The rowdy musical prowess of Ramblin’ Dean Waco
Go where you’re wanted. It’s a simple business model for musicians, one that may work better for touring solo artists than bands.
It’s what Dean Schlabowske, aka “Dean Waco,” or “Ramblin’ Deano,” is learning as he takes his solo act to cities around the country, Durango included. Ramblin’ Deano will stop here for a concert on Saturday, organized by local radio outfit KDUR, the station this writer works for.
The songs of Ramblin’ Deano are protest tunes played out via aggressive folk music and intelligent blasts of acoustic punk. It’s fitting, coming from a founding member of the Chicago insurgent country band Waco Brothers, a group of barroom misfits with rowdy musical prowess. The Waco Brothers have been flying an insurgent country rock and roll flag for decades. For the last year or so, Ramblin’ Deano has also been doing the acoustic folk thing, and is always ready to heckle the political climate, which has made itself super heckle-able.
Schlabowske – who has toiled in the music industry for many years in not only the Waco Brothers, but rock band Dollar Store, and his ’90s noise rock band, Wreck – continues to find ways to adapt to the fickle music business.
“There were a handful of occasions where I was asked to do solo acoustic numbers in the past, but it’s never anything I’ve pursued with any great intensity until recently,” said Schlabowske. “It was a combination of factors that led me down this road, one of which is certainly the political climate. The idea struck me to kind of create this somewhat tongue-in-cheek folkie-persona of Ramblin’ Deano as a vehicle to write these songs. The second factor was how difficult the music industry has become since people stopped purchasing things. It’s gotten to where touring with a full band, if you’re not already somewhat of a known and popular entity, touring is pretty cost-prohibitive. The idea that I could create a project to get these songs across that just required me and an acoustic guitar was pretty appealing as well.”
He’s been an integral part of several records – a few with Wreck, even more with The Waco Brothers, a pair in Dollar Store, and two under his belt as Ramblin’ Deano. Under Deano, he puts out lo-fi, DIY music that’s as lyrically funny as it is thought-provoking, guided by a desire to crank out a song or album whenever he damn well pleases.
“It enables me to be as productive as I want to be. I don’t have to rely on anybody else to do any of this; it’s all me,” said Schlabowske. “It’s all intentionally recorded with one microphone in the spare bedroom in my house. When I was thinking about doing this, it’s another learning curve. I don’t know anything about recording. I’ve never worked in a recording studio, other than being a client, but listen to an old Woody Guthrie record, and those recordings sound like crap, too.”
He addresses a wealth of hot-button issues, including the abundance of low-hanging fruit from the White House and its current tenant, but it’s not just White House commentary. Ramblin’ Deano also takes on things that need addressing, like the pay gap between men and women, or things that hit close to home, like how the music business and technology – i.e. streaming services – financially screws the musician.
“I don’t want to make a record that is just one anti-Trump song after another. Another opportunity that this presented me as a writer was to write about things in a more direct manner than I have in other bands. I’ve always kept my lyrics a little more obtuse, (rather) than attempting poetry with other bands,” said Schlabowske. “Now I’m a little bit more straightforward. I want everyone to know exactly what I’m singing about with these songs. But it’s a tricky thing, which I’m trying to balance. I want there to be humor, and I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching at you, but you know, I’m angry and I want to express it.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.