GOAT HEARD: I'm convinced that the most dynamic underground music in St. Louis is that of bluegrass and old-time string bands. These musicians press on with no image to sell; no fashion alignment; virtually no support from radio, TV or magazines; and (Greil Marcus notwithstanding) no trend to get hip to. And there are more of them than you'd think: In all parts of the city and every week you might hear the Flying Mules, Raven Moon, the Smokehouse Allstars or the Boney Goat Band. The last group started out in 1990 and slowly evolved into the current trio of Steve Mote (fiddle, ukelele, banjo, guitar), Rich Hibbs (banjo) and Mike Saputo (guitar, mandolin, banjo). Technically marvelous and raw as gutbucket blues, the Boney Goats generate a loose string-band sound, like a stick-and-chicken-wire cart careening cliff-bound, and the timeless melodies native to traditionals. "I like the liveliness, the syncopation of the banjo," Saputo says of the band's repertoire. "It's mesmerizing music." The three are serious musicians who don't take the music too seriously. Former Geyer Street Sheik Mote has an impish, infectious sense of humor and a wicked jaw harp. They all lean toward titles like "Indian Ate a Woodpecker," "The Farmer's Curst Wife" and "Boi Oing." The Goats also reveal a lyrical redolence in Saputo's nonchalant bass runs, Hibbs' deft frailing and Mote's placid vocals. I don't think I've ever heard a more haunting seasonal song than his version of the Jean Ritchie classic "Christ Was Born in Bethlehem."
Part of what distinguishes the Goats is their arrangements of the old songs. "If we have to, we can play three banjos," Saputo says. "We refer to it as the 'banjo army.' Before we play one of those tunes, Steve will say, 'If you people don't mend your ways, this is what's going to happen after you die.' That usually clears the place out. Other bands have fiddle, guitar and banjo. But Steve and Rich are so good, they can really get their banjos to harmonize."
The Boney Goat Band has made its first CD, We've Shaved Our Backs and We're Ready To Rock (Hoobellatoo Records) and dedicated it to Saputo's brother Tony, a longtime St. Louis musician and drummer with Reba McEntire. Tony died in the infamous plane crash of 1991. Because I acted as engineer, recording the Goats live to DAT in my apartment, I'll refrain from extolling the album's frenzied breakdowns and gritty, old-time soul. Come hear them for yourself at their CD-release party at the St. Louis Brewery Tap Room on Friday, Jan. 22. Clogs or just plain dancing shoes required.
-- Roy Kasten