Fred Lane and Ron Pate’s Debonairs
From the One That Cut You
Fred Lane and his Hittite Hot Shots
Car Radio Jerome
Of a handful of records you could drop the needle on from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, as anyone who worked in a record store during that era can tell you, two Shimmy Disc albums released by the Rev. Fred Lane were the weirdest, most bizarre, abstractly enigmatic releases any of us had ever heard. From the dadaist titles and surrealist cover artwork to the absurdly peculiar lyrics and dementedly brilliant musical bent that careened from country to jazz to Morricone-inspired tunes, From the One That Cut You and Car Radio Jerome bewitched listeners with Lane’s eccentric take on American music. Anyone who happened to overhear Lane croon the ridiculously radical lines to “I Talk to My Haircut” or “The Man with the Foldback Ears,” experience the nonsensical scat of “Fun in the Fundus,” or endure the cacophonic sax solo on “White Woman” stopped in their tracks, baffled, then immediately purchased one, or both, Lane albums.
“These records are just so odd—they don’t really fit in anywhere at all,” recalls Goner Records co-owner Eric Friedl, who became a huge fan of Lane’s work when he discovered the Shimmy Disc records as they were released. Recalling the “anything goes” philosophy of the label’s roster, Friedl notes, “You’ve got Daniel Johnston and GWAR and Bongwater, and then Rev. Fred Lane, who somehow fit into that strange soup. And somehow, his music touched a nerve and created an entire network of people.”
Simultaneously dark and comedic, Lane’s albums were life-changing for fans who sought to uncover the story of Lane himself. Early internet chat rooms and message boards were devoted to solving the mystery. For decades, rumors swirled about From the One That Cut You, which was originally released under the moniker of Fred Lane and Ron Pate’s Debonairs on the tiny Say Day-Bew Records in 1983, before reissues on Shimmy Disc in 1989 and 1999, and Car Radio Jerome, recorded by Fred Lane and his Hittite Hot Shots and released on Shimmy Disc in 1986. “We would just stare at the album covers and kinda make up our own stories,” Friedl says of the misleading recording notations, fictitious back catalogs, and vague artistic allusions that dropped mostly fake clues for Lane’s most astute fans to decipher.
Then, in 2013, Lane himself surfaced at the University of Alabama for an exposition celebrating the Raudelunas, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama artist collective founded in the early 1970s. Sporting boxer shorts topped with a suit coat, a villainous mustache, goatee, and Band-Aids, Lane looked exactly as he did on the cover of From the One That Cut You. Seven years later, Icepick to the Moon, a documentary about Lane and the Raudelunas by filmmaker Skizz Cyzyk, premiered. The film, which took more than 20 years to piece together, filled in most of the blanks that had stumped generations of fans, including the fact that Lane has been hiding in plain sight, creating and selling sculptures he dubs “Odd-Creatchers” under his real name, Tim Reed.
Learning the details of Lane’s albums doesn’t change their inscrutability. Yes, it’s fascinating to know that the Debonairs featured on From the One That Cut You included avant-garde improvisationists LaDonna Smith and the late Davey Williams on violin and guitar, respectively. Or that the fictional Ron Pate references the French writer Alfred Jarry, inventor of pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions. Or that of the 35 album covers depicted on the back cover of Car Radio Jerome—records with titles like Abdul Ben Camel and the Anatolian Rave Ups and The Dog Who Loved My Leg—33 existed only in Lane’s imagination.
The alternate universe that Lane and his compatriots conjured up—in the southern college football town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, of all places—is a metaphysical place as vast and imbued with meaning as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha. As blogger David Sanborn sagely puts it, Lane is like “a demented Dean Martin asking the question ‘What if Marcel Duchamp was from Alabama and played jazz’ and then answering it with a backstory so opaque that further questioning is not possible.”
Indeed. Bitingly satirical, ludicrous, subversive, and “as syncopated a car wreck,” according to Lane co-conspirator Craig Nutt, today, the exuberant weirdness originally captured on From the One That Cut You and Car Radio Jerome exists independently of all the commentaries and analyses that have come since. As Friedl raves, “They’re still different than any other record out there.”
Both From the One That Cut You and Car Radio Jerome will be rereleased on Goner Records in March 2022. The vinyl-only reissues will include inserts that contain lyrics to such song. Goner is also issuing reprints of newsletters done by Fred Lane in the early 70s and only distributed locally... until now!
Fold forward your foldback ears and check out the genius that is FRED LANE!