Dexter Romweber in 2016
|Birth name||John Michael Dexter Romweber|
|Origin||Carrboro, North Carolina|
|Genres||Rockabilly, roots rock, blues-rock|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
|Labels||Norton Records, Bloodshot Records, Third Man Records|
|Associated acts||Flat Duo Jets, Dex Romweber Duo|
|Silvertone 1448, Dano '63|
John Michael Dexter "Dex" Romweber (born June 18, 1966 in Batesville, Indiana) is an American rockabilly/roots rock musician (primarily playing electric guitar) from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Dex is best known as one-half of the seminal two-piece Flat Duo Jets. He currently fronts the Dex Romweber Duo with his older sister Sara Romweber.
John Michael Dexter Romweber was born in Batesville, Indiana in 1966, the youngest of seven children. His older brother Joe Romweber was the lead singer for UV Prom, while his sister Sara Romweber was a member of Let's Active and a founding member of Snatches of Pink. Romweber's first band, Crash Landon and The Kamikazes, was started at the age of 11 while attending Culbreth Junior High, with stand-up bassist Tony Mayer (since of the Good Old Chicken Wire Gang Boys Band) and drummer Hunter Landon (now of the Bad Checks).
Dexter began playing with Chris "Crow" Smith, with material culled mainly from his family's record collection. They called themselves The Flat Duo Jets, after hearing Gene Vincent refer to his Gretsch Duo Jet guitar.
The Flat Duo Jets' first release, In Stereo, was recorded live in the studio in 1985 and originally released on cassette by Dolphin Records. The band was also featured around this time on MTV's The Cutting Edge, in a segment directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who later went on to direct Little Miss Sunshine). Relocating shortly to Athens, Georgia, the band made an appearance in the film Athens, GA: Inside Out, alongside other well-known Athens bands such as R.E.M. and The B-52's. Though recorded live to two tracks in a garage in the late 80s, the band's full-length debut LP, the self-titled Flat Duo Jets, was not released until 1990. In support of the album, the Flat Duo Jets went on a national tour opening for The Cramps, whom Dexter has cited as an early influence. 1990 also saw the band make an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, where they performed a high-energy cover of Benny Joy's "Wild Wild Lover". Their second LP, Go Go Harlem Baby, was produced by Jim Dickinson in 1992, and has been acknowledged as a huge influence on Jack White of The White Stripes, not least in the documentary It Might Get Loud. In the film, Jack White plays the record for Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and U2's The Edge, playing the Flat Duo Jets' version of the traditional "Froggie Went A-Courtin'" and discussing the impact that the band had on him. The film also features footage from their appearance in Athens, GA: Inside/Out.
In the late 1990s, The Flat Duo Jets signed a major label contract with Outpost Records, a now defunct imprint of Geffen Records. The result was 1998's Lucky Eye, produced by Scott Litt and Chris Stamey, which demonstrated a markedly different approach from their previous lo-fi efforts. The album featured a more polished sound for the band, accompanied by horn and string arrangements. Poor album sales were met with disappointment by the band, and it was shortly after the release that, after nearly 15 years as a band, Dexter and Crow went separate ways. Dexter maintains that the primary reason for the split was embezzlement of the band's proceeds on the part of Crow, though Crow disputes this.
In 2001, Dexter finally resurfaced with a new solo album, Chased By Martians, followed by Blues That Defy My Soul in 2004. Around this time, Dexter's influence was beginning to surface in interviews with artists like Neko Case, Cat Power and Jack White. Dexter has described his reaction to this influence as like being "locked away in a Gothic castle for many years" and "living in such isolation that I haven't even noticed." In 2006, Dexter released the album Piano, which consisted of 13 original classical piano compositions in the style of Chopin.
Also in 2006, a documentary about Dex and The Flat Duo Jets began playing at film festivals. Upon completion of Athens, GA: Inside/Out in 1987, director Tony Gayton began filming an untitled documentary of the Flat Duo Jets' national tour. After funding for the film fell through, production ceased and the film was forgotten. Funding the rest of the film himself, Gayton met up with Dexter in Los Angeles sixteen years later, and filmed new interviews with the intention of completing the film. The film, entitled Two Headed Cow, was eventually completed using a recovered VHS version of the original 16mm black-and-white footage, edited together with new interviews with Dexter, detailing his life and career, as well as performances in and around Los Angeles and interviews with Jack White, Exene Cervenka of X, Cat Power and Neko Case. As of 2009, the film has yet to be picked up for distribution, though it had a brief run on DOC: The Documentary Channel.
Dexter's current band, The Dex Romweber Duo, began as Dexter and drummer Crash LaResh, who performed with Dexter from 1995 to 2007. The original Duo toured extensively and recorded several 7 inch releases and recorded two full length albums (Chased By Martians and Blues That Defy My Soul), but these were credited as solo Dex Romweber releases. Crash LaResh left the band in 2007 and was replaced by Dexter's sister, Sara Romweber. In 2009, the pair released their debut album, Ruins of Berlin, on Bloodshot Records. The album featured guest appearances from Exene Cervenka, Cat Power, Neko Case, and longtime friend Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids. The band toured the U.S. twice in support of the record, playing support for The Detroit Cobras on the second tour.
