Rhymes with thong
Catching up with Black Fong frontman Jack Dammit International
For everything else that has changed so drastically over the past three decades in the local music scene, a few things have remained constant: cheap beer, cheap cover charges and cheap and sleezy Jack Dammit International leading booties to the dance floor at funky Chico parties.
Mr. International moved to Chico from Berkeley in 1984, fell in love with the music scene, and has been keeping loose, party-friendly funk alive ever since—first as frontman for the legendary disco-funk pranksters Brutilicus Maximus, and for the past decade-plus as the ringleader of Black Fong, a rotating cast of funksters (now 12 strong) from all corners of the music scene.
He’s also played in a ton of rock bands along the way—The Heatseekers, Vomit Launch, Bait, These Days, Iceman, Butte County Cosmic Love Division, Wife Beater, The Fat Stickys, and Repeat Offenders, to name several.
I recently sat down with Jack Dammit at the Winchester Goose (the location where his alter ego—John McKinley—opened the old Bustolini’s Deli) to talk Fong as we enjoyed a tasty craft beer or two.
How did Black Fong start?
Actually, the first version of Black Fong started in the basement here. We had the deli. And it was clear that Brutilicus was probably not going to try and do new stuff, although we’d still play once in a while. [Trumpet player] Doug Roberts and [saxophonist] Feeny [Arnold] were in the first version of Fong.
There was a long respite, then I got together with [keyboardist] Greg Spont. I’d known him from years before. … It’s been a case of finding people who really want to play and don’t care if they make any money … people who want to play and like the stuff that I’m making. Essentially you have to be there every Wednesday night. We’ve practiced every Wednesday night since we owned the deli.
What’s the Black Fong approach?
We’re about bringing funk to the old people. “Sexy, creepy, old.” That’s our style. We play the Butt Funk. And we have our organization—Old People Having Fun, the OPHFs. Me and [backup singer] Susie [Guevara] were talking about it, we were like, “We gotta have some rules.” Here’s the pledge: Do you accept your failures? Do you recognize that all your hopes and dreams will not come to fruition? Do you relinquish all dignity? Do you choose to have fun over the fear of humiliation? And our motto is: Doin’ it to death. [There’s the] idea that old people aren’t having sex or something, [and this] is a backlash against that concept. … Part of my musical journey these days is battling the ageism that I’ve encountered as I’ve gotten older.
When you were younger, did you look at the old dudes as out of it?
Oh, totally. When I moved to town, I remember getting the paper that they send you before you come to college here. And there was Ska-T, and I was like, “Who are these old hippies, man? I’m gonna show them.” And then I end up being in a band with Ska-T, in Brutilicus. And I remember when Ska-T was in the band, I was like, “Jerry Morano? No way, he’s too old. We can’t have him in the band.” And, you know, a few years later it’s like, “Jerry’s a great conga player. Who gives a shit?!”
Do Fong songs come from just you?
No. There’ll be a practice, and Greg will play a riff and we’ll go over that. I mean, usually I’ll hijack it and—because I think I’m so much smarter than everybody else [and] I’m a control freak—I’ll take it and do what I think it needs. But no, a riff can come out of anywhere.
What’s in store for the band?
I hate getting gigs, I hate negotiating anything. But I like playing gigs. So, you know, we have enough people now, if the other people want to play they get the gigs. I’ll get a gig once in a while. But really, all that stuff is just a pain in the ass. If you want to be famous, you’re an idiot. If you want to play music, just do it because you love it and it makes you feel good. And don’t do it otherwise.