After the dissolution of his magnificent slowcore trio Acetone following bassist Richie Lee’s passing in 2001, guitarist Mark Lightcap turned his attention to the Dick Slessig Combo, his hypnotic band with bassist Carl Bronson and drummer Steve Goodfriend of Radar Brothers. Originally formed in 1990 and reactivated as Acetone wound down, the group specialized in gently sprawling live meditations on songs like Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love,” the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’,” George McCrea’s “Rock Your Baby,” and Bobby Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe.” Describing a live performance at the Portland Art Museum in his 2010 book about Van Morrison, When That Rough God Goes Riding, author Greil Marcus describes the connection the Combo established with Morrison’s own incantatory seances, writing that the band’s repeating circular pattern (emphasis mine) “wasn’t from the tune, it was the tune, the thing itself.”
While it seems like recordings of the Dick Slessig Combo are mostly relegated to phantom hard drives or tapes in some far-off archive (minus a sparsely populated SoundCloud page) that “the thing itself” quality is true of the band’s most widely available work, a 42-minute version of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” which was released on CD in 2004, b/w a take on Crosby Stills & Nash’s “Guinnevere” and subsequently uploaded to various places on the internet and eventually shared by the likes of Jay Babcock, of the sorely missed Arthur Magazine. Like Acetone’s best work, it’s not jazz per se, but it approaches the form in what it accomplishes: the building of a vast and open spiritual space. Variation, Marcus notes describing the Combo’s live take on the disco classic “Rock Your Baby,” wasn’t the point. Instead, “finding the perfect, self-renewing riff was.” “Wichita Lineman” finds them harnessing the song’s melodic components and locking in. Lightcap’s guitar drifts and melts away, evoking (once again) Isaac Hayes’ super-spaced soul or Duane Eddy conjuring up celestial waves crashing on a cosmic beach; Goodfriend and Bronson mind meld; occasionally an organ flutters. The song becomes a mantra.
“These repeated phrases are not variations,” wrote Mark Sullivan in his 2015 appreciation, which was recently cited in Dylan Jones’ book, Wichita Lineman: Searching in the Sun for the World’s Greatest Unfinished Song. The chord structure doesn’t serve to launch an outward jam as it might for other groups interested in longform improv—it adheres to an inward seeking logic, “similar to rewinding a cool scene in a movie before moving on,” Sullivan says, “Or maybe the closed loop just evokes a stuck record.” Over the last couple days, nothing has sounded quite so haunting or offered as much replenishment. The Dick Slessig Combo don’t even require Webb’s mysterious lyrics to suggest the eternal, still on the line. words/j woodbury
Read more: Acetone :: Sam Sweet’s Hadley Lee Lightcap
Do our mixtapes, features, interviews, essays, and original sessions make your listening life better? Help us continue doing it by pledging your support via our Patreon page. Doing so will get you access to our secret stash—including bonus audio, exclusive podcasts, printed ephemera, and vinyl records—and help us keep an independent publication going.