Dave Cloud & the Gospel of Power

The Church of Late Nights and Longnecks:
Dave Cloud Finds His Salvation

“Better a late bloomer than an early wilter,” points out Dave Cloud, when the subject of his atypical musical career arc is brought up.

Next month Cloud turns a dirty ol’ 55. While he is still overwhelmingly unknown outside of Nashville, where he’s a longtime local character, ever since his band the Gospel of Power caught the attention of respected London-based label Fire Records and they began releasing the group’s music in 2006 Cloud’s notoriety as an oddball “outsider” musician has spread across Europe. Mojo magazine included Dave on a Sgt. Pepper tribute compilation given away with an issue in 2007. Budweiser featured Cloud prominently in a series of TV spots for the UK market in 2008, filmed largely at his favorite Nashville dive bar, the Springwater Supper Club & Lounge. The Gospel of Power, which normally sticks to shows at Springwater or occasional Nashville house parties, has now toured Europe twice. And the youth of America is starting to catch on – last year the group played Memphis’ annual garage-punk roustabout Gonerfest, alongside the Oblivions, Personal & the Pizzas, Guitar Wolf, Missing Monuments, Golden Triangle and many others.

Why should you care about any of this? Because, more than just a nutty eccentric who strips down to his boxers, humps the stage and improvises kung fu moves during performances (and would not that be enough in and of itself?), Cloud howls his hoodoo verse with an unhinged, bedeviled bellow bringing to mind Captain Beefheart possessed by Mark E. Smith and Foghorn Leghorn. Song titles on the new album, Practice in the Milky Way, (release date: Aug. 2nd) include “Eat Me Raw,” “Sky High on My New Bimbo” and “Bring on the Nubiles.” “Mr. Cloud,” scolds a woman during the song “Mrs. Crumb,” “I find you raunchy, reckless and reprehensible.” Of course, those aren’t his only good qualities. The band smokes, too, kicking out primal, bluesy punk rock intermingling with strange psychedelic side trips and absinthe lounge mysticism. It’s raw, funny, weird in a way that only crazy old men can be weird, and a little scary because of that. Ultimately it makes for some mighty raucous rock ‘n’ roll that’s as compelling as it is confusing. I love it! We gotta get this guy down to Atlanta for a show.

“What do they do at the Star Bar?” Cloud asks me when I propose such a visit. “Are they all stoned and dress like Satanists? That’s the crowd I wanna penetrate. Not for evangelistic reasons, Just to see if I can pass for gothical. I mean, if they sever goat heads or anything, I ain’t goin’ there, but just some good natured stuff…oh, I’ll play anywhere.”

Nashville lore has it that Cloud’s regular haunt, the aforementioned Springwater, used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition, serving bootleg cocktails to visiting untouchables like Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd. “So when you walk in there,” describes Dave, “I mean, it’s the same floor all these gangsters walked on, drinking beer in a locked-up place, while it was against the law. I just love the place. But, it’s not just ’cause of the gangsters – there’s some wonderful, awesome music played in that place.”

This particular afternoon, Dave’s planning his karaoke selections for later on that evening. It’s a Tuesday night Springwater ritual for him, but unlike the frenzied freakouts the Gospel of Power blow out, he generally sticks to ’60s AM radio classics for karaoke.

“If I don’t think that’ll work, and I know I gotta give ’em something more modern, I dash back from ’71 to ’76. Anything more modern than that is usually a big failure.” He starts crooning “Traces of Love” by the Classics IV. “That’s what I’m get ’em with tonight. I just wanna make ’em cry. And then they’ll buy the beer, and then the bartender will love me so much my beer’ll be free.”

Cloud begins to tell me how he started writing and playing music, back in the early ’70s. After being grounded by his parents when he was 16, his dad bought him a resonator guitar to keep him occupied in his room. Dave wound up playing the thing ’round the clock,, blistering his thumb learning Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” and “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers. When he was a few years older, he got involved with a friend named Frank King in the Psychotic Night Auditors, who got ejected from the Springwater one night in the late ’70s, only to set up across the street at a picnic pavilion.

“We liked to be real angry and real loud, real overbearing. In fact, our ethos was more of explosiveness than it was any tonal centering or accuracy or unison. We plugged in at the picnic pavilion, and started playin’, and people came and started trashin’ the picnic tables and I was jumpin’ off the picnic tables like I was a paratrooper and stuff, and then the cops came and made us go away. I was on Frank’s back ridin’ him like a pony, both of us playing guitar simultaneously, our cacophonic anti-matter clashing. It was a real punk rock deal. He was so proud of the band, but no one would book us.

“That’s when I really got started,” Cloud continues. “That’s when I realized that exhibiting uninhibited exuberance is more important than being good while you’re doing it. That’s still how I feel.”

Cloud’s current group began to gel in 1989, when he met a couple of transplants from Shreveport, including current Gospel of Power guitarist Matt Bach. Gradually the fluctuating group fleshed out to include Matt Swanson (Lambchop) on bass, Ben Martin on drums, and other gifted sympathizers and collaborators.

Remembering some of the early Gospel of Power shows at the Springwater, Dave exclaims, “They would give us beer around the clock! We would tell our parents, employers and girlfriends anything they believed, and get together and go down and play from the late golden section of the late sun until dawn, with the front door locked and the bartender and all our friends inside. Over and over and over again. We had a thousand shows in that building, maybe a thousand beers. It was all a way of life. No food. There wasn’t no food. Beer and rock ‘n’ roll, around the clock. That’s when I congealed. That’s when it came together.”

These days, Dave’s pre-show prep comes in the form of “lots of caffeine. I start off with a cold six-pack of Diet Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper. Smoke about a quarter pack of cigarettes. If I’m really frightened and I’m feeling the depression pulling me away from my performance, I’ll take a caffeine, 200 mg. And then I keep drinking water and Diet Coca-Cola. And if I have to before the show, I vomit. To keep my stomach healthy and everything. And then I go on. The other guys have their own rituals, but that’s how I do it.”

Last year during Gonerfest at Memphis’ Hi-Tone Cafe, even that didn’t do the trick. “First, I vomited,” recounts Cloud, “then I vomited again. Then I got up there with my nose running, I think it was my brains coming outta my head. And it’s so hot, I’m about to suffocate, I can’t breathe, so I jerk out of my clothes down to my boxer shorts, and I do the show. And instead of the horrible, subcoitial fantasy that these people wouldn’t let me out of there alive, they were real grateful, and it was good. Every time you live for something that scares you that bad, you’re scared less the next time, you know.”

Dave says he’s incapable of pounding the brews like he used to, which is probably a good thing. Still, he testifies, “I love it. It’s almost like a religion to me. I don’t go to church and take communion. For me, a communion is a nice bartender and a delicious, ice cold Budweiser. That’s good beer. I recommend it to you and others. It’s good stuff. If the Bud red label’s a little too filling, try Bud Light.”

You wouldn’t happen to still be getting checks from Anheuser-Busch, would you, Dave?

“…Yeah,” he sheepishly answers.