Seattle in the ’90s was the kingdom of super fuzz and big muff, as greasy-haired white boys in skinny jeans crunched out Neanderthalic riffs like The Kinks on horse ludes. It was a glorious time, full of sound and fury, signifying Sub Pop Records. Iggy was god. Everyone was touching each other and getting sick. And through all that nevermind noise, this beardy old dude with a froggy voice and clangy guitar continued to ply his strange old-timey stylings, laying down this wonky-doodle groove that was like a surreal vaudeville patter horned through the swordfish trombone.
Baby Gramps is time-impervious and cosmically inspired, a mythical bluesman sprung from the swamps of Florida and relocated to the dank Northwest, where for the past 40 years or so his flat-pickin’ antics and throaty croak have secured his status as a beloved oddball legend. He’s a perennial favorite at the Oregon Country Fair, where his animated performances tap a childlike sense of wonder that appeals across the generations — part Beefheartian circus and part Muppetry on acid, like Kermit meets Mr. Waits.
“Over bubbling cauldron of Americana and roots music including Palm Wine guitar, Geechie Rhythms, Spanish tinge and Calypsonian influences,” is how Baby Gramps described his music in a recent email to EW. “Been said to be the original indie and non-commercial artist,” he adds, pointing out that after all these long years, he’s “still collecting, still writing, still ad-lipping [sic].”
“Ad-lipping” ain’t the half of it. Baby Gramps is a great guitarist and songwriter who delves the deepest traditions of American folk. And when the old guy gets plunking and chugging away on that steel guitar, stomping his feet and executing a hoary prototype of beat-boxing, the beautiful clamor he creates is uniquely captivating. You get caught up in it. Seattle is lucky to have Baby Gramps, and Eugene is lucky to play host to his timeless soundtrack of gonzo Americana.
Baby Gramps plays 5 pm Saturday, Dec. 6, at Tsunami Books; $12 reserved, general admission by donation. All ages.