“Inter Derby Interviews the Famous Uncle Leon”
From Inter Derby – London, England
I had the immense pleasure of asking a few questions of my favourite roller derby related artist Uncle Leon from Uncle Leon and the Alibis. You would know them best from the rockin rollin, hard hitting, internationally famed derby song Roller Derby Saved My Soul.
Now you have been in a lot of international derby press, has this skyrocketed you to worldwide fame?
It’s funny—there hasn’t been any real attention from the American press, but I’ve received some nice coverage in other countries. Derby Luv in Montreal, Canada gave us a great interview before the tour last year, and the guys up at The Bluesbunny in Glasgow have become some of my biggest supporters. The song has been used by the BBC in Birmingham and in a film called “Roller Derby Dolls” that just aired on television in Australia. The funniest thing is when some newspaper does a story about their local roller derby league and they quote the words “Roller Derby Saved My Soul” without even realizing it’s a song. I fear I’m dangerously close to coining a catchphrase.
We caught wind that you were possibly coming to England to do a solo acoustic tour. I for one was very excited, but heard nothing more, what happened?
That’s still a very real possibility. I don’t know any details yet, but I talked to someone from a small record label who was interested in releasing a UK-only Uncle Leon album. If that happens, they’ll definitely want me over there to push it. I know nothing about the UK touring circuit, so I’d need some help there. But I would love the chance to bring my message of drunkenness and debauchery to a worldwide audience. (Though, from what I hear, you Brits do that pretty well without me.)
Your music has quite alot of different sounds to it, a bit of country, a bit of rockabilly and a slight punk feeling, what bands are you majorly influenced by?
Vocally, I borrow heavily from the classic country guys–Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, a little bit of Hank Williams and Willie Nelson at times. (Though I wouldn’t claim to be as good as any one of them.) Rhythmically, I owe it all to Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. In terms of pure, sloppy anything-goes insanity, I take my cue from Hasil Adkins. And you’re right—at heart, I’m just an aging punk rocker, so there’s a lot of that underlying, rough-around-the edges spirit there. I also have to mention that there was a whole collection of cowpunk acts—particularly Mojo Nixon and Elvis Hitler—who had a huge effect on me as a teenager in the ‘80s. They’re the ones who really made me realize that old-school, shitkicking country was more badass than half the punk records I was listening to.
What inspired you to do a country cover the song Baby Got Back (my favourite Uncle Leon song!)
The short answer is, I like big butts.
The longer answer: I already had a song called “Hot Rod Mamas”. It’s all about the fact that, as a man, I can’t stand the type of skinny, stupid-acting, high-maintenance woman that we’re all told we’re supposed to lust after. Instead, I say I want a “shit-talking, big-butt, little bit of beer gut, hot rod mama with money to blow.” Well, needless to say, this song became a big crowd pleaser. So one night, at the end of that song, as a joke, I went straight into a couple lines from “Baby Got Back”, and all the girls in the audience went wild. I realized that whenever they hear that song, women go crazy because (a) they all think they have huge butts, regardless of their actual size, and (b) at its heart, “Baby Got Back” is saying the same thing “Hot Rod Mamas” is: that it’s okay to be the sexy, voluptuous woman you are. And after I’d done it once, it became the song they all screamed for at every show.
Also, at the risk of getting too philosophical here, I like the idea of covering a familiar song in a completely different musical style. Because the big secret is that, even though hip-hop and country come from very different places socially and stylistically, they both basically cover the same subject matter—sex, breakups, wild parties, and hard times. All I’m doing is pointing out the similarities. And getting a few laughs in the process.
Besides Roller Derby Saved My Soul, why do you think Uncle Leon and the Alibis has been received so warmly by the roller derby community?
As I mentioned before, I had already spent years singing the praises of big, tough, wild women. Rollergirls just happen to fit the description. Starting a roller derby is a lot like starting a band—if you want to make it happen, you really have to do it on your own. And I like to think that roller derby girls value a lot of the same things I do: independence, toughness, a certain do-it-yourself spirit… and beer. Lots of beer.
Some of your songs deal with love or heartbreak, have you had the pleasure/pain of dating a roller derby girl yet?
I won’t name any names, but… yes. She’s actually a retired derby girl. The most hilarious part about it is that, when we first started going out, she couldn’t believe that she was my first one.
(ed. note: First one..its a whole new virginity, dating a rollergirl. It’s probably the only time a girl will say to a guy ‘Oh, it’s your first time? This might hurt a bit’ haha)
What influenced you to write Roller Derby Saved My Soul?
I was already a big fan of the sport. My friend was in the process of filming a roller derby documentary, so I figured he should have a song to go with it. I was getting a little tired of that same one-two country beat, and wanted to do something a little more rock’n’roll again. And here in the U.S., there’s this whole scary Evangelical TV-preacher thing that I’ve always been fascinated with, so I kind played up that angle. I can’t say I put much serious thought into it at the time, but they lyrics seem to really strike a chord with a lot of people.
Where is the weirdest place you’ve seen the Roller Derby Saved My Soul catchphrase emblazened across?
There’s a woman named Ms. Hell, of the Tornado Alley Rollergirls in Oklahoma City. She’s got it tattooed in huge letters across her back. I got to meet her in person at the national championship in Texas last year. It’s one thing to have someone tell you she likes your song, and quite another to stand there and see your words etched into her skin. It was definitely one of the weirdest experiences of my life.
Who’s your favourite derby team?
Oh hell. If I answer that, I’m going to have rollergirls in every state waiting to kick my ass. Let me just say this: Kentucky’s Black-N-Bluegrass Rollergirls have been the nicest to me. But the Mad Rollin’ Dolls in Wisconsin throw the best parties.
And finally, which do you prefer, skirts or hotpants?
Whichever one shows it off the best, darlin’.