Bluesbreakers: Derwood Andrews

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Old punks never die: they migrate to California. For anyone who remembers Bob ‘Derwood’ Andrews as the guitarist for Billy Idol’s mid-70s punk band Generation X, it’s somewhat incongruous to find him living in the wilderness of Yucca Valley, seven miles from the nearest town, beneath a heavy beard.

“When I moved out to America, I stopped making music,” he recalls. “I wasn’t making any money, man. For two years, I was a motorcycle messenger in LA, which is the worst job for death rates. I bought this place 14 years ago. There’s been a whole fucking long and dusty road.”/o:p

Andrews claims this is his first magazine interview: a baffling state of affairs for someone who has been in the business for four decades, albeit as a cult hero. He’d quit Generation X by 1980 (“It was horrible to see something that started so positive end up so negative”), then led a slew of bands that did slim business but made cultural ripples. “After Gen X, I had Empire. We were less than ignored. It was just like, ‘Oh, fuck off’. And we did. But 20 years on, people come out of the woodwork and say, ‘Fuck me, I found this record and it inspired me to form Fugazi’. Sorry, I’m not blowing my own trumpet.”

It took the chance acquisition of a lap steel to restore his mojo and spark his solo career, which builds with the rattle-and-scratch of Tone Poet Vol. II. “I was never technical, but I’d got to a point with rock’n’roll guitars where you can do things in your sleep. But if you can do it in your sleep, then you ain’t fucking awake. My wife bought me the lap steel in 2013, and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I gonna do with this?’ But I discovered that, with picks on your fingers, you can get rhythm, you can bang the thing like a drum.”

You’ve said this is the loudest music you’ve ever made? “Yeah,” nods Andrews. “I mean, no. Not if you want to get technical. But spiritually it is. I don’t want to get all hippie, because I’m definitely not a fucking hippie. But I once sat on a rock in Arizona, and this Native American got out a drum and sang a fucking song, banging this drum in the middle of nowhere. That was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, cos everything else was so fucking quiet.”

In the modern industry, though, you have to shout to be heard. He’s enjoyed his opening run as a solo artist, but ask Andrews about his hopes for this late-period material and he shrugs. “It’s early days. I might have played in front of 200 people so far. I think it helps that I’m pretty much unknown, because I’m not going to disappoint anyone. It’s not like going to see Robin Trower, and there he is on stage knitting a scarf. You’d be fucking pissed off. With me, there are no expectations. It’s like, ‘Who’s this…?’”/o:p

Tone Poet Vol. II is out now via Rubbercheese./o:p

INFLUENCES

“In Generation X, I was always told to shut up. Don’t tell anyone that you like Robin Trower, because that’s not cool. And I always listened to Paul Kossoff, and songs like Death Song is that Free kind of blues. Howlin’ Wolf is an absolute genius, and I love Rory Gallagher as well.”/o:p