- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Thanks to a few like-minded souls, Elvis’ birthday (Jan. 8) will not go unmissed. One of those is J.P. McDermott, who along with his rockabilly band, Western Bop, will headline the musical tribute to “The King” at the Institute for Musical Traditions at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville on Monday.

“It’s a a great time to throw a party, and I hear it’s a great space for dancing,” says Mr. McDermott, who was named Country Vocalist of the Year by the Washington Area Music Association in 2004.

Mr. McDermott is a longtime fixture on the Washington club scene who has played everything from honky tonk to punk. It all started with a visit to the Psyche Delly in Bethesda back in the late ‘70s.

“That’s when I saw Tex Rabinowitz and it changed my life,” says Mr. McDermott, a native Washingtonian. “He was the king of rockabilly back in those days.”

Although Mr. McDermott was playing new wave at the time, he was attracted to the driving rhythms and original nature of rockabilly. And of course, there was Elvis.

“You can’t have rockabilly without having some fondness for Elvis, especially in the early years,” Mr. McDermott says. “Rockabilly people like a little edge to things.”

His band, Western Bop — with Bob Newscaster on lead guitar, Louie Newmyer on bass, Tom Bowes on drums and Andy Rutherford on lead guitar — which has been together in its current incarnation for about a year and a half, also looked to Buddy Holly for inspiration.

“If you look on his early [business] cards, it says ‘Buddy and Bob — Western Bop,’ ” Mr. McDermott says. “That’s the way they called it back then.”

A new album, “Last Fool Here,” has been doing well lately, especially in Scandinavia.

• • •

Meanwhile, folkies from near and far join in a musical tribute to longtime Folklore Society of Greater Washington activist Helen Schneyer at the Washington Ethical Society on Saturday. Mrs. Schneyer died last summer at her home in Vermont.

“She was one of my heroes,” says Bruce Hutton of the Double Decker String Band. “She was the matriarch of the Washington folk community.”

Mr. Hutton will be joined on stage by multi-instrumentalist Martin Grosswendt (known for his 1920s-‘30s style blues), mountain musician Alice Gerrard, traditional singer Riki Schneyer (Helen’s daughter) and founding FSGW member Andy Wallace.

Like Mr. Wallace, Mrs. Schneyer was a founding member of the FSGW, and was known during her time in the Washington area for her flowing white dresses and easy but all-encompassing performance style. She was not only an exemplary musician, says Mr. Hutton, but one who extended her hospitality regularly to traveling artists. Mr. Grosswendt, for example, stayed with the Schneyers for a whole year at their home in Kensington.

“This is not a memorial,” says Mr. Hutton, who also enjoyed the hospitality of the Schneyer home. “It’s a tribute.”

Among the things that many of her fellow artists noted about Mrs. Schneyer was her ability to draw audiences into the song, whether she was singing an Baptist hymn or a mountain ballad.

“She had a magnificent sense of humor,” Mr. Hutton says. “She could stir audiences into singing along, especially in the a cappella music that she loved.

Although none of the tribute artists perform precisely in the style of Mrs. Schneyer, they were all affected, in one way or another, by her approach and respect for music.

“That’s what I really took away from her,” says Mr. Hutton, who has performed with a number of other musicians along with those in Double Decker String Band, which he formed in 1977. “Her rapport with the audience, and her love for what she was doing.”

Mr. Hutton will also perform at the Corcoran Gallery of Art at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, in a program designed to accompany the exhibition “Picturing the Banjo.”

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