He keeps on truckin’
Sheinfeld may be a Boston club lifer, but his namesake, Roy Sludge, is living the dream
With its backroom pool tables, long bar, and aroma of stale smoke that still lingers long after the last legal cigarette was snuffed out, the Drinking Fountain seems like just the kind of place you’d hear the Roy Sludge Trio piping from the jukebox.
“This place looks a lot nicer than I remember it,’’ the Boston country band’s namesake says as he wanders through the door of the tavern along Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon, and Sludge, whose given name is Allan Sheinfeld, confesses he’s still working up to his “morning whiskey.’’ He’s recuperating from a late gig the previous night at a Stoughton VFW with another local group he plays with, the Memphis Rockabilly Band.
“Historically, I’ve played with no less than half a dozen bands at the same time,’’ says Sheinfeld, who’s 52 and lives in West Roxbury. “But I’m pretty much down to two right now.’’ Those going concerns, he says, keep him busy enough. But then, when has he not been?
After 35 years of hitting stages - or carving them out in corners of rooms - Sheinfeld long ago became a central bloodline that runs through the tangled, twisting veins of the Boston rock and roots scenes. His story dates back to his days playing with R&B partiers Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, the Country Bumpkins (a cowpunk group he formed with his sister), the Electric Logs (a theremin lounge act), the Spurs (a Western swing band), and too many more to mention. The length and depth of the list, like Roy’s richly engaging baritone, goes on and on.
“Unfortunately, I’m making about the same money that I made when I was a teenager,’’ he says with a sigh and a grin. “The thing is, I’m too dumb to quit. I’m not expecting to get rich and famous. Rich would be nice.’’
Making an actual record for people to hear (and buy!) might be a good first step. Incredible as it may seem, the Roy Sludge Trio’s debut album, “Too Drunk to Truck’’ (available for download at www.roysludge.bandcamp.com), marks Sheinfeld’s debut as a bandleader. On cheeky country-and-western flavored ditties like “Back the Truck Up’’ and the destined-to-be-classic “On Tap, in the Can, or in the Bottle,’’ Sludge shines the spotlight on his top-shelf band, composed of lead guitarist Duke Levine and upright bassist Kevin Haggerty. Frequent live collaborator Kevin Barry adds wonderful lap steel to the mix throughout.
Tonight, the Roy Sludge Trio headlines a CD-release show at T.T. the Bear’s Place, before hitting the road to play a slate of October tour dates opening for Peter Wolf (including Oct. 20 at Somerville Theatre).
To say “Too Drunk to Truck’’ took some time getting here - Sheinfeld puts the number at 20 years - is a little like saying it took a while for the
What Sheinfeld did have was material and a band that didn’t need to spend long hours learning the songs. “Too Drunk to Truck’’ was recorded inside of four days at Q Division Studios, with producer Ed Valauskas, who is also physically releasing the album on his new Deeveeus Records label, an imprint he’s launched to help showcase Sludge’s music.
“He’s one of the best-kept secrets in this town,’’ says Valauskas. “His songwriting’s incredible, his voice is really unique, and he’s a really, really funny [guy]. We cut the whole record in a day and half, and we took two days to mix it. It’s the sound of three dudes playing together in a room. I wish everything was that easy.’’
As for the subject matter, Sheinfeld says, “I’ve been exposed to trucking music for most of my life. Not that Ernest Tubb did a lot of truckin’ stuff, but he’s my hero. And Dave Dudley and Red Sovine, Red Simpson - anybody named Red.’’
Speaking of names, the singer-guitarist says he chose the Sludge handle decades ago when, as a movie usher in Cambridge, he saw “Tender Mercies’’ and tweaked the name of the character Robert Duvall plays in the film, Mac Sledge.
“As far as a country name goes,’’ he says with a grin, “it sounds a hell of a lot better than Allan Sheinfeld, the Jewish cowboy.’’
What hasn’t changed is Sheinfeld’s approach to brainstorming songs: sad ones, funny ones, bitter ones, sweet ones.
“If there’s any [writing] process, really, it’s about sitting in my kitchen, getting half in the wrapper, and smoking cigarettes out the window,’’ says Sheinfeld. “I’ve got notebooks all over the house, and probably a couple of hundred half-written songs. I would like to think they get funnier the more whiskey and cigarettes I have - although I have written a few sober.’’
Those, he says, “will probably never see the light of day.’’
Jonathan Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.