Left Lane Cruiser: Blues from Dirty Fort 

click to enlarge Left Lane Cruiser — Brenn Beck (left) and Freddy Evans — are helping to put Fort Wayne on the cultural map. Photo by Joel Faurote.

Left Lane Cruiser — Brenn Beck (left) and Freddy Evans — are helping to put Fort Wayne on the cultural map. Photo by Joel Faurote.

There's a campaign at work to change Fort Wayne's image from a sleepy, bland bedroom community into what locals are calling "Dirty Fort." Porn superstar Bree Olsen, who brought some notice to the city with frequent Howard Stern appearances, took a step up in the public eye when she appeared on 20/20 as one of Charlie Sheen's "goddesses." And now we have the Fort Wayne-based duo Left Lane Cruiser, whose third national release on the Alive Naturalsound label, Junkyard Speedball, is building quite the buzz in the indie and blues scenes. The band kicks off a nationwide tour at the Sun King Brewery this Thursday.

Junkyard Speedball, which summons the spirits of Charlie Patton, the dead members of Lynyrd Skynyd and Fred "Sonic" Smith, demonstrates that there's still plenty of life left in the drummer-guitar format pioneered by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper all those years ago. Charging out the gate with a raging stomper, "Lost My Mind," the album runs the gamut between country-blues laments ("Hip-Hop"), hard rocking house party staples ("Weed Vodka") and psychedelic mind blowers ("Pig Farm"). Guitarist Freddy J. Evans IV, whose heavy guitar sound reverberates all over the place, relies on a steady thump supplied throughout the proceedings by drummer Brenn "Sausage Paw" Beck. Reverend James Leg from the Black Diamond Heavies adds keyboard on five tracks.

I caught up with Evans and Beck last week as they prepared for the tour.

NUVO: Who knew Fort Wayne could produce a band like yours? And how is it that one America's biggest porn stars (Bree Olsen) comes from the Fort? Is Fort Wayne really that cool?

Beck: It definitely can be, if you don't judge us by bands like The Ready Set. We got a hell of music scene up here. I'd say pound for pound, we got more good bands than most cities double our size. With venues like our infamous Brass Rail, and more and more local bands touring the US, Fort Wayne is becoming the town to play. Plus we are trying to name our new government building [after] Harry Baals. That really speaks for itself.

Evans: Fort Wayne is the dirty fortress. Bree has been to some of our shows. She told me she loves us. She's a huge fan. Our music scene stomps a hole in your ass. The bands up here work hard. No matter what kind of sound they're laying down, bands up here have a knack for sounding original. We all represent for the dirty fortress.

NUVO: What were early gigs like?

Beck: Heavy and loud. Fort Wayne has always been big on metal, so we came up playing a lot of shows with metal bands. That's probably half the reason a so much heavier influence has leaked into our brand of blues.

Evans: Very supportive audiences. Our people know how to enjoy live music, they get drunk. We sound incredible to drunk people.

NUVO: How did you guys acquire your taste for the blues? And when did you decide to mix in MC5 and the Ashton Brothers into the mix? I also pick up a little classic rock in there too, am I right?

Beck: R.L. Burnside had a lot to do with that. It didn't take long for me to get tired of listening to the same ol' 12-bar shuffle over and over and over again, before I started looking for something a little more grittier. I have always been big into Clutch and a lot of other straight ahead rock, so when I stumbled onto R.L., it was like finding the promised land. It proved that the blues doesn't have to be tired regurgitated bullshit. From there we started putting our own custom spin on it.

Evans: My dad raised me on Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones among other blues and classic rock. I grew up near Detroit, so I've been a fan of that sound for my whole life. Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, MC5, Iggy Pop; they all mean a lot to me. I personally have always worshipped the genre of rock known as ZZ/DC. The sounds of AC/DC and ZZ Top dominate the soundtrack of my life. When I heard the Fat Possum sound — R.L. Burnside and Jr. Kimbrough — I felt complete.

NUVO: Are you hip to any other Hoosier rockers? Rev Peyton and others?

Beck: Oh yeah, we've played with the Rev. a few times. There's a lot of good stuff coming out of Indiana right now. Great local one man band named Poopdeflex up our way, Snakedrive down in Bloomington, Jookabox down in your neck of the woods. I also really enjoy We Are Hex outta Indy as well.

NUVO: Cracker Barrel and Denny's, pork n' beans, weed vodka. Food is a good topic for you guys, no?

Evans: Food is sacred, the first drug of our life. As for the titles of our songs, we try to use titles that remind us of the song so we can remember what the song is from the title. We like to keep it simple.

NUVO: What was it like to make this record in Detroit?

Beck: Man, Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders is about as good as it gets. He set up shop in an old chicken processing plant. Concrete floor and walls, no heat, vintage analog gear, in the heart of a dying city; it don't get much more real than that. Jim has been doing this for a long time. He also plays bass for a badass band named The Dirtbombs, so he automatically knows what a couple of dirty dudes like Joe and I want our album to sound like. Watching Jim lay bass tracks while manning his vintage gear is like watching a mad scientist perfect his recipe.

Hear: "Giving Tree" from Junkyard Speedball

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