to do something for them”, because they were flying me in from Australia for the show to close their club. It went from a $200 plane ticket to a $2000 plane ticket, so I was like “I’ve got to do something really cool for these people. I know! I’ll get on a boat on top of ’em!”
J.D. – The decision was that sudden?
BOB LOG III – Pretty much. I was driving to the show, it was like a two hour drive from Seattle to Belingham. I’m thinking the whole way, and about an hour and a half into it I’m like (tire screech) “BOAT SHOP!”. I also then had to get a wireless unit for my guitar, because I figured if I’m gonna be in the boat, I better be playing, too. So I got those, did it, and the crowd went ape-shit. That’s when it started. I didn’t do it all the time, but I did it a lot. I did it probably six hundred times over about three years. Every time I did it, I always thought “God dammit, one of these day I’m going to get really hurt”, because really, I’m trusting a room full of drunk people not to drop me on my head. The only thing that kept my up for so long was that I’m kind of like precious cargo to them. They usually try really hard. But then, in Sydney, I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I have a theory. I think I got sent out over a bunch of girls who were trying to protect their hair. That’s not a dis on girls, I just genuinely think that’s what happened. I fell into a hole in the ocean and landed on my neck. I’m wireless, so everyone heard me go “THUNK! UGGH!”. Then I felt all this wetness around me, and all this broken glass, I was like “Oh no, I’m cut, I’m bleeding!”, but then I looked at it and it was just beer. So I got up and kept playing. I mean, it hurt, but it wasn’t that bad. Then about a week later, I’m driving through Italy, and suddenly each day I can’t move my arm less and less. One day I can’t lift it up past my shoulder, the next day I can’t life it up past my elbow. When I almost passed out while I was driving just because I tried to turn my head I thought “Yeah, this can’t be good”. I had to cancel three weeks of that tour. I told my doctor what happened, and, well, doctors don’t necessarily agree with what I do sometimes. They’re always trying to get me to stop bouncing girls on my knees. This doctor though, he said something that really stuck with me. He said “Do you want to ride in a boat, or do you want to play guitar?”. To be honest, I did think it over for like three days. “Do you want ride in a dingy, or do you want to play guitar?”. In the end I choose the guitar, because that’s what I do, dammit. I’ll be honest though, there is a boat in my car right now. It’s always there. I did boat the crowd for a few stops on this tour. I boated Belingham again, because I knew they wouldn’t drop me. Though they did seem to be trying to. Bastards. Rough waters in Belingham lately. If it’s ever a packed room, I might boat the crowd again, but I don’t do it as often as I used to anymore.
J.D. – Do you always keep it inflated and off to the side, just in case?
BOB LOG III – No, I’ll decide ahead of time. If a room is packed to the gills I’ll consider it. Low ceilings don’t work so well. I was shoved into a ceiling fan in Phoenix. I had to play guitar with one hand, and stop the ceiling fan with my other hand, and I remember thinking “Huh, I’ve never done this before. (haha) This is new.”
J.D. – Not to kiss your ass, but you are an incredibly proficient player. You do tend to steer away from what could be refereed to as “dicking around” on the guitar, though. No 16 minute solos, no noodling for the sake of noodling, none of the classic tropes of players with a lot of skill. You’ve stuck with bulletproof song structure, you get through a lot of songs in a set, and you do a ton of work on stage. Did you make the decision early on to keep that style and song structure and just stick with it?
BOB LOG III – Not necessarily. I’ve always loved guys like Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry, and pretty much every song they released was two minutes and thirty seconds long. Or shorter, for that matter. It just seems to be my natural… um… song writing… time… I guess (haha). I don’t know, I don’t really think about it. If you do think about it though, a lot of people in bands will do a solo here, or a solo there, whereas my whole show is a solo. When people say “Bob Log, you never solo!”, I say “Fuck you, I just solo’d that whole fucking show!”. I don’t really play melodic, I play rhythmic. And I don’t mean that I play rhythm guitar, I mean I beat the guitar like a drum. There’s notes in there, but I’m playing it with a beat. Really, if I was being honest, I’d say I only know how to do, like, four things. When I first started, I had a friend who started at around the same time as me, and he could play anything. He could hear a song, and just be able to play it, all the way through, no problem. I could never do that. I would hear a song, learn it wrong, and then it sort of became my own thing. I could never replicate anything I heard. Then I started the finger picking and thwacking thing, and I got really good at that, but there are still a whole bunch of things on the guitar that I don’t know how to do. That’s mainly why you don’t see me doing stuff like that, because I can’t. I admire people who pick something, stick with it, and get really good at it. If you look at guys like Bo Diddley, or Chuck Berry, or even Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, they really only do one thing, but they are amazing at it. James Brown is another great example. James Brown and Motorhead don’t make reggae albums. That’s the same for everything, though. If someone is really great at pole vaulting, you don’t really want to see them bowl. I am a pole vaulter. Don’t expect me to play tennis.
