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JoeMc on 05/20/2009 at 12:14PM

In Search of the Two-Headed Cow

Dex Romweber Duo (pic by Jeremy Farmer via flickr)

A couple of years ago, I was visiting a friend in Tampa, Florida. It was the winter, I'm sure, since I could actually endure being outside for more than two minutes at a time. Anyway, while looking for something to do on a sleepy Saturday, we came across an intriguing listing in the local entertainment rag: a movie theater was presenting a documentary about Dexter Romweber in a town about an hour away. Not only that, but Dexter himself would be on-hand for the event. It seemed bizarre, like finding a Throbbing Gristle record in the local Fye, but of course we went.

The documentary was called "Two-Headed Cow," and it's a pretty fascinating dip into the life and times of Dexter Romweber. For those of you who don't know, Dex was one-half of the supercharged rock 'n' roll pair from North Carolina known as Flat Duo Jets, whose blend of forgotten rockabilly classics, rocked-up standards, and originals in a similar vein created a template for all of the guitar-drum bands to come, from White Stripes to Mr. Airplane Man to Black Keys and so on. Their sweaty live shows were legendary, and Dexter was known for his unhinged--and, as it turns out, often heavily medicated--performances.

The film goes into fairly harrowing detail about Dexter's problems with mental illness and various substances, but what really emerges is a portrait of a guy who is the real article: a genuine musician, born to sing and play music, whether at his mother's piano or in a ramshackle nightclub in the middle of nowhere. Or, as it happened in this case, in a movie theater somewhere on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

After the film--which incidentally includes just as many hilarious episodes (including the visit to the farming oddities emporium that gives the film its title) as painful revelations--Dexter put out his cigarette and diplomatically answered a few questions from the audience before plugging in for a set of rock 'n' roll with his sister Sara (ex-Snatches of Pink) on drums. An unlikely venue for a rock 'n' roll show, but by a few songs in, the place was transformed. Dexter's passion was just as evident singing to a half-full movie theater as it was in a jammed nightclub.

Since their strange tour of movie theaters, Dexter and his sister have continued to play together. They have a new record out now as the Dex Romweber Duo called "Ruins of Berlin" (Bloodshot Records). Fans of the Flat Duo Jets sound won't be disappointed. Check out this track from it and then check out the rest. And if you get a chance, try to catch "Two Headed Cow." Hopefully it will appear on DVD in the near future and more people can find out about Dexter Romweber, a true American original.

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