"He who fucks nuns later joins the church," The Clash once opined. It's certainly applicable to Jon Spencer. His music—particularly with Pussy Galore and, to a lesser extent, Blues Explosion—fucked with traditional blues and rock entirely. But he's come to embrace the idiom.
"I get older, and I find my way back through these traces, these roots," says Spencer. "I'm not doing this as a joke. It's not some ironic hipster eye-winking gag."
Growing up in Hanover, N.H., Spencer had little access to music aside from what he heard on the radio, like Led Zeppelin, who he tags as "pretty dreadful." But, while Spencer was in high school, a column in the comic book Heavy Metal turned him onto acts like Residents, Kraftwerk and Devo.
But he really objected to the soulless professionalism of AOR. Instead, he was drawn to the grit of the New York Dolls, Stooges and Suicide. The same connection drew him to Hill Country blues artists such as R.L. Burnside, with whom the Blues Explosion recorded in 1996.
"A lot of blues is a big turn off—Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, even Muddy Waters. I can't relate to it. But listen to someone like Howling Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor or these Hill Country guys," says Spencer, who describes the primitive blues as nearly no-wave. "It's very much a personal thing, and you can get a sense of what's inside the person."
The realization led to Spencer Dickinson, an album Spencer recorded in 2001 with Cody and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and their Rolling Stones and Big Star-producing father, Jim. It's a warts-and-all tour de force propelled by a barebones, straight-to-tape approach.
"They're a little more straight-ahead or mainstream than I am," Spencer admits. "There wasn't a lot of common ground. We came from different places and that friction, or 'frisson,' is what made stuff happen."
Take 'em to church.
Spencer Dickinson plays a rare show with North Mississippi Allstars on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at Cat's Cradle. Tickets are $16 in advance and $18 day of show. The show is at 9:15 p.m.