J.D. – What is your recording process like now? Now that you can get a pretty great sound out of a pretty modest home studio, do you still aim for lo-fi sounds purposefully?
BOB LOG III – I never start making a record and think “I really want to make this sound like shit”. I grew up recording with 4 track cassettes. All of Doo Rag was recorded with 4 track cassettes. There has always been some 4 track stuff that has wound up on all my albums. Most of the time you can’t tell between the stuff that was recorded in studio or on 4 track with me, anyway. I try to record as well as I can with the stuff I’ve got. I’ve got a reel-to-reel 8 track recorder, too. It’s pretty much just a giant 4 track. Both of those things are kind of on their last legs, though. I am going to have to come up with some new kind of home recording system soon. If I can stick with tape, I will. I usually record my stuff at home, then I bring it to a studio, put it into their stuff and mix it from there. I like recording at home and taking my time. I don’t like going into a studio and being like “We’ve got three hours, guys! Let’s get the take!”. I’m never like that. I take my time, I’m never in a hurry, I never have a deadline. I do it when I love it, and it’s done when I love it even more than that.
J.D. – I can hear that in your albums. It’s clear you’ve never released something you’re not totally happy with.
BOB LOG III – Thank you! I hope that shows! I think every band has that problem, though. Every band I like, they all have that one album. That one album when you listen to it, it’s like “Oh, this was the album they had to have done by July”. I never wanted to be in that position. Even when I was 12 years old, I knew I’d never write a song because I felt I “had” to. These are my records, I’ve got to listen to them for the rest of my life. I’m not putting anything out unless I fuckin’ love it. Plus, nowadays, if people are just going to download them for free, I don’t see a need to crank out tons of material just for the sake of it.
J.D. – What is the appeal of Australia? You’ve made that your home away from home it seems.
BOB LOG III – It’s cool, man. America, Canada, Australia, we’re all the people who left or got chased out of England for whatever reason, so there are a lot of similarities. There’s a lot of differences, too. They know nothing of the letter ‘R’. I love the people there, though. They are hilarious, they are fearless, and they don’t give a shit if they get crap on their jacket when they come to a show. There is very little pretension there.
J.D. – When I first heard your albums, I was genuinely curious what the lyrics to your songs were. They are not the easiest to interpret a lot of the time. Thankfully, I managed to grab one of your lyrics books that you sold on tour way back when.
BOB LOG III – Yeah, I’m all out of lyrics books, unfortunately. People don’t believe this, but I actually spend more time working on the lyrics than anything else. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. People may not understand what I’m saying, but I know what I’m saying, and I am saying stuff. You can follow along with most of it, I think. Well, maybe not on the first record. I grew up listening to AC/DC and the Rolling Stones, and I still don’t know what the fuck some of the lyrics to those songs are, even to this day. I love my lyrics, I spend a lot of time on them. I’ve got to say them every day, so I take extra special care. That being said, it’s not the most important thing to me. Whenever I’m listening to music, any music, I’m listening to the guitar and the beat. The lyrics can be there, they have a place, but I don’t hear that first. It’s the guitar that’s really saying stuff. That’s how I write my songs. You should hear the guitar first before anything else. I’m not U2. It’s not about what I’m saying ‘about’ something. When I go play Japan, everyone understands me. Maybe not all the words I’m saying, but they understand the music. Not to bag on U2, but I’m sure there are people there who don’t know what the fuck they are saying, since they don’t understand the words. Whereas with me, it’s just BOOM-TAK-BOOM-TAK-TAK-BOOM-TAK-BOOM, and everybody speaks that. If I’m in Finland, they get it. Japan, North America, whatever. It’s truly an international language the way I do it.
J.D. – One lyric of yours that always stuck with me is “I’m a professional, God Dammit! I live in a car!” I like that sentiment a lot, and I think I do have an immense respect for professionals who live in their cars. People who picked a talent, stuck with it, and endure. I guess what I’m asking is what kind of car do you drive now?
BOB LOG III – Ha! Well, now I don’t, actually. That was written back when I was touring about nine months a year, and I would go through cars like shoes. I’ve never owned a car that lasted more than two or three tours. Last car I did have was an ’89 Lincoln Towncar with a sunroof, and I loved that car. I love touring in station wagons, I had a Mercury station wagon, a Ford, and a Volvo that I had to leave in the desert in New Mexico. The Mercury was left in Texas, there’s another in Portland somewhere. I’ve left cars all over the planet. Now I just rent cars. Not that exciting, but if the car breaks it’s way easier to get another one. I never want to miss shows, that’s my thing, and if you tour in your own car you’re bound to end up missing a show. Plus, you end up having to buy a new car.
J.D. – What are you listening to, what’s playing in the rental car now?
