Dewey Cox and the Hard Walkers at the Roxy, Tuesday, December 3
By Randall Roberts
You know what? Dewey Cox can kiss my ass. He’s all back and everything, strutting about on the Roxy all re-energized, playing the hits, trying to act like the '80s and '90s never happened. He doesn’t know what we, the diehards, went through. I mean, I loved Cox. Adored Cox. Forty-seven times I’ve seen Cox. In Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis. Saw him when he and Dan Bern – who wrote five of Cox's biggest hits – converged in Muscle Shoals to record “Royal Jelly” in 1971. I saw Cox on a bill in 1974 with Fela Ransome-Kuti and Paul McCartney in Nigeria, and it was transcendent. In Cairo, in front of the pyramids, when all he was wearing were tighty-whiteys and a Cleopatra wig. I saw him punch Bryan Ferry and call him a faggot at Royal Albert Hall.
In 1974, I rode with Cox and the band for a profile I did on him for Melody Maker right around the time of his totally underrated freak-folk classic, Sir Ringe the Marshmallow Elephant. He was gone at that point, doing a minimum ten hits of acid a day, subsisting on a diet of saltines and lard, because he said he wanted to get to “the salty, meaty essence of his being.” (I've got a bootleg of him chanting “salty meaty” over and over again while the Hard Walkers dig into this swirling, otherworldly sitar-driven waltz.) He could barely speak at that point, but every time he got on stage, he somehow managed to channel the spirits.
I saw him in 1972 at the Troubadour during a string of particularly weird west coast dates and he was so far gone, so totally, ridiculously blotto on everything. He listed them on stage: Demerol. Percodan. Ludes. Weed. LSD. Cough syrup. Aspirin. He said, “I got fuel in my system. I’m fueled up, Papa. Fueled up. Fueled on Demerol and cocaine.” Then he launched into this totally gnarled version of “Mama You've Got to Love Your Negro Man” that started off as a blues but midway through morphed into this weird raga chant. There was Cox, wearing only a pair of those silly-ass Iyengar panties that are baggy and tight at the same time. It was deep. Tapes exist, man, tapes exist.
By 1982, though, he was a shadow of himself. Doing more blow than Tony Montana, gaunt, walking soft, flaccid. He could barely get through a gig by then, and he wasn't doing any interviews. At one point I ran into him at a quick shop on Sunset and I didn't recognize him — but his eyes gave him away. I called his name, and he shot back, “My name ain't Dewey, motherfucker, it's' King Chameleon. Fuck my fans. All of them.”
So you'll excuse me if Dewey has some redeeming to do in my book. I've seen him touch the sky, and I've seen him chewing on the dirt. Last night he touched the sky.
Given that his first hit was in 1953, Cox looks fantastic. His ass is still round and his little pecker pokes out of his snug black pants like it always has. He looks great for a 74-year-old dead man.
“I don't give a damn what anyone thinks,” began Cox, launching into “Guilty as Charged,” and the rest of the night he proved it, jumping from classic to classic, rambling, defiant. “You guys like it when I say 'motherfuckers,' don't you?” he said at one point, sneering, and the crowd roared in approval. He tossed his sweaty towels to the ladies, shot tequila. He dug back to “Let Me Hold You (Little Man),” his stab at social commentary, and when he declared with 1000-yard-eyes that “I stand today for the midget, half the size of a regular guy,” you could feel his compassion and belief, still unwavering after all these years. “Let me hold you, little man/As the parade passes by/Let me hold you little man/We'll make believe you can fly.” Even today, 44 years later, the song has resonance. We've come so far, and yet Cox reminds us how far we still have to go.
Like in his pre-retirement years, Cox mentioned Dylan – “Robert Dylan” – and went on to claim once again that “Robert took a lot from me.” Some grudges never die. But Cox has a point. I was at a party in the Hollywood Hills in 1964, and both Cox and Dylan were there. Predictably, they got into a shoving match. (They never could be in the same room together.) This time it was over the chord progression to “There’s A Change a Happenin’.” Cox accused Dylan of larceny, assumed the karate position and called Dylan a “Napoleon in rags.” I heard it, and so did a lot of other people.
By the end of last night, Cox was shirtless and, as always, playing with his nipples. (I was in on an orgy with him once and saw a hooker nearly bite his right nipple clean off.) “You’ve seen the billboard, now feel the real thing,” boasted the superstar, so happy to be back onstage after being dead for so long.
By the time Cox did, “Beautiful Ride,” the audience was right there with him: “Now that I have lived, a lifetime's worth of days,” he sang, “finally I see the folly of my ways/So listen when I sing of/the temptations of this world/fancy cars and needles/whiskey, flesh and pearls.” Last night a poet was resurrected. Behold Dewey Cox. Back from the dead. Fleshier than ever.