It was a typical DC experience just getting to Nation nightclub in DC’s Southeast section of town. Coming from the Virginia side of the nation’s capital, I passed the wounded south side of the Pentagon, still in a state of charred ruins. Crossing the Potomac River, I stopped one block short of my end destination – Nation Nightclub – to get a quick bite to eat (chicken, ironically) before an interview with local favorites on the path to stardom, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack. I say ‘local’ loosely given the members of JCS call the 40 square miles of real estate that connect Washington DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland ‘home.’ The fast food was ‘fast’ due in part to the transient drunk that entered the restaurant screaming he was going to get a gun and kill people. Oh yes, we are in DC. And while the vibe in the nation’s capital has been altered since September 11th in many ways, in the hours that would follow, it would become clear that there are those ready to recover using a healthy injection of Rock ‘n Roll as their medicine of choice.
Jimmie’s Chicken Shack has experienced a ‘changing of the guard’ over the past three years since the release of their first album on a major label Pushing the Salmonella Envelope [PolyGram Records]. Back then, the band included 3 Jimmie’s (although none spelled it that way) and a Che. Today, front-man Jimi Haha is the band’s only original member. Still a foursome, the band now consists of guitarist “Double D” Dave Dowling, Mapex pounding dreadlocked drummer Mike Sipple, and the newest addition, the quiet and mysterious Derrick Dorsey on bass guitar.
One of the band’s claim-to-fame is its incredible on-stage energy. Haha is clearly at ease with his audience as he jokes, sits down in front of the self-titled Sipple kick drum for an occasional beer break, and smirks a sinister smile that surely had him sent to the principal’s office numerous times as a child. When asked how the band establishes the connection with the audience so quickly and effectively Haha replied, “There is no script. We’re just ourselves. When we walk out on stage, we’re just hanging out with our friends. The only difference is we’re looking the other way.”
The energy level remained high all night without interruption. Even the four-song encore ensues without the traditional end-of-show, followed by dimmed lights and lighters, followed by the return of the band. Instead, Haha leads the audience through their plan: “This is the part where we say ‘good night’. This is the part that you cheer and hold up your lighters. This is the part that we come back and rock on.” And the music continued. Though “Do Right” from the most recent album “Bring Your Own Stereo” has a fair amount of airtime during recent months, the band’s biggest hit to date is “High” which JCS saved as the closing song for the night, inspiring a dual mosh pit and loud singing from the small, but vocal audience.
New material is on the way. Some 25 songs have been demo’d with a wide variety of sounds. “We don’t force a song to be something it’s not” says Haha. “If it’s pretty, we let it be pretty. If it’s silly, we let it be silly. If it’s hard, we let it be hard.” The album is not yet released nor named. There is a competition underway via JCS’ website (http://www.jimmieschickenshack.net) allowing fans to vote for previously submitted names and submit their own. The new album will be released by Fowl Records – a label started by Haha after he grew tired of the way traditional big name labels were run. “We’re creating a label that bands can come to where if they sell 5 albums, they will get paid for 5 albums – not owe the record label a million bucks!” This is a value proposition that has increasing popularity in the “do it myself” Internet age. Almost a dozen bands, including several rising DC bands such as Live Alien Broadcast, are signed on the Fowl label. Unconfirmed rumors have it that several platinum artists are considering making the switch from their big labels to Fowl. JCS and Fowl business manager Richard Burgess declined to comment on the bands they are in conversations with.
JCS has been seemingly quiet for a few years without much new material and a drastic reduction in press coverage when compared to the months following the release of Pushing the Salmonella Envelope. But make no mistake, the band shows no signs of slowing down. And with all band members finally in place, a growing fan base, new material on the way, and a high degree of control over label support, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack just may show us who really rules the roost.