AVENUE

Rong – Creating their Own Local Legend

By Brian Tucker

(originally published in Bootleg magazine, January 2008)

The world is either small or just made of many small circles always leading to something new. On a muggy late evening nearly two years ago I first saw The Original Sinners play at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern. Opening for Valient Thorr, they played a syrup-thick dosage of gnarly rock and roll. Their lead singer stood just right of the floor delivering growling, throaty vocals. Looking like a pissed off parent, he leaned back with his guitar and sang with conviction that only comes with years of living.

The Original Sinners’ set began the night and attracted a small crowd of early drinkers who stepped away from the bar to take it in. It was energetic, a loud set of distinguishable rock songs, raw though may have been, it was as if Howlin’ Wolf was suddenly fronting Social Distortion.

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Rong – Jones Smith, Rando, Charr, The Fat Pelican, Carolina Beach, Dec 2007 – photo Brian Tucker

Talking with friends outside in the parking lot after the set, the band’s bassist carried out equipment to a car. A friend and I easily struck up a conversation and asked their band name.

“The Original Sinners,” he said.

Standing between parked cars we talked about music for the duration of another band’s set. I never asked the bassist’s name but couldn’t forget his curly, red hair. He was quite humble and talked about Valient Thorr’s history in addition to his band while leaning over the back of an old car.

“We don’t play a lot,” he said, “here and there.”

He mentioned another band he played in and his interest in different types of music, not just rock and roll. As he told us The Original Sinners had no recordings yet a girl stepped to the front of a car and vomited hard near the front tire. We all watched in silence. The girl remained leaned over long after the strained noises of regurgitation stopped. The awkward silence was broken when she stood up and drunkenly said, “I ain’t trying to break in your car.” She walked off and moments later so did we. Valient Thorr shook Reggie’s the rest of the night.

Last year at W.E. Fest a curly red haired guy was talking to my girlfriend about this band of really young musicians who formed their own label and started putting out music – Trekky Records. He looked familiar to me but I couldn’t place it. Tho young musicians he spoke of were Auxiliary House and the red haired guy was related to a band on their label, The Never. Months later Bootleg would run an interview with The Never and eventually one on Auxiliary House. About two weeks before this story would go to print we’d learn that the bassist was also related to someone in The Never, once again assuring that this small world gets even smaller.

I caught a Freedomhawk show in August, upstairs at the Soapbox. There a trio of musicians played an explosive set of what sounded like fire and brimstone rock and roll. Something about it seemed familiar – the raw guitar firepower and the crash and burn of the band’s rhythm section. The upright bass seemed out of place but was cool seeing it onstage and the tall guy working it. To the right was a sweat covered singer wearing a black tank top and black-rimmed glasses and a drummer shadowed by his kit. All that could be seen was arms, a lengthy goatee and sideburns.

Mark Cave of Freedomhawk told me the guitar player built skateboard ramps for a living. “He’s pretty cool,” Cave said. “They filled in for another band that was unable to play.”

They finished one song and immediately launched into another, “Dead Baby Float.” The number’s energetic riff and memorable chorus caught everyone’s attention, pulling them closer to the stage – “Fuck with mother nature you face the truth/Like dead babies floating in the fountain of youth.” It was two minutes of bluesy punk brilliance. They followed with songs called “Punk Trucker” and “Beer and Cigarettes.” It wasn’t until they were close to finishing when the singer said their name, “We’re Rong” and then spelled it out.

“We wanted to thank everyone for coming out,” he said, wiping his forehead and adjusting his low slung guitar. “We filled in at the last minute and it was fun to come out and play.”

They closed out their set with “Burn” whose opening salvo recalled Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold.” The three musicians of Rong – Rando on guitar and vocals, Charr on the drums, and the curly red haired bassist was Jones Smith. Rong, after checking out their MySpace page clarified that the band used to be The Original Sinners and nearly two years later, after believing that band had dissipated, I was seeing those guys play again under a new name.

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Rong, The Soapbox, Jones Smith, Rando August 2007, photo Brian Tucker

 

Last fall Rando and Charr greets me at Port City Pub. Rando is wearing a wool hound’s-tooth hat and grinning like a wild professor. Charr loves to ride motorcycles, he’s laid back, and has a sly sense of humor and wicked chuckle. Rando talks excitedly, like a grown up big kid. He’s not only pumped about playing a show that night but also the possibilities of what a weekend night might contain.

The band is a hybrid of Southern rock with a rockabilly edge. Charr’s metal past in Atlanta gives it fangs and Rando’s general punk sound combined with an upright bass makes for an unrefined punk sandwich with southern dressing. In Atlanta Charr played in popular metal band Leechmilk and used to run with the guys in Mastodon. He moved to Wilmington for construction work and paired up with Rando who was building skateboard parks in several Mid-Atlantic States. While working in Charlottesville, Virginia, the two ventured to the Dew Drop Inn, entering in an open mic contest as The Original Sinners. They played covers and original songs and became a bar favorite. The playing stuck. In Atlanta, they played Star Bar amidst in an indoor motorcycle show and playing as motorcycles slid across the wooden floor.

But Rong is centered in Carolina Beach scene mostly, playing at the Fat Pelican frequently and venturing into Wilmington occasionally.

“We’re the Sublime of Carolina Beach,” Rando says.

