Mysterious Rhodes takes stab at holiday cheer

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Special to the Journal-World

Slick Rhodes, left, and Biff Diddle perform recently at Auntie Mae's Parlor in Manhattan prior to being kicked out.

He dresses in red and white. He has a full beard. He only shows up around Christmas time. And his very existence is shrouded in mystery.

No, he's not Santa ... nor Bad Santa, for that matter.

He's Slick Rhodes, the enigmatic singer/pianist who is slated to perform his annual winter show in Lawrence. The artist returns Thursday for his third year in a row at The Eighth Street Taproom, 801 N.H., to deliver a concert billed as "Slick Rhodes' Holiday Parade of Hits."

"I remember that I'd never had a finer time in such a sleepy, shallow town," Rhodes says of last December's performance. "But I don't like to be quite that highbrow about it. I know that sometimes I need to bring myself down to the people's level. That's necessary to sustain a 40-year career."

That career is somewhat hard to pin down, however.

What is known about the surly, gravel-voiced musician is he sings, plays keyboards and is accompanied on the stage only by a drummer.

"I toured as the keyboardist of Golden Thunder from '70 to '72, which is where I met my drummer, Biff Diddle. Currently this is his sixty thousandth and third show with me," he says. "I've had to fire him on a half-dozen occasions. I've been married seven times, and he slept with four of my ex-wives. So we've had our share of falling-outs."

A native of Galveston, Texas, and purportedly a current resident of Lawrence for several years, Rhodes considers himself "the premier lounge singer in these fine 47 states." But according to the entertainer, he really shines during the holidays.

He won't reveal the full repertoire of "slightly altered Christmas carols" on the set list for Thursday's program, but he confirms there will be a bluesy, minor version of "Let it Snow." Then comes a hybrid rendition of "Frosty the Snowman," whose lyrics fit perfectly atop the music of Bob Dylan's "Is Your Love in Vain?"

Rhodes claims, however, that his truculent talents only truly come alive when he has a crowd to work with.

"I benefit from a lot of audience participation -- in terms of goading them," he explains. "Slick takes requests but he doesn't play them."

In addition to various festive party favors and a modest laser light show, Rhodes also digs out one important prop to be used as a thematic centerpiece.

"Every Christmas I set up the porch swing," he describes. "All the ladies -- and gentlemen too, if so inclined -- are invited to share a ride in the porch swing with old Saint Slick."




Thursday 12.1810:30pm :: Slick Rhodes' Holiday Parade of Hits

Regrettably, the porch swing only sees the light of day once a year, following a rather ugly incident that happened last time he utilized the device during a non-seasonable performance. While Rhodes won't go into the specific details of what happened during a previous gig at Auntie Mae's Parlor in Manhattan, he confirms that it personally resulted in 17 stitches, a knee brace and his permanent banishment from the club.

"Let's just say that if you come with a pretty lady to see Slick Rhodes, there's a good chance you might not leave with her," he says.

Of course, it might be because she'll end up leaving with the drummer.

Rhodes hopes Lawrence audiences will warm up to his gluttonous brand of holiday cheer. Even those who aren't fans of Christmas music are at least encouraged to saddle up to the bar and join him in his favorite nightcap: milk punch.

"It's whiskey and milk," he explains. "It's a young man's drink."

Otherwise, fans of Slick Rhodes' sound can hope to hear the man again in December of 2004 at The Eighth Street Taproom.

He adds, "Really, they're the only place that will have me back."

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