Cheating disaster with Mikey Roohan

by Jordan Green

Seated onstage at the Clubhouse on Tuesday night, Mikey Roohan cradles an acoustic guitar and sings one of his new songs, “Going Back to Hell.” He grimaces and stamps his left heel with the rhythm, and his forehead shows the slightest hint of perspiration. His partner in Key of Three, Kirsten Ireland, a delicate if sturdy woman of 27 with short, neat hair sways with the music, simultaneously strumming an acoustic guitar and pumping a bass drum and high hat with her foot.

Two women spin ’round on the dance floor in front of the bar. About 25 people are gathered here tonight to celebrate the release of Roohan’s new CD, If Things Don’t Work Out Right. Only the pressing plant is behind schedule and there are no CDs. But two of Roohan’s bands are playing tonight; the other is called the Crap Rock All Stars. The loyal crowd, small as it is, proves receptive to the night’s entertainments.

“I’m gonna talk for awhile,” says the 33-year-old Roohan. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh….” He says it in a sheep-like warble, and one of the women at the bar responds in kind, with a “ba-a-a-a….”

“When I first moved to the ‘boro, I met this guy named Tim Betts,” he says.

“We weren’t great blues musicians,” he continues, alluding to Betts’ greater mastery of his instrument. “We were just a couple kids with hearts. I’m gonna play ‘Jack and Diane.'” And he plays a couple lines of John Mellencamp’s worst song. It’s one of many in Roohan’s repertoire of digressions.

“There was a song called ‘Bar of Soap.'”

Anticipation builds.

“Do you want the heavy metal intro?”


“Whitesnake or Poison?”

“Poison,” yells one of the women at the bar.

Roohan gives them a little piece of saccharine, hair-metal balladry.

Then he and Ireland get to the song proper, a rocking number, in which he declares, “I don’t want to be the president or the pope; I’d rather be your….”

And the crowd roars back: “Bar of soap.”

He divides the room from left to right and pits audience members against each other in a sing-off. It’s ends up being a draw.

“I was going on loudness, passion and intonation,” Roohan says, “and you all are going to Hollywood.” Contrasting the tuneful bellow that is Roohan’s singing voice, the man has a sniveling way of speaking that conveys self-deprecation, kindness and sympathy.

Then the Key of Three finishes its set, and Roohan hops off his chair, takes a misstep and tumbles onto the stage.

He has to stop and think when asked how many CDs he’s recorded.

“This is number ninety-four,” Ireland offers.

“Probably about eight,” Roohan says. “Kurt Cobain always said, ‘This song is from our first record that no one has ever heard.’ I like to say, ‘This song is from my thirteenth record that no one has heard.'”

He reckons he’s written about 200 songs, including “sixty that I really like, ten that I love.”

He says, “Music’s the most exciting, consistent thing in my life. On days when I don’t practice it’s really boring. I have to watch baseball or drink beer.”

Ireland, who is also his housemate, adds, “Instead of having a living room with TVs we have a drum set and recording equipment in our living room.”

Roohan recalls meeting Betts, an accomplished blues guitar player who plays with CJ Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, some years ago. Betts was hosting an open mic at Cue & Spirits, and Roohan’s band won some prize money by demonstrating passion, if not talent.

“We played a song called ‘Gary Coleman Stole My Bike’ and we were so into it,” he says. “His daughter was born five months prematurely. They didn’t know what to do. I put together a benefit and raised a lot of money. He’s a big ray of sunshine. He makes me laugh.”

Roohan and Ireland, unlike many of their fellow players in Greensboro, didn’t grow up in the area or move here to go to school.

“Better weather, pretty much,” says Roohan, a Michigan native, explaining how he ended up here. “That, and the hoppin’ music scene.

“Wherever you go, people say, ‘Play an original,'” he deadpans. “Will that come out as sarcasm?”

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