Its Halloween night and they played a full electric set in the back of the bar under the neon glow of beer signs and an exit sign above the door. They are having some microphone troubles, not with sound, but structural. Charr leaves, returning with duct tape and the world is fine. The band soon settles in for an evening of costumed revelers and loud music. The Pelican is a home away from home on Carolina Beach, whose walls are littered with handwritten messages, beer bottle labels, mismatched furniture and various art and oddball signs. Rong fits in like one of those handwritten notes.

Rando punches in a code to let me through a gate. I pull in and he hops into my truck. It’s a cold December night and I’m driving him to his storage space. Opening the door we step into gravel.

“This is it!” Rando says. There’s a backlight from a warehouse lamp and rays of yellow light fall over a set of black street ramps for skateboarding – a half-pipe, a quarter-pipe, and small driveway ramps. Emblazed on the side of them is his Randoramps.com logo.

“Skateboarding isn’t going away,” Rando says. “Fathers are skateboarding with their sons, and grandparents get it.”

He hopes to target grandparents looking for fun gifts for their grandchildren. A much larger goal is to eventually to turn a local abandoned grocery store into a skate park and family center in Carolina Beach. Rando’s history in rock and roll bounces between clubs and rock band stints and consistently creating skateboard ramps during the lean and rich times of the sport. His first ramp was for a department store at the Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach in 1984. It was a demo event to promote Jimmy Z clothing.

“Jimmy Z was the shit then,” Rando says. From that event he met a couple of pro skaters and began to set up demo ramps Richmond, Virginia Beach and over the years he’s built concrete and moveable ramps. He recounts a time about a re-layering party for a ramp in his backyard in Richmond. Everyone brought a few beers, two or three bucks, and bands performed.

“You’ve heard of Cashmere Jungle Lords? This was in 1982 or 1983, and [that band] is still around today,” he says. “We had Death Piggy and The Guilty and they became Gwar. This is my backyard.”

He lived in a neighborhood where he knew the party would be busted. Knowing this he goes to local haunt P.B. Kelly’s and asks if he can bring the crowd there after the party gets busted.

“And he said, ‘That’s cool, I don’t have anything going on.’ So we got busted, and Bucky (from Gwar) gets on the microphone,” Rando mimics in a deep growling voice, “Alright go on down to Kelly’s, we’re gonna continue on down there.”

Rando heads to Kelly’s to clear everything and he notices its five bucks at the door. He doesn’t see a band, nothing. He walks in, sees Kelly sitting at the bar head in his hands.

Rando recounts Kelly saying, “Oh, Henry Rollins is doing his spoken word, and he decided to come down from DC and do it.” Rando says he’s got a crowd of people there and once they started filing in Rollins got up with a spiral notebook and started doing his spoken word act – “Yeah, well I worked in an ice cream store in D.C. And I hated everybody who came through that fuckin’ door!’

“We’re just like…what? It’s so punk to work at an ice cream store man!” Rando says. “I love him in that movie when he’s a cop, I think it was called The Chase. Rollins was okay, you know, but I liked Fugazi. Basically, everybody left except for a few beatniks there and stuff, but there was this Farmer’s Market going on outside. All the bands whipped out acoustic instruments and sat at the Farmer’s Market in front of Kelly’s and jammed out while Henry Rollins is doing his spoken word inside.”

He’s got stories. He talks about how in the late 90’s an expo by Juice Magazine was shut down by visiting members of the State Legislature. They saw a naked skateboarder and thought the event was inappropriate. He also drove the punk band Flipper around while on tour in New York City.

“We were trying to find one particular Ray’s Pizza,” Rando says. “Well, in New York City there are a thousand Ray’s Pizza.” Driving around the city an announcement comes on the radio that Kurt Cobain’s body has been found and the cause of death is believed to be suicide. Flipper was a huge influence on Cobain.

“Well, Bruce (from Flipper) looks at the radio and yells, ‘Pussy!’” Rando says. He starts laughing, but straightens up quick and says he believes Cobain’s death was a conspiracy orchestrated by Courtney Love.

On a breezy Sunday afternoon I meet Rando, Charr and Jones at The Fat Pelican where a chili cook off will begin in a few hours. Jones arrives first, a little worse for wear after a late night. He says that Rando won the cook off last year and when Charr arrives, beer in hand, I mention this and he says that he thought Rando tied.

We’re meeting to take a few photographs, some in the cooler, and some in the back of the bar. In the cooler they drink beers and have a few laughs. As I shoot some fisheye lens images Rando asks if I’ll accommodate them with it.

“I have this idea of us doing a shot like we’re beating someone up, coming in close to the camera.”

It sounds like fun and we head out to the sidewalk as Rando asks out loud, “Where’s Barry’s baseball bat?”

Outside a man sits on a chair saying random things to random people. A bright yellow passenger van has black lettering that reads Randoramps.com. The lettering is made from skateboard grip tape. We try a few shots in front of Mama Mia’s restaurant and then in an empty parking lot close to the street. Several cars go by as I lay on ground shooting pictures upwards at Charr’s foot inches from my face, Jones’ tight fist coming in close, and Rando with a broken down bat high above.

We move to the side of the bar near trashcans to get a few more pictures. I’m on the ground and all I see is these three guys pretending to pummel me. I look up for a moment to check the shot and see the Carolina Beach police. We walk toward the officers and they recognize the band. They then see the camera and everybody has a good laugh and the police leave and we go back in the bar and the story filters through the patrons.

“I like those guys, they always come to the shows,” Rando says.

 

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Bootleg, January 2008, cover art by Mat Curran

 

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