BOB LOG III – Lately it’s been a lot of old, old, old Andre Williams. Bacon Fat, Moselle, things like that. I got this whole compilation of Eddie Bo stuff, which is really cool. I go through phases with a lot of things. A couple months ago it was Solomon Burke. Really though, what I’m listening to the most of is Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout. The new generation of freaks from Tuscon. I knew the drummer’s mom, and when I first moved to Tuscon she was pregnant with him. I met him again when he was 8 or something. Then I hear he’s got a band, and I’m like “Alright, I guess I’ll check them out”, but then I saw them and I was like “OH MY GOD! Hey, uh, do you guys want to tour with me?”. They already started up after I moved to Melbourne, but every time I come back I try to find out what’s going on there. There is a bunch of cool shit going on in Tuscon right now, actually. It’s amazing. I’m old enough to see a whole new generation of bands come along, and there is some great stuff happening there. Tuscon is a magnet for that shit though, because it’s boring. When you live in a boring town, you end up doing something, because you have more time to do it. And that’s better than money, that’s better than gold. If you’ve got time to do something you love, you hopefully get good at it.
J.D. – I’m living in Winnipeg right now, so I know the feeling. I’m hoping for that same thinking pans out for me, too.
BOB LOG III – Oh, Winnipeg. Some day I’m going to figure you out. I love it, I’m not saying I don’t love it, but I’m still trying to figure it out, is all.
J.D. – I don’t know either, it’s the geographical center of North America. Maybe that has something to do with it.
BOB LOG III – Yeah, but what are we doing there?
J.D. – I don’t know, good point.
BOB LOG III – “Hey man, we’re in the middle!” (shrug)
J.D. – Any hope for a re-release of the old Doo Rag stuff?
BOB LOG III – We keep talking about that, and I would like to make that happen. I love those records, man. I had so much fun with that band, it was illegal the shit we got to do. We were just two guys in a car, but all these bands loved us and would take us on tour with them, like Beck or The Cramps or Jon Spencer. It was not like we had people talking to people, we were literally just two guys in a car. They would just be like “Hey guys, wanna come with us?” and we’d be like “Fuck yeah!”, and off we’d go. It was so much fun. We got to go to Europe, Japan, all these places. We had no manager, no label, no nothing, it was just other people liking it and helping us. It was also us just saying yes to everything.
J.D. – There was a clip that came online not that long ago of you guys performing on some french talk show. That was insane, because it was the best quality footage I had seen of you guys. I’d heard the albums and seen some grainy footage, but nothing that up-close.
BOB LOG III – That was a pretty insane time. If you watch that footage again, look closely at my eyes (haha). Apparently Interpol was looking for us at that particular time, because one of the members of the band had smashed up a hotel room in Switzerland.
J.D. – “One”? You’re not going to say who?
BOB LOG III – I’m not going to blame anybody, but it was not me (haha). We had to leave very quickly at around six in the morning, drive all day, then play a show in Teluse that night. Then my booking agent called me and asked what happened in Switzerland the night before. I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, and he said that Interpol was looking for us, and that there was $10,000 in damage, and blah, blah, blah, good luck. Oh, and now you’re playing on French TV for seven million people in like four hours. So if you look, at the end of that song, you’ll see me get up and walk off stage, where I was expecting to get tackled as I got towards the curtain. That’s where my head was (haha). It was funny later, but scary as shit at the time.
J.D. – Frank Sinatra never left the house without a three-piece suit and cuff-links on. Are there any days when you don’t want to put on the jumper and just play in your normal cloths?
BOB LOG III – I want to stir up a room full of drunk people, till they’ve got no choice but to dance and smile. The suit helps. What sucks is when it’s still wet from yesterday. There was this one time, in Hamburg Germany, I’m in this dank, stinky basement. There’s water on the floor, I’ve got to take my shoes off, step in the water, put on this disgustingly wet, stinky suit, and then put on this wet helmet. Plus, now my socks are wet, too. I’m just quaking in the cold, and I just said out loud, to no one, “What the fuck am I doing?” (haha!) That was the first thing that came to mind when you asked that question. BUT, as soon as I play two notes, all that shit goes away. It’s all on after that. A lot of musicians, whether you’re in an orchestra, a symphony, or a band, when the music is really working, you get into this spot where you’re not in the now. Or you’re ONLY in the now. You’re in this tiny little moment where you’re only playing the song. There is no before, there’s no after. You get sucked into this little vortex. Every musician knows what I’m talking about, I think. If you’re in a band or a symphony it might take some time to get there, but as a one man band, you are there instantly. The whole night. There is nowhere else to go. You can’t sit back and relax and let someone else play for a bit while you think about other shit. No, you are instantly in the vortex. Other people get to go there, too. I think boxers get to go there. They can’t be thinking about their breakfast while they’re boxing. You have to really be thinking about the moment you’re in, and it’s a really special place to be. I get to do it about six months a year for an hour and a half each night. I have to say, I enjoy it.
For tour dates, videos, music downloads, and other wonderful Bob Log III related stuff, check out www.boblog111.com.