Spector 45 singer-guitarist Frankie Campagna brings up the word “homage” a lot in conversation. His left forearm bears the tattooed images of John “The Duke” Wayne and a scowling Clint Eastwood. When I last saw Spector 45, it was at the 2010 DOMA showcase, ripping their way through a crowd-pleasing rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues.” Frankie’s talk is abounding with ghosts of similar icons – Richie Valens, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins – many of whom he feels are afforded too little memory. Frankie has clearly built his material on the foundation of his forebears, which makes sense, considering his pedigree. Many consider our generation’s Deep Ellum to be the house that Frank Campagna (Frankie’s father) built. Frank has obviously spared no effort in tutoring his son in Dallas history, music history in particular.
For example, for nearly eighty years it has been a tradition among musicians to pick up the old tune “Deep Ellum Blues” and add something of your own experience to it. That tradition has gone largely discontinued among Dallas’s musical elite, but Frankie is one of the few to lately pick it up, writing about the Deep Ellum he learned from history and the one he sees today: greedy, absentee land-owners and policemen loitering around 7-11. He also takes other American songs from rock and roll’s genesis and bends them to his own speed and snarl.
is the fifth Spector 45 release since they began performing around 2002. I ask Frankie if the six-song recording is considered an EP. He leans back against the pyramid of liquor at the Amsterdam, where he tends bar, as if he had never considered the question before. “I don’t know,” he admits. This is consistent with Frankie’s historically-rooted deference habits, hearkening back to a day when “LP” and “EP” did not have such established, industry definitions. Campagna’s hesitation to call it either also illustrates a larger contemporary point. In a world of digital music, how much meaning do “long playing” and “extended play” still hold?
Whatever the latest recording is, Frankie considers Break Me a discontinuation of his four earlier releases, which he calls “albums about being pissed off.” Most of the six songs, though, still operate at punk RPMs. I struggled to imagine how Spector 45 could be angrier or more fitful than they are on these half dozen tunes. Assuming the veracity of Campagna’s claim, that says frightening things about Spector 45’s capabilities. My unfamiliarity with their back catalog prevents me from making that determination, but their live outings would tend to confirm the theory that Spector 45 can be louder and nastier than they are on Break Me. Consequently, this recording fails to catch the band at their best: in person, jumping and shouting and, yes, even spilling their blood onto the floor of The Cavern. (Bassist Adam Carter did indeed make a Stooges-like incision in his forearm to conclude Spector 45’s set at last year’s DOMA showcase. An homage?) But at six songs, Break Me cannot be thought of as more than a solid stop-gap between more ambitious recordings. Frankie confirms as much by referencing a forthcoming album.
Frankie belongs to a largely undiscovered community of current Dallas punk rockers. In a minute, he lists off several current Dallas punk bands of whom I have never heard. Frankie’s attention and civic affections are faithful to Dallas. He is particularly tired of idle complaints about the city’s nightlife. “People who get bored in Dallas aren’t looking,” he claims. Frankie can name a quality activity for every night of the week, even Tuesday, he finally decides. Among them is an invisible punk community that I, and likely others, have managed to miss.
Spector 45 released Break Me during their show last Saturday, August 28, at La Grange. To what place they lug their trunk of history now remains to be seen. Frankie himself is dubious about aiming for that big label payoff, but he would like to attract enough attention to book higher profile shows. One thing Frankie does not plan to do often is incorporate their bassist’s stand-up instrument into future sets. “We’re more of a punk rock band than a rockabilly band,” he says. Campagna knows that he does himself no favors by playing into a rockabilly stereotype, his grease curl and passion for automobiles notwithstanding. Besides which, he knows that laboring to attain the Rockabilly model has its other pitfalls. “It’s expensive. I can’t afford leopard-print.”
Top photo by Alexandra Olivia. All photos courtesy of Spector 45