On the 29th and 30 April 2009, Dex and Sara were invited to record at Jack White's Third Man Records in Nashville, Tennessee, and they put out a 7-inch vinyl as part of Third Man Records' new "Blue Series". The sessions resulted in the Romweber original "The Wind Did Move", featuring Jack White on bass, background vocals and the saw, while the record's b-side was a cover of 1930s blues woman Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Word Blues", on which Dex and Jack share guitar and vocal duties. It was released on vinyl on June 9, 2009, and on iTunes shortly after. Dexter and Sara also returned to Nashville in 2010 to play a show at Jack White's live venue. The show was recorded onto 8-track reel-to-reel analog tape and is available on vinyl from Third Man Records.
In 2011 the Dex Romweber Duo released their second album on Bloodshot Records, titled Is That You In The Blue?.
Dexter also fronts Dexter Romweber and The New Romans, an ensemble of 7 musicians and 3 female backing vocalists that began in 2006. They have released one limited CD called "Night Tide" and mainly play shows in their home state of North Carolina, more specifically in The Research Triangle area of Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham. The music is diverse, drawing influences from jazz, surf, early instrumentals, Bill Haley, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Chopin. The band continues to rehearse and experiment every Thursday night in Romweber's garage.
With the Flat Duo Jets:
- In Stereo (1985)
- Flat Duo Jets (1990)
- Go Go Harlem Baby (1992)
- Safari (1993)
- White Trees (1993)
- Introducing the Flat Duo Jets (1995)
- Red Tango (1996)
- Wild Blue Yonder (1998)
- Lucky Eye (1998)
- Two Headed Cow (2008)
Dex Romweber Duo:
- "Empty Heart"/"Heart Of Stone" (split 7" with ? and the Mysterians; part of Norton's "Rolling Stones Cover" series) (2003)
- Ruins of Berlin (2009)
- Live At Third Man (2010)
- Is That You In The Blue? (2011)
- Images 13 (2014)
- Folk Songs: Solo Collection (1996)
- Chased by Martians (2001) with Crash LaResh on drums
- Blues That Defy My Soul (2004) with Crash LaResh on drums
- Dexter Romweber Duo and Throw Rag - Twelve Bad Studs (a 12" split release) with Crash LaResh on Drums (Demonbeach, released c. 2004)
- Piano (2006)
- Carrboro (2016)
From Jeff Arndt's 2001 interview with Romweber
Much has been said about rockabilly roots-rocker Dexter Romweber over the years, both positive and negative, and sorting fact from fiction is no easy undertaking. Words like "crazy," "possessed," "frenzied," and "demented" get thrown around quite a bit. But so do words like "authentic," "visionary," "genuine," and "genius." Which of these terms most accurately describes the man is up for debate. While that last g-word is thrown around way too often these days, don't be too quick to dismiss this description of Dexter. As for the man himself, Romweber seems to shrug off the attention responding simply by saying, "You tend to get a reputation traveling around, playing rock-n-roll." Indeed. And Dexter's credentials precede him in this department.
Romweber has been "travelling around, playing rock-n-roll" since the mid-1980s. He and drummer Crow made up the seminal roots outfit Flat Duo Jets that hailed from Chapel Hill, NC and, for a short time, Athens, GA. Often pegged by critics and casual fans as simply rockabilly, the Duo Jets were adept at playing in a multitude of styles. Their music stemmed from a love of 1950s rock-n-roll artists like Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Elvis, et al., and they played it with passion and abandon-exactly what rock-n-roll is all about.
From the start, Flat Duo Jets shows became legendary for the fierce drumming of Crow and the blazing guitar work of Romweber. The image of Crow lanky and hovering over his tiny kit, staring through his stringy black mane of hair toward Dex as he looks to the ceiling, briefly, before ripping into the opening riffs of a tune etched into the setlist inside his head is indelible. This WAS the Flat Duo Jets.
What distinguished this band from other retro outfits is that the Duo Jets were not really retro at all. While their music was certainly inspired by the rock-n-roll of the 1950s, one got the feeling that nothing was calculated. There was no marketing ploy on anyone's part to capitalize on a trend or movement at the time. Dex and Crow brought the music to life with such vitality and passion that the styles did not seem antiquated in their hands. This was the genuine article. This music was alive and well.
While much of the band's recorded output has a ragged, rushed feel to it, the Duo Jets were able to record some fine discs. Standouts are the Jim Dickinson-produced Go Go Harlem Baby, White Trees, and their last record, Lucky Eye, co-produced by Scott Litt and Chris Stamey. Dickinson played to the band's proven strengths on Harlem- deep grooves and rhythms, driving guitar, the interplay between Dex and Crow. The record has a spontaneous, kinetic feel to it that really captures the spirit of the band. White Trees sees the Duo Jets stretching a bit toward musical territories not previously explored by the two. The band flirts with more conventional rock song structures and a somewhat adventurous use of the recording studio, courtesy of producer Caleb Southern, with varying degrees of success.
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