By Greg Tozian Tribune Staff Writer
Small Talk plays tonight and Saturday night at the Buffalo Roadhouse
Guitarist-singer Bebe Williams is as close to bliss as you will ever see him, folks. But he’s going to get the audience a whole lot more worked up.
His lizard eyelids have just snapped open, revealing two scary dark eyes that look like a pair of glass beads from a broken bracelet.
And he is about to speak.
Three seconds before, it seemed like he would fall asleep on his guitar and pitch from the stage on his stubbly face. But now there is the smack of lunacy in the air.
“I’m Bebe….like in Rebozo,” Williams says, forcing one of his short, rude laughs.
“Welcome to the Holiday Inn,” he snorts at a few beer drinkers and cocktail waitresses; the sole inhabitants of the practically empty bar (nowhere near the Holiday Inn) where he is playing on a Tuesday night.
Williams turns with outstretched arms to introduce another member of his disheveled four-piece band, Small Talk. “Mike, the drummer, is the hippie of the band…and sorry girls, he’s married.”
Then the singer starts the fast electric strumming of his “Highway Song,” one of the 34 crazed Williams originals that have helped make Small Talk one of the most talented and least sought-after bands in town.
…..Runnin’ down that highway, aren’t you scared of the car on the other side? …..Aren’t you afraid …. TODAY’S THE DAY YOU DIE?”
Williams continues to drive the number with screaming voice, through several more verses describing the escape of a lonely man, a father and husband who has copped the family car to run away from his wife and kids. He told them he was only going out on a business trip.
It all ends with Williams’ mocking refrain; a harsh laugh at the absurdity of anybody who thinks they are going to find an easy way out:
…..No more factory work; No more little town murk, You’re just runnin’ down that highway. …..No more little town wife. No more cardboard life. You’re just runnin’ down that highway. …..No more Auburndale. No more little town hell. You’re just runnin’ down that highway. …..You’re Eddie Brown. You’re leaving town. You’re just runnin’ down that highway.
From his tiny duplex digs near a noisy railroad track in Tampa, 26-year-old Bebe Williams is writing what is probably the best rock music in the city.
If that were all Williams did – scribbling those always perversely poetic songs in his schoolboy-print hand, doodling pop profundity in a dog-eared third grade black-and-white-flecked composition book – it would be enough.
But Williams also sings those songs with a demonic force, accompanying himself on guitar.
It is a disconcerting sight to watch the Bebe Williams transformation: from mumbling slump shouldered owner of a 100,000 magazine antique comic book store to wild rock ‘n’ roller.
And it is a sight that’s almost impossible to ignore, although a lot of club owners seem to be doing a pretty good job of just that.
In the space of a one-night performance, Bebe Williams looks alternately like: a nobody; Ray Stevens on acid; an alcoholic shoe salesman; Gary Gilmore on his way to the chair; a backstreet abortionist; a candidate for a straightjacket; Woody Allen, and Rasputin the Mad Monk.
He may even, from time to time, resemble Bebe Williams. But the world (at least the world that listens to rock music) may never know what that really looks like.
He is certainly a unique poet and one hell of a singer-guitar player.
And the Small Talk band is every bit as tight and professional as four years of diligent practice in closet-sized living rooms and playing at infrequent jobs has given them the right to be.
They are a band that feels that lack of work over the years is directly proportional to the originality of their music. They are probably right.
“The money we’ve made over the past four years can’t even pay for the equipment.” Williams quips.
Small Talk remains Williams, bassist John Meritt, Mike Stupp on drums and lead guitarist Kevin Aumiller. By Williams’ own admission, “It is a strange combination.”
Meritt looks like one of the Beach Boys and is probably the only one who combs his hair on a regular basis. He co-writes songs with Williams, and builds backyard barbeques for a living (all of the band members have to do something else to put food on the table.)
Longhaired Stupp – a landscaper by trade – seems straight from the acid-rock scene when beating his candystriped, clear plastic drums. He could be the prototype for every oldster’s idea of a hippie.
Kevin Aumiller, youngest member of the group at 20, is an airman at MacDill Air Force Base who got his start playing “heavy metal-futuristic” lead guitar while stationed in Korea.
All of them want to become celebrities as Small Talk. None of them wants to make it playing somebody else’s music.
The repertoire of Bebe Williams songs, besides being large, is amazingly varied in sound. But almost all the tunes have to do with Williams’ reluctance to accept the conventions of modern life and the negative effects that selling out to society have on those who conform.
To name a few, there is the priceless country-fried “Chicken With His Head Cut Off” (Bleeds A Lot)” a natural “B” side for “Highway Song” if that classic bit of music ever becomes a single); the mercifully rocking “I’m Not Non-Religious” and a smashing tribute to a “mad choker” who kidnaps women solely to get his name in the paper, called “Celebrity.”
But perhaps these lines from Williams’ “At the Diner” – a bitter-blues ode to night-shift, greasy-spoon waitresses – say it best:
Stretching out her legs, Taking a break, Fast comes the eggs, deliver the steak. Limb feels like a peg, numb from the ache…. But she goes on.
In walks the gay, out walks the straight…. Carrying her tray, picking up a plate. Thinking of the day there’s no tables to wait And the night shift is so long….
At the diner, routine is a part of living. At the diner, pulsating light for the lonely. At the diner, life goes on and on and on and on.
Perhaps there is another unwritten line that Bebe Williams sings to himself about his own greasy spoon on the stages of tiny bars, where life also goes on and on and on.
Those stages and bars are still a long way from the nearest Holiday Inn. And where does that leave the recording plants of New York and L.A.? They still aren’t clambering to hear back-talk from Small Talk. But right now, Bebe Williams is as close to bliss as you will ever know.
The eyes just opened and they are looking straight through the audience, through the wall of the bar, and out into the streets where the night life is going on.
“I ain’t worried or nothing,” Williams says, “It’s going to start coming around.”