by Bruce Sylvester
Alter egos abound in the record world. Bob Dylan produces his own records using the name Jack Frost. Hank Williams had a gospel-singing alter ego, Luke the Drifter. Hank Jr.’s alter ego is bluesman Thunderhead Hawkins. In the world of bluegrass, Hot Rize often shared bills with honky-tonk revivalists Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers (whom Hot Rize physically resembled). Back in 1947, Jo Stafford created hillbilly thrush Cinderella G. Stump to score a number 1 hit with Red Ingle, “Tim-Tay-Shun” (a parody of Perry Como’s classically tinged “Temptation”). Years later, Stafford and Paul Weston (her husband, arranger, and pianist) won a comedy Grammy as Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, whom the Westons said were their house guests. Darlene’s hilariously off-key vocal skills equaled Jonathan’s talents on the ivories.
Moving into the present, along comes Elmo Buzz, the creation of alt Nashville’s Todd Snider. Elmo doesn’t seem to be involved with Todd’s Hard Working Americans. Below you’ll find an excerpt from a press release about Elmo, Todd, and their contentious relationship.
On October 7, Nashville gonzo outlaw Todd Snider returns with “Eastside Bulldog” (Aimless/Thirty Tigers), his first solo album since 2012’s “Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables.” The new album brings life to Snider’s Elmo Buzz pseudonym, a name he has used to play in Nashville while dodging radius clauses. [A radius clause is a concert contract’s restriction on how long a performer must wait to do another show within a given radius of a venue.]
On “Eastside Bulldog,” Snider develops Elmo Buzz into a full-blown three-dimensional character, with interests (Hank Williams Jr., chicks, cars), hobbies (partying hard, fighting) and even sworn enemies (folk music, Todd Snider). Buzz blames his minimal success as a musician directly on Snider, whom he accuses of stealing his look (Snider’s reasoning for why the two are identical) and keeping folk music popular in East Nashville (the reason their sounds are so different). The album’s 10 tracks create a world around this wannabe rock star’s blind East Nashville pride.
Snider wrote and recorded much of “Eastside Bulldog” spur of the moment, after he was offered free studio time but had no new material to record. In the studio, Snider would make up songs on the spot and his friends would chime in for call-and-response choruses. This new material worked its way into Todd’s Elmo Buzz shows, and tracks like “Hey Pretty Boy,” “The Funky Tomato,” “37206” and “Bocephus” became cornerstones of the new persona. “Eastside Bulldog” was co-produced by Snider and his decade-long partner in crime, Grammy-winner Eric McConnell.
Snider uses his narrative chops to keep the world of “Eastside Bulldog” poignant, acerbic and hilarious. He’s exploring new sonic territory, too: proto-rock and roll, taking as many cues from Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis as from Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver. Snider also plays every guitar part on the disc, the first time he’s done so in his career.
Todd and Elmo will observe Todd’s fiftieth birthday with a record release show on October 7 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. (Is it Elmo’s birthday too?)