Big Daddy Diesel gets under the covers
In an air-cooled basement on Greensboro’s south side, flanked by retro Kiss posters, neon beer signs and Christmas lights, four thirtysomething rocker types hurriedly set up for the evening’s practice session.
Big Daddy Diesel is prepping for a Saturday night show at Next Door Tavern in downtown Greensboro, and in their banter they reveal their core purpose: rocking hard and impressing the girls by thrashing out cover tunes from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and having fun doing it.
The practice begins with a run-through of original tunes.
‘“All we have is a few so far,’” says frontman Allen Williams. The band starts into ‘“Eat It,’” a meeting of styles somewhere between Southern Culture on the Skids, Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, and lyrically amusing with it’s sex, drugs and rock n’ roll theme. Diesel’s sound is cohesive, well-rehearsed, and both crowd- and session-friendly.
They got together as a band in May but they’ve known each other longer than that, sharing stages in bands like God’s Green, Native Soul and Magazyne. They knew each other’s styles and abilities long before this project began. And cover tunes are a mainstay of their live set.
The boys say they pick their cover tunes by trial and error to see what works with their personal styles, but they also take requests and try to keep fans happy. Original work however requires a longer process.
‘“It’s a harder sell to the crowd,’” says guitarist George Wagner
To craft an original song, Wagner starts with a jam or riff and Williams works on the arrangement. Drummer Danny Wagoner develops a rhythm; bassist Troy Jordan funks it up; then Williams gets back in on the tune to fit words and phrases to it. The band plans on more original music over time and hopes to eventually release a CD.
Allen Williams makes it obvious that he enjoys his role as vocalist and front man. The tattooed, bottle-blond sculptor strikes a style pose somewhere between Scott Weiland and Brian Setzer, twisted with the showmanship of Vegas-era Elvis Presley. He has a knack for vocal mimicry essential to any cover band and a naughty twinkle in his eye that draws you in. And he likes the ladies ‘— he keeps a supply of spare maracas and sunglasses in his stage case to give to women when he brings them up on stage.
If one followed the ’90s grunge scene at all, it would be hard to resist the appeal of this band’s renditions of rock hits. Wagner’s axe is rhythm-intensive, with fingers that travel down the fretboard toward a heavy-metal destination. Jordan’s bass is funked-up enough to play Rage Against the Machine or Fishbone, but rock and roll enough for metalheads or grunge rockers. Wagoner’s drum work demonstrates that he was educated with jazz standards but was a rebellious teenager and took jazz influence toward heavy rock.
Versatility and presence carry this band. Halfway through a run through of Rick Springfield’s ‘“Jessie’s Girl,’” Williams stops the music and laughs.
‘“I keep waiting for lightening to strike’… if you had told me I’d be playing this tune ten years ago I’d probably have killed myself.’”
They finish out the tune and quickly run through Duran Duran’s ‘“Hungry Like the Wolf’” with Big Daddy Diesel flair.
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