Leave it to a guy who calls himself the Rev. Fudgie Dobson to bring live music to The Block for the first time in about 20 years.
pTC "I went to Staples and faxed in my request for ordination from the Universal Life Church; it didn't cost a thing," says the Pigtown resident of his 1995 call to the ministry.
"Their only credo is that you believe in a supreme being of some sort, and you practice what you think is right."
The way the heavily tattooed reverend sees it, bringing bands like the Hula Monsters, Buttsteak and One Spot Fringe Head to a subterranean strip joint on East Baltimore Street is most devout.
"I started it as a nice little getaway for me and my friends," he says. "A place to smoke a cheap cigar, have a martini and listen to cheesy lounge music. It's groovy."
Some eight months after Fudgie began putting out fliers announcing that a scene was happening down a small hallway from the bump and grind at the Flamingo Lounge (where he tends bar when he's not promoting music and where a Twilight Zone pinball machine lights up with a "Say No To Drugs" message), about 100 people are showing up on Friday and Saturday nights and paying $4 to get in.
To be sure, the music offered in a small room with a concrete floor, cinder-block walls and corrugated steel ceiling is not the brassy swing that Gypsy Rose Lee slipped out of a feather boa to in the glory days of burlesque on The Block.
But it is live music nonetheless -- ranging from heavy-metal hillbillies to country-Western crooners with a Hawaiian glaze to flat-out noise -- and that alone is a feat in an age when even a lot of the city's exotic dancing has fled to the suburbs.
Oldtimers in the local musicians union -- who played violin and saxophone on The Block during the Great Depression -- couldn't remember the last time the hiring hall got a call for a job there.
"We had a bunch of space open and wanted to do something with it," says Pat Mooney, who owns the Flamingo and believes it's just a matter of time before The Block is gone for good. "I'm taking a chance that Fudgie knows what he's doing; I really don't know what his story is. This wouldn't normally be my cup of tea, but some of the bands are right good, some are off-beat and some I just don't know how to describe them."
Singing their hearts out
Is Buttsteak your cup of tea?
They were at the Flamingo on Saturday night, opening for a band called Thick Shake and singing their hearts out under a portrait of Colonel Sanders.
Based in the Hollins Market area -- the Sowebo neighborhood where the affected and the odd don't raise an eyebrow -- Buttsteak was loud, fast, aggressively disharmonious and gratingly obnoxious.
And even though nobody stopped playing pool to pay strict attention, the crowd seemed to love it.
"We play misogyny rock," explains Ron Spencer, the lead guitarist and singer. "We take the same misogynist processes common to insects and chess and space travel and apply them to music."
Michael Bowen, the bass player, had no idea what Mr. Spencer was talking about, but felt it might be wise to say that the new Buttsteak album will be released Feb. 20 on the Go Kart label.
Asked to describe the sensation of playing on The Block, Mr. Spencer paints a portrait of a "collection of ne'er-do-wells and idiotic doormen shouting at everybody who walks by: 'Hey, we got 12 beautiful ladies in here. "
The beautiful ladies, it seems, have kept some of the underground rock scene's feminists away from the Flamingo gigs, to the distress of Fudgie, who likes to see a good time had by all.
A native of Louisville, Ky., with something of a checkered past (he owns up to numerous arrests before his ordination), Fudgie was born George Leroy Dobson and arrived here four years ago after touring the United States as a drummer with a band called Dogzilla.
He's been a Marine, an art school student, an illustrator and a booker of bands at Memory Lane on West Hamburg Street until he had a falling out with the owners (Fudgie admits to leaving hard feelings and burned bridges in his wake).
For now -- at least while his current gravy train lasts -- he seems content smoking cigars and serving drinks at the Flamingo in a loud, somewhat harsh world of his own invention.
A man who didn't know where "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written until he was a grown man, Fudgie says: "In Baltimore, people have to make things happen for themselves, because there's nothing going on."